I’ll be in Mexico the next few days, underwater as much as possible; blogging will be sporadic, but very relaxed.
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
The New Yorker has a really fine piece on MOOCs, largely focused on Harvard, in this week’s issue.
Lots to say about it which I will try to do ASAP.
But one thing that’s striking: The rationales proposed for Harvard’s push into online education are almost entirely financial. The argument about bringing higher education to the world gets some face time, but not a lot. It’s hard not to think that this isn’t just about expanding the brand.
One other thing: At one point in the article, Drew Faust seriously considers the possibility of having student essays graded by computer. In the end, she comes down somewhat against it, but in a way that suggests she’s prepared to change her mind. This is not encouraging.
She also talks happily about a course called “Science and Cooking,”—”I just have this vision of people cooking all over the globe together”—thus inadvertently raising the question of whether Harvard’s MOOC courses will be as intellectually serious as a Harvard course ought to be.
Here is a scene that is quintessential Larry Summers: the pedagogical forcefulness, the certitude—and the reality that the rightness of his thinking does not always match the forcefulness of his articulation.
Summers segued to an explanation for how he chose a career in economics. The field, he said, provided tools that can be used to make the world, or a basketball team, better. The key is reading data and recognizing what it tells you. Then Summers paused and asked the assembled players a rhetorical question: Did they believe a shooter could get a “hot hand” and go on a streak in which he made shot after shot after shot? All the players nodded uniformly. Summers paused again, relishing the moment. “The answer is no,” he said. “People apply patterns to random data.”
From the New York Times Magazine’s recent piece on Summers and Columbia’s Glenn Hubbard.
….some new studies that use huge, previously unavailable data sets are suggesting that, in some instances, hands can ignite, and the success of one play can indeed affect the outcome of the next.
…These new studies do not undermine the validity of the magisterial past research on hot hands, but expand and augment it, Dr. Yaari and the other authors say, adding even more human complexity. Yes, we probably imagine and desire patterns where they do not exist. But it may be that we also are capable of sensing and responding to some cues within games and activities that are almost too subtle for most collections of numbers to capture.
Almost too subtle for most collections of numbers to capture—I think that’s a phrase that could have been used to good effect during the Summers presidency.
Next I will prove that, in the history of the world, someone has indeed washed a rented car.
I am at a conference in Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, no one is paying me to be here. Well, except my employer. For which I am grateful.
On my way out here yesterday, a scary thing happened. I was sitting on the aisle in 15C. A guy in 13B got up to use the bathroom. He was about 5′10, dark hair, mid-40s. As he walked past me, he suddenly stopped, shivered a little, and buckled. A woman across the aisle and I grabbed him as he crumpled to the ground, breaking his fall somewhat. His face was ashen and sweaty; his eyes were closed and he appeared unconscious. Flight attendants came rushing. After about a minute, he opened his eyes and, despite our objections, tried to stand up. He collapsed again.
When he opened his eyes about 20 seconds later, the flight attendants were grabbing a bottle of oxygen. I offered him my bottle of Dasani water, which he accepted. A woman across the row for some reason asked him if he had kids, and he nodded yes and fumbled for his iPhone and found a picture of his son to show her. I think he was scared. The flight attendants made an announcement: “Is there a doctor on board?” There was not—virtually everyone on the plane was attending this conference, and works in finance.
The oxygen seemed to help, and after about ten minutes of lying down in the aisle the man stood up and returned to his seat. There were no empty seats on the plane, so he had to return to his crummy middle seat. He kept the oxygen bottle for the remainder of the flight, about 90 minutes, and when we landed he was met at the gate by an EMS team. He looked much better.
The thing is, if something had been seriously wrong with him—say he were having a heart attack—there would have been no way to help him except to land, and who knows how long that would have taken.
It just reminded me that, despite all our technology, flying is a risky business.
Posted on May 8th, 2013 in Uncategorized | No Comments »
His “open letter to the Harvard community” isn’t exactly a letter from the Birmingham jail.
His main theme is that, while he was wrong on a couple of points and sorry about that, he is really a victim on “vituperative online critics,” which is pretty much what he said the last time around, during the brouhaha over his factually challenged attack on President Obama.
To be accused of prejudice is one of the occupational hazards of public life nowadays….
