Archive for May, 2011

Do the Humanities Have ED?

Posted on May 31st, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

What do sociology, gender studies and almost all college curricula have in common?

They all come under attack from Harvard political scientist Harvey Mansfield in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Science has knowledge of fact, and this makes it rigorous and hard. The humanities have their facts bent or biased by values, and this makes them lax and soft.

What would Dr. Freud make of this?

Mansfield’s larger argument is that colleges prioritize “choice” rather than subject matter, and this leads students into the study of some areas (see above) that are “soft.”

With all due respect to Professor Mansfield—this is such a large topic, and his treatment of it so casual and reflexive and generic ( it could have been published 10 years ago, or it could be published 10 years from now), that it’s hard to think of this as a serious intellectual, um, thrust, as opposed to something Harvey Mansfield mutters at a cocktail party after a couple of scotches.

Perhaps there is something to be said on this point, but Mansfield doesn’t say it, and so the piece is ultimately just a bit of bah-humbug, not really trying to convince anyone of anything they don’t already believe.

I mean, gender studies? It’s not exactly a daring target (ditto: sociology) but how many people really major in gender studies?

Not to mention the fact that Mansfield thought gender studies important enough to write a book on “manliness.

I wonder how “hard” that was….

A Six-Foot Sturgeon in the East River?

Posted on May 27th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

That is pretty cool.

In other underwater news (it’s Friday), a mysterious monster (why do we always stigmatize that which we don’t understand? Discuss.) has shown its bizarre-looking head in the Mersey (which is a river in England and the subject of a well-known tune by Gerry and the Pacemakers, “Ferry Cross the Mersey“), thus leading to the headline, Mystery Mersey Monster.

Which, I don’t know about you, is enough to get Friday off to a good start.

David Einhorn and the Mets

Posted on May 27th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Journal asked a bunch of the Mets how they felt about the news that hedge fund head David Einhorn might be investing $200 million in the team. Most of them had no idea who he was, which is fair enough; they’re not paid to follow the hedge fund business. But they seemed to generally like the idea.

Here’s pitcher Chris Capuano, whom I like because he gave up about 15 home runs to the Yankees last week:

“It’s not something that we focused on. I think the financial health of the franchise is a little above our level of expertise down here on the field. If that’s the decision that Fred is making, I’m sure it’s well thought-out. As a player, even with an economics degree from Duke, that’s above my level of expertise. …

An economics degree from Duke? Who knew.

I know David Einhorn a little bit from work, and if I were a Mets player, I’d be ecstatic about his involvement with the team. If I were the Wilpons, I’d be nervous—and I think it’s a sign of how desperate they are for investment that they’d choose David as their partner, if indeed they do.

Because if there’s one thing that David Einhorn is known for in the business world, it’s his absolute intolerance of poor management. He wrote a terrific book—and I mean that, it’s absolutely fascinating—about his fight with corrupt company Allied Capital, Fooling Some of the People All of the Time. It’s the best book written about the financial crisis before the financial crisis actually began.

And just the other day, at the Ira Sohn Investment Conference (attended by yours truly and about 1,000 really rich guys), David made news by disclosing Greenlight Capital’s (his fund) investment in Microsoft and calling for the ouster of CEO Steve Ballmer.

(Not that I’m a Microsoft expert, but I think he’s absolutely right on this one—smart phones, music players, tablets—how many paradigm shifts can Microsoft miss out on?)

Now, the Mets owners are very likely crooks. And David, in my opinion, is a man of integrity. I’ve never talked with him about Madoff, but I can imagine his feelings about people who worked with Madoff—and got other people to put money with Madoff, as the Wilpons did—aren’t positive. And perhaps not even respectful.

I can’t imagine there’s any way he would make this deal if he didn’t see it leading either to reform of the Mets management (how, I don’t know) or a takeover of the team.

And that would be the best thing Mets fans could possibly hope for. This is a very impressive guy.

Do Republicans Grade Harder than Democrats?

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

It appears they do, according to a new paper soon to be published by the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

…. the grading distribution for Democratic professors is relatively flat, meaning there was little variety in grades assigned to students with different SAT scores. The Republican line is steeper, meaning that Republicans had more variance in their grading: They gave both more A’s and more D’s than Democrats did; Democrats tend to give a lot of B’s.

