Archive for March, 2013

Good Friday Video

Posted on March 29th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The second Depeche Mode video, Soothe My Soul…. Can’t decide what I think of the song.

Should I Save for My Son’s College Education?

Posted on March 27th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

My father was a big believer in education. (Mom, too—though not the primary breadwinner in the marriage, she worked just as hard as my father, in different ways.) Though not a rich man, he scrupulously paid for, between my brother, sister and myself, 48 years of private school, including 12 years of Yale. I’ll always be grateful for that, and I’ve certainly internalized that sense of reverence for the value of a great education.

My son Griffin is now a year old. (And damn cute, if I may say so.) When he was about a month old, I opened up a 529 college savings account, which, as you all know, let’s you put money into an investment fund without paying federal taxes on it (and sometimes you get a state tax break as well). Knowing that the earlier one invests, the better, I’ve put a decent (for a journalist) amount of money into it—about $15, 000. Thanks to the stock market, it now stands at about $19, 000.

But there’s a growing chorus of skeptics who think that it’s foolish to save in this manner. Some say it’s pointless to save for college because college will be so expensive by that point, it’s better just to throw yourselves on their mercy and beg for aid. Others say that seventeen years from now, online courses will be so good that it won’t make any financial sense to send a student physically to college. Still others say that college tuition is a bubble on the verge of bursting. And still others say that an undergraduate degree is less and less valuable. (The statistics don’t seem to bear this out, though.) Much better to invent an app or something and skip college—to make money rather than spend it.

(Many of these perspectives are illustrated in this NYT “Bucks” post about private college 529 plans, in which you pre-pay tuition for a specific college in the hopes that a) your kid wants to go there and b) he or she gets in. If not, you’re f’ed.)

I’m curious: What would you do in my place? (Or: What do you do?)

I could certainly put the money to other uses—my 401k, home improvements, summer and/or travel experiences for my son. Does it really make sense to scrupulously save for 18 years for an eventuality that may never come to pass?

Holy Cow, I Agree with Maureen Dowd

Posted on March 27th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

She writes a good column about the intellectual silliness of the Supreme Court’s apparent reluctance to overturn California’s Proposition 8.

“Are we moving too fast?” wondered several of the justices.

The simple answer is: No. The slightly more nuanced answer, “Well, I’m gay and have been denied equal rights for my entire life—how much longer would you like me to wait?”

But most of all, something’s either unconstitutional or it isn’t, right? You can’t say, “Well, it’s unconstitutional but I’m kind of scared by this change (ooooh, it’s fast!). So let’s let it be unconstitutional for a while longer and then, when we elderly folk feel ready, we’ll do something about it then…”

I understand the concern that a Supreme Court decision making bans on gay marriage illegal would be deeply divisive in the same way that Roe v. Wade was.

But on the other hand, how do you tell a gay person that he or she is right, but they’ll have to wait a little while till the bigots aren’t bigoted any more…

Props to the Red Sox

Posted on March 27th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Acknowledging that their tickets are overpriced (well, implicitly acknowledging) and that their team hasn’t been very good, the Red Sox cut prices on concessions for the month of April.

It’s not as good as cutting ticket prices, but it’s something. (I guess it’s also an acknowledgement that seeing a Sox game in Boston in April can be a miserable, chilly three hours.)

Meanwhile, what do the Yankees do to reward fans, even though their team is likely to be not only not very good, but frankly, pretty boring? And their tickets are ridiculously priced.

They launch a crusade to keep Yankees fans from buying bargain tickets on StubHub….

The Sox win this round, that’s for sure.

Why I Never Give to Subway Panhandlers

Posted on March 27th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Last week I was on the 2 train headed uptown—a press conference to open this wonderful exhibit at the Museum of Natural History—when those dreaded words rang out in the subway car, sounding not unlike Robin Williams playing a Vietnam-era disc jockey: “Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am homeless and hungry…”

I say “dreaded words” because these claims rarely look to be true. (Well, at least the homeless part; the hungry part is hard to ascertain.) These subway panhandlers are usually decently dressed and don’t show many of the signs of homelessness—odor, incoherence, a bag of possessions, ragged clothing. I don’t give to them because I generally don’t believe they aren’t just beggars and because, frankly, the subway is stressful enough without creating an incentive for people to continue begging on it. Instead, I write checks to organizations, and occasionally I’ll give to people on the street who really do seem to need the money. And I give to the guy at Times Square who has no arms and hangs around his neck a sign asking for money. I don’t care how much money that guy gets, it’s not enough.

So as the train passed 14th Street on this morning, I declined to contribute to this man’s outstretched hat as he made his way down the subway car and—blessed silence—into the next.

