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War Comes to Williams

by Professor Michael Lewis, from the Novermber 2001 issue of Commentary.

There was an odd comfort in watching the unfolding of a national disaster in the presence of video artists and photographers: one did not stand in paralyzed impotence. On September 11, the nearest television set at my college was in the video laboratory, and around me there swirled a reassuring bustle of purposeful and competent activity. One faculty colleague worked to hook up the recorder, another crouched and leaned to snap still photos from the television screens. Standing among them, as we watched the World Trade Center topple, I felt a palpable and unanticipated gregariousness, a concord of mood and feeling.

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Ephs Who Have Gone Before

Who is this Eph?

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He is Myles Crosby Fox ’40.

Alas, Myles will not be in Williamstown for his 65th reuinion in two weeks, for he has passed away. He leaves behind no wife, no children nor grandchildren. He never attended a Williams reunion.

Fox was, in many ways, an Eph of both his time and ours. He was a JA and captain of the soccer team. He served as treasurer in the Student Activities Council, forerunner to today’s College Council. He was a Gargoyle and secretary of his class.

Fox was killed in August of 1942, fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific. He was a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps and served in a Marine Raider battalion.

Fox’s citation for the Navy Cross reads:

For extraordinary heroism while attached to a Marine Raider Battalion during the seizure of Tulagi, Solomon Islands, on the night of 7-8 August 1942. When a hostile counter-attack threatened to penetrate the battalion line between two companies, 1st Lt. Fox, although mortally wounded, personally directed the deployment of personnel to cover the gap. As a result of great personal valor and skilled tactics, the enemy suffered heavy losses and their attack repulsed. 1st Lt. Fox, by his devotion to duty, upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the defense of his country.

On Memorial Day, America honors soldiers like Fox who died in the service of their country. I think that it has been more than 30 years since an Eph has given his life as Fox did. With luck, military Ephs like Bungee Cooke ’98, Kathy Sharpe Jones ’79, Dan Ornelas ’98, Zack Pace ’98, JR Rahill ’88, Jerry Rizzo ’87, and Dan Rooney ’95 will survive this war. It would be more than enough to celebrate their service on Veterans’ Day.

Those interested in descriptions of what combat was like for Marines in the South Pacific during World War II might start with Battle Cry by Leon Uris or Goodby, Darkness by William Manchester. The Warriors by J. Glenn Gray provides a fascinating introduction to men and warfare.

A Navy destroyer was named after Fox. As far as I know, he is the only Eph ever to be so honored. The men who manned that destroyer collected a surprising amount of information about him. It all seems both as long ago as Ephraim Williams’s service to the King and as recent as the notes from class secretaries in the Alumni Review that arrived a few days ago.

Note: This entry is a slightly updated version of last year’s. As long as there is an EphBlog, there will be a Memorial Day entry along these lines. To those who have gone before.

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War Comes to Williams

Six months ago, EphBlog was pleased to debunk an urban myth about what happened at Williams in the days after September 11, 2001. I just discovered that there is actually an article, “When War Came to Williams,” by Professor of Art Michael Lewis about this time period.

Does anyone know if this article is available on-line?

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Orvis Like Me

This blog is a great read for anyone interested in anthropology and economics, so I was sad to see a bit of Williams bashing.

Do you remember Eddie Murphy’s “White Like Me” routine on Saturday Night Life, the one in which he revealed that white people don’t have to pay for the bus or sign for a loan?

I always thought this was comedy…until I received this disturbing email.

The Orvis Company Store Private Shopping Night

Save the date! Thanks to the generosity of The Orvis Company Inc President/CEO Perk Perkins (Williams ’75), All-Ivy Club Members are invited to a private, after-hours opportunity at their Manhattan store located just blocks away from the club to get outfitted for summer.

Privilege, it’s a terrible thing. (Among other things, it encourages you to dress badly.)

Orvis is very Eph.

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Clerk Kent, redux

As the lovely Article III Groupie pointed out, there are 2 Ephs clerking for the Supremes this upcoming term.

