Archive for October, 2012

Depeche Mode Redux

Posted on October 31st, 2012 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Good news! They’re back in the studio—new song below—and touring in 2013. After a hurricane and amidst the horrific possibility that Mitt Romney might be our next president, this does give one something to look forward to.

How Was Your Hurricane?

Posted on October 31st, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I’m writing from my Brooklyn apartment, as there’s absolutely no way to get into Manhattan today, other than walking or driving, and as I look out the window, Flatbush Avenue is a parking lot as far as the eye can see—and that’s still the better part of a mile away from the Manhattan Bridge.

For me, thankfully, the hurricane was not so bad. My wife and I were a little late in our preparations—I had to make a Monday late-night run to Walgreens for baby formula, batteries and water—but by Tuesday we were relatively well-prepared, down to having a bathtub full of water just in case.

And then…very little happened that affected us. The wind and the rain were certainly dramatic. Our cable and Internet access went out. (But that’s Time-Warner, so it could have happened anytime, for any reason.) And the building rocked back and forth a bit—the water in the tub was experiencing its own storm surge, and our chandelier was swaying back and forth, a couple feet in each direction from its center axis. So that was a bit unsettling.

But we watched a DVD of Blackhawk Down, had a nice dinner, and slept well. And yesterday morning the storm had passed. So we consider ourselves very fortunate.

Today my office is closed—I’m not sure it has power, but there’s really no way to get to it anyway. Outside it’s beautiful, sunny and warm, and a blue sky indeed. (See post below.) But the weather is deceptive; millions (including family members of mine in Connecticut and New York state) in the region are still struggling without power, which is a very strange thing: Here in Brooklyn we’re enjoying some days working at home, while just a mile or so across the river, people are really out of wack. And will continue to be for some time: No one seems to have any idea when the trains will be running or when the power will be back on. A hell of a storm.

Music to Follow a Hurricane

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

There may be an ad—sorry.

How Broke is Harvard Donor Buddy Fletcher?

Posted on October 29th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

The Journal reports that his race discrimination lawsuit against the Dakota, the building he sued because it turned down his application to purchase an apartment he clearly could not afford, is on the rocks: Fletcher hasn’t paid his law firm since April, and it has terminated its pursuit of the case.

In a filing Friday, Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP asked to withdraw from the case, citing “non-payment of very substantial legal fees” by Alphonse Fletcher Jr. and his hedge-fund firm, Fletcher Asset Management.

..At the end of June, a major Fletcher fund, Fletcher International Ltd., filed for bankruptcy-court protection in Manhattan. Control of the fund has been turned over to a court-appointed trustee.

That bankruptcy-court filing in June lists the Kasowitz firm as the fifth-largest creditor of Fletcher International Ltd., with a claim of $293,517.

The Journal doesn’t note that this is the fourth or fifth law firm Fletcher has burned through…

I still wonder: At what point will Harvard be forced to reconsider the Alphonse Fletcher Jr. University Professorship, so visibly held by Skip Gates?

Free Speech on Campus: Is It Really That Bad?

Posted on October 25th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

In the New York Times, Greg Lukianoff, who works at an education-related think tank, argues that American colleges are doing more to suppress free speech than to promote it.

Since the 1980s, in part because of “political correctness” concerns about racially insensitive speech and sexual harassment, and in part because of the dramatic expansion in the ranks of nonfaculty campus administrators, colleges have enacted stringent speech codes. These codes are sometimes well intended but, outside of the ivory tower, would violate the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. From protests and rallies to displays of posters and flags, students have been severely constrained in their ability to demonstrate their beliefs. The speech codes are at times intended to enforce civility, but they often backfire, suppressing free expression instead of allowing for open debate of controversial issues.

Here’s a thought: Why not delete that phrase “political correctness”? At this point, it’s implicitly disdainful and the sentence reads more fairly and more accurately if it just says “…because of concerns about racially insensitive speech and sexual harassment.”

But as to the merits of the argument: Lukianoff says his group has studied 392 such codes, which is a lot more than I’ve studied. Some of his examples—like when colleges condone demonstrations to a “free speech zone,” and require students to apply for permits—are pretty disturbing. (We live with the same infringement of constitutional rights here in New York City under Mayor Bloomberg; c.f. the 2008 Republican convention, et al.)

