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Monday, February 27, 2006

Some Notes on CampusTap and the New Space

Hey everyone,

I just wanted to take a minute to address some of the comments and concerns we've been getting regarding our move to CampusTap. I'm cross-posting this here since many of the criticisms are being voiced here, and so that people who aren't plugged into CampusTap can read this as well. (more in expanded post)

First of all, we're really sorry about the delay in getting anonymous commenting up and running--the people designing CampusTap have been working extremely hard to set up that feature, as well as the RSS feed, which many people--both CampusTap users and non-users--have been requesting.

Second, we thank you for all your critical feedback--it lets us know what we need to fix and/or watch out for. At the same time, we hope that you can also be open-minded about the switch. Based on our experience with them, the CampusTap people aren't evil, institutional hyper-capitalists scheming to take over the world with their service/product--they're genuinely nice, earnest people who continue to go out of their way to help build us a server we'd be excited to use (partly because it's important to them that we become users, but also because they share our interest in the possibilities of New Media).

I'll be the first one to admit that the CampusTap site seems overwhelming and a little clannish at first, especially in comparison to clean-and-easy blogger (although, as you can tell from our whacked-out font that we've been trying to fix for weeks, blogger's not problem-free either). But the main advantage of CampusTap is that we get to dream up almost anything we want and, though it will take some time to build, eventually it can be realized. The CampusTap people are all ears--seriously. They want criticisms, suggestions and feedback. All that's required on our end is a little patience and a little trust. Honestly, this isn't so much to ask given the ease with which, if CampusTap did do something to frustrate us, we could easily switch back to blogger. But for now, we're making an investment (not monetary; just time- and hope-related) because we're enthusiastic about the new, customized features Campustap can construct, given that they can also eventually provide most of the same features we love about blogger.

For one thing, CampusTap lets us have multiple blogs on our single cambridge common site. At the moment we have our main blog, a guest blog (not yet in use) and an archives page. In the future, when we get more writers, we're looking into the possibility of an exciting layout redesign that we wouldn't be able to do with blogger (or at least it would cost a lot to pay someone to figure it out for us).

A few of us are also warming up to the nifty calendar function, which is actually a feature we had been trying to figure out how to incorporate into cambridge common ourselves before campustap approached us. The calendar can be helpful if you want to find out about campus events in your area of interest without having to deal with a flood of emails. It also gives us at cambridge common the ability to easily show our support for various real-life campus groups' endeavors.

Most importantly, CampusTap is an exciting experiment in online networking among campus communities. We’ll never know how useful it can be in bridging groups on campus and facilitating debate and information sharing until we—collectively—give it an honest try, understanding that it may not be perfect, we may ultimately deem it undesirable, but at least we’ll have explored it as a possibility. I hope you’ll be open to taking a chance on this project, taking its brand-nameyness with a grain of salt, and taking advantage of a rare opportunity to participate in building a network from the ground up.

Thanks for bearing with us during this time of transition. We think it'll be worth the wait.

Friday, February 24, 2006


We're online with CampusTap! Come share some wisdom with us in OUR NEW HOME!

Thursday, February 23, 2006


This was a post I wrote last November and never published because it seemed to add little to the age-old question, but in retrospect, and at the beginning of a very busy semester, I think it is an appropriate time to ask some questions like these:
A couple of interesting conversations I've had this weekend have prompted me to really reconsider what I personally define as success, for myself. I think that sometimes what's easiest to say and what sounds good or right is not really what we feel inside: though I may say, and truly want to believe, and sometimes do believe, that I am comfortable with my academics being less than stellar because I have chosen to spend my time here in other ways, I know that a little part of me is disappointed whenever I see my transcript and wonders if I have sacrificed or compromised my future goals in some way for something I can't even put my finger on. I think this is true for many who enjoy their academics, but feel that their devotion to other causes, which may be equally or more important to them, make it impossible to learn and perform as they know they could.

So. How do you define success? How should we define success at Harvard? Do we lie to ourselves on the surface to relieve the stress or burden we may feel to do something big or achieve a certain level or result or make change, but by denying what we feel inside, do we do ourselves greater injury? Is it possible to turn an entire college of overachieving do-it-alls into satisfied and occasionally mediocre people? ...how?


Hey all, just a quick reminder that we're having a little shindig tonight at 9 pm in the Lowell Grille (in the basement of O-entryway) to celebrate our move over to CampusTap and our new writers and to hopefully encourage some friends and readers to come share their thoughts with us (along with some pizza and drinks).

update: A reader reminds me that I haven't explained what CampusTap is. Basically, it's a new venture being kicked off by a handful of Harvard students that seeks to be the blog platform- like Blogger- for Harvard. The Crimson has a story on the site today.

Another quick note: many apologies to those of you who are having a hard time reading the site with this new font. We have no idea why it changed and I don't really like it. Luckily, as of 9 pm tonight, it won't matter!

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Larry Summers Takes A Bow

One year ago, I spent the better part of the afternoon at a rally sponsored by the Coalition for an Anti-Sexist Harvard, where a hundred undergraduates suffered through subzero temperatures and intermittent rain to demand Larry Summers' resignation. The protest was timed to coincide with a critical meeting of the faculty, which was being covered by media outlets nationwide. It was a convergence of local and national opinion - the back of my head, for example, was featured on the next week’s Independent, but I had friends whose grandparents came across their pictures by way of the Associated Press. Larry Summers probably wasn’t having a fantastic day on February 22nd. Frankly, he’s not doing much better this year, since he's apparently opted for the whole unemployment thing instead of doggedly picking a fight.(more in expanded post)

What surprises me, though, is that I’m kind of ambivalent about the whole resignation announcement. Last year, I felt so strongly about the need for a change in leadership that I stood in an ankle-deep puddle of ice water for an hour and even filled out my own little no-confidence vote to place in the rally’s novelty-sized ballot box. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is. This year, for no apparent reason, I can’t seem to summon up any sort of seething rage.

It’s not like Larry Summers has personally changed my mind; if anything, I’ve been pretty disheartened by the constant controversy over things like Dean Kirby’s resignation and the backsliding on issues that hit closer to home, like Harvard’s refusal to join the lawsuit against the Solomon Amendment, pay its workers a living wage, or include gender identity and expression in its non-discrimination code. I’m convinced that leaders need to lead, and that conviction doesn’t necessarily stem from any sort of progressive belief that Harvard needs to set a global example (although, in an ideal world, maybe it would). Instead, I’d be satisfied if Harvard’s leadership took the initiative to solicit student opinion and listen to concerns instead of waiting until they’ve got dozens of unwashed labor activists calling the New York Times from their office. The student body is incredibly diverse, and almost every student group has concerns that deeply affect their college experience. I’d be refreshed if this was acknowledged by anyone, including Summers’ successor.

I’m invested in a university that functions as a model of academic excellence and democratic ideals, and I don’t believe that we were headed in the right direction – so why am I ambivalent right now? On a visceral level, I feel bad for Larry Summers because he’s human and deserves some degree of sympathy. It’s one thing to watch someone resign in an acknowledgment of bad decisions on his part; it’s another thing, though, to watch him shrug his shoulders and call it quits because a significant portion of his colleagues find him generally unlikable. My guilt complex is fairly overactive, and when I opened my inbox and found Larry Summers’ terse, wistful letter, something in me died a little. In a totally irrational way, I feel bad for wishing this upon him. Clearly, no individual student is responsible for his departure, but I held a sign and let my mullet-like haircut grace the cover of the Independent, so I feel apologetic in an admittedly irrational way.

It’s easy to become apprehensive about the more concrete effects of Summers’ departure, too. First and foremost, I worry about what this decision is going to do to the credibility of the left at Harvard. It was easy to dislike Summers when he had done something that was widely recognized as sexist – or, at the very least, wholly insensitive – by a large audience across the nation. At this time last year, the same announcement would have carried a very different symbolic weight, and it might have suggested that Harvard’s female students mattered more than its feckless president. It would have been a lesson, for better or for worse, in cause and effect and the importance of taking responsibility for one’s own actions – and that could have been meaningful for women and minorities everywhere. Instead, the lack of a single, salient source of discontent at the time of the announcement means that the whole episode is likely to go down as an anecdote about liberal academia’s chokehold on free thought – and that’s a drastically reductionist understanding of the whole debacle.

