Archive for December, 2013

Compromising Academics

Posted on December 28th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

The Times weighs in today with a piece on how academics who defend Wall Street also tend to make a lot of money from Wall Street. I am shocked, shocked by this.

When asked about the financial benefits of his outside activities, Mr. Pirrong replied, “That’s between me and the I.R.S.

This is, of course, a point first and most prominently made by Charles Ferguson in his terrific documentary about the financial crisis, Inside Job, in which he skewered far more prominent academics at Harvard and Columbia for taking money from Wall Street—without disclosing it—and then arguing pro-Wall Street positions.

In the wake of that film, a few prominent economics departments, including Harvard’s, promised that they would do more to disclose their professors’ outside sources of revenue.

Which brings us, inevitably, to Larry Summers, a man who only recently was a leading candidate to chair the Federal Reserve and who, I am confident, has no plans to abdicate a role in public life. Some of his extracurricular activities—serving on the board of an online university (not Harvard’s), investing in a company that lends at high interest rates to people who have trouble borrowing money —have been documented in the press.

But you will find no mention of them or any other paid outside activity on Larry Summers’ personal website. Nor will you find any disclosure on his Kennedy School website. Hey—isn’t the practice of transparency a part of good public policy? And isn’t the Kennedy School supposed to teach public policy?

Interestingly, you will find on Summers’ website a contact for media inquiries, a Gmail address for a woman named Kelly Friendly. Her work with Summers appears to be a side gig for Friendly; according to her LinkedIn page, she’s the director of marketing at Flagship Ventures, a Boston-based private equity firm. (And nothing against Friendly, by the way; it’s hard to imagine that her employer would mind her having a strong connection to Larry Summers.) It’s just telling that if the press wants to reach Summers, they’re encouraged not to go through Harvard, but through a woman at a private equity firm.

There is no “media contact” listed for Summers on his Kennedy School page.

I don’t mean to pick on Summers, because I’m sure that the push towards greater disclosure in Harvard’s economics department—which still lists Summers as a member—never amounted to much, and there are likely any number of Harvard professors who could be faulted for the same lack of transparency.

(By the way, on his website, Columbia’s Joe Stiglitz has a section listing his speeches; Yale’s Robert Shiller has a section titled “Disclosure of Outside Activities“; I took a look about the personal and econ department web pages of about half a dozen different Harvard professors, including Ken Rogoff, Greg Mankiw, Martin Feldstein and Robert Barro, and could not find one word of disclosure about paid outside activities. Lot of stuff about how many articles they’ve written, though. To be fair, I might have missed something…but if the disclosure is that hard to find, one has to assume that the discloser doesn’t really want you to find it.)

But Summers’ case is high-profile, and he could set a good example of ethical leadership by disclosing at least who pays him for what (if not how much). And then, of course, there’s the issue of how much time one of Harvard’s highest-paid professors actually spends doing stuff for Harvard, versus even more lucrative things in the private sector.

A funny thing about the Times’ piece: It singles out a couple of academics you’ve never heard of before. Imagine how much more shocking it would have been if it had examined one of the most powerful economists in the world.

Quotes of the Day

Posted on December 23rd, 2013 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

There aren’t really a lot of nice things about flying. It’s scary, germy, full of delays. They don’t clean the planes as they once did—the tray is not clean and as you open it and see the coke and coffee marks, you wonder if it was used on the last flight by a Senegalese tourist with typhus.

Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal.

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

IAC publicist Justine Sacco, writing on Twitter.

Guess which person instantly became the subject of universal outrage and lost her job…and which person is a columnist at the Wall Street Journal.

Content is King. Right?

Posted on December 18th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

I had a long discussion with a very smart guy yesterday about how media, especially print media, can survive in our current online-obsessed, attention-span challenged culture. He didn’t work in print; he works for a company that makes an extremely high end product that appreciates intelligent media coverage and is finding it increasingly hard to come by. More and more, he argued, content is crucial, and despite all the easy outlets for publication, he finds very few places where there’s still intelligent writing about his space. Tons of websites and blogs that will rewrite a press release, he admitted, but little in-depth coverage.

