Karl Rove and James Fallows Up-Close

Last year, I did two posts summarizing a few dozen speeches I heard at the Athenaeum, including those by Gregg Easterbrook, Bono, Bill Kristol, Anderson Cooper, Orville Schell, Peter Wehner, Orhan Pamuk, David Gergen, David Brooks, and Jonathan Rosenberg.

This time around I will try to post some of my notes and impressions in real-time, when my thoughts are fresh. Today: Karl Rove and James Fallows.

Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff in the White House, advisor to George W. Bush

Rove had such a high profile in the Bush administration that most people are predisposed to the guy in one way or another. The usual media accounts call him "Bush’s brain" or "The Architect" — I for one had an image of some evil mastermind tapping his finger tips together while plotting how Republicans can take over the world. In real life he comes across as a normal, folksy, nice guy. There’s something about the flesh which strips larger-than-life figures of their aura.

His speech, which was occasionally supplemented by the din of protesters outside chanting "War Criminal," was long on anecdotes and short on real substance. Usually these types of speech are annoying. But when the anecdotes are, say, how Vladimir Putin melted in awe when he stepped into the historic Oval Office, or the father of a Navy Seal who cried in a meeting with Bush, or just the blow-by-blow "day in the life of the President," you can get away with it. The sheer proximity to power that Rove enjoyed for many years affords him a well of stories that can keep even skeptical audiences entranced.

Rubinkarlrove1h When he did speak on policy issues, he was predictable. History will judge Bush favorably – just look at Truman’s low approval ratings when he left office. Iraq will prove ultimately worthwhile. Etc. In one section he delivered a 3-5 minute non-stop "defense" of the Bush presidency, dwelling on some of the lower-profile Bush initiatives like aid to Africa. In the end all that matters in terms of the Bush legacy is Iraq, but it was interesting how Rove painted a broader picture of the eight years. I don’t blame him for wanting the legacy to rest on ground wider than Iraq.

He also demonstrated subtle political cunning that would be expected of someone in his position. When referring to Obama, he plainly framed Obama’s experience in the Senate as all of "143 working days," not the "two years" that’s often cited. He reviewed the Republican and Democratic parties’ strategies and noted how the Democrats have outspent the Republicans in all the recent elections and will do so again this year. It’s not the points themselves that demonstrate a certain savviness but how he delivered them — by not making them "points" but rather sentences as commonplace as "Nice weather today." It implies a certain unquestioned truthfulness to them, even if they are actually surprising, like in the case of Dems outspending Repubs, or actually damaging, like in the case of Obama’s non-record in the Senate.

All in all, college drop-out Rove struck me as a quick thinker, well versed in all aspects of both the ground warfare that is politics and high level strategy that animates campaigns, a true student of U.S. history, and more personally, somewhat bemused at his standing at go-to punching bag for Bush bashers. Insofar as I understand Rove’s influence in the Bush administration, I can’t say I’m a fan of his policies, but I was happy to see him up close, if only to help me process / rebut / agree with the countless media portrayals.

James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic

There are maybe a half dozen people whose work I always read. James Fallows is one of them. For about four years, I’ve read or skimmed all of his articles in The Atlantic and all his blog posts. There are many smart people writing today. Fallows is different due mostly to his range — aviation to Iraq to economics to technology / software — no stone is left unturned in his reporting. The product of a mind that’s lived at the intersection of ideas and industries consistently stimulates me more than the product of a monoculture / niche. Who else is qualified to interview on-stage (at different times) Bill Clinton and Larry PageFallows and Sergey Brin? Along with interdisciplinary thinking Fallows’ writing style strives for clarity above all. Showboating or literary experimentation rarely enter into the equation and thus never distract from the idea at hand. Finally, unlike many pundits on politics, Fallows actually reports. He’s lived in many countries overseas (currently Beijing), for example, and did a multi-month programming stint at Microsoft to aid in his tech reporting. I love a clever turn of phrase, and adore many Washington columnists, but isn’t it heartening to know that someone is actually immersing himself out there in the big bad world and writing back to us about what’s going on?

