Archive for March, 2012

“All the Students at Harvard Are Quite Special”

Posted on March 29th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

…says Larry Summers about two minutes in to this video.

Except the ones he calls “assholes.

Anyway!

I like Chrystia Freeland. She’s smart and funny and kind of a hottie. But does she have to stick her head quite so far up Larry Summers’ rear end?

Cats and Dolphins

Posted on March 28th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

I don’t even like cats and I think this is cute….

Picking Cotton

Posted on March 28th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Very interesting Globe piece—one doesn’t often type those four words consecutively—on Raymond Cotton, a Washington lawyer who helps college/university presidents negotiate their contracts—and their perks.

Cotton, who is based in Washington, D.C., helped make former Suffolk University president David Sargent one of the highest-paid college presidents in the nation under an agreement that is now the subject of an IRS audit. He also crafted a contract that gave outgoing UMass president Jack Wilson a yearlong sabbatical at full presidential pay after he left the post, a perk UMass hired Cotton to review as an outside arbiter two months ago….

Who Is Matthew Schoenfeld?

Posted on March 26th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

Ever since someone posted below some Harvard Law School propaganda student news about Matthew Schoenfeld, I’ve been curious to know more about the young man who works as a “research assistant” to Larry Summers, ghostwriting “focus[ing} on speech preparation” and “staff[ing] him on international engagements.”

Staffing him on international engagements?

Mr. Schoenfeld got attention from HLS because as president of the Harvard Association for Law and Business, he wants to raise money for abused children.

But let us perhaps tread carefully in praising Mr. Schoenfeld’s “deep social commitment,” as Larry Summers puts it. Schoenfeld has raised $11 grand for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts. Which is a good thing. But because this is how myths begin, context must be paid. HLS points out that he was “class president” of Columbia; in practice this appears to mean that he organized study breaks with pizza and root beer floats. (Nothing against root beer floats, but this is a different kind of social commitment than Summers was suggesting.)

Schoenfeld has worked for Lehman Brothers, spent a summer at Goldman Sachs-for some reason, not on his LinkedIn page— and worked at 3G Capital, a multi-billion dollar hedge fund in New York best known for acquiring Burger King.

So let’s see: Guy works at Lehman, Goldman, 3G Capital, and as a research assistant for Larry Summers. And Harvard is writing articles about him—widely picked up on the web—because he raised $11,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters?

One would like to read Mr. Schoenfeld’s paper, part of an HLS Law and Economics seminar in the spring of 2011, titled “Reassessing the Culprits of the Financial Crisis.”

Was that written before or after Schoenfeld began working for Larry Summers?

Caveat: I haven’t interviewed or met Schoenfeld and I’m open to the possibility that I’m wrong to be skeptical about his reported good works. But—and this is a larger question—can one possibly work for Lehman, Goldman, a hedge fund and Larry Summers and really be committed to public service?

Monday Morning Zen

Posted on March 26th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

NASA’s Godard Space Flight Center has created this video of ocean currents. Van Gogh would appreciate it.

Quote of the Day

Posted on March 26th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

“It’s not like you can call up AAA to come get you.”

Director and explorer James Cameron, after returning from the Challenger Deep, seven miles down in the Pacific Ocean.

He’s Back!

Posted on March 26th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

This is what happens when you have a baby: You miss interesting Larry Summers news. (Thanks to the commenters below for helping me catch up on it. Keep the comments coming!)

Larry Summers rejoined the hedge fund DE Shaw “late last year,” according to the New Yorker’s (excellent) John Cassidy.

According to a person familiar with Shaw, he is spending about five to ten per cent of his time working for the firm, largely in an advisory capacity. Asked what sort of things Summers does, this person said he addresses standard macroeconomic questions—such as the likelihood of a revaluation in the Chinese currency—and also advises the firm on how to limit risk.

How to limit risk? The man who famously opposed the regulation of derivatives is now advising on how to limit risk?

Felix Salmon points out that Summers’ prior words on what would constitute influence-pedding now indict his own actions.

according to Larry’s own logic in the answer he gave to Guru-Murthy, it’s perfectly reasonable, given the alacrity with which he accepted DE Shaw’s millions, to ascribe his actions in the Obama administration to loyalty to the financial sector. We now know that when Summers was giving this interview, he was already back at work for DE Shaw. Which is why he was so careful to confine his answer only to his activities during the Clinton years. If accused of being a creature of the revolving door during the Obama years, he could adduce no such defense: he literally left DE Shaw to join the Obama administration, and then revolved straight back into that job when his temporary government gig was over.