It makes sense for activists to be apprehensive about the announcement – not necessarily disappointed that Summers is leaving, but disappointed that the whole ordeal is likely to become a retroactive pox on the left at Harvard. Summers is departing at a time when there’s no single error in judgment that might merit his removal from power. Overall, this – more than anything else – is disappointing to those of us who can identify a litany of past frustrations and are still hoping against hope for positive, progressive institutional change. Harvard can easily stand up for its students and develop ethical fiber by divesting from Sudan, by refusing federal money until all of its students are eligible for the same employment opportunities, by updating its non-discrimination code, by fully recognizing underfunded academic disciplines, and by paying its workers a living wage. The feuds that marked Summers’ tenure didn’t have to be political, but the intractability of the university’s position turned them into ideologically charged free-for-alls between liberal academia and a controversial, more conservative figurehead. Now, by avoiding any issue directly and stepping down in a period of general discontent, there’s a good chance that the decision will go down in history as a victory of the implacable left, without really remembering why discontent built over the years. Overall, that’s bad news for those of us who will sacrifice a good pair of shoes and risk frostbite to fight sexism, but can’t seem to get excited about a decisive victory over nothing in particular.

on the radio

Earlier this evening I participated in a roundtable discussion on WHRB about the Summers resignation. The other panelists were Zach Seward, the former Crimson Managing Editor who broke the story itself for the WSJ, Eric Lesser, the President of the Dems, and Matt Meisel, one of the co-chairs of the Crimson. I think it was a good discussion, although the other three probably contributed more to it than I did. The piece also featured a taped statement from Professor James Engell on behalf of the faculty, an interview with Richard Bradley of Harvard Rules and a (wo)man on the street montage of Harvard students. Check it out and share your reactions.

on covering coverage and breaking news

On a few email lists, and now in the comments section, has been the complaint that Cambridge Common thinks it "broke" the news that Larry is resigning. I quickly mentioned this issue earlier today, but I thought it was fair to address it more in full. Apologies to people on the FUP list who have already read this explanation. (more in expanded post)

I do not claim to have "broken" the fact that Larry Summers was resigning. Simply speaking, I (and people on email lists) "broke" the fact that the Crimson believed that the WSJ had the story and that some Crimson staff members were sharing this information. That fact (and it is a fact) was verified by two sources and a half a dozen emails. I realize that the emails are less reliable, but the sources at the Crimson were as reliable as any sources that the Crimson uses on reporting on other things.

Simply said, this was coverage of the Crimson. If anything, that people believed that because I reported this fact-that the Crimson believed that it had been scooped by the WSJ- they believed that Larry was in fact resigning is a testament to the reliability of the Crimson.

To the extent that you believe that the Crimson should not be covered as a newsmaker in and of itself, or to the extent that you do not trust me as a source and therefore don't believe my sources were legitimate, I would understand concern and clarification. But if you believe that I am a reliable source and the Crimson is a legitimate thing to be covered, I held myself to the same standards that the Crimson holds itself to.

It seems odd to me that some have decried my coverage of the "breaking" of the story, and yet do so because they are so interested in that fact as a piece of news. Because I wrote about the "breaking" of the story before it was "broken" doesn't make my story any less legitimate. In addition, this seems ironic to me considering the fact that the story the Crimson ended up running this morning was about the fact that another media source had confirmed the story but they could not.

In any event, I want to make this clear because it's important to me not to delegitimize the hard work done by the people who actually confirmed the truth of the story and worked hard to do so. I was excited to find out about the process as it was happening, but only because the process itself is important and a valid thing to cover.

I hope that's clear. Feel free to share your thoughts and wisdom. If you're interested, you can read more about my thoughts on alternative media at Harvard.

Think we're spiffy?

Come hang out with us at the Cambridge Common R E L A U N C H party!
This Thursday, 9-11 pm, Lowell Grille.
Some food, some great company and some RELAUNCHING!!!

civilized cultures would never do such a...oh wait...

Things like this are part of why I'm so frustrated when people make broad generalizations about the noble attributes of 'Western Civilization' in opposition to "[Islam,] a rather sizable religious tradition [that] doesn’t seem even to comprehend the notion of free expression."
Some guy I'm reading for class wrote the following a while ago:
It will be said, that we do not now put to death the introducers of new opinions: we are not like our fathers who slew the prophets, we even build sepulchres to them. It is true we no longer put heretics to death; and the amount of penal infliction which modern feeling would probably tolerate, even against the most obnoxious opinions, is not sufficient to extirpate them. But let us not flatter ourselves that we are yet free from the stain of even legal persecution. Penalties for opinion, or at least for its expression, still exist by law; and their enforcement is not, even in these times, so unexampled as to make it at all incredible that they may some day be revived in full force.
-J.S. Mill, "On Liberty"
More recently, a popular music group had this to say:
I know you'd like to think your shit don't stink
But lean a little bit closer
See that roses really smell like boo-boo
Yeah, roses really smell like boo-boo
-Outkast, "Roses"
Wise sentiments, both.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

avoiding a fall after summers

A recent anonymous commentor offered some good reasons why we undergrads should care about our presidents' resignation. In particular, they note that this is an important opportunity to reassess and clarify our own priorities for our undergraduate education--priorities we want the next president to take up. After this year's UC elections, I proposed coming up with a wish list for the coming year; now, I think another exercise in envisioning and articulating is in order.

If we don't start talking now about what we want from our future head honcho, we doom ourselves to complacency in what may be, as Francisco predicts, a continuation of the same old problems (does the corporation have the real power anyway?).

What do we want our new president to advocate for? What changes do we wish to see? (more in expanded post)

I, for one, agree with the aforementioned commentor that the continuation of financial aid improvement is a top priority. Students' financial situations make a huge difference in their Harvard experience--from feeling annoyed when peers casually discuss plans to jet-set to Paris for spring break, to having to work multiple jobs in order to get a head start on paying off loans. A president should be committed to recruiting low-income students and supporting them while they're here.

A new president should have more respect than Summers had for the social sciences. Desiring to improve the 'hard,' 'empirical' sciences is all well and good, but faculty in the humanities also deserve respect, attention, and support. Holding up the science departments as bastions of real truth while relegating humanities fields to a mere means of filling out a liberal arts education implies a dangerous tendency to ignore the ways that science is embedded in social practices (courses in the history of science department offer some fascinating perspectives on this).

A new president should seek innovative ways of building community among undergraduates, transforming the mosaic-style diversity of Harvard--where groups self-segregate and there are too few consistent attempts to bridge them--into a more mobile, fluid, kaleidoscopic diversity. Expanding social space, as the anonymous commentor noted, should be one of the new president's concerns, but so should capitalizing on what positive momentum was created by last year's summers scandal (whether or not you think it was blown out of proportion, the Women and Minorities Task force that was created as a result could become a major asset in promoting diversity among faculty in general and within certain departments specifically).

Finally, it seems to me that the both the FAS faculty and the new president will have to come up with more effective, satisfactory way of communicating. Maybe the problems had a lot to do with Summers' personality and style of interaction, but perhaps if the faculty had some mechanism for airing grievances before they grow so out-of-hand as to warrant a call for a no-confidence vote, it could create a more open relationship between faculty and administration so that the president doesn't have to be a bulldozer in order to get things done. Maybe I'm naive in thinking that this sort of improvement can be made, but it seems to me that a president should be able to persuasively advocate a vision for reforms while still being able to take faculty feedback into consideration.

Those who know more about this and all things Harvard than I do, please share some wisdom. What's on your wish list for the post-Summers era?

Different president, same shit

To go off Deb's point, why should the average Harvard college student care about Summers' resignation? While I think that Summers has been a bad president (weakening the Af-Am department, comments on women, etc.), I don't think that it matters that he has resigned because whoever replaces him will most likely follow the same policies. Who cares who the actual person in charge is, if Harvard remains the same. Is the same argument I have with folks who think that the problem with the American government is Bush. No, the problem with the American government is the American government, i.e. it's the system, not the person. If Bush died tomorrow, he would be replaced by Cheney and things would remain the same or get worse. Same principle applies to Larry Summers. A progressive President of Harvard University could accomplish a lot. Harvard is a leader (if not the leader) of American higher education. Harvard has played a leading role in monumental changes in the American college system, such as the SAT, but is any future president of Harvard really going to rock the boat like that? No. Therefore, why care? The personalities will be different, the policies are the same i.e. Allston campus still gets built and the residents screwed over, still no campus center, still an undemocratic governance structure, etc. Hopefully, whoever they find to permanently replace Larry will be better at PR. As long as the next president doesn't stick his (or her, but doubt the corporation would do that) foot in his mouth and continue doing what Larry was doing then he will be successful. That was Larry's only real mistake, saying stupid things and attracting too much media attention.

trans happenings, part 2

Another major upcoming trans-related event is actually part of a project I’m working on at the moment: the undergraduate production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. While Ensler requires that all productions of her show include certain of her original monologues, she allows some wiggle room for the rest. This year’s undergraduate production (I specify undergraduate because the Divinity School did the show this year as well, performing it in a church and selling “God loves vaginas” t-shirts. Kudos to them!) will include three original monologues focusing on transgender people and their significant others, friends, family and allies (known in nifty shorthand as SOFFAs*). The pieces are based on anonymous email submissions that circulated over the BGLSTA list earlier this year; they’ve been adapted into monologues by a team of writers, directors, actresses and consultants.