Of course, enjoying someone’s writing from afar doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy him in-person. We all know the super successful and super smart asshole. Fallows, by contrast, is a commensurate professional, classy, gracious with his time. He took a genuine interest in students’ ideas, betraying not a hint of condensation. My notes from his talk I re-print below:

  • As a journalist you must talk to people who know more than you about a topic, and then explain it to people who know less than you. Challenging!
  • The Atlantic has the richest readership of any magazine. It’s a "high end" publication. This in some ways will make it endure more the general economic hardship afflicting mainstream media.
  • Vis-a-vis the New Yorker, a competitor, the Atlantic’s entry point to big ideas is via the "conceptual scoop" as opposed to the profile of an individual.
  • Youth: travel and live abroad as much as you can! China wouldn’t be a bad place. A strong, influential China will be part of your adult lives, so see what it looks like and get comfortable with its existence.
  • Speaking of China, there’s no "one China." China is made up of a billion plus individuals and many distinct cultures. We need to recognize it for what it is, rather than one big blob "China."
  • He quoted David Foster Wallace twice — in particular DFW’s brief missive on the meaning of the American idea.
  • "When meeting foreigners I’m impressed by their willingness to be re-seduced by the American idea."
  • What will matter in the presidential debates? The candidates’ temperament and bearing.
  • The "global war on terror" unites factions that would otherwise be not united. Saying "the terrorists" unites terrorists that would otherwise be disparate.
  • We needn’t worry about China militarily. There are greater military worries elsewhere. For now China is still consumed by Taiwan.
  • As a former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, Fallows knows how to organize a speech. He laid out the road map for what he was going to talk about over the 40 minute time frame and then regularly gave an update as to where he was ("Ok, that’s point #1, XYZ, now let’s go to point #2 of 4"). In the many keynotes and sales presentations I’ve given I’ve found this a very important rhetorical device to orient the audience and display a command of the clock. Also, during Q&A, Fallows wrote down the questions as they were asked, prior to answering to prevent "Now what was your second question again?" time wasters. I need to do this.
  • His first and main foreign policy point was that the next U.S. administration needs to "think big." This surprised many of us, I think. Most commentators grimly lay out all the international entanglements President Obama or McCain will inherit (and a domestic economic and political situation that’s not much better). Thus, their prescription is, "Hold tight and deal with existing crises." Fallows’ guidance, however, is that we need to think big, fight harder for our ideals. What the "big idea" should be is unclear. During Q&A Fallows said, contra Bush’s 2nd inaugural, it’s not democracy around the world, although it might be "liberty around the world."

Notes from Spring Speakers ’08

I saw a bunch of speakers this spring who visited Claremont. Below are my rough notes from Joel Kotkin, David Gergen, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Rodrick MacFarquar, David Brooks, Jonathan Rosenberg, Joel Fleishman, Orville Schell, Seth Leher, Marcy Wheeler, Robert Rosenthal, Gregg Vanoureck, Josh Lerner, and Kazuhiko Togo.

Here are my notes from last semester, which include Bono, Gregg Easterbrook, William Kristol, Anderson Cooper, Peter Wehner, and Orhan Pamuk.


Joel Kotkin, author, The City: A Global History and The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution is Reshaping the American Landscape

On cities and California’s economic future:

  • Superstar cities don’t have room for a true middle class.
  • Are cities still vehicles for upward mobility?
  • Second tier cities should stop trying to model themselves after creative cities — every city is different. Kansas City invested $500 M in a performing arts center instead of focusing on the basics.
  • Catholic Church weakening in influence is a problem for cheap, good education.
  • Cities should focus on growth and retention of jobs, esp blue collar ones.
  • Shortage in plumbers, welders. We don’t need more PhDs. More machinists, less poets.
  • LA job growth – 9th out of 10th out of the top ten metro areas in US. That’s bad.
  • The left is a holding cell for every kind of special interest lunacy.
  • Republicans demonize immigrant groups, but they’re 40% of the CA population.
  • CA infrastructure used to be 20% of its budget; now only 3%.
  • 1/3 of LA-USD budget is paying retired teacher pensions.

Here’s a QuickTime version of Kotkin’s speech.


Sonja Lyubomirsky, author, How of Happiness

  • "Hedonic adaptation" – as we adapt to good things the positive effects of the good thing diminish. The moment something is in your attentional background (you stop actively noticing the new car smell) – you’ve adapted.
  • Definition of happiness has two components: Positive emotions and a sense that one’s life is good.
  • Determinants of happiness:
    • 50% genetic
    • 10% circumstances
    • 40% uncharted: intentional activity
  • If you study happy people you find commonalities. They’re social, gracious, savor the present, spiritual religious, etc.
  • Everything in life requires effort. Why is your emotional life exempt from this? Happiness takes effort.
  • Acts of kindness make you feel good. They involve sacrifice. Acts not normally expected are good.
  • People who practice optimism and gratitude letters, etc are happier over the long term. Gratitude more powerful than optimism.
  • "Art of Happiness" by Dalai Lama is good book.