Republicans (hmmm…) also tended to grade black students much more harshly than Democrats did.

But whether Democrat or Republican, our members of Congress consistently beat the stock market, according to a new analysis. Senators, for example, tend to beat the stock market by an average 10 percent over the last two decades.

Why? Probably because of their access to insider information…

Good News for Sharks

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

California and Washington state are well on their way to banning shark finning.

Harvard Remembers Too

Posted on May 23rd, 2011 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

As the Harvard Alumni Association invites me to come to Harvard’s 360th Commencement—that is a pretty impressive number, but I’ll be in New Haven—a reader reminds me that May 27th, graduation day, is the 70th anniversary of the convening of a secret anti-gay tribunal in Cambridge, as this USA Today article points out.

The article is written by Joel Engardio, who’s graduating from the K School.

Speech is what has moved Harvard toward openness — not just for gays, but all the people who weren’t welcome on campus at one time. Today’s diverse graduates will export their values of tolerance to the world, negotiating solutions for the many injustices that still exist. Imagine the power of their education.

It’s of course a wonderful thing that Mr. Engardio doesn’t have to go through the harassment and intolerance that his predecessors endured. But gay or straight, one thing hasn’t changed at Harvard—the hubris.

Christy Romer Remembers

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

Writing in the New York Times yesterday, economist Christy Romer, who was denied tenure by Drew Faust, delves into Fed policy towards the dollar.

She begins by referencing a statement by Ben Bernanke that the “U.S. favors a strong dollar,” then recounts this wonderful anecdote:

Listening to that statement, I flashed back to one of my first experiences as an adviser to Barack Obama. In November 2008, I was sharing a cab in Chicago with Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary and a fellow economic adviser to the president-elect. To help prepare me for the interviews and the hearings to come, Larry graciously asked me questions and critiqued my answers.

When he asked about the exchange rate for the dollar, I began: “The exchange rate is a price much like any other price, and is determined by market forces.”

“Wrong!” Larry boomed. “The exchange rate is the purview of the Treasury. The United States is in favor of a strong dollar.”

For the record, my initial answer was much more reasonable.

I wonder sometimes if the reason Larry Summers is writing a book—in the interview I had with him recently, he told me the publisher is Farrar Strauss Giroux—isn’t to fend off the recollections of those who worked alongside him

How the World Works

Posted on May 19th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

Stephanie Morgan, Bernie Madoff’s daughter-in-law and my old colleague from George magazine, has signed a deal to write a memoir.

(The AP gets her name wrong in this wire story that ran in USA Today and the New York Times. Sigh.)

Good for Stephanie—she’s a good person, she probably needs the money, and I expect she has an amazing, if sad, story to tell. (Her husband, Mark Madoff, hanged himself.)

But I was intrigued to find that the book was repped by one Steve Troha, a literary agent of no great renown. (Don’t mean that in a bad way, he’s just not well known—and this is a book that any agent in the world would have repped.)

I thought I recognized the name, and turns out I did: Troha is also representing Rosemarie Terenzio, the former assistant to John Kennedy who once criticized me vociferously for writing American Son but is now writing a memoir of her own (and more power to her for it, I say).

Stephanie used to work in the George art department with designer Matt Berman, who was quoted talking nicely about her in the New York Post; Berman is repped by Terenzio, who runs her own PR firm.

And that’s why a little-known literary agent winds up with one of the hottest books in publishing…. Whether his client list is a good fit for Stephanie, I guess she’ll find out. How this book is packaged, edited and marketed is going to make a big difference for her, and could make her life either better or even harder. I hope it goes the right way.

Lars von Trier…Banned!

Posted on May 19th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

The director has been expelled from Cannes for his remarks about Jews and Nazis and himself. (See below.)

As unfortunate as his remarks were—and I think they are not as clear-cut as, say, Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism—isn’t a film festival supposed to be an expression of free speech?

And it’s probably worth pointing out that Cannes has had no trouble welcoming Roman Polanski over the years…..

She’s Not HIV-Positive?

Posted on May 19th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In the Times, the alleged victim’s lawyer denies the NY Post’s story.