Some examples are a slam dunk:

Some elite colleges in particular have Orwellian speech codes that are so vague and broad that they would never pass constitutional muster at state-financed universities. Harvard is a particularly egregious example. Last year, incoming Harvard freshmen were pressured by campus officials to sign an oath promising to act with “civility” and “inclusiveness” and affirming that “kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.” Harry R. Lewis, a computer science professor and a former dean of Harvard College, was quick to criticize the oath. “For Harvard to ‘invite’ people to pledge to kindness is unwise, and sets a terrible precedent,” he wrote on his blog. “It is a promise to control one’s thoughts.

Of course, that kindness vow was astonishingly idiotic, and whoever implemented it should probably be fired for lacking a basic understanding of what a university stands for. “Kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment”—that is truly cottage-cheese thinking. That said, it took some guts for Harry Lewis to stand up against “kindness,” which is the way that defenders of the vow probably framed the position. Or maybe just some exasperation.

Then there’s Yale:

In 2009, Yale banned students from making a T-shirt with an F. Scott Fitzgerald quotation — “I think of all Harvard men as sissies,” from his 1920 novel “This Side of Paradise” — to mock Harvard at their annual football game. The T-shirt was blocked after some gay and lesbian students argued that “sissies” amounted to a homophobic slur. “What purports to be humor by targeting a group through slurs is not acceptable,” said Mary Miller, a professor of art history and the dean of Yale College.

This is a bit trickier, because in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s day, the term “sissies” did indeed refer to homosexuals, and it really wouldn’t do to have a bunch of Yale students wearing t-shirts that call a bunch of Harvard men fags.

On the other hand, it is a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, and in this ironic context—we’re insulting you in a learned way!—it probably wouldn’t have a homophobic connotation.

Perhaps more importantly, in my opinion, students have the right to call each other fags if they want to. It’s not very nice and I wouldn’t recommend it, but that’s the way freedom of speech works sometimes. You’re not always going to like what people say, but they have the right to say whatever they want. Or they should.

So: I’m not entirely convinced by Lukianoff’s larger conclusion that colleges en masse are discouraging free speech, but it does seem plausible that some, maybe even many, colleges are creating the idea that speech which offends people can be regulated, and that’s just nuts.

Hoisting Trump

Posted on October 25th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Adam Gabatt, a reporter from The Guardian, called Donald Trump’s office and asked if Trump would release his college records and passport application. He spoke with an executive president there named Michael Cohen, who sounds like as big a jerk as his boss.

You know, I try not to wish anyone ill, but when Donald Trump passes on to the next plane of existence, the world will be a better place.

Or, as Lewis Black says in his current show, “Donald Trump is an asshole. And if you like Donal Trump…you’re an asshole.”

In any cause, the recording of this phone call shows you what a classy organization Trump runs.

Steve Pinker on Red and Blue States

Posted on October 25th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

The Harvard…linguist? philosopher? celebriprof?…writes in the Times on the question of why states are either so decisively red or decisively blue.

….the American political divide may have arisen not so much from different conceptions of human nature as from differences in how best to tame it. The North and coasts are extensions of Europe and continued the government-driven civilizing process that had been gathering momentum since the Middle Ages. The South and West preserved the culture of honor that emerged in the anarchic territories of the growing country, tempered by their own civilizing forces of churches, families and temperance.

There’s a lot that comes before this, but that’s basically Pinker’s conclusion.

I’m not convinced. My theory about the political composition of states has to do with a dialectic between economic progress and education levels. As the blog Daily Kos points out, there’s almost a 1:1 correlation between a low education ranking and red state status….

If Whales Could Speak Like Humans… Wait—They Can

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

In the new issue of Current Biology, four marine scientists report on a white whale (a beluga) in an aquarium which began mimicking human sounds in an apparent attempt to communicate with its handlers.

The whale was exposed to speech not only from humans at the surface — it was present at times when divers used surface-to-diver communication equipment (see Supplemental Information ). The whale was recognized as the source of the speech-like sounds when a diver surfaced outside this whale’s enclosure and asked “Who told me to get out?

One of the researchers gave this comment to the website Underwater Times:

“Our observations suggest that the whale had to modify its vocal mechanics in order to make the speech-like sounds,” said Sam Ridgway of the National Marine Mammal Foundation. “Such obvious effort suggests motivation for contact.

So here’s a question to ponder: If whales could talk to humans, do you think they’d be complimentary?

Obama Mocks Trump

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

…but in a nice way.

(Pardon the ad.)

Quote of the Day

Posted on October 24th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

“I’m very honored to have gotten [President Obama] to release his long-form birth certificate…or whatever it may be.”

Donald Trump, in this video, in which he calls upon the President to release his college records. (What are college records, anyway, other than a transcript?)

Is Donald Trump the most odious person on the planet? Discuss.