Rodrick MacFarquar, Leroy B. Williams professor of history and political science, director, John King Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University

On China:

  • Empire concept collapsed because it no longer had guiding ideology.
  • Warring period: 1916-1928.
  • 1950’s – class struggle yrs – many died and suffered
  • Can’t understand China if you don’t understand cultural revolution.
  • CCP have lost credibility – members in the party today don’t believe in anything.
  • More Chinese are better off today than ever before.
  • There will be a traumatic event that triggers a revolution of sorts.

David Brooks, columnist, New York Times:

  • "I’ll be brief because many of you are academics, and you’re not here to hear me talk, you’re here to hear yourselves talk."
  • He likes Edmund Burke.
  • People learn when there’s an emotional connection.
  • All factions of conservative movement united around distrust of government – this ain’t enough.
  • Obama’s perceptiveness / self-awareness / stability is striking.
  • McCain’s morality is based on honor, not morality. #1 trait is aloofness – somewhat detached personality.
  • Conservatism shouldn’t have permanent policies (like tax cuts): don’t get moral about a situational policy issue.
  • Conservatism is about not knowing much; modest about what we can know/do.
  • Conservatism is philosophy first, policy second. Liberalism is policy first, philosophy later.
  • Conservatism values social mobility more than equality.
  • Top issues in the election: bipartisanship, immigration, healthcare.
  • People aren’t solely self-interested economic rational creatures. If this were the case, why would 30% of students drop out of high school even though it’s econ ruinous to do so?
  • What’s the point of being a democrat if you can’t play the class card?
  • Bush seems 40 IQ points smarter in private than in public.

Here’s a QuickTime version of Brooks’ speech.


Jonathan Rosenberg, senior vice president of product management and marketing, Google, Inc.

Keys to innovation:

  • Small groups of specialists are bad
  • ideas can come from anywhere
  • hire great people
  • sharing/openness: trust your people with things
  • can’t control the platform anymore
  • morph ideas but do not kill them
  • convergence will be at the data level, not device level
  • users before money
  • disinformation is online; but the truth also emerges faster
  • iterate on products
  • data must drive everything. at GOOG when making a prez there are two projectors, one for your PPT, the other for your source data
  • have big vision / think big
  • Bet on a trend or fall victim to one
  • accept a smaller piece of a bigger pie, rather than a big piece of a small pie
  • Feed the winners, starve the losers
  • HIPPO – be careful of the highest paid person in the room’s opinion – don’t let him/her dominate or over-influence
  • Never surrender
  • Reward innovation: pay the best guy the most
  • Learn how to learn

Here’s a YouTube video of Rosenberg’s speech.


Joel Fleishman, professor of law and public policy, director, Samuel and Ronnie Heyman Center on Ethics, Public Policy, and the Professions, Duke University; author, The Foundation: A Great American Secret- How Private Money is Changing the World

On foundations and philanthropy:

  • Last year there were 20 gifts @ $400 M or more
  • Buffett gave $31 B to Gates Foundation
  • Gates will spend itself out of existence within 50 yrs of the death of the last of three survivors
  • Foundations have done more than most know
  • They need to be more transparent
  • Only 5% of foundations have acknowledged failures in public
  • US Treasury loses $40-50 B a year from tax savings on gifts
  • There’s no R&D in non-profit world – crazy – they need to spend to figure out how to best spend their money.
  • Last year $1.4 trillion was spent by non profits

Here’s a QuickTime version of Fleishman’s speech.


Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director, Center for U.S.-China Relations, Asia Society; former Dean (1996-2006), Graduate School of Journalism, U.C. Berkeley

On China and the environment:

  • China thinks they have a right to develop
  • Den Xiaping wanted to reform China economically, not necessarily politically
  • When China does something, they do it extremely
  • Several million people pulled out of poverty recently
  • Leninist capitalism: more stable than Kenya, for example
  • Coal is what makes China work
  • Historical baggage: US polluted during their industrial revolution. Why should China have to hold back just because US has gone Jesus on global warming?
  • Tibet is the water tower of Asia; glacier melt
  • 25% of particles over LA is from China
  • 750k people dying prematurely due to pollution
  • Their challenge is our challenge: the environment

Here’s a QuickTime version of Schell’s speech.