Including transgendered characters in the show is interesting and important for a number of reasons, but one of the most striking statements it makes is that “The Vagina Monologues” is not synonymous with “The Woman Monologues” because not everyone who has a vagina is a woman. (more in expanded post)

The people working on the “trans monologues,” as they’ve come to be known, have faced an extremely difficult, delicate task. They needed to be able to convey the feelings and experiences of real people by turning them into characters. They had to stay close to the original words in order to honor their authenticity, yet make them theatrically powerful enough to resonate with audience members who have given little or no thought at all to transgenderism.

Also at issue was the question of who should perform the monologues. Some feel that it would be inappropriate to require that a transgender person play a transgender character—such a mandate would fly in the face of producers’ efforts to avoid typecasting in the show (for instance, a white actress, in character, recalls getting her period for the first time by saying the line, “Fifteen, black and poor, blood on the back of my dress in church.”). Others, however, feel strongly that trans actors must participate in the performance; otherwise, the production itself would be perpetuating a problem that one of the trans monologues points out: “talking about trans people like they’re not there.” Speaking on behalf of the voiceless is important, but only up until the point at which we can speak for ourselves. At a certain point, allies need to be able to step back and support, rather than represent.

Come out and see the show this Thursday, Friday, or Saturday and make up your own mind about the trans monologues (and just enjoy a great production). Tickets are $8 for students and always sell very fast, so stop by the box office soon! If you have any immediate thoughts, too, as always, we'd love to hear them.

*update: In a writing rush, I incorrectly wrote "SAFAs" instead of "SOFFAS" because I remembered what the acronym sounds like and its general gist, but couldn't remember what it stands for and meant to look it up later, but forgot. A guardian angel of sorts emailed me to correct my error. Thanks to them and to everyone for your patience and kindness.

And this matters to us because...?

Alongside Andrew's very on-top-of-it updating, I'd like to ask all of you some more wishy-washy questions. Why you think the average Harvard student should care about Summers resigning, why people do care, or why they don't? Apart from the peripheral (or perhaps not-so-peripheral) effects of Summers on the general Harvard image, I'm inclined to feel that there really won't be any real, immediate consequences on Joe Schmoe's day-to-day Harvard experience, but should there be? Should the students have a say in who sits in that Mass Hall office next fall? Or would that just be an extension of what some are suggesting is an undue power/influence that FAS has shown over the presidency of the entire University?

other exciting news: trans happenings, part 1

I mentioned a while back that issues of transgenderism would be big this year. Well, this week is a big week. On Monday night, members of the Harvard Trans Task Force (TTF) led a workshop on supporting and honoring the trans members of our community. But the workshop audience wasn’t just your typical BGLTSA crowd. The event took place immediately preceding a UC town hall meeting, and UC President John Haddock laudably sent out some emails to UC representatives encouraging them to attend the TTF workshop: (more in expanded post)
Mischa Feldstein and the BGLTSA have kindly offered to give the UC a special session "Trans Training 101" on Monday before our meeting. This is not a required activity, though I would encourage as many of you as possible to attend. I'm posting below some information about the session:
Trans 101: This is an excellent opportunity to hear Michael Greenspan, a knowledgeable transgender activist, talk about what it means to be transgender and how trans issues have shaped his life and can/do shape the lives of the students you represent. Transgender students at Harvard face a unique set of challenges, and this is a valuable chance to learn about those challenges and how we as community members and leaders can effect positive change. This training assumes only that you enter with an open mind.
Mischa emailed me and some others with some more information about the training--it sounded really wonderful; I was bummed I couldn't go:
This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about a relatively invisible minority here on campus. As leaders of campus organizations, all of you face the difficult task of serving the interests of the student body, yet there persists a general lack of knowledge and understanding of the needs and challenges specific to transgender communities on campus - communities that intersect with many of those that your organizations represent. The training will go over the basics - from what transgender means to a discussion of what it is like to be transgender at college.

Given the kind of heated controversy that often surrounds topics of queerness in the mainstream (not that queerness in queer-supportive communities and/or academia doesn’t have its share of pitched battles, too), isn’t it a little curious that John’s endorsement of this workshop training elicited not so much as a peep of protest? I cautiously take it as a good sign, but in all likelihood the silence is due to apathy, not assent.

Well, the Trans Task Force has a lot more exciting events in the works for this year, so the current silence won't last. I know I'm really excited for the potential for some intense dialogue...

did Bok prepare?

A great find from Vikram posted as a comment below (from Blue Mass. Group):
Derek Bok, who was Harvard's President from 1971-1991, will return to serve as interim President - perhaps this explains Bok's resignation as head of Common Cause last week. The timing seems a bit too close to be pure coincidence - Bok must have known Summers' resignation was coming.
Does this explain Larry decision to get out and going skiing for the weekend?

WHRB to play Summers resignation address

Now (8 pm) WHRB is going to play the speech Larry made from in front of Mass Hall this afternoon. You can tune in to 95.3 (if for some reason you still have a radio) or check it out at their website.

UPDATE: It's not on, so I guess throptalk was wrong or there's a delay...

UPDATE 2: It's on.

breaking: a protest and possible sit-in

It's official, Trombly and his crew (whoever they turn out to be) will be protesting next Tuesday's faculty club meeting and, if the faculty doesn't make its case, "adjourn to the Faculty Club and will remain there until an explanation is provided."

covering the coverage of my coverage of the coverage of the coverage

Good lord, all of this coverage is making me tired. I just got off the phone with a Boston Herald reporter who is writing a short story about Cambridge Common breaking the news. I tried to make it clear: all we did was cover the coverage to come. In any event, a few other Boston blogs have kind words for Cambridge Common in covering all of this (Universal Hub and Hub Blog) which are much appreciated. The word got out because Instapundit, one of the biggest blogs in the country, linked over to my first post. We even got a link up in TradeSports where people were betting on Larry's future.

Hub Blog sums it up best: it's not your father/mother's media anymore.

breaking? a sit-in?

Further proof that we now live in bizarroland: a conservative Editorial Exec at the Harvard Crimson, Drew Trombly, is promoting the idea of a sit-in at either the Faculty Club or Professor Judith Ryan's (an anti-Summers leader) office hours. He's posted the idea in our comments section and over at Summersville, and a few other active conservatives (Kavulla of the Crimson/Salient and Vivek Ramaswamy of the Harvard Political Union) are pubbing the idea on political email lists. Strangely I feel for their cause: while I'm not a big Summers fan the Faculty simply hasn't made an adequate public case for their revolt. That’s not to say that I don’t think it was warranted, but if the President of Harvard is resigning we should be able to point to an OpEd or a speech or something. Occassional quotes (anonymouse and otherwise) and random anecdotes are clearly not enough.

Even so, a sit-in would be hilarious and absurd, especially when the basis of the conservative critique of both lefties on campus and the faculty itself is an inability to deal "rationally" with serious issues. Part of me is rooting for it to happen, the other part of me is worried that only incredibly strong drugs would allow me to make it through the whole thing with my sanity intact.

liveblogging Larry

That's right, Garrett Dash Nelson over at Demapples is actually LIVEBLOGGING Larry Summers resignation speech. For so many reasons, we now officially live in bizarroland.

Summers emails campus

As I'm sure you all know, this email was just sent around to campus:
Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

I write to let you know that, after considerable reflection, I have notified the Harvard Corporation that I will resign as President of the University as of June 30, 2006. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have served Harvard in this role, and I will treasure the continuing friendship and support of so many exceptional colleagues and students at Harvard.

Below are links to my letter to the community, as well as a letter from the members of the Corporation and a related news release.


Larry Summers


NYT piles on, breaks new news

The New York Times has finally chimed in with some new tidbits:
Lawrence H. Summers, the president of Harvard University, has decided to resign and is expected to make his decision public later today or tomorrow, three officials affiliated with the university said today.
Someone has finally gone past the two anonymous Wall Street Journal sources, so I think it's finally safe to say that the fat lady is singing loudly. Another interesting revelation:
Derek Bok, who served as president of Harvard from 1971 to 1991, and before that as dean of the law school, is expected to step in as interim president, starting in July, according to a university official.
A new president by next fall. Would the first female president of Harvard be too not subtle?

UPDATE 1:15 pm: The Crimson is now reporting the same thing.

my favorite response:

This is my favorite response yet to Summers resigning (from RedIvy):
A Sad Day
If the rumor mill is true, then tomorrow will go down in the annals of Harvard history as a truly sad day indeed. A moderate and effective President with many great ideas will be forced to resign by a group of very vocal socialist FAS professors that have hijacked this university, despite clear opposition from both the student body and the faculty of most of the graduate schools. It all started with a few innocent and completely appropriate comments made that were a little too much for the professors' vision of a socialist utopia embodied in Harvard. If we can be grateful for anything in this, it's that the pack of wolves who forced Summers out will have little or no say in who comes in next. Maybe our next president will help us to work towards giving them the boot, something that, I think we can all agree, is long overdue.
I honestly think that many Republicans are still fighting the Cold War, and I love it.

it's officialish?