Ah, the plight of the statesman. It must be very difficult, being such a great public figure.
As he has done in the past, Ferguson strives to discredit his critics by suggesting that they are part of some digital conspiracy. The argument (a generous term) makes little sense. A) Ferguson is himself a blogger, b) they’re not part of a conspiracy, and c) what they say may be right or wrong, but where they say it is irrelevant to that.
It’s almost as if Ferguson thinks that by lumping his critics together and slapping a dismissive label on them, he can discredit them without actually having to cite or engage their arguments. Almost.
Besides, he certainly can’t be a “gay-basher”—why, some of his best friends….
If I really were a “gay-basher”, as some headline writers so crassly suggested, why would I have asked Andrew Sullivan, of all people, to be the godfather of one of my sons, or to give one of the readings at my wedding?
Similarly he can’t be racist because his wife was born in Somalia. (Presumably this means that she is black, but that’s the way Ferguson phrases it, so in the interest of meticulousness, I will get no more specific than he does.)
I don’t think that Ferguson is a gay-basher, generally, though he did take a cheap shot at Keynes, and I doubt that he’s racist. But still, one must point out that having a gay friend or marrying a black woman does not prove anything. I mean, it’s silly even to have to point that out, it’s so obvious, but since Ferguson made the argument… After all, plenty of racists could marry Iman but still have a general prejudice against black people. Just ask Thomas Jefferson.
FInally, Ferguson says that, by today’s standards, Keynes himself would run afoul of these crazy bloggers. He cites a couple examples of what he calls “political incorrectness,” which is his way of slighting the criticism of his words about Keynes.
As he told a friend in 1941: “I always regard a visit [to the US] as in the nature of a serious illness to be followed by convalescence.” To his eyes, Washington was dominated by lawyers, all speaking incomprehensible legalese—or, as Keynes put it, “Cherokee”.
Seriously, Niall—that’s the best you’ve got? Kind of a funny joke about travel to the U.S. followed by an expression that was basically like “it’s all Greek to me”? Given that he said this 70 years ago, I think that’s pretty weak beer. Did I mention that he said this 70 years ago, and you made your remarks about a week ago?
I don’t know if Ferguson considers me part of the knee-jerk blogosphere he so reviles. Probably. Truth is, his problems aren’t the blogosphere’s fault, they’re of his own making.
One suggestion: Cut back on the speechifying. You’ll make less money. But you’ll have more time to think.
Niall Ferguson’s disparagement of John Maynard Keynes—he didn’t care about the implications of his economic policies because he was gay and had no children, etc.—have made the pages of the Times.
The comments Mr. Ferguson apologized for came in response to an audience question on Thursday at the Strategic Investment Conference in Carlsbad, Calif., where he was a featured speaker. The questioner mentioned the familiar Keynes adage favoring immediate government intervention in the economy: “in the long run we are all dead.”
According to a reporter for Financial Advisor, Mr. Ferguson’s language described Keynes as “effete,” and said about his marriage to a Russian ballerina that he was more likely to be speaking with her of “poetry” rather than procreation.
Let me flag one thing here, because I suspect no one else will: Ferguson’s remarks came at an investment conference he was presumably being well-paid to attend, something he does with remarkable frequency. At these conferences, there’s a lot of temptation to say things that aren’t really very smart, but you suspect, on some level, will please the crowd, and get you invited to more conferences, ka-ching.
As I wrote in this space last August,
[Ferguson's] speeches are nice work if you can get it. But are they worth the damage to your reputation that comes from compromising your work?
Ferguson’s apology seems pretty heartfelt. The Times doesn’t include this, but he writes on his blog,
My colleagues, students, and friends – straight and gay – have every right to be disappointed in me, as I am in myself. To them, and to everyone who heard my remarks at the conference or has read them since, I deeply and unreservedly apologize.
On the other hand, he points out that this was “an off-the-cuff response that was not part of my presentation,” which to me only suggests that this is the kind of thing Ferguson says when he’s not being careful.
I’ve never met Niall Ferguson, and I’m sure that in person he can be quite charming. He’s got the accent, he’s a handsome guy (not that I’m effete or anything), and so on.