Seth Leher, Avalon Foundation in the humanities and professor of English and comparative literature, Stanford University; author, Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language

On linguistics:

  • Economic constrains affect the aesthetic content of a book. In the Victorian Era, reading took place on trains, so books came out in three volumes.
  • Movies are its length due to economics, not necessarily aesthetic value.
  • Is a linguist supposed to describe language or prescribe what language is supposed to be? not possible to legislate language use. Can’t impose linguistic rules and regs.
  • Language will change at points of linguistic contact — e.g. Eng/Span.
  • Sports reporting goes on in the present tense. Children today talk more in the present tense – self-description in the present.
  • Strunk and White represent core puritan values, simple, direct, etc. Just one aesthetic.

Here’s a QuickTime version of Leher’s speech.


Marcy Wheeler, political blogger (emptywheel), Comment is Free section, Manchester Guardian Online; author, Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy

On bloggers and journalism:

  • When politicians feed journalists, the journalists re-hash the soundbites.
  • Journalists try to propagate the narrative about journalism — journalism first, story second. Judy Miller depicted as this first amendment martyr even though she had been printing the erroneous WMD stuff Bush fed her, and the Scooter case.
  • Gotta understand the sources of journalists: everyone has a source and we do their biddings, sometimes.
  • Bloggers can help build timelines — reporters have tunnel vision because they have daily deadlines.
  • Bloggers can do deep dives on publicly available information
  • An aide to Dick Cheney said, "When Dick Cheney goes on Meet the Press, he controls the agenda." We need to accept that it’s not as it sometimes seems — ie that Russert asks tough hitting questions.
  • Every journalist has their own definition of "off the record".

Robert Rosenthal, distinguished professor of psychology, U.C. Riverside; co-author, Contrasts and Effect Sizes in Behavioral Research: A Correlational Approach

  • expectations matter – those labeled "genius" outperform others
  • Interpersonal expectation effect is powerful
  • Undergrads do stuff b/c they don’t know it can’t be done

Gregg Vanoureck, author of Life Entrepreneurs

  • Biz entrepreneurship is 1.0, Social entrepreneurship is 2.0, life entrepreneurship is 3.0
  • Entrepreneurial life is not linear; it’s iterative.
  • Finding your purpose in life is a combination of reflection and action.
  • A business entrepreneur owns his own enterprise. A life entrepreneur owns his life.
  • Common traps:
    • Walking a path in life that others have chosen – ie, not YOUR path
    • Sticking with the first path you choose – if you’re successful on a path, the switching costs increase over time, so you get locked in and have a hard time jumping off the train. As Drucker said, your odds of choosing the right career/job right out of school is one in a million
    • Postponing happiness – "someday I’ll be able to lie on a beach" etc.

David Gergen, frmr presidential advisor, author, Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton.

  • "Reagan: when faced with two temptations, I choose the one which gets me home by 9:30 PM."
  • The next presidency will face some of the most difficult challenges…ever? In the first year s/he will deal with economic issues and foreign policy. Year two Bush tax cuts expire. Year three social security/healthcare. Healthcare costs are massive.
  • American superpower status has been great for the world.
  • Bill Clinton is a hard dog to keep on the porch.
  • There’s the inside game – DC people. And the outside game – the people. Gifted politicians can play both games.
  • Hillary Clinton would be a great OMB director.
  • With Clinton we’ll get a predictable D.C. slog.

Josh Lerner, Jacob H. Schiff professor of investment banking, Harvard University; co-author, Innovation and Its Discontents: How Our Broken Patent System is Endangering Innovation and Progress, and What to Do about It

Are there job losses in a firm that gets taken over by a private equity firm via an LBO? First two years yes, but long term no difference.