It's funny, some have criticized (maybe fairly) this blog for feeding the rumor mill without hard facts. Then I read the Crimson story today: it's the same thing! No one but two Wall Street Journal anonymous sources seems to be able to confirm this thing. Until then, I will continue to report on reports of other people's reports.


As if this evening couldn't be any weirder, the Indy weighs in.


Some members of The Crimson are apparently livid with their leakers (which are, I assure you, numerous). An anonymous poster posted a line from an email to News-Talk that I found entertaining, for obvious reasons. Summersville picked it up: "crimeds never should have spoken to outside sources - especially not Andrew F-ing Golis." As fits with the pattern of the night, the entirety of that email was leaked to me about a half hour ago. It's below the fold. (more in expanded post)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Andrew Mark Trombly
Date: Feb 20, 2006 11:32 PM
Subject: RE: [NEWSTALK] Covering Summers' Resignation
To: Timothy John McGinn , Newstalk < newstalk-l@thecrimson.com>

Even (and especially) if the story hadn't been confirmed, crimeds never
should have spoken to outside sources - especially not Andrew F-ing Golis.
The way this story broke is unacceptable. It makes us look like fools when
the rumors are attributed to crimeds while The Crimson is refraining from
releasing the story. The rumor mill never would have started churning if
people had managed to keep their mouths shut.


-----Original Message-----
From: newstalk-l-bounces@magenta.thecrimson.com
[mailto:newstalk-l-bounces@magenta.thecrimson.com ] On Behalf Of Timothy John
Sent: Monday, February 20, 2006 11:23 PM
To: Newstalk
Subject: [NEWSTALK] Covering Summers' Resignation

Have we confirmed that Summers is resigning yet? (Some of the emails
that've been forwarded over newstalk would seem to suggest we
haven't.) I mean, if we haven't, that's one thing, but if we have,
wouldn't it have made more sense to do a web update with a first
write-through of the story as soon as we did? We could've controlled
the release of the story that way, before it leaked all over house
open lists and cambridge common and whatnot, and then published an
updated story tomorrow with student reaction. Obviously if we're
still trying to nail this down on the record the whole situation is
different, but I was just wondering...


looking for confirmation

Does anyone have Larry Summers phone number?

Monday, February 20, 2006

BREAKING: Summers is resigning

ORIGINAL POST: I have it from two sources at the Crimson, and it is now on the Adams house list, that Summers is resigning. Apparently the Crimson is leaking like a sieve. Either that or they're floating false information. You know what I know, but it looks like it's all over.

UPDATE: I just spoke to someone in the Crimson newroom who told me that they are in the process of writing the story as we speak and will be publishing it later tonight. The person also told me specifically that it was not a Lampoon Hoax. Again, just reporting what I know.


Travis Kavulla wrote this to GOP-Open:
Rumor has it that Larry Summers is resigning.

The Wall Street Journal is supposedly breaking the story tomorrow; The Crimson is looking for confirmation on the story.

From Currier-Wire (via Dems-Talk):
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [CurrierWire] summers resigns
Date: Mon, 20 Feb 2006 22:59:32 -0500
From: Zak Tanjeloff

Yup. I called up a friend at the Crimson and said it's true. They have some legit sources apparently. From my understanding, the reason he is resigning is because the corporation has begun a dialogue with the faculty, something which it usually never does. It seems that the corporation was beginning to mull Summers future and thus, Larry thought it better to resign now then face another vote of no confidence and a potential reaction from the corporation.

Another possibility?
All this is a ploy to make money on in-trade stock. Larry isn't resigning tomorrow, I am sure of that. The stock on in-trade just went up from 72 to 99 dollars a share... and that happened only from the information from a few crimson people and Travis K. This is a classic case of insider trading and someone is going to get busted for it... mark my words, Summers doesn't resign tomorrow and someone makes a lot of money...
Of course, for that to be true Kavulla and Tanjeloff's friend and my sources would all have to be lying, which is possible, but would be kind of sad. I would bet that anonymous commenter is just worried about losing a lot of money, hence the watching the price.

Freedom to deny truth?

On the recent debate on freedom of expression prompted by the cartoons depicting Mohammed, what do you all think of this article, where a notorious Nazi-denier is sentenced to several years in prison? While we might feel that this is an extreme case, where do we draw the line between freedom of interpretation and something that should be punished by law?

summersgate links

As the Summersgate speculation reaches fever pitch, I thought I'd through a few links out there for any of you who, like me, have had to dig around to figure out what in the world is going on.

First, CampusTap is hosting an open discussion blog called Summersville. We'll have more news about CampusTap and Cambridge Common's future soon, but for now suffice to say the site is a cool new space for Harvard blogs.

Second, check out Richard Bradley's blogging on the whole thing. Bradley is the author of Harvard Rules, and is very much anti-Summers. He's also very thorough and collects all of the latest news on what's going on, whether you agree with his opinions or not.

There seems to be a growing consensus that Summers is done, what do you think?

The (Native) American Dream

If you saw this woman walking down the street would you think:

a) She is a model.

b) She is a teacher.

c) She is a sales clerk.

d) She is former $60,000/day-making drug dealer.

If you chose "d" then you are absolutely right. Today's NY Times contains a feature on this woman, Eugenia Phair, who is a Native American of the Lummi tribe in Washington and a former high-level drug trafficker. Take a few minutes and read the article on her life both pre, during, and post-drug trafficking. Any reactions?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Unhand The Throne

Check out this Boston Globe article published today on the possibility of President Summers being removed from office by the Harvard Corporation in order to settle the ongoing dispute between him and the University. Seeing as how the faculty plans to have a vote of no confidence in him on February 28 the Globe states that the Corporation may "act quickly" to avoid what is expected to be a lopsided vote of no confidence. Throughout this time of President Summers being on the hot seat for controversy after controversy after controversy my main question in the midst of all this has been: why should any undergraduate care?

Do President Summers' statements have any impact on us as students at the University he presides over besides offending some of us (and does offending students and faculty justify his removal) What is this impact?

Does President Summers have a greater responsibility to students and faculty or to the Harvard Corporation and its shareholders (or to alumni? Staff)?

As has been previously suggested, a vote of no confidence from the student body directly or the UC representatively would mean...what? Please respond to any of these questions of you have opinions on them, informed public.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

the crimson's solution to sexism? girls just wanna have fun

In a staff ed titled “True Equality,” the Crimson pans the idea of a women’s center, emphasizing instead a need for more co-ed social space. Setting aside the fact that the women’s center plans include a café, that the center would be open to everyone, and that the staff ed’s subtitle, “Women don’t need a center, they need to be treated like other co-ed groups,” implies that women are a co-ed group (huh?), the editorial’s major flaw is that it misidentifies the primary battleground in the fight for gender equity. “Harvard’s women would be better served by democratizing a social scene dominated by all-male institutions than by meeting rooms,” the Crimson staff insists. Failing to account for the many permutations of sexism that Harvard women encounter during both daylight and nighttime hours, the Crimson’s stock answer to problems of gender inequality seems to be, “Throw more parties where everyone’s invited.”

Did I miss something? Since when did the typical college party scene become the ideal site for combating patriarchy? The Crimson’s logic resonates eerily with certain free-trade arguments we’re accustomed to hearing: we just need to level the playing field. Then, all the deserving groups, stifled and constrained up to this point by artificial barriers, will rise to their proper place of equality in healthy, meritocratic competition. Do we really think it’s that simple? (more in expanded post)

Integrating social spaces may be an important element in promoting gender equality, but it certainly isn’t a silver bullet. Just as the Civil Rights Movement and official desegregation did not end racism but in some ways only further obscured it (making it more difficult to talk about systemic racism without seeming paranoid or hysterical), “democratizing social space” on an institutional level can actually be a dangerous move if it’s not accompanied by a healthy dose of awareness of the subtle, nuanced forms of sexism pervading society. Of all the spheres that undergrad Harvard women navigate, the social scene will continue to be one of the most difficult as long as individual people continue to carry deeply rooted sexist ideas. Dialogue, education campaign materials, political will, and--yes--meeting space will go much further than vodka, beer and house music in helping concerned Harvard students to attack sexism in Harvard culture.

Even within the narrow parameters of Harvard's social scene, the Crimson is off base in its assessments. We need only look at the institutions it touts—the Seneca, the Bee, the Isis, and sororities—to see that these groups' influence does not, in fact, move us closer to a time “when women do not have to stand outside a final club mansion in a short skirt and heels, hoping to be judged ‘hot’ enough to have a social life.” If anything, it's just that women are the ones judging each other as pledges or punches--a kind of screening process. The Crimson staff argues that women's social clubs are primarily “hamstrung by a lack of space and resources.” But why should we believe that, if women's social clubs are granted these things, the objectification and judging process will not simply take place indoors? Is the Bee, with its new home, really making great strides in the struggle against sexual objectification?

