Archive for January, 2011

Larry Summers News

Posted on January 28th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

He’s a free agent now! That should make him fun to watch.

As Sam Spektor points out below, Summers had a bizarre encounter with Tiger Mom Amy Chua (who is now backpedaling like mad, but not very convincingly) at—where else?—Davos.

Summers’ response to Chua’a theory of child-rearing is so curious, it’s worth quoting at length. (Thanks, Wall Street Journal.)

In a world where things that require discipline and steadiness can be done increasingly by computers, is the traditional educational emphasis on discipline, accuracy and successful performance and regularity really what we want?” he asked. Creativity, he said, might be an even more valuable asset that educators and parents should emphasize. At Harvard, he quipped, the A students tend to become professors and the C students become wealthy donors.

“It is not entirely clear that your veneration of traditional academic achievement is exactly well placed,” he said to Ms. Chua. “Which two freshmen at Harvard have arguably been most transformative of the world in the last 25 years?” he asked. “You can make a reasonable case for Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, neither of whom graduated.” Demanding tiger moms, he said, might not be very supportive of their kids dropping out of school.

There is a second issue, he said. “People on average live a quarter of their lives as children. That’s a lot. It’s important that they be as happy as possible during those 18 years. That counts too.”

Odd. I’m not sure that it makes any sense to link work that can be done by computers with whether a child should make virtues of discipline and steadiness. Besides, in his own way, Mark Zuckerberg is incredibly disciplined and steady. Given that his idea wasn’t particularly original, and everything about Facebook is more useful than exciting, I’d actually suggest that the success of his website is due far more to his discipline than to his creativity.

In fact, I’d say the same thing about Bill Gates, at least in terms of Microsoft. Let’s fact it, the world would be far better off if it had been Apple which dominated the early years of personal computer software creation, and it’s hard to think of one Microsoft product right now that really exemplifies creativity. (Xbox, maybe?)

Give Gates credit for building a hugely successful company that employs a ton of people, and for doing wonderful work with international health. But if Microsoft hadn’t existed, someone else would have written software for our computers, and probably done it better. As with Zuckerberg, the virtues that Gates and Microsoft software emobody are steadiness and discipline, not creativity. (Remember, this is the company known as the Borg.) Generally, when Microsoft was creative in the past, it was appropriating features and ideas from other companies.

So actually, now that I think about it for two seconds, Summers’ argument seems kinda weak. Clever, though.

But I don’t imagine that folks at Harvard love the idea that the university’s former president is talking up the virtues of dropping out of Harvard. I wonder who will be the first to ask Drew Faust in a public forum whether she agrees with Summers about the distinction between A and C students, and whether it’s really dropouts who change the world.

Also, is that a hint of disrespect in his voice when he “quips” that the “A students become professors”? I think it is. Dropouts, Summers implies, change the world; professors don’t.

Curious message for a former university president (and former professor) to send. But it’s certainly more proof, if you needed it, that Summers is more interested in scoring points with the Davos crowd than he is in promoting the institution which now pays him  an extremely generous salary. And he’s more interested—as has long been the case—in sound bites than in wisdom.

IMHO, two things are going on here: One, Summers knows that Chua has become perhaps the most disliked woman in America right now, other than Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman, so he has no desire to  defend her. (C.f., Zayed Yasin.)

And two, he’s sucking up to Facebook, whose COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is his former chief of staff at Treasury, in a desire to make money off Facebook and other tech firms, perhaps by being invited to join their corporate board. Wait for it—you’ll see.

Okay! That’s one bit of Larry Summers news.

Then there’s this article on corruption in academia on the website TruthOut (don’t know what that is, but shock, it’s lefty), which centers on the relationship between Bob Rubin and Larry Summers, which has involved mutual profitability for them at the expense of Harvard, Main Street, and various foreign countries. (Thanks to Harry Lewis for pointing out the article.)

Larry Summers’ path to the Obama administration, and his record within it, are symptomatic of a new American plutocracy, and his new job at Harvard will keep the gears of corruption greased.