Kazuhiko Togo, former Japanese ambassador to the Netherlands; visiting professor of international relations, Seoul National University; author, Japan’s Foreign Policy 1945-2003

On Japan:

  • Abe tried to revise constitution away from pacifism
  • Defeat in WWII was searing and to understand Japanese psyche requires understanding this loss
  • Koizumi partnered w/ US on many things
  • ’78 – China reform: doing diplomacy
  • ’82 – controversies about how to refer to China in school textbooks
  • ’89 – Tiannamen incident – Japan said it was unacceptable but "we shouldn’t isolate China" – this won good will w/ China
  • ’95 – Murayama statement apologizing for its aggression against Korea
  • Koizumi re-tensified relations w/ Korea and China…regional cooperation decreased and progress diminished.

Here’s a QuickTime version of Togo‘s speech.

The Right to Offend and Be Offended, Higher Ed Edition

Some people think they have a right not to be offended. Especially on college campuses. For whatever reason, an idea exists that if you are offended by something, somebody deserves to be punished, or at the least receive some sensitivity training.

Claremont McKenna is one of the few colleges today that has refused to be a total whore to the "-isms" which often spread this nonsense. Still, in the greater Claremont Colleges, political correctness can wreak havoc.

Two recent examples.

At Harvey Mudd College, one of the world’s premier engineering schools (an undergrad-only competitor to CalTech, Georgia Tech, MIT), the dean of students yesterday sent the following email:

This morning, the following writing was viewed on the white board of an HMC dorm room – "Hillary is a foxy lesbian". It seems that the student residents wrote this message as part of a joke, without thinking about the impact it might have on others. It refers to a prominent public figure.

The message has been erased. Campus Safety has been notified. But those who might be concerned about this incident are encouraged to stop by and speak with us in the Dean of Students Office, the Office of Institutional Diversity, or with a member of the HMC Multicultural Ally Program. Some of the other resources include the Counseling Service, the Office of Black Student Affairs, Chicano Latino Student Affairs and the Queer Resource Center.

In accordance with communications protocol, all Claremont Colleges students were notified of this "incident". Laughable.

In a more publicized incident, at Scripps College, the best women’s college in the West, Dean of Students Debra Wood expressed alarm at the racism and sexism in advertisements for a "White Party". A White Party, of course, means "wear white." Djtimbo The advertisement had a picture of a white male dressed in white with two black females dancing in the background. Wood said the ad "harmed women and African-Americans." Harmed? Huh? Compared to what MTV broadcasts every day? Of course, at the end of her email, she notes:

The Scripps Dean of Students Staff, faculty members and members of the Diversity Coordinating Committee stand by to support members of our community, and support may be found at the Office of Black Student Affairs and Chicano/Latino Student Affairs Center.

For some reason, I think these college administrators just want an excuse to promote the various minority support groups.

A Washington Post blog has more commentary on the Scripps incident. They nominate Dean Wood as "Idiot of the Year."

You can’t make this stuff up.

Speakers I’ve Heard This Semester

"Any sentient being who likes to play with ideas knows all about the Athenaeum at Claremont." – Carl Schramm

At Claremont, four nights a week, every week of the year, notable speakers come to dinner and give a speech in an intimate setting (the Athenaeum). Unlike at large universities, where big names draw thousands of people, here any student gets one-on-one time if he desires it.

Here are some of the folks who’ve visited Claremont this semester, with my notes / impressions.

Bono, lead singer, U2; co-founder, advocacy organization DATA (Debt AIDS Trade Africa)

He was a passionate if somewhat unpolished speaker. But he spoke from the heart. I was impressed with his sheer energy and how he conveyed his feelings on poverty without sounding overly nanny-ish. Of course, from a policy perspective — how he wants to solve the Africa problem — he’s bankrupt. From a motivational perspective, though, impressive.

William Kristol, founder & editor, The Weekly Standard

I had dinner with him as well so got a good sense for how he thinks about things. My notes: a) Kristol is super smart with an extraordinary grasp of political history; his speech is peppered with references to random elections and politically significant events from the past, b) he’s convinced we’re in a "new era" and the current political circumstances are "unprecedented", c) Iraq, a war for which he was one of the main intellectual cheerleaders, has the potential to get back on track and be worthwhile (a minority view), d) Kristol is expected to tow the conservative line on everything, and for the most part he does. I like unpredictable thinkers and pundits — hard to find in political journalism.

Elizabeth Kolbert, staff writer, The New Yorker; author of book on global warming

Not very impressive. Typical ultra pessimism on global warming — nothing new here. I’m sure she’s a good reporter. But as a speaker, not so much.