The Crimson also asserts that groups like the Bee are “successful women’s communities,” and thus both need and deserve the College’s support. But they never elucidate their criteria for success. Let’s be real: we’re not talking about gaining access to “a room of one’s own” here. We’re talking about throwing parties. And even in this capacity, the College shouldn’t actively support the groups absent evidence that the social climate they specialize in creating will actually benefit the entire undergraduate population, not just a select final-club-friendly crowd.

While sexism in social life is a major problem, women-led student organizations like ABHW, SAWC, Women in Business, Girlspot, Fuerza, AAWA, Strong Women Strong Girls, RUS, the Women’s Leadership Network, and others are in a better position than sororities and female final clubs to address it within the wide range of manifestations of gender inequality at Harvard. A women’s center would aid them in these efforts by providing, as RUS's proposal states, “a centralized home for all groups concerned with women’s issues,” and serving as “a non-discriminatory destination for students of all genders who are committed to the advancement and well-being of women at this university.” Hey, sounds like my kind of party.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Sorry, Mr. Wealthy Shooter of My Face Who I Give Money To

Well the guy that Cheney shot has now emerged from the hospital in Texas where he has been for the past week and what was one of the first things to come out of his mouth? An apology to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, the man that has permanently tatooed him with shotgun pellet holes and wounds along the right side of his upper body. I'm all for forgiveness but come on...

This comes a day after sheriffs in Kenedy County where the shooting occurred decided not to press charges in the incident after deeming it a "hunting accident". Conflicting reports have arisen over numerous details about the shooting and its subsequent investigation including when exactly Cheney was questioned by sherrifs in Kennedy County, whether Secret Service agents initially turned away the sheriffs, etc.

What suprises me about all this is that: (1) Harrington has been released from the hospital much earlier than most people expected (read: Cheney got him the best doctors...if not his personal ones), (2) the sheriff's investigation seems to be based primarily on Cheney's personal account of what happened, and (3) nobody has heard a peep from Pamela Pitzer Willeford, a high-level U.S. diplomat who was the third person present when Cheney shot Harrington. What I see is the Vice President's entourage (including his doctors, the Secret Service, and more) doing a darn good job at protecting him, whether it means they are restricting some people from talking, working their tales off to make sure that the medical condition of Harrington didn't worsen, stifling the local sheriff's investigation or what have you.

UC special election

The results are in. You may not have known it, but the UC just held a round of special elections to fill 6 seats in 5 houses. The three victories of note: a Haddock campaign worker, an ex-VP candidate and a former UC member. Erik Kouslkalis won John Haddock's seat in Currier and, seeing as how he was an active member of Haddock's campaign team, he will likely be a close ally of the President. Tom Hadfield, who ran for Eliot UC Rep in the fall and then for UC VP with Magnus Grimeland in December, finally managed to get himself onto the Council but appears to have given up on his brief effort to convince the Council to hold a campus vote on student confidence in President Summers. If he ran for VP as a sophomore from off the Council, one can imagine what he'll be looking to do as a Junior on the Council if he can stay on until next December. Finally, Eddie Lee won the seat in Leverett and previously served last year as a first-year. Lee was best known as an outspoken supporter of funding Christian groups whose constitutions explicitly prohibit non-Christian leaders, a practice deemed by many to violate the UC's anti-discrimination policies.

Are any of the other races of particular note? The rest of the results are below the fold. (more in expanded post)

Adams: 1 Seat

Elected: James Sietstra
2nd: Jacob Mays
3rd: Tom Hamnett
4th: Kyle A. Krahel
5th: Erin Frey
6th: Jill Sylvester

Currier: 1 seat

Elected: Eric Kouslkalis
2nd: Joe Cooper

Eliot: 1 seat

Elected: Tom Hadfield
2nd: Greg Schmidt
3rd: Brian Aldrich
4th: Harrison Greenbaum

Leverett: 1 seat

Elected: Eddie Lee
2nd: Ben Decker
3rd: Matthew S. Fasman

Winthrop: 2 seats

Elected: Raymond Palmer
Elected: Jenny Skelton
3rd: Dan Koh
4th: Tom Jackson

big Q!

Alright, I know we've been overdoing the event promoting the last few days, but some stuff is just that good. Tomorrow is the Big Question, an amazing project that is trying to encourage people to engage those scary deep meaningful conversations with people other than their roommates late at night. I love the thinking out loud, it's the best way to build community knowledge and insight. The challenge for Harvard students (for me, anyway) is learning to listen...

Go ask the Big Question tomorrow, share and listen! They're asking: Social Justice Tourism? What do service trips mean for us and for the places we go? The blurb is below the break... (more in expanded post)

* Have you spent time volunteering or teaching abroad?
* Have you gone on "alternative" spring break trips before?
* Ever feel like the "big questions" don't get asked at Harvard?
* Do you like FREE PIZZA? :)

This Friday, PBHA Presents this Semester's First...

((((((THE BIG QUESTION))))))

"Social Justice Tourism?"
What do service trips mean for us and for the places we go?

Special Guest:
Hamilton Simons-Jones,
Tulane University Director of Community Service

Hamilton helped organize the PBHA intersession trip to New Orleans.

This Friday, February 17th, 5PM-6PM
Phillips Brooks House Parlor Room


The Big Question is an experimental new PBHA project intended to provide
a weekly space for taking on the tough questions about society and our
role in it. The Big Question is not about jargon-filled policy debates or
easy answers from experts but instead strives to create an open, humble,
and respectful environment for constructive dialogue on essential issues.
For more information: stevelin@fas

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Yale divests from Sinopec

Last week, the Crimson informed us that Harvard had increased its investments in a Chinese oil company named Sinopec. Today, Yale divested from Sinopec and six other oil companies completely saying:
Yale’s decision to divest from these oil companies, which are actively conducting operations in Sudan, is based on the finding that more than half of the Sudanese government’s revenue is derived from oil. As the source of such revenue, the companies are presumed to be committing “grave social injury” by providing substantial assistance to the perpetrators of genocide.
Last year's divestment success at Harvard was exciting, but don't be fooled: according to Yale's study we are still funding genocide. There is no moral distinction that I know of between Sinopec and PetroChina, so it's time for Harvard to stand up and do the right thing.

Harvard Salient: "look at me! look at me! PLEASE LOOK AT ME!"

Now, let's be honest, I'm not exactly immune to the allure of self-promotion. Unless you're writing for the Crimson or some other overly dominant news source, media is part ideas and part politics; you've got to get attention if you want to be heard. The Salient has for a long time been an all too able embodiment of that principle: provoke first, explain second, bask in the attention, adulation and disdain third. But, one would think the Fullah Barbie, a profoundly hilarious martyrdom complex and an appropriate but unhealthy love of Harvey Mansfield would be enough to satisfy their need for conservative flamboyance and blatant demagoguery. Apparently not, and this week the Salient decided to publish the cartoons of Muhammad that have resulted in international outrage, both peaceful and violent, and a sudden interest on the Right in free speech. And they're very excited about it. (more in expanded post)

Let me start by noting this: I am not attacking their right to do so. People have the right to do and say all kinds of silly or tasteless things (like run through Harvard Yard with socks on their ears declaring their love for football tees and clowns, for instance), that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to say they are wrong or weird for doing it. So please, spare me the free speech whining, no one's knocking on Travis Kavulla's door in Mather and demanding that he follow them to one of our secret prisons in Eastern Europe.

But seriously, what point was there to do this other than pure attention-mongering? Yes, I know, it's a statement of principle that reaffirms the freedom of the press in the United States. That's fine, it's a good principle. But who really thought it was in jeopardy? Mature people realize that part of having a right is being intelligent about exercising it. Of course, the other argument is that the cartoons have a powerful political point – that they are witty or important observations of the realities of "Muslim extremism."

First of all, no, they're not. None of them are particularly insightful as individual political statements; they range from sarcastically self-referential to downright meaningless. Second of all, was the Salient really worried that we hadn't heard this profound set of ideas? Were they worried that the Harvard political community hadn't noticed the massive international debate, protest, deaths and diplomatic stress? Please.

Again, because I fear that some people might spin my thoughts into a defense of the violent outrage, let me be clear: the Salient can print whatever it wants, the Danish newspapers should be able to print whatever they want. The Danish papers, though, could at least make the claim to starting a relevant and difficult political debate to justify being offensive. The Salient is just looking for a few more readers, a lot more attention, and a lot of liberal outrage. In some ways, I guess this post gives them what they want. Unfortunately, I'm not outraged that they printed them, I'm just disappointed that their sophomoric stunts have reached a new low.


