Archive for August, 2012

Speaking of Clint Eastwood

Posted on August 31st, 2012 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

Unquestionably, his bizarre “speech” at the final night of the Republican convention will be the most memorable thing about that collation of lies, dissembling and historical revisionism.

But there’s one part of it that particularly struck me which hasn’t gotten much attention: that final chant of “make my day,” Eastwood’s famous line from Dirty Harry Sudden Impact.

Maybe it’s because I believe that there’s a significant element of the current GOP which would like to see Obama assassinated…and because I find so much of the GOP rhetoric positioned to frame him as someone who should be killed (“we own this country”…”we need to take our country back”…”you need an American”…Obama is not a “real” American…the astonishing, appalling disrespect of pretending that you are talking to “Mr.” Obama, who is sitting down in a chair while you do so, pretending that he would tell Mitt Romney to go fuck himself…how many people in that audience last night would have referred to Obama as boy in that hypothetical situation?)

…but I found it downright ominous when 15, 000 white people, talking about an African-American president, shout at the top of their lungs, “Make…My…Day!”

You will remember what happens to the violent “punk”—a word implicitly attached to Obama in this back-and-forth—lying on the ground in the seconds after Dirty Harry utters that phrase….”boys” just seconds after Eastwood calls them out on thinking that they could get away with robbing America the diner…

It’s one of the reasons why I think Obama will go down in history as a truly great man; I think of him watching that scene, knowing exactly its implication, yet unable to come out and say so, and doing a remarkable job of remaining calm and apparently forgiving.

You just know that some Tea Party Person, somewhere, who thinks that Obama is an Africa-born Muslim socialist, is sitting in his basement thinking about what he will have to do if Obama wins in November.

The Republicans say that Obama is preaching disunity and division, yet they employ the rhetoric of assassination—and if anyone in public life were to come out and call them on it, they would scream bloody murder. This is as dangerous an election as I can remember.

Friday Morning Zen

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



Cheating at Harvard?

Posted on August 30th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 67 Comments »

In the Times, Richard Perez-Pena writes that Harvard officials are investigating whether 125 students cheated in an intro political science class cheated by sharing answers on a take-home exam.

The accusations, related to a single undergraduate class in the spring semester, deal with “academic dishonesty, ranging from inappropriate collaboration to outright plagiarism,” the administration said in a note sent to students.

Perez-Pena, you’ll remember, is the guy who so badly bungled the Patrick Witt story at Yale, so everything he writes must be read with skepticism, but it sounds like there is a genuine issue here. (The Crimson is reporting it, and the Harvard administration is acknowledging it.)

The Crimson’s story suggests that there may be more involved than Perez-Pena seems to realize…

It will be interesting to see if this cheating scandal, which I’m sure will get a huge amount of attention, forces a renewed debate about the values of Harvard—and its students…

Nice House If You Can Get It

Posted on August 29th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Winklevoss twins just bought an $18 million, 10,000-square-foot home in the Hollywood Hills.

“As Charles Murray Has Pointed Out…”

Posted on August 27th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 16 Comments »

NIall Ferguson’s new Newsweek column is up: It’s an argument that American higher education is creating a self-perpetuating “cognitive elite.”

...they marry one another, live in close proximity to one another, and use every means, fair or foul, to ensure that their kids follow in their academic footsteps (even when Junior is innately less smart than Mom and Dad).

Just because this is a pet peeve, I will point out: they live in proximity, not close proximity.

Ferguson’s column touches superficially upon several of the current debates regarding college: its cost, its utility, its relevance, and again, that idea that it’s perpetuation an elite. He says that a college degree is less useful than ever for finding a job, but worries about its elitism. He quotes Peter Thiel, Rick Santorum, Charles Murray and others, and then suggests that American higher ed is more democratic for foreigners than Americans, which I don’t get at all, because most of the foreigners who come to American universities–certainly the elite ones—are those whose parents can afford to pay full-freight.

It’s a less offensive column than his “Hit the Road, Barack” piece, but not really much more coherent. There’s a good column somewhere in here, but I think finding it would require more time than Ferguson has available.

Monday Morning Zen

Posted on August 27th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Maine dawn (now)

Maine dawn (now)

Brad DeLong: Maybe It’s Not All About the Speaking Fees

Posted on August 24th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

The Berkeley economist rejects Stephen Marche’s argument that Niall Ferguson only says what he says in order to better sell himself to the fatcats who can pay his $75, 000 speaking fee:

Misrepresenting facts and selective editing, DeLong argues, isn’t the best way to promote yourself as a speaker:

It’s a way to get your peers to shift from saying “he is highly entertaining and has a definite point of view that will wake you up” to “he will tell you some things that just aren’t so: you can use your money better on somebody else”.

