I Hate the Homeland

Posted on September 23rd, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

And it’s because I’m a patriot.

I’ve never liked the term “homeland” as applied to the United States. It came into use after 9/11 and, to me, it always felt militaristic, jingoistic, insecure and nativist. I have always suspected it was Dick Cheney’s idea.

On Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall agrees with me. He actually traces its introduction into our lexicon back to the Reagan era push for a “Star Wars” missile defense system.

….our addiction to this new word – utterly alien to American English and foreign policy discussion – does tend to lock us down into a fortress America mindset with all the tendencies toward authoritarianism and militarism the posture brings with it. We already have a word – mainland. Or as [Chris] Matthews says, Why not just America?

Worth Reading

Posted on September 22nd, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In the New York Times, Elizabeth Wurtzel says that the reason she didn’t get married till 47 was because she was too emotionally topsy-turvy and was also drawn to bad boys.

I wanted to love and be loved, but I behaved badly, and I had terrible taste. All the people who say they want to be married, but are not, are doing the same thing. All the statistics about how hard it is to find someone to love in this world — in this world of seven billion — do not account for the choices we make. We are the sum of our decisions: It’s not that luck has nothing to do with it, but rather, there is no such thing.

It is difficult to write a published book. It is difficult to get tenure in the astrophysics department at Berkeley. It is difficult to win the Heisman Trophy. But it is easy to get married: about 90 percent of Americans still do at some time in their lives. No self-help industry is required. People who want to get married stop behaving like fools for love and start acting intelligently. It is as simple as wanting to be happy.

Cue Internet outrage.

Also in the Times, the Rockefeller family—descendants of an oil magnate—have announced that the family foundation will divest from fossil fuels to invest in alternative energy. What do you say to that, Drew Faust?

And two of the Times’ columnists have some terrific writing. (You won’t hear me say that a lot.)

Charles Blow recounts the story of how he came to terms with being raped and being bisexual. It’s a pretty gutsy piece of writing.

And Paul Krugman writes about how the GOP continues to blame the unemployed for their lack of employment.

I didn’t set out to mention only articles from the New York Times, but I am reminded that this is why, frustrating though the paper can sometimes be, it is a remarkable institution.

Now We Know Why Sean Hannity Is So Mean and Bitter

Posted on September 18th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Because his father whipped him with a belt and punched him in the face. And Hannity says “I deserved it.”


Slipping Away

Posted on September 10th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The Yankees lost to the Rays, 4-3, last night, and are now 5 1/2 games behind the Mariners in the wildcard “race.” But let’s be honest: There really isn’t a race. The Yankees are playing in September, it’s Derek Jeter’s last season, and they aren’t stepping up to the plate, as it were. How depressing.

In continuation with my (very) recent trend of matching videos to themes, here is the Dave Edmunds hit, “Slipping Away.”

Fun song. Pretty geeky guy. Horrendous video.

Did Harvard Just Sell Its Soul?

Posted on September 8th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 20 Comments »

The Times and the Globe report today that the Harvard School of Public Health is being given a massive new donation by “a group controlled by a wealthy Hong Kong family.” The family is basically two brothers, Ronnie and Gerald Chan—but although the gift is coming from the family foundation, Harvard is framing it as coming from Gerald.

Drew Faust makes an eloquent statement on the gift: “It’s always been, as the whole field always is, under-resourced,” Dr. Faust said.”

The Times does not report—the Globe, in a piece that is generally a rewrite of Harvard’s press release, does—that in return, “the school will be renamed the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in honor of Gerald Chan’s late father.”

Coming Soon: The Buddy Fletcher Harvard College; The Lloyd Blankfein Law School; and the Sumner Redstone School of Business.

No one will care, but to essentially sell one of Harvard’s schools to a donor—even if it is a very generous donor and an “under-resourced” school—is a watershed, and not a good one. Is one reason the Globe story doesn’t even mention Ronnie Chan, who co-heads the foundation which is giving the gift, because he was a director at Enron at the time of its collapse? He had the worst attendance record of any board member. Despite this, Chan is a longtime critic of U.S. financial policy; in the Financial Times in 2010, for example, he called for a “a rebalancing of moral authority”—meaning, giving more moral authority to China, whose highest officials Chan is notorious for cozying up to—and added that “the system that the west touted as superior has failed.”

Yes, that’s probably why the Globe piece didn’t mention him. The Harvard Pravda Gazette notes that the gift comes from the Chan family, but does not name Ronnie at all.

And this is in about ten minutes of digging. Imagine what you could find if you really tried. (Hello, people who get paid to do this stuff?)

Here’s a classic Midnight Oil tune to commemorate the announcement.

A Night at the Stadium

Posted on September 4th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

I went to see the Yankees play the Red Sox on Monday night, and boy, was that depressing. Part of it was that the Yankees were down, 2-0, after half an inning, then 6-0 after two, and 7-1 after three. The team looked flat and lifeless and just like they didn’t really care very much that a) they’re playing the Red Sox, b) they shouldn’t be getting crushed by a bad, last place team; c) they are technically still in the playoff hunt, and d) they should win it for the Jetes.

(Also, Mike Napoli—time to lose the beard. There’s nothing lamer than continuing a trend when it’s long over.)

So that was kind of a drag.

