Archive for September, 2012

The Dangers of Texting

Posted on September 29th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

As the delighted owner of a new iPhone 5—don’t believe the backlash, it’s remarkable in dozens of little but significant ways—I’ve recently been slightly obsessed with my smartphone. But not obsessed enough to endanger myself or others, which regular blog readers know is a pet peeve of mine. For example: I’m a pretty careful highway driver, and pay close attention to what other cars are doing; almost invariably, if a car in front of me does something erratic (slowing unexpectedly in the fast lane, say), it turns out to be because the driver is texting. It’s hard for me to understand why so many states (including Massachusetts, I believe) don’t ban cell phone use while driving, and enforce that ban vigorously.

Now two developments show just how strong a grip smartphones have over many Americans. The Wall Street Journal reports that more children are suffering injuries because their parents are too busy texting (or otherwise interacting with their phones) to pay attention to their kids. And the New York Times reports that texting may be one reason why more pedestrians are being killed by cars in New York than in past years; people keep walking through intersections while staring at their phones. (I see this all the time.)

When I’m optimistic, I think that this decade or so will represent a sort of walking nightmare from which we will wake up; at some point the novelty of our phones will wear off and we will realize that, as great as smartphones are, we need to be the master of them rather than the other way around. Perhaps people will start appreciating physical reality more than virtual reality.

But I also wonder if our technology companies won’t come up with something else that keeps people similarly absorbed—Google’s goggles, for example.

The iPhone 5 does have one feature that might help alleviate the problem: Dictated emails. (Maybe the 4S had this, but I skipped that generation.) Remarkably accurate—and saves you the trouble of trying to type on that tiny onscreen keyboard.

The Loss of a Friend

Posted on September 29th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

My Yale classmate Elizabeth Alling Sewall died earlier this month from breast cancer. A graduate of Yale and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Elizabeth devoted her professional life to fundraising for schools—I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this blog’s readers had encountered her in one capacity or another.

Elizabeth was a lovely person with a kind heart. I’m so sad to hear of this news.

RIP John Silber

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

The former president of Boston University has died at age 86.

I will leave the discussion of Silber’s record at BU to others better qualified than I. But I do have one story to tell about Silber that may lend some insight into the man.

In 1990, I interviewed Silber at his office at BU for an article on his gubernatorial campaign against Bill Weld. It was impossible when talking to Silber not to be struck by the sheer adversarial nature of the man; he wanted to pick a fight with you whether there was reason to or not. (He reminded me of former New York Yankees manager Billy Martin in this way.)

Silber was born with a birth defect—a right arm that ended at about the elbow in a very sharp, hard point of bone and skin. He told me that, when he was a child, he used to be taunted by bullies because of his arm, and he would fight back by hitting them with the pointed bone of his stump.

I couldn’t help but stare at his arm then and later because Silber had his jacket off, and he had tailored the right sleeve of his shirt so that it ended in a cuff, like a pants cuff, just above the stump—as if to say, not only will I not be ashamed of this deformity, I will flaunt it; I will dare you to look at it, and dare you not to look at it.

And throughout our conversation, when he wanted to make a point emphatically, which was often, he would pound the stump on the wooden table in front of him, like a chicken flapping a wing or a judge pounding his gavel.

For someone unused to the sight (and sound) of bone hitting wood, it was unnerving—something Silber clearly knew, and didn’t hesitate to use to his advantage, even when the situation wasn’t anything close to hostile.

But I just kept thinking of young John Silber, fighting the bullies with that stump, and then wielding it in a different (but no less effective) way later in life, and though I thought that there was something very sad about that, there was also something bitter and unhealthy in it. He would have been a terrible governor.

Friday Afternoon Zen

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


25th and Madison….

Quote of the Day

Posted on September 21st, 2012 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

“Vagina has to be a household word. It should be a topic discussed at the dinner table when you’re having a dinner party.”

Sex therapist Nancy Fish, talking about Naomi Wolf’s new book, Vagina, in the New York Times.

Just doing my part…..

Bob Rubin, Reconsidered

Posted on September 21st, 2012 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

In BusinessWeek, William Cohan writes a long, thoughtful, possibly overdue, and entirely devastating look at Bob Rubin’s career and his individual success against the backdrop of the impact of the policies he pursued.