While we pointed out (and as she elaborated extensively) that Jon D. Michaels ’98 is going to clerk for J. Souter, (d)avid noted that he wasn’t the only EphJon clerking this upcoming term…

Yesterday, A3G profiled the other EphJon, Jon Kravis ’99, who will be clerking for J. Breyer.

I wonder if Judge Paul Michel ’63, recently elevated to Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit, will welcome them to DC?

While the EphJons seem (from the judges to whom they’re attached) to be politically opposite the late great EphJustice Stephen J. Field 1837, I wish them similar success in their judicial careers!

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Margolis ’78 Film Screening

The Definition of Insanity” will be screening at the Brooklyn Museum on Tuesday, June 7th, at 10 PM as part of the Brooklyn Int. Film Festival. The movie stars Robert Margolis ’78, Kelli Barnett, Dawn Marie Anderson, Frank Krias, the legendary Peter Bogdanovich and, in a short cameo, the pioneer of independent filmmaking, Jonas Mekas.

Any Eph who attends should drop us a line with her review. This might also make for a fun outing for the NYC Williams alumni association.

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Bradburd on Theses

Professor Ralph Bradburd was kind enough to allow me to post some comments that he made on senior theses in economics, a topic we touched on here.

We will post, or post a link to, all those theses whose student authors agree to have them posted.

Again, kudos to Bradburd, Sheppard and the entire Economics Department. Note that other departments do not do nearly as good a job of advertising the work of their students. The only information that I can find about Political Science theses is here. Pretty pathetic. Why is it that Economics does so much better at this than other departments?

The college archives does this automatically. (There may be very good reasons for students to choose not to post their theses immediately. For example, some of our students have assembled original datasets through field interviews or archival research; we encourage such students to try to publish articles based on their theses, and making their data available via the web immediately might permit someone else to exploit the fruits of their efforts before they can do so.)

This is highly implausible, at least in economics. First, just because the thesis itself is on the web, the student does not have to supply the actual data. Second, even if a student did supply the data, the odds someone using this to “exploit” her work are vanishingly low. I’d wager that Bradburd can not provide a single example of such exploitation occuring in all of economics, much less in the context of an undergraduate thesis. I have never heard of one.

Third, this is exactly the opposite of what the vast majority of the economics profession believe. Check out the pages of the professors in the economics department (e.g., Lucie Schmidt, Jon Bakija, Robert Gazzale, and others.) Why do these professors put their unpublished working papers on the web, vulnerable to exploitation by evil economists around the world, if there is any real danger in doing so?

The answer, of course, is that there is no danger. In fact, the central difficulty in academia is getting noticed, getting other people to read what you write and take it seriously. For any economics student considering going further in the profession, the more widely read her undergraduate thesis, the better off she is.

I would oppose any suggestion that faculty comments be posted. This is so for several reasons. First, we often make our comments orally or in comments written on the drafts of papers. It is not reasonable to ask faculty to spend what would be by necessity a very significant amount of time typing up comments so that a very small number of alumni might read them.

This is a reasonable concern. Typing up the comments would take more time. But the real issue is not the actual typing time, it is the fact that, if the comments were to be placed on the web forever professors would feel compelled to take much more time in preparing them. And, to my mind, that would be a good thing. The intellectual environment at Williams should be made more serious. One small way of doing so is to have professor comments be published.

Second, sometimes our comments have to be quite critical; I don’t think that it would be appropriate for such comments to be disseminated for all to see.

Really? What was the most critical thing said last week? I found it hard to believe that it was very harsh. I find it almost impossible to believe that it wasn’t professional. At worst, it might have been something like, “You have interpreted the regression results incorrectlty; they actually demonstrate that your thesis is false.” As long as the comments are consistent with what professors would say at any professional forum — say if they were commenting on a panel at a meeting — then I don’t see a problem.

Indeed, the very fact that such comments might be disseminated would almost certainly alter the candor with which criticism was offered.

Why? Is this because economics professors think that thesis students — 22 years old and about to step out into the world — are thin-skinned little babies who can’t take accurate criticism? I don’t think that this is true. And, even if it is, refraining from criticism is the worst thing that you can do for such students. The real world will not be so kind. To the extent that Williams students haven’t learned how to deal with constructive, if trenchant, criticism, the College has failed them.

