Archive for February, 2011

Positively Beastly

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

My old friend Andrew Sullivan—25 years ago (yikes) we were housemates in Washington—is taking his popular blog from the Atlantic to the Daily Beast/Newsweek.

There are some opportunities you just can’t let pass by. The chance to be part of a whole new experiment in online and print journalism, in the Daily Beast and Newsweek adventure, is just too fascinating and exciting a challenge to pass up. And to work with media legends, Barry Diller and Tina Brown, and with the extraordinary businessmen Sidney Harman and Stephen Colvin, is the opportunity of a lifetime. Barry was the person w . ho first introduced me to the Internet in the early 1990s, and we have remained friends ever since. Tina Brown needs no introduction, but to see her in action as we have discussed this new adventure over the past few weeks has been quite a revelation. The Daily Beast, in a mere two years, has made its mark on the web, with 6 million unique visitors last month

Translation: Tina Brown is spending like the old days!

Because with all due respect to Andrew, I very much doubt that the chance to join the Newsweek/Beast venture is really “the opportunity of a lifetime.” For a guy known for his candor in blogging, the statement above doesn’t feel honest. It feels like a well-written but sort of shamelessly sycophantic press release.

After all, the Daily Beast (a name rivaled in its awfulness only by that of Liam Gallagher’s new band) may have made its mark on the web, but it’s a very faint, very money-losing one. If DB stopped publishing tomorrow, would anyone miss it beyond those who cash Barry Diller’s checks?

No, the kind of sycophancy embedded in Andrew’s statement above comes from just having signed a very lucrative deal, one in which you think, I can’t believe they’re paying me that much…..

I wonder to what extent this move was influenced by the AOL-HuffPo deal. After all, if HuffPo was worth $315 million, Andrew’s site could reasonably be valued at some fraction of that—$1 million? $2 million?—and perhaps the Atlantic just didn’t want to pay that to keep him. But if he brings all his readers to whatever website Tina creates…maybe it’s win-win until the money runs out?

Andrew is an extremely talented guy and any venture he joins is more likely to succeed as a result, but this move makes me raise an eyebrow. Are we entering another Internet bubble?

The Mets are Broke

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

The Times reports that MLB had to loan the team $25 million.

The Mets have exhausted baseball’s standard bank line of credit, tens of millions of dollars that Mr. Selig and the sport’s owners make available to teams for a variety of reasons in the course of any year. The owners also have more than $400 million in debt on the team. Thus, the additional money provided by Mr. Selig — done in secret last November — might have been crucial in keeping the club functioning.

Here’s what I still don’t understand: How, even with the collapse of Bernie Madoff, the Mets’ financial status could be so, well, bankrupt. Did the team owners have every penny of their worth invested with Madoff?

Male Bonding

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

Even if you’re not a Yankees fan, or a baseball fan—heck, even if you’re a Red Sox fan—this NYT article on the friendship between former pitcher Ron Guidry and former catcher Yogi Berra is heartwarming.

“He buys his roast beef, I buy my bottle of vodka,” Berra said, with a twinkle in his eye. “We get along real good.”

It’s a nice piece of writing, and an even better piece of life.

It’s Baaaack!

Posted on February 24th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

Early admissions, that is.

The Times reports that Harvard and Princeton have abandoned the experiment of doing away with early admissions.

(Actually, the Times just links to a Crimson piece.)

In a statement, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith said that offering an accelerated decision cycle for interested applicants will increase Harvard’s potential to attract top-caliber students.

“We looked carefully at trends in Harvard admissions these past years and saw that many highly talented students, including some of the best-prepared low-income and underrepresented minority students, were choosing programs with an early-action option, and therefore were missing out on the opportunity to consider Harvard,” he said.

The whole point of doing away with early admissions was to help disadvantaged students, as early admissions seemed to favor students from schools and families who could point them in that direction.

Is that argument now deemed invalid by Mike Smith’s phrase “including some of the best-prepared low income and underrepresented minority students”?

Or is that just cover for, “We were losing students to Yale and Stanford”?

Harvard President Drew G. Faust said in a statement that the return of early action is now “consistent with our bedrock commitment to access, affordability, and excellence.

Except that, just a few years ago, it wasn’t consistent with that commitment; in fact, it was contrary to that commitment. What’s changed?

Getting rid of early admission was the work of Derek Bok, in his interregnum year as president. How does he feel about this reversal? And is this a check on the negative side of the ledger for Drew Faust?

I Have Not Been Kidnapped

Posted on February 23rd, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I’m just traveling, so apologies for the paucity of posts. More to come soon.

French Idiot

Posted on February 21st, 2011 in Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

Professor Karin N. Calvo-Goller is an idiot. And she is welcome to sue me for saying so. But does she not understand what suing someone for publishing a book review will lead to?

Betting on the Mets

Posted on February 21st, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Times describes how the Mets funneled “friend” investors to Bernie Madoffs—all the while never allowing them any actual contact with Madoff.