For example:

“Nobody on this planet represents more vividly the scam of the banking industry,” says Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan. “He made $120 million from Citibank, which was technically insolvent. And now we, the taxpayers, are paying for it.

On the other side of the coin, here’s Rubin being defended by, natch, Sheryl Sandberg—the one time Sandberg has peeked her head out into the media that I’m aware of since the disastrous Facebook IPO run by the Morgan Stanley guy she handpicked:

Like many Rubin defenders, Sheryl Sandberg suspects that her mentor has become a scapegoat for events beyond comprehension. “My own view is that, look, these have been hard times, and people need people to blame,” she says. “It doesn’t mean they blame the right people.”

Boy, is that weak.

This is the article that might finally prompt widespread reconsideration of Rubin’s alleged genius. Must reading for anyone interested in finance, politics, Harvard and ethical culture.

More Racist Anti-Obama Rhetoric from the GOP

Posted on September 20th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

“Reading about Obama’s race fixation in the middle of suburban banality is akin to reading Hitler’s obsessive musing on his Germanic identity.”

—Ann Coulter describing President Obama’s writing about his childhood; this quote comes from her new book on race, Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the ’70s to Obama.

(Thanks, Politico.)

Meanwhile, in Texas, a white man hung an empty chair from a tree branch in his front yard. The empty chair is supposed to symbolize Obama, a la Clint Eastwood. Get it? Obama…hanging from a tree… You get it.

If Romney’s campaign continues to plummet, we can expect a lot more of this stuff, and despite what some posters argued after my Clint Eastwood posts below, it constitutes a dangerous incitement to Obama-haters.

Drew Faust on the Colbert Report

Posted on September 20th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The Harvard president went on to talk about her book, This Republic of Suffering, and Ric Burns’ PBS documentary based on it. And as an occasional Drew Faust critic, I feel an obligation to point out: She’s terrific here. Faust looks calm and poised, she’s articulate, she doesn’t pretend to be something she’s not, and she does a great job of something that’s not easy to do: Being an intellectual in a popular setting. I’m always heartened by people who can make the case that it’s important to be smart in a country where anti-intellectualism is such a powerful force, and Faust does that elegantly here. She’s obviously very intelligent, but doesn’t come across as pompous or elitist. I also like the implicit political message of her conversation: that in the Civil War, Americans came to believe that their government(s) had specific obligations to them, particularly if they were being asked to make certain specific sacrifices (e.g, their lives) for it (them). It’s clearly not a partisan point, just a matter of fact, but it does have some interesting relevance given that one of our political candidates just wrote off almost half the citizens of the country….

I wish that Faust could talk with such straightforward, comfortable fluency and candor about issues in higher education—we still haven’t seen that from her—but maybe she’s getting there.

A Note on the AL East

Posted on September 20th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I know it’s been a crummy season for Sox fans, but what a great season for baseball lovers; it’s impossible not to enjoy the pennant race now going on between the Yankees and the Orioles. Back and forth, back and forth they go, either tied or a game apart, neither team giving in to the pressure. And while I’m rooting for the Bronx Bombers, naturally, it wouldn’t be the worst if they lost to the Orioles, who are a likable team and have been bad for so long, it’s hard not to wish them well.

I’ve also been meaning to write an appreciation of Derek Jeter for some time; at age 38, he’s batting around .320 and just got his 200th hit for the season. Remarkable. And he really reflects the kind of character you’d love to see in an athlete: hardworking, loyal, optimistic and honest. I never want this guy to stop playing; it’s hard to imagine the Yankees without him. And what athlete will ever again spend 20 years with one team?

Then yesterday, the Yanks play a doubleheader against Toronto in which Ichiro Suzuki, who’s about to turn 39, makes a game-saving catch, goes 7-8, and steals four bases in four attempts. How can you not love that?

Here’s hoping the Sox raise their game next year—imagine how much fun this division would be if they were competitive….

Quote of the Day

Posted on September 19th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

“At 65, it seems that I may not be at the peak of my rock ’n’ roll powers. But that is not for sure.”

—Neil Young, in an engaging NYT Mag profile of him by David Carr.