But perhaps worse was the overall experience. I was invited by a corporate box holder—you know who you are, and thank you very much—but I always have mixed feelings about watching sports events from boxes. You feel strangely disconnected from the game; watching it seems a not-particularly-essential option. And indeed, most of the attendees were inside chatting, eating the free food (sliders and chicken fingers? Come on, Yankees, you can do better), drinking beers. It’s hard to get into the game when most people clearly don’t give a damn; you feel a bit silly cheering. Or, when a Red Sox hitter hitting under .200 hits a massive home run over the 385 mark in center-right, booing.

And then there’s the technology issue. One couple left the box interior, briefly, to sit next to me in the open-air seats. They sat down as the Yankees were hitting in the bottom of the third and promptly began taking selfies. Look! Here I am, recording something that I’m not actually experiencing! With their backs to the field, they completely missed Martine Prado’s rocket home run to left field. Eventually they recognized that the crowd was cheering, and they turned around. “What happened?”

You could see versions of this playing out throughout the stands. Between innings the Yankees like to flash close-ups of fans on the scoreboard. At one point they showed a family whose members included a boy who looked to be about ten. He was so engrossed in texting that he didn’t even realize he was on the scoreboard. Whoops! Too late. All around—people texting, checking their email, calling friends. It sucks the energy out of the experience; it undermines the idea that you’re there to participate in something communal, something which is more fun because you’re all in it together; it prioritizes the individual over the crowd.

Don’t even get me started about concerts.

I have two young children. The Yankees were losing badly and clearly not going to come back; all around me people were not particularly paying attention to the game (a lot of the people in the box I was in weren’t even fans).

I left after four innings, and I didn’t feel guilty about it.

But technology is complicated, right? As I left the Stadium, I considered taking the subway down to Grand Central, then hopping on my commuter train to Westchester and picking up my car at the train station. Probably an hour and a half proposition. It was a hot night; I was tired. Screw that. I called an Uber car. Within a minute, I was picked up by a very nice guy driving a brand new Suburban. (Not so great on the gas, I grant you.) We had a good chat; he was from the DR, was clearing about $1300 a week with Uber, and he DJed at Harlem clubs on weekends. So that was kind of inspiring—some good things about America there. We listened to the game on his radio, agreed that the Yankees were infuriating, and he dropped me off at my car in 35 minutes. Not too shabby. I recognize the contradictions—abandoning the communal experience of public transportation for a private ride—but trust me, there’s nothing very special about Metro North at 10 PM.

Meanwhile, the Yankees beat the Sox last night, 5-1. I’m not getting my hopes up.

What Is It Like to be Bernie Madoff Now?

Posted on September 3rd, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

He’s in jail until he dies. His wife won’t talk to him. His son Mark committed suicide in 2010. And his other son, Andrew, just died of lymphoma.

It is almost enough to make you feel sorry for him.

Cell Phone Addiction

Posted on August 29th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

A new study finds that college students spend an average 8-10 hours a day on their smartphones—women are on the higher side—and warns of “smartphone addiction.”

Watching people’s behavior with their phones—their inability not to look at them while in an elevator on while stuck in traffic or walking down the street—I can easily believe that such a phenomenon exists….

You Can Comment Again

Posted on August 28th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Recently I was tinkering with the set-up of this blog, which is probably not a good idea, and I seem to have turned off readers’ ability to comment. Either that or I’ve been boring you all to tears.

Pretty sure I fixed it…at least the commenting part.

Is Harvard Grad Josh Barro a Complete Dick?

Posted on August 28th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In the Times, he weighs in on his right to recline a seat on an airplane—and wonders why, if doing so is so offensive to so many people, no one has ever offered to pay him not to do so.

If sitting behind my reclined seat was such misery, if recliners like me are “monsters,” as Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard puts it, why is nobody willing to pay me to stop? People talk a big game on social media about the terribleness of reclining, but then people like to complain about all sorts of things; if they really cared that much, someone would have opened his wallet and paid me by now.

Here is the most charitable explanation of this argument: Barro is a student of economics, and economists are often stupid when it comes to interpersonal relations. Also, they tend to think that every problem is essentially financial.

Here is a somewhat less charitable explanation: Barro is just trying to be provocative in order to get a lot of hits. Judging from the (as of now) 2168 comments on his piece, he has succeeded.

Here is the least charitable explanation: Barro is an insensitive asshole.

On his own terms, there’s a perfectly rational explanation why no one has offered him money: Because doing so would create a moral hazard in which there is a financial incentive to act like a boor.

A more down to earth explanation would be that most people don’t think like economists; that they are uncomfortable with confrontation; that they don’t think they should have to pay someone not to be rude; and that if someone is enough of a jerk to fully recline his seat on a plane, he’s probably not someone you want to engage with.

You can probably guess where I stand on seat reclining; In the zero-sum game of airplane space, I don’t think it’s justifiable to add to your own comfort at someone else’s expense, regardless of whether the airline gives you “the right” to do so. (I would add that the discomfort of having someone recline into you is actually significantly greater than the comfort it provides the leaner, but that of course is subjective.) In any case, the facilitation of rude behavior by a corporation does not mean that behavior is morally legitimate.

That said, as a practical matter, some people insist on reclining. (Predictably, it seems to be mostly men.) So why not do this: If they lean back an inch, let it go. If they lean back entirely, politely ask them if they could put the seat up a little. If they won’t, hit them in the back of their head with a solid object, like a trophy or a lamp.

And don’t even get me started on the couple in the row behind me on my recent American flight who started listening to YouTube videos on a smartphone—without headsets—and then looked deeply offended when I politely asked if they could turn down their phone.