David Talbot, founder, former editor-in-chief, Salon.com; author, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years

Boomers miss JFK. Period.

Anderson Cooper, journalist, CNN anchor, Anderson Cooper 360

The man who asked "tough questions" during Katrina! Anderson came across as affable, thoughtful, and yes, gay. (Apparently he has a thing for black men.) I have nothing against Anderson or CNN, but I’ve never thought as highly of TV journalists as print ones because on TV your looks and charisma matter too much. This means the sorting of talent is not exclusively driven by journalistic talent. Anyway, his overarching point: "Follow your bliss." On a young person’s dream of going into politics: "I think you should become a real person before you become a fake one."

Ronald Fogleman, four-star general (retired), Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force

He’s obviously reached the pinnacle of success in the military world, but he didn’t address — as I hoped he might — when military strategies cross over to the civilian world and when they don’t.

Peter Wehner, speechwriter for George W. Bush; head of Whitehouse think tank "Office of Strategic Initiatives"

Extremely impressive presence: thoughtful, humble, open to ideas different from his own, eloquent. Wehner was in the inner circle at the White House up until August ’07. With a front row seat in some of the important decisions made by the federal government, Wehner had loads of insight. I asked him about Matt Scully’s article and he said there are inaccuracies; unlike Scully, he thinks Michael Gerson is gracious and modest. He talked about the importance of hearing a range of perspectives, so I asked him about the perception that the White House is insulated and that Bush is surrounded by yes-men. He challenged that perception, saying, for example, they often invited outside policy experts, public intellectuals, and pundits to the White House, even if these outsiders disagreed with official policy.

Gregg Easterbrook, senior editor, The New Republic, contributing editor, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly

He writes and thinks about every topic under the sun. He spoke about global warming. I chatted with him before dinner, during dinner, and then listened to his speech. Very impressed. On global warming he says there is a scientific consensus, but it’s narrower than some think. It is: 1) the world temp has increased by one degree, 2) humans have had something to do with it, 3) the earth will continue to get warmer. Until someone can make a profit off environmental problems, there won’t be action. The global energy sector is huge: 5% of energy is bigger than all of IT or telecom. We need to impose stricter regulations on fuel efficiency and other things. Then internalize the environmental problems. Then attach a price to it. Then there will be innovation.

Carl Schramm, president, CEO, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; co-author, Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism

The Kauffman foundation is the largest organization in the US (and the world?) devoted to studying the economic effects of entrepreneurship. They do lots of good work on studying and promoting the importance of small business, free markets, etc. I was shocked to learn that their endowment is some $2 billion, making it 30th largest foundation in the U.S. Yet it seems they operate mainly as a think tank (and less a direct grant giving org). How many think tanks have such a large endowment?!

Jabri Asim
– former deputy editor of Washington Post book review, author of a book on the word "nigger"

He offered an interesting history of the n-word (nastier than many think) and concluded that while we shouldn’t ban the word altogether, it should be used sparingly and never in the casual way people in the street use it.

Ronald Heifetz – co-founder, Center for Public Leadership, director, Leadership Education Project, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Leadership is more an activity than a character trait. This is all I remember. Not impressed, even though Heifetz is a big name in the field.

Neil Budde, vice president, editor in chief, Yahoo! News; founding editor and publisher, The Wall Street Journal Online

He believes in the maxim that we tend to overestimate short term impact of new technology and underestimate the long term impact. Same could be said for the effect of the internet and blogs on the news industry. No one really knows what’s going to happen in terms of newspapers, news consumption, the web, etc. He’s bullish on the Yahoo alliance with local newspapers, though he didn’t provide any more detail on what has so far been a rather vague concept.

Richard Peterson, managing partner, Market Psychology Consulting; author, Inside the Investor’s Brain: The Power of Mind Over Money

He’s at the leading edge of neuro-economics. An interesting field worthy of study for any investor.