I encourage any and everyone interested in Hurricane Katrina and the *ongoing* efforts to rebuild the Gulf Coast to come out tonight to "Stories from the Front Line: Communities Rebuilding from Katrina" from 8-9:30 p.m. in Lowell Dining Hall. You'll be able to hear from people such as the Mayor of Moss Point, Mississippi--the small Gulf Coast town that Cambridge adopted in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and that PBHA has and will be sending groups of students to (including my trip over Spring Break). A number of undergrads that went on the trips to Moss Point, Ocean Springs (Mississippi), and New Orleans over Intersession will also be there sharing their stories of what it was like to go to the region. In talking with them personally I've come to understand that words and pictures cannot adequately express the situation along the coast but maybe the one above will help (from AllHipHop.Com).


The Crimson has announced its Spring columnists. The Ed Board gave them to... THEMSELVES! Alex Slack, Maggie Rossman and Hannah Wright, all Crimson Ed Execs from the fall semester, somehow managed to convince the people they hired to hire them! I can't imagine how that worked out...

In all seriousness, looks like an interesting group. Mr. Schmidt, Ms. O'Brien, Mr. Kavulla, Mr. Goldenberg, don't dissappoint!

manliness and masculinity

Tonight (Wednesday night), will be Round Two of the Harvey v. Judith Lecture-Off. I don't know about you, but I'm excited.

In October, Harvey Mansfield proposed a New Feminism (conservatism) in Sever at the same time as preeminint radical social theorist Judith Butler gave a lecture on her new book in the Holyoke Center. Tonight, Mansfield is back for more and this time lecturing on "manliness" in Kirkland (6 pm) at the same time as famous gender and queer theorist Judith Halberstam is speaking in the Barker Center (5 to 7 pm). Halberstam, visiting this semester from USC, is most famous for her book Female Masculinity. I would love to know if either speaker had the other in mind when scheduling their event; it certainly seems too good to be coincidental.

bi meets world

In addition to the ones Jersey listed, there's another reason to celebrate this time of year. It's the BGLTSA's Bisexuality Week!

Actually, the bi-friendly activities continue for more than just one week. For now, I'll just list the next three upcoming events, and I'll post the rest as they approach. Looks like they've got some interesting stuff planned--if you attend any of them, by all means post a comment with some of your impressions, reactions, concerns, and/or celebrations. (more in expanded post)

Perceptions of Bisexuality Discussion
Thursday, February 16th, 8:30-10pm. Eliot Memorial Room.
Why is the Facebook.com the easiest way to come out as bi to your friends, and how does it affect people of either gender who would be interested? Why do girls who post "bisexual" on their profiles at .comlove-match websites get 7 billion more hits than girls who post just lesbian? Why do people think that bisexuality is a "just a phase" and how are women and men who are bisexual but who marry a member of th eopposite sex later in life perceived? Is someone bisexual if they think they are, or only if they are dating both men and women, and if so, do you have to be dating a man and a woman at the same time? When a bisexual is dating a man, is he perceived as gay, until he dates a woman, at which point he is heterosexual?
If you're interested in tackling these questions and other funny and frustrating misconceptions, come to the "Perceptions of Bisexuality"discussion!
For more information: Contact Jana (jlepon@fas)

I Don't Like the Word 'Bisexuality' Discussion
Sunday, February 19th, 7-8:30pm. Check www.hcs.harvard.edu/queer for location.
Got beef with "bi"? Whether you think it's too inclusive, not inclusive enough, outdated, misunderstood, or just right, come discuss the word that has changed our generation's perspective of sexual orientation. We hope to see all viewpoints represented in this discussion, from people of all genders and orientations.
For more information: Contact Mal or Josh (hellman2@fas, jdsmith@fas)

Call to Duty Tour
Tuesday, February 21st, 7pm. Starr Auditorium, KSG.
The Kennedy School is hosting speakers from the "Call To Duty" tour. The individuals who will be speaking are gay ex-military servicemembers who have recently completed their military service. They will be speaking about their personal experiences in the armed forces, and how difficult the "don't ask, don't tell" law has made their lives and the performance of their duties. Harvard is the first stop on a national speaking tour.
For more information: Contact Josh (jdsmith@fas.harvard.edu) or visitwww.calltodutytour.org

follow-up: another reason to celebrate

A while ago we discussed whether Wal-Mart should be required by law to stock and sell emergency contraception (with some readers getting deep about the stigma attached to medicine; the challenge that huge corporations pose to free/competitive market theory; and, as reader "thelonius" suggested, the opportunity to further "align women's issues with the greater global-economic justice movement." Word.).

Members of the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy may not have been thinking on such a grand scale when they voted on the case, but the outcome is definitely exciting. As a as a result of the Board's unanimous decision, the Beast of Bentonville (as it's known to some) announced today that it will start carrying EC in the Bay State. Score one for the gender/economic justice team! But wait--it gets better: (more in expanded post)
The retailer said it is also giving serious thought to carrying the drug at all of its 3,700 pharmacies nationwide. The only other state where Wal-Mart sells the so-called morning after pill is Illinois, where a state law requires it. Elsewhere, Wal-Mart has refused to stock the drug for undisclosed "business reasons."

Melissa Kogut, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, said she is hopeful Wal-Mart will start carrying the morning-after pill nationwide. "What's happening here in Massachusetts is really a turning point," she said.
For me, the exciting part isn't so much that Wal-Mart was quick to comply. For all I know, they could be calculating the EC issue on a purely economic basis, reluctant to irritate their conservative, 'family-values'-interested consumer base by selling it, but happy (or at least not distraught) dispensing it under government mandate since the state shoulders the blame while stores enjoy higher revenues. But it is exciting to see such a government body affirming so strongly the importance of emergency contraception in communities. Of course, this is also the state that legalized same-sex marriage, so I'll save my Tiger Woods fist pump for when some conservative states come around, too.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

say what?

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."

Who said it? (don't cheat!) Do you think these words still apply?

On This Special Day

As many of you already know (or hopefully should know), today is Valentine's Day. The day of love. The day restaurants nationwide thank 5th Century African Popes for creating what is probably their best business day of the year. If you have a significant other, make sure you take the time out to express those innermost, gushy-most feelings so they know that you care. And buy them stuff...because words are not enough.

Some of you may not know that in addition to Valentine's Day today is Singles Awareness Day. Instead of spending the day out with that special someone your awareness of being single is heightened by every person you see serenaded by an acapella group, snuggled up with their lover on the shuttle, or banging against the walls next to your room. Tough...get a bottle of wine and drown those sorrows. By yourself (you ARE single).

In addition to the aforementioned two holidays today is National Condom Day (most likely for the former holiday...not the latter). In 2006, don't be one of the 15.3 million U.S. citizens that will be diagnosed with an STD (many of these people being of college age). Even worse, don't be someone who doesn't know that they have one. Like BET says, Rap-It-Up (or better yet, pen-i-cillin).

Finally, today is Race Relations Day (to some). Hug a Black person...then check for your wallet.

Hooray for interracial 99% protected when used correctly loving. Yeah...

Yesterday Abu Ghraib, Today Guantanamo Bay, Tomorrow...?

A report to be released this week by the United Nations' Human Rights Commission calls for the immediate close of the U.S. military's blackhole of a detention center, otherwise known as Guantanamo Bay. The report also calls for the prosecution of those involved in the perpetration of the prison up to the highest levels of "military and political command" to be brought to justice. According to the UK's telegraph, this may even include U.S. President Bush as the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military and chief executive of the government. This is looking to be a pretty crap next few weeks for the White House while Cheney ducks the spotlight after shooting a man and federal budget cuts from Bush continue to draw popular and legislative criticism.

I wonder what would happen if this U.N. commission visited U.S. prisons on the mainland. There are surely many here with conditions not befitting any human being despite whatever crimes they may have committed, yet they are allowed to persist. Although U.S. prisons may be deemed as being in better shape than many other countries' prison systems the world over that doesn't make ours decent. Our prisons should not only be comparatively decent but normatively decent.

Monday, February 13, 2006

a note on anonymity

Since a commentor brought it up in one of the recent discussions, I thought I'd take a minute to highlight some advantages and disadvantages I see with using anonymity on the blog. This issue has special relevance to certain of our goals and visions at Cambridge Common, so I think I speak for all the contributing writers when I say that we would really appreciate your feedback on this topic, since it will help us to improve the overall project. (more in expanded post)

UPDATE: Someone helpfully pointed out to me that this post is far too long for people short on time. So for those of you who wish to be spared my anecdotes and pontifications (smile), here's the bullet-point version:

Advantages to anonymity:
* Protects privacy in case of sensitive content and/or special status within the University.
* Puts focus on what's said, rather than who's saying it.
* Freedom from fear of mean personal attacks (which, unfortunately, do happen).
* May aid in free expression.

