Posts tagged ‘Harvard University’

Sorry to Send You To Harvard With Unhappy Thoughts

I was looking at the searches that brought visitors to Coyote Blog, and in August and early September I had a surge of folks searching Peabody Terrace.   This seemed odd.  Then I realized that this must be young grad students who have been assigned Peabody Terrace as their housing and want to learn about it.  I feel bad that I have to spoil some of their anticipation, but this is what they will find on my site:

And, in case you are one who supports government "redevelopment" and mandates on aesthetics but think that it would all work out fine if architectural experts and committees of academics made the decisions, here is the hideous Peabody Terrace at Harvard University, presumably vetted by the finest architectural academic minds in the country:

Peabody

These buildings, where Harvard stuck me for a full year, were transported right out of East Berlin, right down to the elevators that only stopped on every third floor for efficiency sake (efficiency of the builder, obviously, not the occupant).  The interior walls were bare cast concrete and no amount of heat could warm them in the winter.  It was the most depressing place, bar none, I have every lived.  But the "experts" loved them, and wished that this vision could have been forced by urban planners on all of America:

Leland Cott, an adjunct professor of urban design at the [Harvard] GSD, calls Peabody Terrace 'a model of design efficiency, economy, and attention to scale.'

Fortunately, someone gets it:

The magazine Architecture Boston has focused attention on the controversial aspects of Sert's work by devoting its July/August 2003 issue to an examination of Peabody Terrace, expressing the essential disagreement about the work in the form of a stark conundrum: "Architects love Peabody Terrace. The public hates it."

In fact, the public's hostility to the structures may be in proportion to its degree of proximity, with the most intense feelings confined to those households on the front lines of the town/gown divide....

Otile McManus, in a companion essay, discusses the reactions of many Cambridge residents, who have described the complex as "monstrous," "cold," "uninviting," "overwhelming," and "hostile," and have compared it to Soviet housing.

Actually, the most intense feeling were by those who lived there, who really, really hated it  (though I will admit there were several third world students who loved it -- must have been nostalgic for them).  The article goes on to accuse detractors of being anti-modernist.  Which is a laugh, since my house is one of the most starkly modern in the area, so modern I could not sell it several years ago.  I am not anti-modern.  I am anti-bad-design.

Wow!  I am kindof amazed at the hostility I still feel fifteen years after the fact.  I had started out just to link TJIC's post, and here I am in full-blown rant mode.  Sorry.

A blogger once described the Boston City Hall as "a poured concrete Vogon love poem."  I wish I had said that about Peabody Terrace.

The other thing excited, young Harvard grad students might find at my site is an excerpt from my novel.  This portion is entirely autobiographical (except for not being a girl) and describes my year at Peabody Terrace.

And We'll Never Know What We Are Missing

Perhaps the scariest potential effect of the proposed health care bills is the negative effect they likely will have on innovation.  And if we adopt the bill, we will never know what we have lost.  Unlike budgets, which with near certainty will become overdrawn quickly, we will never be able to point to the health care innovation we didn't have.

I want to quote liberally from a Ronald Bailey post, but I encourage you to read the whole thing:

Yet, the elements of market competition that still manage to survive have had the salubrious effect of driving medical innovation and improving patient health outcomes. A new study by the free market Cato Institute, "Bending the Productivity Curve: Why America Leads the World in Medical Innovation" reports:

...In three of the four general categories of innovation examined in this paper "” basic science, diagnostics, and therapeutics "” the United States has contributed more than any other country, and in some cases, more than all other countries combined. In the last category, business models, we lack the data to say whether the United States has been more or less innovative than other nations; innovation in this area appears weak across nations....

...Harvard University economist Kenneth Rogoff observed:

"[I]f all countries squeezed profits in the health sector the way Europe and Canada do, there would be much less global innovation in medical technology. Today, the whole world benefits freely from advances in health technology that are driven largely by the allure of the profitable U.S. market. If the United States joins other nations in having more socialized medicine, the current pace of technology improvements might well grind to a halt."

In my column, "2005 Medical Care Forever," I suggested this thought experiment:

...what if the United States had nationalized its health care system in 1960? That would be the moral equivalent of freezing (or at least drastically slowing) medical innovation at 1960 levels. The private sector and governments would not now be spending so much more money on health care. There might well have been no organ transplants, no MRIs, no laparoscopic surgery, no cholesterol lowering drugs, hepatitis C vaccine, no in vitro fertilization, no HIV treatments and so forth. Even Canadians and Britons would not be satisfied with receiving the same quality of medical care that they got 45 years ago....

As Rogoff suggests, the nationalized health care systems extolled by progressives have been living off the innovations developed by the "only country without a universal health care system." I wonder how Americans would vote if they were asked if they would be happy freezing medical care at 2005 levels forever?