Contrary to what Stephen Marche says, this kind of misrepresentation is not a good career move on Ferguson’s part–not even with the shortest-run speaking-fee-maximization definition of “career”

But perhaps it’s more subtle than this: Perhaps the process of self-corruption is a long and gradual one, as you increasingly become aware of what the people paying those outrageous fees like to hear, and your thought gradually hews closer and closer to that perspective…until you actually cross the line and go further than your patrons would like. (After all, the Tea Party People aren’t going to shell out 75 grand for NF to come talk.)

Means-Testing Private School

Posted on August 24th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

R. Scott Asen, a graduate of Groton, my high school alma mater, proposes that private school parents be means-tested to make up the difference between what tuition pays for and money that comes from the endowment and donations.

From the Times Op-Ed page:

For 10 years, I headed the development committee of the board of trustees at Groton School, a secondary boarding school in Massachusetts, and ran two major capital campaigns there. I can attest that expenses have so far outstripped revenues that no amount of cost-cutting at such schools, healthy as that may be, can come close to solving the problem. …

To the extent that any family with the wherewithal is paying less than the full cost of the product it is buying through combined tuition payments and donations, that family is effectively being subsidized by other current and past donors. Not only is this ethically unsupportable, but ultimately, it is also financially unworkable.

My proposal: Supplement the traditional development model with a new pricing model. During the admissions process, along with quoting the stated tuition, the school should inform all families of the real costs of operation on a per-student basis and, further, tell them that they will be expected to fill as much of the gap between tuition and cost as they are able with a donation. To determine this number, the same level of financial disclosure currently asked of financial-aid applicants will be asked of them, and a means-testing exercise will be used to determine capability.

I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just raise tuition to the level required to fund the school…

...for a small school like Groton (where tuition last year was $49,810), the impact of the change I am recommending could be a net annual revenue gain of $2 million.….

I’m really just staggered by the fact that it costs $50, 000 to send a child to Groton, an amount that will surely be considerably higher by the time my son is high-school age….

I Prefer Dolphins

Posted on August 23rd, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Telegraph reports that dolphins form distinct cliques and communities over decades based on their skill levels with various tools, such as coral sponges they use to protect their beaks while foraging for food.

The communities…mean the aquatic animals share their knowledge only with those in their own circle, passing it down the family line.
The findings mean the traits of “inclusive inheritability” and culture are no longer considered exclusive to human beings

As I’ve often argued, this century will see a revolution in the way that humans understand the rest of the animal kingdom, realizing that they are far more intelligent than we’ve given them credit for, and this understanding will make it much harder for us—the good ones among us, anyway—to justify killing animals and poisoning the planet generally.

Niall Ferguson: Is It All About the Speaking Fees?

Posted on August 23rd, 2012 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

I like this analysis of the Ferguson Fiasco by Stephen Marche in Esquire:

Ferguson’s critics have simply misunderstood for whom Ferguson was writing that piece. They imagine that he is working as a professor or as a journalist, and that his standards slipped below those of academia or the media. Neither is right. Look at his speaking agent’s Web site. The fee: 50 to 75 grand per appearance. ….That number means that Ferguson doesn’t have to please his publishers; he doesn’t have to please his editors; he sure as hell doesn’t have to please scholars. He has to please corporations and high-net-worth individuals, the people who can pay 50 to 75K to hear him talk. That incredibly sloppy article was a way of communicating to them: I am one of you. I can give a great rousing talk about Obama’s failures at any event you want to have me at.

We see another Zakaria connection here…. And there’s also the common denominator of massive overextension: Ferguson is a contributor to Bloomberg, a columnist at Newsweek/Daily Beast, affiliated with four universities, a documentary producer, writes books, and occasionally teaches and meets with students.

The speeches are nice work if you can get it. But are they worth the damage to your reputation that comes from compromising your work? The way that serious people stop taking you seriously? (As Tim Stanley asks in the Telegraph, “Has Niall Ferguson Jumped the Shark?) I guess it depends on your priorities. But shouldn’t Harvard at some point be concerned about professors who give the slightest tip of the (top) hat to their obligation to the university, but value it primarily for the financial leverage it provides? Because there’s only going to be more and more of them…