Third, all of our honors presentations are advertised in the college calendar and we welcome attendance at our presentations. (We even provide free coffee, tea, water, and cookies!) The best way to see what our students are accomplishing is to attend those presentations.

Again, I have always thought that the economics department did a fine job of this. Alas, many of the people who would be interested in knowing what, for example, Gordon Winston had to say about Lindsey Taylor’s thesis are unable to make it to Williamstown in person.

The more “public” that intellectual discourse is at Williams, the more seriously it will be taken by all concerned.

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Crane on Trafiic

Professor Sam Crane has an article on Chinese traffic, automotive not internetive.

In the Maoist era, there was no traffic in Beijing. The few cars that plied the streets were government-owned, and there was never enough of them, even with buses and trucks, to cause congestion. The city’s wide boulevards and narrow side lanes were ruled by bicycles. If there was ever a question of enforcing transportation rules, a stern announcement from Communist Party officials was usually enough to keep the cyclists peddling smoothly.

Today, Beijing’s streets are flooded by every sort of motorized conveyance. Cab drivers complain there is no “rush hour” — it lasts all day. City officials have tried everything to relieve the daily gridlock caused by about 2.6 million vehicles.

Read the whole thing.

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Blogs are Great

Stephen O’Grady ’97 notes that blogs are great.

[T]he power of these things [blogs] continues to amaze me. This is first hand evidence that you do not need to be an A-lister to see the benefits, as I’m not exactly on the Technorati Top 100 list that some folks seem so concerned about. Hell, I don’t think I’d even make the Top 1000 list. But frankly, I could care less. I can’t see why people even pay attention to those things, let alone get worked up over them. It’s the quality of the community that matters, not the quantity, and if you’re blogging to try and win a popularity contest odds are good that you’ll be disappointed.

EphBlog will win few popularity contests, that it for certain.

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Special Interest Theses

Although I hope to see the College posting all theses eventually, there are several from the last few decades that I think are of general enough interest and importance that they should be posted sooner rather than latter. Among the ones I would like to read are:

Indeed, a lot of the listings here seem worth taking a look at. Reader suggestions are, as always, welcome. Thanks to College Librarian David Pilachowski for showing me how to use FRANCIS, the College’s on-line catalogue.

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Death on the Mohawk

Amazing story about the deaths of several Williams students 70 years ago:

It took 70 minutes for the Mohawk to sink, enough time for most of the lifeboats to get away with most of the 164 people aboard, though not all. Forty-five lives ended on that icy night off the coast of New Jersey, and the Mohawk plunged 80 feet and cracked open on the sea floor. For most of the world, the story ended then and there.

“ABOUT NINE TWENTY, as though from some unknown danger, the room we were in fell into a deadly silence–no word was uttered. Then came the crash.” The final moments of the Mohawk were chaotic, according to one of the surviving Williams students. In a 28-page testimonial composed for the college archives, Karl Osterhout described the departure that blustery afternoon from Pier 13 in Manhattan and the crash just hours later.

Read the whole thing, written by a nephew of Williams student William D. Symmes, who died that night. The College should post more documents like Osterhout’s testimonial on its web site. It should also make it easier to look up historical information on deceased graduates. (Once you die, you are removed from the alumni database.)

Why? The easier that the College makes it for alumni to maintain a relationship with Williams, the more generous those alumni will be.

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Ethan and the Jets

My boy Ethan Brooks (’96) has been a free agent for the past few months, having had the best run of his career as a Baltimore Raven, for whom he started many games at right tackle and where he also served in the vital capacity of swing tackle. He has signed with the New York Jets, which causes me a little bit of pain.