I was thinking about that this morning as I conducted my morning scan of newspapers and I saw this story in the Los Angeles Times: “And the winner of ‘The Voice’ is

I’d love to talk to the entertainment editor at the Times to say, why on earth would you cover that story?

First of all, if you care about the singing competition show—and I won’t even raise the question of why anyone would—you already know the answer. Even if you didn’t watch the finale, you’d find out the results on a blog.

Second, are Los Angeles Times readers, or newspaper readers in general, really the type of people who care about The Voice? (And if they do, see above.) I can’t believe anyone’s turning to the LAT for that kind of trivial pop culture coverage.

Third, where’s the value-added? What could the Times, with all its resources, add to this “story” that a million other entertainment outlets could not?

And yet, I see this kind of dumbing down in newspapers all across the country—in the Miami Herald, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post. Chasing the tail of the youth zeitgeist, covering television shows as if they were news—it’s not going to be how newspapers survive. Instead, they should focus their resources on reporting meaningful stories that people won’t find anywhere else.

Sometimes I think that the newspaper business is dying because of the Internet, and sometimes I think it’s dying because, mostly, it just isn’t very good.

On the Harvard Bomb Threat

Posted on December 18th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

I’m not surprised by the news that the tomb threat at Harvard was a lame attempt by a sophomore, Eldo Kim, to get out of an exam.

(Funnily enough, on the day of the threat a Harvard associate professor chastised people on Facebook for even considering this possibility.)

I’m sure that this young man will be castigated, as he should be, but isn’t this the logical result of certain ongoing trends at the university? The competition, the pressure, the grade-grubbing, the cheating, the emphasis on outcome (grades, jobs, awards, acceptance to yet another institution) rather than process (i.e., education)?

I look at Harvard from a distance, of course. And I know from my time(s) there that there are many, many wonderful and inspiring young people on campus. But there does seem to be a growing culture of students who are obsessed with advancement but have little concern for ethics…..

Is It Cheesy to Get Choked Up By an Ad?

Posted on December 17th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Because I did, watching this one.

After some truly terrible advertising in 2013 (“Made in California,” ugh), Apple is back with one that really tugs at the heartstrings.

How Does the Fox Hunt?

Posted on December 9th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

In a pretty cool way, actually.

The Mariners Overpaid More than They Needed to Overpay

Posted on December 9th, 2013 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Seattle Mariners offered Robinson Cano a $240 million contract after they heard that Cano was considering a $225 million offer. Not until it was too late did they discover that they were the ones who’d made the $225 million offer….

According to the Dallas Morning News:

By mid-day Friday, Seattle had heard that some team bid nine years and $225 million for Robinson Cano, so the Mariners upped their bid to $240 million and 10 years before apparently realizing the initial bid had come from themselves, too.

Of course, the original mistake was offering Cano anything more than five years….

Monday Morning Zen: A Study in Contrasts

Posted on December 9th, 2013 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

AP photographer David Guttenfelder has posted on Instagram 41 photos of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

north-korea-instagram-20

Meanwhile, National Geographic has posted 35 “most spectacular wildlife photos” from a contest it was staging.

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What’s wrong with this picture?

And They Were Doing So Well

Posted on December 7th, 2013 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Yankees, that is, letting go of Robinson Cano rather than give him an A-Rod like deal and signing a relatively young Jacoby Ellsbury.

But now they have gone and signed a 37-year-old outfielder to a three-year deal. Sigh. How many up and coming minor leaguers could you sign for $45 million?

He’s Gone

Posted on December 6th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Robinson Cano, that is, to the Mariners for $240 million over ten years.

(Note to Seattle: Are you insane?)

Let’s see if they can get him to run to first base…