Disadvantages to anonymity:
* Enables mean-spirited attacks and/or lying (only seriously problematic in certain cases like the UC race).
* Keeps others from getting a sense of how your views on different issues fit together (can be mitigated by adopting a pseudonym).
*** Hinders Cambridge Common's function as a catalyst for real live interaction and community, rather than a substitute for it. The blog, and New Media, are not enough--it's wonderful and vital to get to know in person the contributors we meet in online discussions!

Conclusion 1: Consider attaching your real, full name or a fake name to your comments. It makes it easier for the rest of us (1)to get to know you online, (2)to develop a more complete sense of your various opinions and perspectives, and (3)to get in touch with you if and when we want to (which is the best part!).

Conclusion 2: What are your thoughts on the function of anonymity, others of its advantages and disadvantages, and on how we can make Cambridge Common more effective at translating online community to real live community?

* * *

All right; now, for the brave or bored among you, here's the raw footage:

As some have noted, anonymity can be very useful in focusing attention solely on what's being said, rather than on who's saying it. Our own subtle prejudices and biases (based on the age, perceived gender, race and ethnicity, social position, etc. of the person writing, and/or our real-life interactions with them) can certainly affect the way we read and interpret people's words, affecting our ability to really understand what they're trying to say and consider it fairly.

The above-mentioned recent commentor's reason for maintaining anonymity is slightly different from being concerned that revealing one's identity will skew the way one's comments are received, though equally understandable: in their words, "I only remain anonymous because my position within the university somewhat necessitates it."

Also, some people may simply feel that they can express themselves better and more freely when they're not worried about the possibility of others criticizing them personally. This is an issue that has sometimes come up on open lists, when people simply abstain from voicing their opinions because they have no desire to be the target of caustic remarks. In more extreme cases, the unfortunate reality is that some contributors may feel they would be jeopardizing their own safety ('outing' themselves in any number of ways) by attaching their name to certain sensitive information or opinions.

Using a pseudonym provides many of the benefits of anonymity, and different people have various reasons for adopting them. Author bell hooks, for example, chooses to use a pen name, even though her identity is known, as a way of cultivating the emotional strength she needs in order to write about some deeply personal and highly charged issues. Some people, particularly on blogs, just use them to be goofy. And pseudonyms have advantages beyond regular anonymity: they help to distinguish the writer more easily from the many other anonymouses (so people don't have to refer to them as "anonymous 3" or "anonymous at 12:37"), and they also help to establish a continuity of thought for the person, so people who have read their comments in the past can better piece together their various opinions and perspectives.

Are there other advantages to anonymity and pseudonymity that I've overlooked? Let me know.

Okay, now for some disadvantages.

One of the major drawbacks to anonymity that we actually had to take action against in the past is the way it allows people to say hurtful, rude, and/or untrue things without having to suffer the social consequences of doing so. During the UC campaigns and election, anticipating the great damage that anonymous traducements could cause to candidates and their staff, we instituted a policy restricting anonymous UC-related contributions. Typically, though, the harm in the occasional petty insult is far outweighed by the benefits of maintaining the anonymity option, especially when people often call each other out on being out of line.

A second major downside to anonymity is that it prevents people from getting to know each other, both online and offline. As I said above, adopting a consistent pseudonym (or various permutations of one, like our friend guess who/why/where/what) helps gives the rest of us a better sense of how your ideas fit together. It also assists in creating the feeling of an online community, with many recognizable members.

But Cambridge Common is not only about creating an online community, which brings me to the disadvantage to anonymity that I most deplore. Remaining anonymous robs the rest of us of the chance to translate online community to real live community. To illustrate this point, I'll offer an example from my own experience. A while back, someone wrote a very kind, complimentary comment on one of my posts, signing it "E." Frazzled with life at the time and thinking I knew the person's identity anyway, I didn't respond with my thanks right away, thinking I'd catch up with them later. Well, the person I thought was E, wasn't E. So a few weeks down the road, I tucked a note to E in one of my posts, apologizing for not thanking them sooner and asking that they email me, if they wanted to, so that we could meet up and chat outside the blogosphere. Happily, E did email me, we met up for lunch one day, and our dining hall dates now average about two and a half hours. We both agree that we're just sorry we didn't meet sooner, since E will be graduating in the spring.

So the moral of that story is, as enjoyable, productive and exciting as blogging and New Media can be, they can't beat face-to-face interaction. Online communication undoubtedly has certain key advantages: it's wonderful for connecting people across large geographical distances, and it's fabulous at facilitating the speedy sharing of large amounts of information. But since most of us who read Cambridge common are right here on campus, we should take advantage of that fact and use the blog as a catalyst for real-life interactions, not as a substitute for them. And while in some cases you can have your cake and eat it too, remaining anonymous and still meeting up with other contributors offline, posting your name just makes it that much easier for the good people of the world to get in touch with you (I know I'm stoked about meeting up with another thoughtful contributor for the first time this week!).

Really, I can scarcely overemphasize this point: Cambridge Common is not a self-contained universe, nor should it be. With this in mind, I hope that you contributors who post anonymously, and you readers who have yet to comment, will consider attaching real or fake names to your writings. It will bring us that much closer to forming real live offline community.

What do you think of all this? How can we improve Cambridge Common so it's more effective at fostering offline community? As always, please share some wisdom.

ps: hi, E. :)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

constructing dialogue

I'm sure I'm going to get kicked off a lot of emails lists if I keep doing this, but I couldn't help but be fascinated by an email sent out over GOP-Open a few days ago:
Subject: [GOP-Open] conservative women - have strong feelings about feminism, bettyfriedan?

Let me know ASAP, like this night. We have an opportunity to put somebody on a panel on NPR radio to discuss this issue, taking place TOMORROW. They're looking for "a smart, articulate young woman who feels disillusioned by the [feminist] movement." You would probably be going up against people who are supporters of Betty Friedan / the more radical strain of feminism.
The whole thing reminds me of a strange episode during the Larry Summers/Sex Differences debate of last year. My blockmate was supposed to go on TV (as "the woman" representing the Crimson Ed Board) but was replaced when the show found out she had a nuanced, and not completely anti-Larry position (she wrote a great piece about it). Considering both incidents, it seems fair to ask: is there any reason to believe that any dialogue on TV or radio or anywhere else is "representative"?

snowball fight!

Via Dems-Talk:


Sharp Shooting Cheney

Numerous national news outlets are reporting that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney shot a 78 year-old man with a shotgun today while on a hunting trip in Texas. Although the story is that it was a mistake, how can someone mistakenly shoot a person while aiming at a bird? Also and possibly equally important, who shoots a relatively small bird such as a quail with a huge, powerful shotgun? Will the man, a lawyer from Austin, Texas, pursue charges against the VP? We'll have to wait and see...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

debauchery deserves some consideration

I'm rushing out the door at the moment, so I don't have time to write a lengthy post, but I mainly want to direct your attention to this post on Demapples calling for liberals (everyone, but liberals especially) to boycott the Debauchery dance party in Winthrop tonight. I hadn't realized until today, when I read yesterday's Crimson article on the dance, that there's fake money involved. Personally, that makes me very uncomfortable. Anyway, as i said, I don't have much time at the moment, but I'll be posting more thoughts on this later, but in the meantime I just wanted to urge people to read Third Degree's post on Demapples, think through the Debauchery issue for yourselves, and whatever you end up doing tonight, have fun and be safe.

UPDATE: Since I posted last night, there's been a fair bit of continuing talk about Debauchery among the Dems, resulting in some stark divides. Last night, one guy from the Dems even stood outside Winthrop holding a sign in protest, until he was instructed by police to stop since he didn’t have the administration’s approval. I chatted him up, as well as a couple of other passersby, and I’ve been following some of the conversation on the Dems open list and blog, Here are some of my impressions and thoughts on what I’ve heard; I hope you’ll share yours too.(more in expanded post)

First of all, the argument that Debauchery is bad because it’s immoral or indecent doesn’t fly with me unless it includes a clear definition of what pertinent morals are being violated, and makes a case for why we should uphold those morals while still acknowledging that they’re not absolute or objective. Personally, I’m much more likely to be persuaded by a convincing explanation for why something is harmful to people, rather than an appeal to predetermined moral standards for their own sake.

But some who attack these moral appeals go too far themselves in deriding dissenters for being too uptight and preachy. Criticism is great, but trying to shut down a conversation on the grounds that the problems it addresses are not as serious as Iraq, Darfur, nuclear war, actual sex trafficking, etc. ignores the fact that little problems are often related to big problems. Plus, it can be helpful to start discussions that are obviously immediately relevant to students’ lives and choices. Also, as John Stuart Mill might say (sorry, I’m reading him right now for class and I swear it’s relevant), voicing opinions and judgments about moral standards is necessary and healthy in a community that values free speech as long as advocates don’t hold their opinions to be infallible—not simply true or correct, but beyond all conceivable reproach.

