Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Crimson's Cash?

I just finished a Robert B. Parker book, called "Bad Business," that deals fictionally with the financial solvency of a energy brokerage. It's undoubtedly based on the Enron scandal, but it got me thinking about a few things here at Harvard.

It's a funny thing. We've got an endowment up around $26 billion (that's "billion" with a "b") but we're in some dire financial straits. Our former president -- Larry Summers stepped down this month -- proposed a brazen plan when he first came on board. We were to build a great big new campus across the Charles River in Allston. He announced plans, hired architects and contractors, and plotted out a vigorous capital campaign to pay for it all.

Then, of course, he stuck his foot in his mouth. He made some really pig-headed comments about women in science in front of a group of, well, women in science. Then he publicly humiliated and abraded a very popular African American studies professor, befriended a corrupt economist, and cheesed off a host of egotistical but clout-ful professors.

The big result of all this, of course, was his resignation. But nearly overlooked and yet far more important in my opinion is this: he never launched the capital campaign to pay for Allston construction. And now the bills are rolling in.

Big deal, right? Billions in the bank, right? Barely scratch the endowment. Heck, Harvard's been making double-digit returns on its investments for the past 10 years! Won't notice a thing.

I'm not so sure.

I think that Harvard might be seriously strapped for cash. I think that the endowment is very heavily invested in long term payouts and, more importantly, equity trusts. Liquidating the long term stuff now wouldn't cover the cost of the initial investment. And equity trust are fictional money stores -- listed as capital but really based on the continued investments of confident investors. So long as they keep investing, that is.

I also suspect that the people who know the true state of Harvard's finances -- their top-ranked in house investors -- are getting paid exorbitant bonuses (often over $10 million a year per fund manager) not to reward their investing skills but to purchase their silence. Why else would these folks, on their departure, be granted significant Harvard investments in order to set up and maintain their own investment firms?

Or maybe I'm just paranoid.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Coming soon to "Battle Bots"

Ideas Nicky has for fighting robots.

The Pointy Thing is my favorite.

(Sorry, they're backwards for purposes
of copyright protection.)

MC Hammer

I have some truly amazing neighbors
here at Blogspot.

Case in point: MC Hammer

Even if you've never cared for his
music, you must admit that the man
has style, class, and a spot in
music history eternally reserved
in his name.

Man of faith, dedicated husband
and father, musical pioneer, and
great dancer: Here's to you,
Mr. Hammer!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The celebration of 2-wheeled oddities

The celebration of 2-wheeled oddities
Nifty info on scooters, scootering, and the scoot experience.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Dr. Dan Egan, Proctologist

A man, a plan, an agenda --
D.N. Egan, anal Panama

(Okay, this isn't the best palindrome I've ever written.)

Ten times, fast

Founding Fathers Floundering,
Plymouth Pilgrims Plight:
Greenwich Glens Glowering,
Now Nantucket Natives Night.

Indulgence vs. Empowerment

What do you become
when you get all
you want?


What do you become
when you get all
you need?


By Nature Unaware

Divot in the rock
basin filled with rain
Splashes there a child
playing, unaware
Of a long-dead creature
that left its print


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Me, Myself and I

Me, Myself and I (I knew all three of them in college.)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Lamont Education

From the Harvard Crimson:

I first visited Lamont as a freshman, but like most things I only appreciated it when it was about to be taken away from me. My access to information was only limited by the degree to which that information had been catalogued; if anyone had ever written it down, or even videotaped or recorded it, the Lamont librarians could help me find it.

I recently learned that access to the Harvard server disappears with graduation. That means no more JSTOR, no more Lexis-Nexis, and definitely no more 24-5 swipe access. I won’t have a huge sunny room of comfortable chairs and familiar faces in which to exercise that access. Nor will I have a basement full of Xerox machines, a reference room full of printers, and a whole room devoted to pleasure reading—in which no laptops are allowed.

According to its website, Lamont Library is the brainchild of Keyes D. Metcalf, Harvard’s top librarian until 1955. But Lamont also owes credit to the educational philosophy of Metcalf’s time, embodied by the famous “Red Book” of 1943. Written by a group of faculty led by Provost Paul H. Buck and President James B. Conant ’13, the “Red Book” declared the high purpose of a 20th Century undergraduate education: Harvard must not just teach skills but also civic character, moral temerity, and—above all—an undying commitment to finding truth and supporting fellow men.

Six years later, Buck spoke at Lamont’s grand opening. “Harvard, like the world at large,” Buck said, “has been a battle-ground between good and evil. Our better selves have cherished freedom...and have sought its advancement.” Lamont Library was not just one arm of a research institution, it was one arm of a greater mission: the search for truth, and the commitment to building a better world.

I have been an inheritor of this vision, though I did not initially want to be. When I was forced by my concentration to endure a session with a reference librarian, I grumbled, but I could not protest.

I worry that future students might not undergo the same pressure.

“We must distinguish,” reads the Red Book, “between liberalism in education and education in liberalism.” Conant favored the second; before they could fully exercise their freedom, he reasoned, students needed to be taught how to be free.

Today’s Harvard emphasizes the former; just as the curricular review aims to “open new opportunities for student choice” in the courses they take, the administration overseeing student life seems motivated mostly by a desire to satisfy student demands, not by a desire to fulfill one vision of what a college should be.

Thus curricula and libraries alike are built not to satisfy a broad philosophy or purpose, but to meet specific student demands. Sometimes the strategy has worked; student and faculty activists often do want what is best for them. The renovation of Lamont, unfortunately, might reveal the strategy’s flaws.

The café that will be built in the library this summer certainly has made students happy—who doesn’t want access to cheap coffee after Dunkin’ Donuts closes?—but will it really make them stronger? Will it really contribute to Lamont’s mission?

In its ideal form, the café would. It would provide nourishment, and it would also provide a place for discussion, a place to find truth. But the café as it is being implemented seems only to serve an immediate demand.

For one thing, the café will be built in the same place that first brought me into contact with all the best parts of Lamont: the reference room, replacing the people who are the very core of Lamont’s resources. Moreover, reports of the Lamont renovation committee suggest that the reference desk will move to the third-floor stacks. Where, then, will we put the students who study there? And how will the main reading room preserve any quiet?

Social space is important, but so is learning. Put the Undergraduate Council in full control of the direction of Harvard College, and we risk getting an education that is like one extended senior week—an education that forgets that if one’s peers really are the best part of a Harvard experience, that is as much a result of the qualities Harvard has brought out in them as it is a result of their inner strengths.

Three years ago, I did not want to pick the reference room over a nice long nap, or a nice long chat over coffee. But three years later, I am glad somebody forced me to do it. And I can’t be sure, but I bet I am a more interesting friend—and maybe even a better dance partner—because of it.

Elizabeth W. Green ’06

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Another MS cheap shot

from Edupage, May 31, 2006:


Microsoft is set to begin offering its OneCare security service, a single package that includes antivirus, antispyware, and firewall protections. Announced nearly three years ago, the OneCare service includes advice on how to avoid computer threats and tools to help users recover from security incidents that can occur. According to Microsoft, as many as 70 percent of personal computers are either unprotected or use outdated tools to protect themselves from computer threats. Symantec and McAfee, two leading vendors of security products, are reportedly working on new products that integrate several kinds of computer protection into a single package, as OneCare does. Microsoft said it will not build OneCare into its Windows operating system.
BBC, 31 May 2006

In similar news, White Star Cruise Lines announce their plans to rebuilt the Titanic and wolves are rumoured to be investing in sheep farming.