BMOC, Chapters 3 and 4

In what is becoming a Thursday night tradition, I am posting the next two chapters, numbers three and four, of my book BMOCThe first two chapters were posted here.  The next chapters after these are here.  Before we start, here are some of the "reviews":

"Who
is this guy?  You're not allowed to portray lawyers in novels as
anything but dedicated warriors for the common good.  In the words we
teach all of our clients when they are suing for millions over
spilled coffee, "˜it is not about the money.'  We hate this book,
and if you read it, we will sue you."

"“
America's tort lawyers

"This
Meyer person obviously never read the instruction manual for writing
novels.  Journalists are supposed to be brave and honest, while
corporations are supposed to be evil and rapacious, not the other way
around.

"“
Other modern novel writers

"It's
not that bad here."

"“
The Harvard University administration

"I
was kind of proud that Warren wrote a novel, but then I read it and
saw the dirty stuff and all the bad words.  Now I am really
embarrassed."

"“
Warren's mother

"We
are shocked that anyone would imply that our legislative efforts are
aimed more at helping favored political supporters than championing
the common man."

"“
Congress

"This
is what he was doing at the office instead of driving the kids to
soccer?  Writing a novel? I thought he was doing work!"

"“
Warren's wife

"Warren
was never my student.  I swear.  Don't even think about blaming
this on me."

"“
Warren's high school English teacher

And now, chapters three and four:

chapter three

It was one
of those rare, perfect weather days in New York City "“ sunny and 70
degrees.  A few weeks from now, it would be slit-your-throat weather,
so hot and humid that the grime from the surrounding buildings would
seem to leech into your pores.  On a beautiful day like this,
everyone was in a better mood, and New Yorkers could almost creep up
the attitude scale to "human".  Now, it wasn't like they would
smile at you and wish you a good day, but it did mean that if you
keeled over unconscious in the middle of the sidewalk, someone might
check on you rather than just stepping over your body on their way to
lunch.

Continue reading ‘BMOC, Chapters 3 and 4’ »

The Cost of Zoning

After years of getting grief, mostly from the left, for its eschewing of zoning and land-use ordinances that more "enlightened" places like San Francisco and Portland are so famous for, residents of Houston are reaping the benefits of their historical Laissez Faire approach:

Houston's gains are nothing like those seen in the past decade in
the Northeast and California, but that may be the secret to Houston's
success and the reason a bubble is unlikely to develop here. Land here
is abundant, and the city has some of the least-restrictive land-use
and construction rules in the nation. Those factors help supply to keep
pace with demand and keep prices within reach of a broad range of
potential buyers.

"We haven't had a bad year in the past decade," says Lorraine
Abercrombie, chairwoman of the local Realtors group and marketing
director for Greenwood King Properties.

Houston's model is in stark contrast to cities such as Boston and
San Francisco, which have strict zoning, exacting building codes and
laws governing historical preservation. Some economists, including
Edward Glaeser of Harvard University, say excessive regulation in such
cities has slowed construction to the point where demand has
outstripped supply, fueling a run-up in home prices.

In the once-sizzling markets where home prices are falling, housing
costs are double, triple or even quadruple those of Houston. The
danger, says Dr. Glaeser, is such places have priced out today's highly
skilled "knowledge workers," forcing them to live in a more affordable
locale where their contribution to the economy might not be as great.
"These are places where only the elite can live," Dr. Glaeser says.

This issue is one of those great examples of the statist game to enlarge government.  Step 1:  Progressives argue for having government restrict land use and implement tight zoning.  Step 2:  Housing prices skyrocket, enriching the elite and making it tough for ordinary workers to own housing.  Step 3:  Progressives decry that lack of affordable housing represents a 'market failure' that must be addressed with more regulation.  For example, builders in the SF Bay Area are required to sell X number of below market rate 'affordable' homes for every Y homes they sell at market rates.  Step 4:  Builders costs go up from the new regulations, further reducing supply and increasing prices.  And the cycle just repeats, as bad outcomes from government regulation are blamed on free markets, and used to justify more regulation.

Here is a trick to try -- every time you see the word "sprawl" in an article, replace it with "affordable housing."  It makes for interesting reading.

Hat tip to Tom Kirkendall, who runs a great blog in Houston.

Problems at Harvard

Steven Metcalf has an interesting article in Slate on the state of Harvard University.  And, if you don't really care about what messes the twits from Harvard are making of the place (and I don't blame you) it is also a good look at problems in universities in general.  My favorite passage is this one:

From Bradley's descriptions"”and from my own experience"”academia has devolved into a series of now highly routinized acts of flattery, so carefully attended to that one out-of-place word is enough to fracture dozens of egos.

One only has to observe the shrill and over-the-top reactions to some of Lawrence Summers recent remarks to have this ring true.

I actually have several connections to Harvard.  As a high school senior, I was fortunate to have my choice of Ivy League schools, and I chose Princeton over Harvard, in large part because it was obvious even then that the Harvard's graduate schools and faculty egos took precedence over teaching undergraduates.  At Princeton I got to know Neil Rudenstine, then provost of Princeton and later President of Harvard.  Rudenstine was basically far too good a man to run Harvard, sort of like sending Mother Theresa in to run Haiti.  The faculty devoured him, and drove him to a breakdown.