Orhan Pamuk, Nobel laureate in literature (2006)

Awesome thoughts on writing, books, Turkey, and life. He read a bit from his Nobel Laureate speech:

I write because I have an innate need to write! I write because I can’t do normal work like other people. I write because I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am angry at all of you, angry at everyone. I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I can only partake in real life by changing it. I write because I want others, all of us, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live, in Istanbul, in Turkey. I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink. I write because I believe in literature, in the art of the novel, more than I believe in anything else. I write because it is a habit, a passion. I write because I am afraid of being forgotten. I write because I like the glory and interest that writing brings. I write to be alone. Perhaps I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry at all of you, so very, very angry at everyone. I write because I like to be read. I write because once I have begun a novel, an essay, a page, I want to finish it. I write because everyone expects me to write. I write because I have a childish belief in the immortality of libraries, and in the way my books sit on the shelf. I write because it is exciting to turn all of life’s beauties and riches into words. I write not to tell a story, but to compose a story. I write because I wish to escape from the foreboding that there is a place I must go but – just as in a dream – I can’t quite get there. I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.

The Red Sun Above SoCal


  San Diego Fire 
  Originally uploaded by Armida the Diva

Claremont has not yet been affected by the fires in the San Diego and Malibu area, though the sun did look like this yesterday. Ash in the pool and haze everywhere.

After the fire is under control, the debate over emergency preparedness and response in California and America will once again dominate the news as it did after Katrina. It won’t be pretty.

Quote of the Day from College

Overheard in the college dorm:

Male floormate: "What’s up Ben."

Me: "What’s up big man."

Floormate: "I’m about to blow my whistle."

Me: "Huh?"

Floormate: "My rape whistle." (We were all given rape whistles during orientation.)

Me: "Huh?"

Floormate: "I’m about to start my math homework." (I.e.: Math is going to rape me.)

Robert Day Donates $200 M to Claremont McKenna

Claremont McKenna College, where I am a student, today announced a $200 M gift from Robert Day. The gift, which will create the Robert Day Scholars Program, is the largest recorded gift to a liberal arts college, the largest gift in the field of economics and finance, and among the top 20 gifts ever given to a college or university. The Los Angeles Times writes about the gift on its front page:

His gift is unusual for its huge size in relation to the small college, which enrolls just 1,140 students and specializes in public policy and economics.

The gift, which has sparked some debate on campus, would create Claremont McKenna’s first graduate program, a one-year master’s for 50 students that would entail the hiring of eight professors. In addition, as many as 50 students from all five undergraduate schools at the Claremont Colleges consortium would be eligible for senior year grants requiring them to take courses in finance, accounting and leadership psychology.

Day said both programs, collectively called the Robert Day Scholars, would offer financial training to future leaders of business, government and nonprofits, with an emphasis on ethics. The goal is to create a cadre of young people "who show leadership and who have judgment, which is the hardest thing to find," he said Wednesday.

CMC has long been among the most distinguished undergraduate colleges in the fields of economics, government, and leadership. With this gift, Claremont will maintain its eminence in these fields. It is no mystery that Claremont’s intellectual roots are in the classical economics tradition. Ward Elliot, professor government, wrote about the econ department ten years ago:

Also, the economics department has been profoundly different from, and hence nicely complementary to, our Straussian government department. Its heroes have been the classical economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo and their great Chicago-school expositors, such as Frank Knight, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell. All of these were eloquent defenders of consumer and investor sovereignty in the economic realm. None was bashful in the least about judging the high — government policy — in the light of the low — impact on ordinary people’s economic options. De gustibus non est disputandum was the title of a famous essay by Chicago Nobelist George Stigler, and CMC economist Procter Thomson put it even more tersely: "Greed," he said, echoing Adam Smith, but defying Leo Strauss, "is good."

But, like the government department, the economics department differed from "mainstream" Keynesian economics departments, and it helped its students grasp many things to which most other departments were blind. And it, too, has had massive impacts on public policy (IV below). I owe one of my own principal discoveries, congestion charges and HOT lanes, to our econ department, and I am almost embarrassed at the frequency with which visiting social scientists oblivious to the economic dimensions of public-affairs issues, get mauled by our students in question-and-answer sessions, simply because our students, even non-economists, are much better trained in economic perspectives than most people from other colleges.

Our econ department has been one, again not the least, of a half-dozen or so departments in the country which did not go completely Keynesian in the postwar years — others being Chicago itself, UCLA, University of Virginia, and, more recently, Clemson, Auburn, and George Mason. I don’t know whether any of the others on this list have their own journals. They have had more regard for producers, savers, risk-takers, and market-equilibrium mechanisms than most mainstream departments have had, and less regard for government command-and-control regulations, especially wage and price controls and import restrictions. They have paid more attention than most to monetary policy — printing dollars — and have been more skeptical than most about government subsidies, guarantees, and entitlements, and Keynesian pretensions to "command" or "fine-tune" the economy. They have been more inclined to expand the range of economic choices than to restrict it. They have been more doubtful than most about the power and enforceability of collusion, whether among competing domestic firms or among nations trying to enhance their oil revenues with cartels. They have also been more doubtful than most that the government could spend people’s dollars better than people could spend them themselves.