Some of the rhetoric is a little, well, rhetorical. But the article’s worth a read.

And finally, as Richard Thomas notes below, the Globe reports that Summers will be heading a new center at the Kennedy School, the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government.

I’ll admit, something about that title—”Center for Business and Government”—just gets my hackles up. Business so dominates government already—as evidence by the Rubin/Summers/Geithner axis—do we really need a Harvard center to further promote the fusion of the two?

That said, the Center’s been around for quite some time, so I can’t put that on Summers. But it will be interesting to see how he further unites Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue….

You Won’t See That Very Often

Posted on January 28th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Did you see the article about the Royals pitcher, Gil Meche, who decided that he wasn’t pitching well enough to justify the $12 million he was being paid—and so he retired and voluntarily declined to accept any further salary?

“When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it,” Meche said this week by phone from Lafayette, La. “Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again. …Making that amount of money from a team that’s already given me over $40 million for my life and for my kids, it just wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Who says athletes can’t be role models? The Royals ought to give this guy a job…

UnBearable

Posted on January 26th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In search of ice on which to stand, an Alaskan polar bear swam 426 miles in the Beaufort Sea—without stopping—before finding ice on which to clamber. The swim took almost ten days.

It’s both an amazing story and an alarming one.

The God(dess) of Small Things

Posted on January 26th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

Drew Faust has started a walking program. It kicks off (heh) with a “panel discussion” at Sanders Theater.

Apparently there is nothing unworthy of a panel discussion.

Faust “tells” Pravda the Harvard Gazette,

“Harvard on the Move offers a unique opportunity for Harvard’s many constituencies to come together outside the classroom and lecture halls,” said Faust, who plans to participate in the program’s inaugural walk on Feb. 1. “Whether you are a dedicated runner or a busy student or staff member determined to get in shape for the spring, I encourage you to come out, challenge yourself, and meet your colleagues for conversation and fitness.

Where does one start?

With the observation that Dick Morris appears to be advising Drew Faust?

With the curiosity about who originated this perfectly pleasant but truly trivial idea?

With the remark that walking around Cambridge in January is, you know, dumb?

With the hunch that this “unique opportunity” to get to know fellow Harvardians will be seen by many as neither unique nor an opportunity?

With the hope that the president of Harvard University has bigger things on her mind….?

Marty Peretz in the Times Mag

Posted on January 25th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Stephen Rodrick’s profile is online.

Some tidbits:

MP on Joe Avigdor Lieberman: “He is a vulgar Russian Jew with an emphasis on the Russian.”

On Norman Mailer, who once tried to punch Peretz after the New Republic gave him a bad review: ““I would have laid him out, but he was drunk.”

On John Kerry: “He would say I sucked up to Al [Gore], and I would say Al is a much more interesting guy.”

On Lillian Hellman: “I think she was in love with my wife.”

On former New Republic editor, and rabid anti-Clintonite, Michael Kelly: “I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but he was an awful, obsessed man.”

Peretz is nothing if not quotable….

________________________________________________________________________________

P.S. Gawker blasts both the Times and New York mag for not directly addressing the question of Peretz’s sexuality. It does seem odd. (The omissions, not the sexuality.) How can you “profile” someone and explore what makes him the person he is, at a late-life time of crisis, who just went through a divorce that both articles do mention, without considering the role that (many people think) homosexuality has played?

Gail Collins on Joe Lieberman

Posted on January 25th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

As at least one of you mentioned below, the NYT’s Gail Collins wrote a terrific column on Joe Lieberman.

Referring to his 2006 campaign, Collins says:

Lieberman, a big supporter of the war in Iraq, expected the party’s base to nominate a candidate who disagreed with them about the critical issue of the day, had failed at the most crucial task delegated to him during the previous presidential election and was one of the most sluggish and cliché-ridden public speakers in the history of oratory.

He was shocked when they decided not to.