Okay, moving on to the nitty gritty of the arguments I’ve heard people make about why the dance is bad or not bad, or even good. I’ll start with the not bad.

Argument 1. We shouldn’t waste our energy criticizing the behavior of the Debauchery attendees, who are, after all, consenting adults. Who are we to tell them what’s appropriate?

As a dance sponsored by Winthrop House, Debauchery affects me as a student because it’s something the University indirectly approved. Plus, I think it offers some interesting food for thought which may affect the way I explain my position on the subject to friends of mine. And that’s kind of what we do here at Cambridge Common, among other things: comment on social and political happenings on campus.

That said, I do think that protesting outside the dance is largely a waste of time since you’re probably not going to change the minds of people who have already bought tickets. Protesting outside a final club would also be a waste of time, and would probably even be counterproductive to your aims. But that’s why discussion forums are helpful.

As for the consenting adults aspect, it’s true that no one’s forcing people to attend this party, and no one’s forcing the people who come to participate in any certain way. But consent is more complicated than whether or not you know what you’re getting yourself into. There are huge gray areas between what people are sure they’re willing to do and what they’re sure they’re unwilling to do; most of the time, these gray area situations depend a lot on context. In a haze of alcohol and in an environment in which people can mask inappropriate and/or hurtful propositions behind an excuse of, ‘it’s only a game,’ my concern is that people will feel pressured into doing things that they feel on some level are degrading. Yes, it’s their decision to go to a party where they’re more likely to encounter these gray areas, but it’s Harvard’s decision whether or not to sponsor such an event, and I think they made an irresponsible choice.

Argument 2. People won’t be pressured into doing things they’re uncomfortable with because the rules of the game say you still get paid for saying ‘no.’ Plus, the squat team will be there making sure there’s no coercion going on.

A couple of flaws with the down payment rule, as I see it. I don’t know precisely what the rule is, but I figure it’s either that you pay the full price up front for what you want, regardless of the answer you’ll get, or you pay part of the fee first, get the answer, and if it’s a ‘yes,’ cough up the rest. The latter scenario seems a bit complicated for drunk people, but hey, if anyone can manage economic transactions, Harvard kids can. In the first scenario, the rules of the game still establish a pressure to consent to propositions because the more you say yes, the more people will proposition you. I suppose you could bank on playing hard to get as a strategy, but after a while people would probably give up on you, knowing that their Bauch bucks could be better spent elsewhere. In the second case, there’s still an obvious incentive to consent because it means you earn more Monopoly money.

Now, just because the rules are set up this way, while it may create something of a problem, doesn’t mean that partygoers will necessarily behave according to the incentives and goals that the rules establish. As defenders of the Debauchery have said, in the end it’s just a party, and people will do what they do in order to have a good time. But again, since the dance is sponsored by Winthrop House, they should be accountable for establishing a situation in which the whole point of a party is to earn money by performing sexual favors for people (no, this doesn’t mean only oral sex, and while some people will probably just ask their friends to do goofy things, the way the party was advertised certainly implies a sexual connotation). Having people there on the lookout is great, but if you have to form a squat team whose purpose is to intervene in dubious situations that the structure of the dance itself helps to create, maybe that’s an indication that the party needs to be reconsidered.

Argument 3. There’s no inherent problem with sexism here since everyone gets spending money and everyone is equally objectified.

The remedy for sexist objectification is not equal-opportunity objectification. In the first place, I think objectification is harmful in and of itself in most cases, so I don’t see extending it to men as a happy solution (others may disagree). Secondly, attempts like this never actually pan out anyway because of the very deep roots of gender hierarchy. Objectifying men tends to be a silly or funny enterprise. Why? Because it seems out of place to see men in women’s traditional role: the looked-at, rather than the looker. It was this phenomenon that Laura Mulvey described when she coined the term "male gaze" in her highly influential and still controversial 1975 article, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema."

People have maintained that drawing a parallel between objectification at Debauchery and objectification at final clubs is nonsensical since one of the main problems with final clubs is that men control the space. At Debauchery, theoretically, the space is neutral. But while I agree that the problem of male domination may not be as pronounced at the dance as it is in the clubs, it’s still worse than regular parties because of the theme and structure of the dance.

A cartoon appeared in the joke edition of the Crimson during finals period depicting the Bee club’s new house populated by passive-looking bees being sexually ravaged by animals representing all the male final clubs. While the point of the cartoon was probably to make fun of the Bee club members more than to comment on gendered power dynamics, it does raise an important point. Even when women supposedly control their own space, it doesn’t guarantee that they will exercise most of the agency in terms of deciding what goes on. The subtlety and complexity of sexism—which, at a very basic level, posits women as objects and men as acting subjects—means that superficially leveling the playing field just doesn’t cut it. The Debauchery party doesn’t exist in a social vacuum; gender roles and hierarchies permeate the event (as they do most parties). And the proposition/compensation structure unnecessarily exacerbates these already-existing problems.

Okay, moving on to “Debauchery is good” arguments.

Argument 1. Harvard kids don’t have enough sexual interaction. Why deny them a much-needed opportunity to blow off some steam and get up-close-and-personal with each other?

I don’t object to parties, I just think there are other, less loaded themes for house-sponsored dances than quasi-prostitution.

Argument 2. Liberals are often talking about a need for more sex-positiveness; now you complain when we finally get some.

My guess is that most people who attend Debauchery do not have overall sex-positive attitudes. In fact, the party’s marketability rests on its image of sexual scandal, which means people there get their jollies from doing things that they think on some level are bad and dirty. This isn’t sex-positivity. It’s college kids taking advantage of an excuse to do things they think are illicit, without having to face the normal repercussions (i.e. damage to reputation) of such activities. A sex-positive party scenario, on the other hand, would involve people celebrating sex—including, but not limited to, the taboo aspects of it—while accepting full responsibility for their choices and the social stigmas attached to them.

Argument 3. People didn’t actually go to the party shouldn’t judge it; it was actually a lot of fun, and most people didn’t even bother with the money aspect so much—it was basically just a good party.

I’m glad a lot of folks had a good time and I’m a little relieved to hear that the propositioning component didn’t dominate the dynamic. But that doesn’t erase the fact that it’s still built in to the concept of the party, and that the University is sponsoring the party. People may have ignored the Bauch bucks this time, but that’s no guarantee that the same thing will happen if and when the party continues in future years. The theme and structure of the party itself are a problem since they increase the likelihood of putting people in difficult situations where sexual harassment and assault are more likely to occur.

And finally, some “Debauchery is bad” opinions.

Argument 1. People should not be performing sex acts in public.

Honestly, more public sex acts probably went on at my high school homecoming dances than at Debauchery. Let’s not feign shock at the fact that these things occur. We can talk about why we think sex ought to be a private affair between or among committed people—that’s not a given, but a subject for thoughtful discussion—but we shouldn’t pretend as though public sex is anything new. Even at Harvard.

Argument 2. Prostitution is immoral and illegal. Since the ‘winners’ of Debauchery are awarded prizes, the setup is sort of like delayed compensation for performing sex acts, especially since people had to pay for tickets to get in.

I don’t know enough about prostitution or stripping laws to be able to say whether the Debauchery structure qualifies as prostitution, but my guess is that is doesn’t. The illegality claim seems like a stretch. As for prostitution being immoral, I think it’s an interesting topic we could explore, but I’m not willing to unquestioningly accept it as a universal standard. Does the dance promote prostitution? I don’t think so. Some Harvard students may get a kick out of publicly playing at prostitution, but I suspect the vast majority of them would also be offended if others actually called them whores in all seriousness. Thus, the party treats prostitution lightly by turning it into a game. And it’s this part I object to. Whether prostitution is good, bad, both or neither, it definitely has serious implications. Playing make-believe with sex work in order to get off on the feeling of doing something scandalous while denying culpability because it’s ‘just a game’ is a logical outlet in a sex-negative culture. But it’s also naïve and potentially harmful for people who have trouble separating deeds and emotions (which, to some extent, is most of us).

Finally, to be fair on the quasi-prostitution issue, a person could technically win for refusing to perform sex acts and accumulating the fake money that way, but they would still have to have been propositioned quite aggressively, which, as I said earlier, could create problems anyway.

Argument 3. We need to have a standard of decency. This clearly crosses the line of appropriateness.

Again, this isn’t a real argument for anything except blind conformity. We ought to talk about pernicious practices by identifying the specific (though often subtle) harms they cause, not by simply appealing to some standard of decency that’s immune to scrutiny.

Like the problems with final clubs, the issue with Debauchery isn’t that it’s a bastion for rape or anything that extreme. Rather, largely because of the subtle gender norms at work, the theme and structure of the event are likely to help create situations in which people feel pressured to do things that they’re not totally comfortable with.

Thanks for reading, please share your thoughts, and again, have a fun and safe weekend.