I will comment more on Claremont, this gift, and higher ed in the near future.

Weather and Quality of Life

Mountains

That‘s the view from my dorm room in Claremont, although in real life the St. Gabriel mountains are much closer and clearer. We endured a heat spell my first week here, but lately the weather has been Southern California at its best.

I think people highly underrate climate’s effect on one’s day to day outlook. Weather matters. In a communal, emotionally-infectious atmosphere like college, it matters even more.

Sex Ed in College

Yes, I’m settling in here in Claremont in my single room in an air conditioned dorm on campus. Freshman orientation activities — a whirlwind of social meet-and-greet — have concluded. They were largely well-run, though I think colleges could steal more from business conferences which try to facilitate networking — after all, social bonding is the goal of most of orientation, and there are ways to facilitate this beyond simple "two truths and a lie".

The most amusing and complex orientation session was about "life, sex, and relationships". Among other things, the session leaders presented a series of disturbing stats about sexual assault and rape on college campuses. The men in the room were made aware of our legal liability especially if alcohol is involved. The message came through loud and clear:

  • "No" means no.
  • "Yes" means no.
  • "Maybe" means no.
  • "Fuck me harder" means no.

In today’s Wall Street Journal ($), a recent Princeton grad reflects on what he calls "sexed-up sex ed" — his freshman orientation session that undermined "traditional values" and discussed about the serious issues of rape in the same sentence as games like "Sex Jeopardy". I don’t believe in traditional values, but it’s not something I observed in my own session anyways.

It’s clear, though, that sex and its associated discussions, rumors, and accusations are a big part of what American college life is about.

Ward Elliot’s Laws About Life

Ward Elliot, a professor of government at Claremont, has an amusing personal web site. He has two pages of "laws and insights" — some from himself, some from others. Below are my favorite nuggets from both categories.

From others:

  • Greed is good.
  • Behind the populist rhetoric lies the mailed fist of vested interest.
  • There is no passion more powerful than the desire to change the world.
  • Error is infinite, but truth is finite.
  • These are the calipers by which we take the measurement of an event: Is it interesting? what causes it? is it good or bad?
  • Most new ideas are wrong. Most old ideas are wrong also, except that, having stood the test of time, an old idea is apt to be better than a new idea.
  • One man asks: what did I get today?; another asks: what did I give today?; still another: what did I learn?; and yet another: what did I enjoy? But I ask: why does it matter what I did today?
  • Though all progress is ultimately illusory if it does not redound to the advantage of the common man, progress itself is made by the uncommon man.
  • One generalization is worth a thousand correlations.
  • Ensnared by the universal but unusable truth that everything depends on everything else, a complicated theory is always a bad theory. Good theory is simple; but simplicity is not a simple concept.
  • Misfortunes test the soul. The weak man dwells upon them and sinks beneath them, the shrewd man lives around them, while the wise man meditates upon them and goes beyond them.
  • Ideas without passion illuminate but do not inspire.
  • Ideas are the capital of civilization and words are its media of exchange.
  • We live by words and die for slogans, yet who can define truth, or beauty, or humor?
  • All charity tends to corrupt, and absolute charity corrupts absolutely.

From him:

  • Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.
  • Population control is a form of arms control.
  • Ambition craves jurisdiction.
  • The Constitution is not a blank check to posterity.
  • If an ounce of something is good, it doesn’t mean that a ton of it is better. Conversely, if a ton of something is bad, it doesn’t mean that an ounce of it is bad.
  • If it’s not worth doing, it’s not worth overdoing.
  • If it’s a commons, people will overuse it.
  • The invisible hand is not the one that changes most diapers.
  • If assumptions were horses, economists would ride.
  • You can’t marry everyone you love.
  • My students were put on earth for my amusement and enlightenment–and I for theirs.
  • My colleagues, by contrast, were put on earth to be my straight men.
  • Having a cause enlarges you.
  • Life is like Latin.  If it were easy, the teacher would not have assigned it.