Most of the train passengers got off around 42nd Street, and my car was largely empty when the door at the front opened and the beggar returned. He was quiet this time; no shouts, no requests for help to buy food. He sat down a couple seats away from me, looking decidedly more relaxed and vigorous than he had on his previous visit. Then he calmly, and with a complete lack of self-consciousness, pulled from his front pocket a stack of bills about three inches thick and began counting his money. I couldn’t keep track, but even if it was all ones, it was certainly into the three figures.

Yesterday I opened my New York Post to see that I wasn’t the only one who’d seen this guy tallying up; a Post reporter had witnessed him further uptown and photographed him. Not only photographed him, but identified him: This particular homeless guy is named Jeffrey Hillman, and he was made famous a few months ago when he was begging, shoeless, in Times Square and a New York cop bought him a pair of boots. Someone caught the act of generosity on video and it went viral.

But according to a minister who knows the man, this beggar clears up to $1, 000 a day. He’s also out begging in Times Square again—sans boots.

This is why I never give to subway panhandlers.

Harvard Hoops and Harvard…Oops

Posted on March 22nd, 2013 in Uncategorized | 24 Comments »

Harvard basketball upset the #3 seeded team in March Madness, New Mexico, last night. Pretty exciting!

But on the same day, news breaks that another Harvard student is involved in a cheating scandal: Andrew Watkins, who, according to InsideHigherEd, “improperly accessed information” that helped him and Harvard win the National Academic Quiz Tournaments* from 2009 through 2011.

“If you can see the questions ahead of time, it’s not just having an advantage, it’s like having the answer key to the test,” said Andrew Hart, a member of the University of Minnesota’s team, in an interview. “[Harvard A] was already one of the best teams in the country, so I think that gave them the push they needed to get over the top. They were able to win these tournaments based on… cheating.”

Watkins, who graduated in 2011 and therefore can’t be kicked out—but can his diploma be retroactively suspended—issued one of the most dubious apologia in all of recorded human history.

“I regret my breaches of question security. I am gratified that NAQT acknowledges that there is neither direct nor statistical evidence that I took advantage of my access; though I know everyone will make their own judgments, I did compete in good faith.

Neither direct nor statistical evidence! That’s reassuring. Not as reassuring as saying “I promise, I didn’t cheat and here’s why,” but reassuring.

On his Wikipedia page (read it while you can!), clearly self-authored, Watkins says this of himself:

Andy’s philosophy on studying for quizbowl is that you need to study really obscure things to beat good players to good questions. Therefore, much of his knowledge base is actually stuff that rarely comes up. This has also led to Andy’s reputation as among the worst judges of difficulty appropriateness among active writers of good questions.

I think it’d be unfair to draw any correlation between increasing emphasis on athletics and lowered academic standards in this situation, and really, you love to see an underdog win, so kudos to the hoops guys—they must be feeling great right now, and who could blame them?

But this does point up the importance of deans Smith and Hammonds, perpetrators of the recent e-spionage at Harvard and violators of Harvard policy in that situation, acting with more integrity. How can you chastise a student for improperly accessing electronic records when the deans are doin’ it for themselves?

*P.S. What the hell is the National Academic Quiz Tournament?

Friday Morning Video

Posted on March 22nd, 2013 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Alt-J live at SXSW…

Terrifying Fact of the Day

Posted on March 19th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

Fifty-seven percent of U.S. workers surveyed reported less than $25,000 in total household savings and investments excluding their homes, according to a report to be released Tuesday by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

The WSJ.

I’ve been seeing a lot of similar data lately, and I think this is a really grave crisis. Strangely, the Journal article doesn’t specify how close to retirement those workers are. (If you’re 25 years old, $25, 000 in savings if pretty good.)

But if you’re near retirement, $25, 000 in savings and investments outside of home ownership is essentially zero—the annual return on it is maybe a thousand bucks— which means surviving on Social Security in retirement, because who gets a pension anymore, except maybe municipal employees—if you ever even get to retire—which is very, very difficult to do. Which means, because health care is so expensive and hard to access, that we’re going to see longevity determined by wealth (or lack thereof) more than at any time in human history. It also means that the generation following these retirees will receive virtually nothing in the way of inherited wealth, something that has helped past generations move up in the world, economically speaking.

How on earth will 57% of American workers survive on home equity, Social Security and $25k?

Things I Won’t Be Doing Anytime Soon

Posted on March 18th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

They include wingsuiting into Rio de Janeiro and flying between two skyscrapers.

The world is getting crazier, don’t you think?


Posted on March 18th, 2013 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

…interviewed at Austin’s tech/film/music festival by Jason Bentley of KCRW.

I can’t get the interview above to play. (Can you?) So I’m adding another little tidbit: “Soothe My Soul,” the second single off Delta Machine, the new record.