Archive for May, 2012

Larry Summers on Education Technology

Posted on May 31st, 2012 in Uncategorized | 37 Comments »

At a forum in Taiwan, Larry Summers praised the virtues of new education technology.

According to Focus Taiwan,

“Things change less by something old being changed than by something new coming along,” he said.

Students can post problems and get answers on the Internet, as well as carry out customized drilling and rote memorization via their tablet.

These are, of course, highly arguable propositions as learning methods go, though one imagines they were delivered in a Summersian tone of utter certitude.

More to the point…I wonder if Summers disclosed that he is employed by Minerva University, an online “university” which would seem to fit the bill of “something new coming along,” as opposed to, say, the place that pays Summers’ salary, Harvard, which would seem to be the “something old” in that equation.

Does it bother no one at Harvard that it is paying Larry Summers $400, 000 or so to work for a competitor?

Consumers Fight Back

Posted on May 31st, 2012 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

So I was in the shaving aisle of the drugstore yesterday, thinking that it would be interesting to write a book about when capitalism doesn’t work. Why? Because two companies, Gillette and Schick, have basically divided up the men’s shaving market, offering largely comparable products at inflated prices—in New York, a single Gillette razor blade now costs about $5. A Gillette blade really lasts less than a week, so you’re talking close to $300 a year on blades alone. Absurd. The blades are so expensive that drug stores now shelve them behind the cash registers, where you can’t even examine the prices; I guess they must be heavily shoplifted items.

And the disposable razors Gillette and Schick make are all pretty crummy (not to mention environmentally unfortunate); I’m convinced they deliberately make lousy ones so that people will choose instead to buy the razors with high-margin replacement blades.

My hunch is that there are no real competitors to these two companies because the barriers to entry are so high; almost everyone buys razors from a handful of chain drug stores in the United States, and it would probably cost tens of millions of dollars to develop a product and get those stores to carry it—if indeed they aren’t pressured or bribed by Gillette and Schick not to, which they probably are.

But perhaps my faith in capitalism has been restored; I was delighted to read in the Wall Street Journal about an Internet-based firm called the Dollar Shave Club, which for a buck a month will send you a razor and four blades. For $6 or $9 a month, a better razor and blades.

I love this idea….and this isn’t a paid endorsement or anything, although I would happily do so if asked…

Sloppy Times Journalism

Posted on May 30th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Times has a piece out about how some Republican “foreign policy giants” are lukewarm on Mitt Romney.

Why anyone would want the endorsement of these war criminals establishment types, whose ranks include Henry Kissinger and Condoleeza Rice, I’m not sure.

That said, there’s a fascinating line in the piece, which feels like it was spoon-fed to Times reporter Richard A. Oppel Jr. by some members of that establishment, who may, perhaps, feel that their wisdom is not being sufficiently sought by Romney.

It is:

Mr. Kissinger and another Republican secretary of state who has not made an endorsement, George P. Shultz, were unavailable for interviews.

Unavailable for interviews? What, they were off getting their nails done and no one could reach them?

(To be fair, both might be in poor health—they’re old—but if they’re in such bad shape they can’t talk to a reporter, how important could their endorsement be?)

My guess: Both men spoke to the reporter on background, meaning that they couldn’t be quoted, and the reporter didn’t want to say that they declined to be interviewed, which wouldn’t have been true, or that they would not be interviewed on the record, which would give the game away.

Hence: They were “unavailable” for interviews.

Which basically just means that Henry Kissinger and George Schultz feel irrelevant, and so they manipulated the New York Times into making Mitt Romney pay more attention to them. As Oppel himself writes,

Republican foreign policy stalwarts are likely to ultimately endorse Mr. Romney once they get a chance to discuss their differences with him directly.

Too funny.

I Get Press Releases

Posted on May 30th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

This from a publicist promoting a book:

Husband and Wife Duo Vow to Love and to Cherish their Creative Talents; Announcing Release of New Fiction Novel.

New fiction novel….

Sign of the Times

Posted on May 30th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

So the name of the subway stop underneath my building is changing because of the imminent completion of the Barclays Center, which is where the New Jersey Nets will be playing in the fall when they move to Brooklyn.

Here’s how that decision was announced:


I’m guessing there wasn’t a lot of public input into that particular public policy decision.

And while I can see the benefits of the name change—the Nets are encouraging people to take public transportation, rather than drive to the arena—what happens when Barclays gives up its naming rights and they are sold to Facebook or something?

Also: “Atlantic Av”? What, the “e” was too much to ask?

Breaking News

Posted on May 30th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Globe writes that Harvard grads feel awkward telling people they went to Harvard.

Good old Globe–always breaking those important stories that no one’s ever written 1000 times before…

“Maybe I’m Overly Optimistic”

Posted on May 30th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

In November 2011, I wrote a post about a Yale senior named Marina Keegan who had authored an eloquent and passionate lament about the number of her colleagues classmates going into investment banking.