Here’s what I think: Summers is, um, risking the permanent loss of his credibility here; you can only whisk through that revolving door so many times. Certainly he’s not a serious economist any more—he’s a rent-a-pundit, impressing attendees at the Aspen Institute and Davos.

But Summers may not care that he’s now entered the buckraking phase of his career. He’s not an idiot: He must know that he’s not going to get any of the big public or quasi-public jobs that he once lusted after: chair of the Fed, head of the World Bank—he’s now been passed over for each. He’s already been Treasury secretary. Another university presidency is out of the question. What’s left?

The answer? Living large. What’s left is the relatively new terrain (for him) of the financial and technology worlds, and rising from someone whose worth is in the eight figures to someone whose worth is in the nine figures. (You can’t help but wonder if Sheryl Sandberg hasn’t sweetened the pot for Summers, Facebook-wise. After all, when she was at Google, he opened the door for Google to pillage Harvard’s libraries. Surely she has scratched his back in return.)

Money is a whole different kind of power than Summers has had in the past, and it comes, for the most part, without pesky critics like journalists and congressional committees and internal administration foes. Plus, you get to travel by private jet a lot—and Larry Summers has always liked doing so—you eat really well, you stay in amazing hotels, you make $75k for riffing for an hour (like the Harvard lectures you used to give, but much more lucrative!) but and you don’t have to hang around Cambridge very much.

Nice work if you can get it. But is it the only kind of work Larry Summers can still get?

It’s Not Larry Summers

Posted on March 23rd, 2012 in Uncategorized | 24 Comments »

President Obama is nominating Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth, as head of the World Bank.

Dr. Kim, an American physician who was born in South Korea and raised in Iowa, is a surprise pick for a job that has usually been held by people with political or banking experience….

Obama’s choice is also a surprise because it isn’t one of the usual suspects; the candidates most often mentioned were Hillary Clinton, Larry Summers and Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs.

What Whales Are Singing

Posted on March 22nd, 2012 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The Times reports on the work of David Rothenberg, “a musician and environmental philosopher,” who has extensively studied the songs of humpback whales.

Rothenberg blogs for the Times about an enduring dilemma of humpback songs: They change constantly, but we have no idea why.

All we know is that only the male whales are singing, and that all the males in a given group tend to sing the identical tune. They change their song as a group, each ocean’s population sings a consistent song, and in neighboring oceans, you’ll hear a different song. These songs go on for about 20 minutes before repeating, and one song cycle can last up to 24 hours.

First of all…how cool is that? (I know—not the most sophisticated blogger analysis, but sometimes, when you really try to absorb the beauty of nature, wonder is the only appropriate emotion.)

For many years, Rothenberg explains, scientists assume that the songs were some kind of mating call—after all, only the males were singing, right? But in four decades of study, no scientist has ever seen a female humpback actually respond to a song, which would make these whale songs the world’s least effective mating call.

Here’s the current theory:

The mainstream scientific view about humpback whale song is that it’s all a kind of pop music evolutionary strategy; that the whales all like the same hit song, but it has to be a continually changing new “hit.” Just like humans listening to Top 40 radio, quickly getting bored with the latest chart topper and always craving the next variant.

Which still wouldn’t explain why only males sing…but read the full post for more nuance.

The point, as far as I’m concerned, is that the more we learn about whale intelligence, the more we are forced to be humble about our own—which undercuts much of the justification for killing whales and other intelligent animals, that we are vastly superior to them. What if, compared to whales, we’re just brutes who happen to channel our brutish aggression into very effective weapons that we then use for no apparent reason?

Talking Priorities

Posted on March 21st, 2012 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Fascinating to see the first three items listed on the email I got from the Harvard Alumni Gazette yesterday

O’Donnells Give Harvard $30 Million
Lady Gaga, Oprah Come to Harvard
Men’s Basketball in March Madness

Money, celebrity and sports….

To be fair, the Gazette does later include some material that pertains to, you know, education….