It’s not just those things, however, that so alienated the voters of my home state. It was that Lieberman not only wanted you to vote for him despite him sticking it to you; he wanted you to think more of him for it. Because he so clearly thought that his own flaws were in fact a great virtue, and talked about them in such a fashion ad nauseam. (Or should I say, ad Lieberman?)

And after the voters said, Joe, this war stuff is pretty important to us, Lieberman took his ball and went home, doing his best to ruin the party whose voters had, reasonably enough, voted against someone who no longer reflected their opinions and values.

As Collins puts it,

Lieberman has reached a point in his public career when every single thing he does, including talking about his grandparents, is irritating.

It is! He is!

I can’t wait for him to leave. How much you wanna bet that Fox News, which already thinks Lieberman should be our next secretary of defense (good luck with that), puts him on retainer?

(I mean, even more than he already is….)

Monday Morning Zen

Posted on January 24th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

img_27201

The view from Madison Square Park/January 18, 2011 9iPhone photo)

Will Rex Ryan Please Shut Up Now?

Posted on January 24th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

My prayers have been answered: The Steelers beat the Jets, 24-19.

Close!

Jets coach Rex Ryan, who may be an outstanding coach but is utterly obnoxious, has not been able to live up to his promise of delivering a Super Bowl. Was it a stupid promise to make? Not necessarily; his team certainly believes in him.

But what do you do after promising a Super Bowl and failing? Make the same promise next year? At some point, you sound silly.

Really, though, if I may revel in a little schadenfreude—how wonderful was it to see the faces of the Jets when they knew they were going to lose?

I wasn’t thrilled about rooting for the Steelers; Ben Roethlisberger is a great quarterback, but not exactly a role model.

Now, with a sigh of relief that I no longer have to read about “Gang Green,” I can safely say: Go Packers!

Quote of the Day

Posted on January 23rd, 2011 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

“The blackest joke in Aaron Sorkin’s priceless script [for The Social Network] is that Lawrence Summers, a Harvard president who would later moonlight as a hedge fund consultant, might intervene to arbitrate any ethical conflicts.

Frank Rich, writing on cinema and culture, in today’s Times.

Cuppa Joe

Posted on January 19th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

At long last, we will soon be seeing the last of Joe Lieberman—at least in his role as U.S. senator from Connecticut.

The shape-shifting, self-loving politician has announced that he will not run for reelection in 2012.

As the Times—which Lieberman recently suggested should be “investigated” for reporting on Wikileaks’ leaks, reports,

Referring to Mr. Lieberman’s plan to forgo re-election, Bill Curry, a prominent Democrat who served with Mr. Lieberman in the State Senate, said, “It’s the first thing he’s done in 10 years to make Connecticut Democrats completely happy.”

Not that making Democrats completely happy is essential, but Lieberman has, in that time span, been so unreliable yet so sanctimonious, he’s evaporated the good will that the people of Connecticut (my home state) once had for him.

His support among Democratic voters, already eroded because of his outspoken advocacy for the war in Iraq, plummeted after he backed Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, for president against Mr. Obama. A year later, he threatened to join Republicans in blocking Mr. Obama’s health care plan, though he ultimately supported the bill.

You can be sure that the predictable pundits will now say that Lieberman was a great bipartisan figure, a sage stalwart of the Senate, rather than a man who ran vicious political campaigns and crossed party lines when he sensed it was in his self-interest, sanctimoniously criticized one Democratic president (Bill Clinton) and refused to support the next while he was campaigning.

Oh, wait…

David Gergen, a counselor to several presidents who has known Mr. Lieberman since their Yale days, said he was one of a “breed that is becoming increasingly extinct, and we are poorer for it.”

No. Not really.

Lieberman had his moments—his recent role in repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” comes to mind—but for too long his capricious and sanctimonious style and rapacious ego have dominated his work. As is the case with his friend, John McCain—whom Lieberman campaigned for over Barack Obama in 2008—Joe Lieberman is a classic example of a guy who got elected one time too many. This last term in the Senate should never have happened. It’s time to go, Joe.