I have always said that I will only own one sort of hat for all of the major professional sports leagues — those of the Pats, Sox, Celtics, and Bruins — with one caveat: I will also wear whatever team Ethan plays. So I have an Atlanta Falcons cap that Big E wore in his first game as an Atlanta Falcon; I own a St. Louis Rams hat. I never got a Broncos hat (he was only there briefly), and I do not own a Ravens hat, but the larger point stands. But now that Ethan is a Jet, I am torn. Oh, wait — no I am not. I hope Ethan plays well for the Jets. I hope he crushes whoever lines up against him. I wish him well and will watch every Jets game that I can. But I hope the Pats wax his Jets every time they play. And I will never own a Jets hat, which literally and figuratiively makes its wearer look like a peahead.

I am happy for him. I know that given age and injuries he was only willing to accept the right situation, and this is a good one for him. He is from Connecticut, he went to Williams, which is not far away (and his brother coaches for the Ephs), and who wouldn’t want a shot at playing in the Big Apple? So congrats, Big Man, even if the Jets suck.

(Crossposted on Rebunk)

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Drezner ’90 Meet Zuckerman ’93

Dan Drezner ’90 wants to know “to what extent does having a fee-for-content regime inhibit a web site’s popularity/traffic/links?” Beats me. But perhaps there is an answer in some of the interesting work that Ethan Zuckerman ’93 has done on LpkC (links per thousands of circulation). This does not answer Drezner’s question directly, but it certainly provides an overview of some of the tools available for doing so.

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Theses Update

College Librarian Dave Pilachowski was kind enough to send in this update on senior theses.

1) The theses are coming in fast and furious now, with over 40 received on Friday. Most of the remaining theses should arrive on Monday. Processing then includes cataloging, scanning (unless we have an original copy in Word), and binding the hard copy version.

2) Besides Economics, it is likely that some other departments are likely to restrict access to certain theses since some of the work is part of larger faculty research projects.  We will find out the details after we receive all theses.

3) I will be in touch with you or post directly to the blog, if that is something that I can do, when we are able to provide access to the 2005 theses once they become available.

Thanks to Pilachowski for taking the time to update us on this topic. I am deeply suspicious of the claim that any sort of on-going faculty research would preclude the posting of a senior’s thesis, but this is not Pilachowski’s call to make, obviously. As long as the theses that I care about — mostly those having to do with Williams — are posted, I won’t complain too loudly.

But we should remember that a senior thesis is special because it has (or should have) made a contribution to human knowledge. That contribution is lessoned when access to the work is restricted. Now, it is possible to imagine scenarios under which such a restriction makes sense, but they would be few and far between in the context of Williams. If the thesis is done, it should be public.

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Mud Hut

Must read story on Rebecca Cover ’00.

It’s a wish come true for a University of California at Berkeley grad student with a rare taste in wishes. A special grant announced earlier this month will allow Rebecca Cover to dodge malarial mosquitoes and live in a mud hut without electricity in a hot, humid and remote corner of Africa where, as the only white face in the village, she will attempt to communicate in a difficult language that most of the world has never heard of.

“When you lose a language,” she said in a telephone interview from her family home in Sharon, Mass., “you’re not just losing the language, which in itself has great value from a scientific, linguistic perspective, but from a cultural perspective as well.

“A lot of the culture is embedded in the language. When a language dies, part of the culture dies, too.”

Cover sounds like a really interesting Eph. The article notes that she was valedictorian of her class. It would make for an interesting Alumni Review article to see where the valedictorians of the last 50 years ended up.

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In the Foxhole

There was an interview on TV with George Steinbrenner ’53 tonight. I can’t find a transcript, but these articles cover some of the highlights. Best part:

The person he would want in a foxhole with him. His father. “He’d know what to tell me to do.”

I’d go with the same person but for different reasons. I’d also take along my brother.

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Permeating Rank Odors

Here is a review of Professor Robert Jackall’s latest book, Street Stories: The World of Police Detectives.

The streets of New York overflow with blood-soaked tales of rapes, murders, robberies and drug deals gone wrong. Author Robert Jackall, a professor at Williams College in Massachusetts, immersed himself in those stories for several years to figure out how cops in one of the country’s most crime-ridden cities determine the truth. By tagging along with New York’s Finest, Jackall interviewed cops and criminals and pieced together the grisly details of gut-churning crimes.

The review isn’t overly kind, but does feature some great one-liners:

“You can rob all the peoples you wants on the trains,” Tyre explained to police, “but you don’t rob the peoples you smokes crack wit.”