But there does seem to be a bit of the bully in him. Last August I wrote about Ferguson because of his deplorable and factually-challenged Newsweek piece attacking Barack Obama, and about the nasty response Ferguson gave after being widely criticized for his economic mistakes in the piece.
Ferguson said at the time:
….the spectacle of the American liberal blogosphere in one of its almost daily fits of righteous indignation is not so much ridiculous as faintly sinister. Why? Because what I have encountered since the publication of my Newsweek article criticizing President Obama looks suspiciously like an orchestrated attempt to discredit me.
Or maybe Ferguson just has a streak of immaturity in him—he likes to say things for shock value, then he’s surprised and outraged when people are shocked by them.
I rarely agree with Jonah Goldberg, but I’ll grant him this argument that there’s nothing inherently wrong in saying that one’s intellectual views can be shaped by life experience. Of course they can; it’s harder to imagine that they can’t.
But I do think it’s all about the way in which says these things, particularly when you’re talking about a charged subject such as homosexuality. Ferguson doesn’t sound like he was making a serious argument, just being flip—and that’s when it gets ugly.
George Chauncey, a Yale scholar of gays in American history, in an interview emphasized that he was not weighing in on the economic arguments involved, but noted that Mr. Ferguson’s comments resembled past attempts to undercut gays in public life.
I think it’s probably too much to say that that’s what Ferguson was up to, but that may have been a consequence of his remarks; you can see all these bankers walking away saying, oh, we don’t have to worry about Keynes now, the guy was a fruit. Which is what Ferguson probably should apologize for.
The NRA’s new president, Alabaman Jim
Birmingham Porter, who talks in this video about the “war of northern aggression,” why being “pro-gun” is crucial to fighting tyranny, and our “fake president,” Barack Obama.
How is it possible that Congress is cowed by such dangerous idiots?
It’s not a great picture, but this morning I walked out my back door and was greeted by two owls, one of whom was about 25 feet away…
Life in the ‘burbs has its advantages.
Summers, of course, is well acquainted with the folks at Google thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, who, when she was at Google, easily convinced Larry Summers to get Harvard to sign on to the Google Books digitization project….
Let me preface this blog by saying that I am a huge Larry David fan. My wife, in fact, has been known to call me the WASP Larry David.
There—that’s out of the way.
So last night I was taking the train home, which is what I do given my new life in the ‘burbs. I was happily immersed in Hilary Mantel’s really remarkable sequel to Wolf Hall, Bringing Up The Bodies, the saga of Thomas Cromwell and 16th century England. Read it, it’s great.
Until every ten or fifteen seconds, I started hearing this odd electronic chirping noise—like a plastic cricket made in Taiwan. It did have a Chinese water torture element to it, now that I think about it.
After hoping in vain that it would go away, I peered around trying to find it. Of course it was the guy seated behind me. Probably in his late 50s, he was playing some kind of card game—solitaire, maybe—on his Blackberry. And whenever he did something right, apparently, the game would make that incredibly irritating noise.
Don’t you just hate to be in that situation? Where you think, I could just suck it up and say nothing, but then I a) feel like a wimp, and b) have to listen to this incredibly irritating noise while I’m trying to read a really good book. But on the other hand, if I say something, then I feel like kind of a douche.
Again, given my empathy for Larry David, I don’t really care that much about feeling like a douche, so I turned around and said, with all the politeness I could muster—a perfectly plausible amount—”Excuse me, would you mind turning that down?”
I didn’t even say “turn it off,” which I thought was pretty reasonable of me.
The guy looked shocked. Outraged! That anyone could so object to the electronic sound effects of his smartphone game.
“You gotta be kidding me,” he said.
“You gotta be kidding me”? You gotta be kidding me.
I shook my head to reinforce the point that no, I wasn’t kidding him.
“Alright, alright,” he muttered, and turned the sound down.
And I thought about that for the uncomfortable ten minutes or so until the train reached my stop. Why on earth would someone think it was so outlandish to be asked to turn down the sound on his phone? What makes people think that they have the right to invade other people’s space with noise—especially noise of such a jejune nature?
And more: Why on earth was it important to this man that his card game be accompanied by electronic sound effects? Was it some kind of Pavlovian ritual? Some kind of aural addiction?
I have no idea what the answer is to any of these questions, which is, I think, a microcosm of why I sometimes feel so alienated from modernity.