Keegan wrote in the NYT’s Dealbook,

..That such a large percentage of students at top-tier schools enter an industry that isn’t contributing, creating or improving much of anything saddens me.

Twenty-five percent is not a joke. That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of talent and energy and potential that could be used somewhere other than crunching numbers to generate wealth.

Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I think most young, ambitious people want to have a positive impact on the world.

I don’t entirely agree with that absolute criticism of investment banking—some bankers do invest in new businesses or help people invest their hard-earned money—but I loved that Keegan wrote so well about an unfortunate phenomenon: the number of Ivy League grads who sell out. I emailed Keegan and told her so, and told her that she had an open door to write for Worth after she graduated; in the modern way of things, we became Facebook friends.

So I was particularly saddened to hear of her death last weekend in an automobile accident just days after graduation. She and her boyfriend were headed to Cape Cod. He was driving, and according to some news reports, fell asleep at the wheel. The car hit the right guardrail, bounced off, rolled over twice, then hit the left guard rail. The boyfriend is okay. Keegan was killed.

(What does he do after such a thing? I can not imagine.)

Much has been made of “The Opposite of Loneliness,” an essay Keegan wrote for the Yale Daily News, which the paper republished after her death, and it is indeed lovely and wistful and wise and heartbreakingly young at the same time.

let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York. I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old.

But my interests being what they are, I have a particular appreciation for this short essay of Keegan’s, “Why We Care about Whales,” which tells of her experience trying to save stranded pilot whales on a Cape Cod beach.

In their final moments, they begin belching and erupting in violent thrashing. Finally, their jaws open slightly — not all the way, but just enough that the characteristic illusion of a perpetual smile disappears. This means it’s over.

…I put my hands on his nose and placed my face in front of his visible eye. I knew he was going to die, and he knew he was going to die, and we both understood that there was nothing either of us could do about it.

Beached whales die on their sides, one eye pressed into the sand, the other facing up and forced to look at the moon, at the orb that pulled the water out from under its fins.

There’s no echolocation on land. I imagined dying slowly next to my mother or a lover, helplessly unable to relay my parting message. I remember trying to convince myself that everything would be fine. But he wouldn’t be fine….

Perhaps I should have been comforting one of them, placing my hands on one of their shoulders. Spending my time and my money and my life saving those who walked on two legs and spoke without echoes.

The moon pulled the waters forward and backward, then inward and around my ankles. Before I could find an answer, the whale’s jaw unclenched, opening slightly around the edges.

It’s a beautiful and thoughtful piece of writing, again combining a precocious wisdom and that kind of heart-on-her-sleeve passion that Keegan manifested elsewhere.

Marina Keegan was going to intern at The New Yorker this summer. At the age of 22, she was a terrific writer and the kind of person that an Ivy League university should graduate. That we will never see what she would have become is a great loss.

Another Voice against College

Posted on May 28th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

In the Washington Post, Robert J. Samuelson adds his voice to the chorus of observers and experts questioning the idea that all young Americans should go to college.

The college-for-all crusade has outlived its usefulness. Time to ditch it. Like the crusade to make all Americans homeowners, it’s now doing more harm than good. It looms as the largest mistake in educational policy since World War II, even though higher education’s expansion also ranks as one of America’s great postwar triumphs.

This is one of a number of much-discussed issues in higher education that I’d love to hear Drew Faust’s opinion about. (Others include the cost of tuition, the relationship between business and education—something Faust is now, presumably, an expert on—and the viability of Internet teaching, or what Faust likes to call “online learning.”) She is, after all, the occupant of probably the top job in American education.

Instead, her commencement address this year is the dullest, driest, most tedious piece of boilerplate, cut-and-pasted from various policy papers written by various people, one could imagine. Do your best to stay awake through the next paragraph.

As we reimagine ourselves for the 21st century, we recognize that history teaches us not just about continuity – what is important because it is enduring. History also teaches us about change. Harvard has survived and thrived by considering over and over again how its timeless and unwavering dedication to knowledge and truth must be adapted to the demands of each new age. History encourages us to see contingency and opportunity by offering us the ability to imagine a different world.

History teaches us about continuity and change. Harvard has survived and thrived.

Really? That’s the best you got? Does anybody else recognize how insipid these thoughts are? (What would be the reaction of a Harvard admissions officer is an applicant wrote such nothingness?)

What a shame that, at the moment higher education really needs an impassioned advocate, Drew Faust has nothing to say.

Friday Afternoon Video

Posted on May 25th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Here’s a little thought-provoking as we approach Memorial Day weekend. The song is called “Alone But Moving,” and the found footage is just…fantastic. Any ideas where these people are? My guess is Grand Central Station in, say, 1963.

Oh, and the band is called Here We Go Magic, and they’re terrific, and you should really listen to their new record, “A Different Ship.”

Andy Samberg Speaks at Harvard

Posted on May 24th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Not that funny, actually. Like an SNL skit in the last half hour. What’s kinda funny is how grumpy Barney Frank looks.