Stories with happy endings never include permeating rank odors.

Words to live by.

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Whiners and Moaners

Ethan Zuckerman ’93 was kind enough to send in these comments as a continuation of our previous thread.

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Lewis on Beauty

Neal Hannan ’03 pointed out that Art Professor Michael Lewis has an article on beauty in the New York Times.

What is the American ideal of beauty today? To judge by People magazine’s new “50 most beautiful” issue, which came out earlier this month, it does not tend to delicate and fine features.

If anything, it runs in the opposite direction, toward large and striking features: Angelina Jolie’s oversize lips; the emphatic jaw of Mariska Hargitay, a star of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”; the startlingly wide mouth of Julia Roberts.

Why does “startling wide” make me think “Aidan“? See here for Aidan’s thoughts on romantic love.

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History of WSO Plans

David Ramos ’00 was kind enough to provide this history of WSO/Plans, the on-line guide to rooms at Williams that now only lists those rooms that have been taken but did, in the past, provide the identity of the takers. This is part of a continuing series at EphBlog in which we try to maintain a listing of institutional memory for all those Ephs whose time at Williams is too brief.

For those students still fighting against anchor housing, the most interesting story here concerns the success of students in 2000 who fought to retain the posting of names against a CUL that sought to remove it. You can fight the power at Williams. Of course, that success only lasted for a couple of years . . .

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Netflix 2, Others 0 (and Therefore Williams 2)

Netflix has scored two victories in two days. Yesterday, Blockbuster said it was going to test a monthly rental fee of $17.99 (similar to the Netflix fee), implicitly admitting that its $14.99 fee has not made much of a dent in luring customers away from Netflix. This afternoon, Wal-Mart announced that it was getting out of the online DVD rental business and would be referring customers to Netflix.

This is of interest to Ephblog readers because Barry McCarthy ’75 has been Netflix’s CFO since 1999. Barry and company must be doing something right to make biggies such as Blockbuster and Wal-Mart back off.

I’ve used the Netflix service for several years now and am a very satisfied customer. The return/get one back cycle is about 4 days for me, and I’ve had one unreadable DVD in three years.

I’ve used it to rent Williams-connected DVDs such as “My House in Umbria” (Frank Doelger ’75, Producer), “The Gathering Storm” (Frank Doelger ’75, Producer), “The Return of the Secaucus Seven,” (John Sayles ’72, Director), and “Lone Star” (John Sayles ’72, Director.) And other DVDs as well, of course.

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Anti-Friedman

Professor Marc Lynch doesn’t like Tom Friedman. I don’t like Tom Friedman. This phenomenon is known as harmonic convergence.

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Pavel Hristov ’04

Pavel Hristov ’04 died this week in New York, surrounded by family and friends, following a long illness. Pavel was a theater and political science major at Williams, and some of his theater professors described him as one of the best students they have ever had.

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A memorial service will be held on Thursday at 5:00 at the new Center for Theatre and Dance, and an offering will be taken to help his family with burial costs in Bulgaria. Please post memories and other comments here.

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Speech Code?

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, rates Williams as yellow light, meaning as being among “those institutions with at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”

Is that a fair rating?

Note that FIRE seems to be an honestly non-partisan organization. When a college has no speech code, then FIRE recognizes that fact, as it did recently for Dartmouth.

Recall the Queer Bash Email controversy (more here, here) of 2 years ago in which two Williams students sent out “abusive” e-mails in response to an all-campus e-mail about the annual Queer Bash party. What was the result of that case? I don’t think that the administration ever took any action.

Regardless, I would like to see FIRE give Williams a green light. Does Williams deserve one? I think that doing so would only require a forthright statement from the Administration to the fact that free speech does not end at the top of Spring Street.

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Learning “The Mountains”

My normal project around this time of year is to try to figure out who the co-presidents of the incoming JAs are and send them this letter.

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Thankfully We Didn’t Pick “Eagles”

Williams is cited in a sports columnist’s article — “Nicknames get crazy in college athletics” — as having an odd mascot name. Go figure.