…to be among those referred by the Mets’ owners, one had to agree to odd and puzzling terms that restricted direct contact with or questioning of Mr. Madoff. Sterling Equities, the family company that owns the Mets, would administer all the referred accounts and handle the transactions between the investors and Mr. Madoff’s firm.

Those invited into this rarefied club — including relatives of Sterling management, an investment banker who is also a supper club entertainer, a technology entrepreneur and a theater industry executive — would not send money to Mr. Madoff. Instead, it would be filtered through the Sterling partner and the Mets board member Arthur Friedman, a certified public accountant with a law degree who served as the liaison to Mr. Madoff’s operation.

At the time of Madoff’s arrest, in December 2008, Friedman was handling 178 separate Madoff accounts of friends of the Mets, in addition to 305 accounts set up by the Sterling partners for themselves and their confederates.

Friends of the Wilpons and Katzes, including Sandy Koufax and Larry King, insist that the Mets owners couldn’t have known.

“I still love Freddie [Wilpon],” Mr. King said. “If you look up ‘mensch’ in the dictionary, you will see Freddie’s picture.”

I suspect that if you look up “crook,” you’ll also find Wilpon’s picture. Because as we all know from Madoff himself, it’s entirely possible to have people trust you completely and yet be a con man. (That’s what con men do.) And there’s something deeply odd about the idea of managing Madoff accounts for 180 friends. What were the Mets getting out of it? Because you can’t imagine that Wilpon and Katz were doing this out of the goodness of their hearts—soliciting clients for Madoff, negotiating the terms of the arrangements, maintaining and managing the accounts?

Then there’s the fact, as the Times reports, that the Mets owners explicitly sought unsophisticated investors, not people who might smell a rat.

They also screened out those who they thought might present problems, according to the lawsuit. Certain types of more sophisticated investors — those who might have wanted to engage Mr. Madoff about his strategy and his handling of their fortunes or more modest savings — were kept out….

Here’s what I imagine happened: The Mets owners got a kickback from Madoff in exchange for sending him referrals that kept the pyramid scheme running. (He seemed to have similar arrangements with other close investors.) Or they simply knew, on some level, that it was a pyramid scheme and wanted to keep it going to enlarge their own profits.

A third possibility? That they themselves were “unsophisticated investors,” too dumb to realize that no one gets 18% returns every year for a decade when they can’t even explain their investing model.

(They are affiliated with the Mets, so this last is impossible to rule out.)

None of these options bode well for the Mets…

The Case Against Home-Schooling

Posted on February 21st, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The LA Times relates the story of Lisa and Stephen Furry, a bankrupt couple who epitomize everything that Americans do wrong financially. When Republicans talk about how over-reaching Americans helped bring on the financial crisis, the Furrys are the people they’re describing. (As you’ll see, though, they are almost surely Republican themselves!)

Though Stephen made only $62k a year at a freelance gig, and Lisa had no job at all, they bought a house for $575, 000. Now unemployed, Stephen collects $1800 a month from the government, which doesn’t cover the mortgage, or Lisa’s $275 a month in “beauty services,” or the $200 a month they spend on their pets, a mastiff and a rabbit. Though Stephen is 32 and Lisa 45, they have only $4300 in retirement accounts. Lisa once had to borrow $200 from savings account of their daughter, “Dillen,”  to cover household expenses.

The couple has declared bankruptcy and is trying to short-sell—dump it for less than they owe on their mortgage—their house.

The reason that Lisa, until recently, did not have a job? Because she was home-schooling their daughter.

Something which just adds to my conviction that most people who home-school their kids are a little bit off.

Because if you’re not smart enough not to buy a $600, 000 house on a part-time, $62, 000-a-year job, what makes you think you’re smart enough to teach your kid?

Monday Morning Zen

Posted on February 21st, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Moon over Lincoln Center, Friday night….

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And a less artsy view…

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Sarah Palin Watch

Posted on February 21st, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

(A compilation of the kooky, nasty, nutty and dangerous things Sarah Palin says and does.)

“It’s no wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody you better breastfeed your baby–yeah, you better–because the price of milk is so high right now.

Palin speaking at the Long Island Association in New York last Thursday

“Nobody is more qualified to multitasking and doing all the things that you need to do as president than a woman, a mom.

Palin at the same event.

Couple things.

One of the curious things about Palin is that she really does have a mean streak, and she enjoys ripping into people. This, I think, will get her into trouble if she doesn’t curb it.

Two, this argument about the qualifications of mothers is just stupid. Being the president of the United States and being a mother really have nothing in common, and there are lots of things that better qualify you to be president than being a mother—or father, for that matter. Will anyone fall for this?

There’s also an interesting tension between her repeated jabs at Michelle Obama—she’s previously criticized the First Lady’s emphasis on child nutrition—and her rhetoric of motherhood. She’s a mean mom, I guess. Which is a novel thing in a presidential candidate.