More recently, I attended the Harvard Business School (HBS).  Many of you who are unfamiliar with Harvard would likely assume that the b-school was the snobbiest and most condescending arm of the university.  In fact, the opposite was the case -- the B-school was both isolated from and looked down on by the rest of the university, its isolation reinforced and symbolized by the river that separates HBS from the rest of the campus.  Many an outsider have commented on how approachable HBS students and faculty are as compared to the rest of the university, which is ironic since most of the rest of the university, busy polishing their egalitarian credentials, condescendingly denigrate HBS students for being, well, grubby capitalists rather than lofty intellectuals like themselves.  As a result, HBS crew teams were routinely booed through the entire Head of the Charles regatta, and HBS graduates are booed by the rest of the university at every graduation ceremony.

As a result, Princeton gets much of my time and love and attention and, well, money, while Harvard gets nada. 

Update:  I am reminded that this last feeling about Harvard is not limited to the B-school.  My good libertarian college roommate Brink Lindsey (I wish he would start blogging again) tells me that when he was at Harvard Law, a group of his friends formed N.O.P.E., which stood for Not One Penny Ever [to Harvard].

The Check is NOT in the Mail

I have not asked my wife yet, but she certainly must be proud today to be a Harvard (B-school) alumna today, given recent comments by Harvard President Larry Sommers:

The president of Harvard University prompted criticism for suggesting that innate differences between the sexes could help explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers.

My gut feel, though, without having talked to her, is that the annual giving check is probably not in the mail.

By the way, I do think there are innate differences in the sexes - it is almost impossible not to see this having raised kids of both genders.  It is also fun to joke about women and math skills - I joke with my wife all the time.  However, I am not speaking as the representative of the leading university in the country.  Mr. Sommer's remark is pure supposition, without any real research behind it (he admits as much).  That said, given that he is in charge of an educational institution whose job is to push people of both sexes up to and beyond their potential, it was a stupid statement from the wrong person.

Is this hypocritical on my part - criticizing Mr. Sommers for something I have done myself?  No.  Here is an analogy:  Its may be fun for all of us to joke about French military prowess, or lack thereof (Q:  Why are the streets of Paris lined with trees?  A: Because the Germans like to march in the shade) but it would be absolutely wrong for the president or the state department to do so in any public venue, because they are representing our country in an official capacity.  Mr Sommers is representing Harvard University, and to suggest publicly that half his student body is biologically incapable of being successful in a substantial part of his University's course work is stupid and irresponsible.

UPDATE:

Virginia Postrel comes to Sommers defense here and here.  She argues that Sommers did indeed have quite a bit of good analysis behind him, and that those of us who criticize him are being politically correct and hindering academic inquisitiveness.    Hmmm, maybe.  I have a lot of respect for Ms. Postrel, so if she says I am missing something, I am willing to think about it some more.  However, I will say that all I saw in the write-ups was data that women are underrepresented in math and science related careers (duh) and speculation but no evidence that this may go beyond socialization to biology. 

I still have trouble buying the biology thing.  For two reasons:

  • The distribution of careers data is loaded with social factors that are really, really hard to control for.  Based on the same data, you might come to the conclusion that blacks are biologically less suited to be corporate CEO's or that men are less suited to being nurses or flight attendants.
  • We are in the middle of a radical change with women and education.  A wave of women more comfortable with educational and intellectual achievement in general is moving through the system.  It is therefore dangerous to read data ahead of the wave - say with 30 and 40 year olds, since everything will change when the wave rolls through. 

How do I know there is such a wave?  If you graduated high school 20 or more years ago, look at the picture of the honor society in the yearbook.  Likely as not, the picture will be mostly boys.  Now go to just about any high school and look on the wall.  Taking my kids to chess tournaments and the like, I have been in a lot of high schools lately, and it is not at all unusual that the pictures of the honor society are ALL girls - not more girls than before, but all girls.  Then, take a look at college enrollment and the huge influx of women there.  Yes, for various reasons, these women may still not be choosing careers in the sciences, but you can't tell me that they are somehow biologically less prepared to do math.

UPDATE#2:  I really did not intend for this to be such a long post, but there is another good defense of Sommers here at Asymmetrical Information.  Apparently most of the left is explaining the "gap" with bias rather than biology.  Which is funny, because I thought much less about bias but rather personal choice - that for a variety of reasons women were not choosing math/science careers.  Anyway, the post from McCardle had this humorous observation:

Interesting, isn't it, how many of the liberals proclaiming that it's utterly ridiculous to think that a department running 95% leftists might be, consciously or unconsciously, discriminating against those of a more right wing persuasion, find it completely obvious that if a physics department is 80% male, that must be because they're discriminating

lol, anyway, no more.  I have decided to cut Sommers some slack, in part because I obviously don't have all the facts, and in part because I am sympathetic to him since I know for a fact that Harvard University is somewhat less governable than, say, Haiti.