The article points to the site College Nicknames, created by a Ph.D. candidate at UNH. For my money, Ephs doesn’t seem as bad as Banana Slugs or Boll Weevils.

Of course, the reason we ended up with purple as the school color is that the sister of a sports player in the 1800s went down to Spring Street to buy lots of cloth for rah-rah banners and streamers. Purple was the only color that the dry goods store had enough of, since it was the most unpopular color….

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Hanging with the Rents

The many benefits of Anchor Housing are already starting to appear.

In the list of what’s hot and what’s not, blowing all your money on an overpriced apartment is ‘out’ and sleeping on a twin bed at your parents’ house is ‘in.’

Bobby Jackson is a senior at Williams College. After graduating in June, he will move back to Washington, D.C., and look for a public relations job from the comfort of his parents’ home. Jackson typifies the remarkable shift of intergenerational attitudes when he declares, “I love hanging out with my parents.”

Do all House Coordinators live with their parents after graduation? Perhaps Doug Bazuin’s influence on the hearts and minds of undergraduates is more powerful than we had estimated . . .

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Gender Theory

Porfessor Marc Lynch provides us with the latest in academic gender theory.

I would just like to announce, for those of you interested in cutting edge post-modern gender studies theory, that I have made an extremely important, nay, earth shattering discovery:

Boys and girls really are different. Especially in the all-important diaper changing category. Or, to be more precise, in the even-more-important “where pee goes when the diaper is off” category. Beyond that, I can say no more.

I suspect that Marc will have more to say on this topic in the years to come.

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Art + Physics = Singing About Science

Timothy Sellers ’90 writes songs about science. His rock group, Artichoke, recently released 26 Scientists: Volume 1, Anning to Malthus. Initially a Physics major, he switched to majoring in Art. However, it was his experimental bent that helped him get into Williams:

Mr. Sellers grew up in upstate New York, the oldest son of back-to-the-land parents who took to the woods and built an A-frame house with no electricity or indoor plumbing. Mr. Sellers calls it his “Robinson Crusoe childhood.” He and his younger brother created their own natural history society, where all the members were required to present their discoveries.

Mr. Sellers’s slug-licking episode occurred when he was 10 and was helping his mother tend their garden tomatoes. As he removed slugs from the plants, he recalled asking, “Why don’t the birds eat them?” Because they don’t taste good, she replied. Disbelieving, he picked up a slug and licked it, an act he quickly regretted: the slug indeed tasted bad, and its slime burned his tongue. But he used his data. He wrote about the experience to get into Williams, singing the praises of first-hand exploration.

UPDATE: Picture added. Note that the reporter, Michael Erard, is also class of 1990. Eph-networking at its best.

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Senior Economic Theses

We’re in the middle of senior economics theses presentations. Congrats to all those who presented yesterday and good luck to those today. I recall like it was yesterday pacing the hill by East, running through my schpiel before marching over to Griffin 17 years ago. Looking at the schedule, it looks like Kate Ambler ’05 has my time slot. I wish her well.

Comments:

1) Where is the page of actual theses like the one from 2004? Professor Stephen Sheppard did a great job of this last year. Is he not in charge this year? Who is? As always, the more that the work of Williams students is made available to a wider audience, the better off all concerned.

2) Will this set of senior theses eventually be posted on-line? This is an annual EphBlog hobby-horse. College Librarian David Pilachowski has been working on this topic. With luck, we will soon see many of these theses available far and wide.

3) Note that there are 15 thesis students. This is definately more than there were in the 1980’s. Kudos to the economics department for attracting and motivating so many fine students.

4) The thesis most of interest to the readers of EphBlog is clearly “Low-Income Students and College Admissions: A Case Study of Williams College,” by Lindsey Taylor ’05. Not only would we like to read this, but we would love to read the comments made by Morty Schapiro and Gordon Winston. Indeed, in an ideal world, those comments would also be made public and attached as part of the permanent record of Taylor’s thesis. In fact, there will probably come a day when a podcast or even video of the actual presentation is included.

UPDATE: Corrected Ambler’s class year.

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