Currently browsing the archives for June 2006
George Bush Intercontinental Airport, HOUSTON, 6:24PM, June 29th, 2006.
I skipped a flight an hour ago because I hadn’t yet checked my email.
The mood of the Obrador campaign, today, seems impossible to describe. For the last week, the assumption has been, that we have won. And that the previous few days, still before the election, have been the first days of the regime.
Our regime. “We,” to invoke the world that had been echoing through my mind, in all its strangeness, many days before David brought its significance to our attention here. “We…”
By the time I arrived at Nashville International, Vanessa had sent me her revisions and edits of the first half of Obrador’s Address to the Nation, to be delivered July 3rd. I added and edited at the gate, and on the flight to Houston. I emailed Vanessa my edits as soon as I was online at IAH, and ran to the gate for the next available flight to Mexico City.
I opened my laptop, and the internet didn’t work by that gate. I listed myself for the flight, and then ran down the concourse trying to find a working WiFi connection. After agonizing minutes of fiddling, it still wouldn’t work. My laptop, “Sally,” as Vanessa named her, was almost out of power. There was no way I was going to get on a flight at this point.
Ben Kamilewicz ’99 is home from Iraq!
Now there are no more Ephs deployed in harm’s way, to the best of my knowledge.
I thank all of the purple military for their service to our country. And if anyone ever learns of an Eph deployed in harm’s way, please e-mail me at StewMenking@yahoo.com
I still have plenty of Jerky, Toilet Paper, Williams mugs and Starbucks coffee just waiting to be sent out!!!
US Trade Representative Susan Schwab ’76 has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
The atmosphere is charged with political pressure and historical significance as trade ministers and negotiators representing World Trade Organization members gather this week. With time running out for a successful conclusion of the Doha Development Round, speculation has intensified about what the U.S. and other WTO members will be willing to do to achieve success. I reaffirm here that the U.S. is committed to an ambitious and comprehensive outcome by the end of the year. As President Bush declared last week at the U.S.-EU summit, the Doha Round is too important to fail.
We regard it as our generation’s opportunity to attack the scourge of poverty by opening trade flows between all nations in agricultural goods, industrial products and services. Half-measures that would leave millions in poverty — people who might otherwise have been helped — and that would dampen potential economic opportunities for people in all countries, should not be acceptable.
Like all right-thinking institutions, Williams does not discriminate. You can’t, for example, discriminate on the basis of sex. This applies, presumably, to the web, perhaps even to sub-domains under williams.edu. Does it apply to this WSO posting entitled “’05 alum seeking NYC female roommate”?
I’m starting a job in Manhattan in August and am looking for a female roommate. Anything below $1500 a month will work for me.
Whether you’re already in NY seeking a new roommate or also planning on moving to NYC, I’d love to hear from you.
No men, presumably, need apply.
Being a believer in freedom, I have no problem if this Eph wants to restrict her roommates to women. In fact, she could avoid Jews and Gaels and Germans for all I care.
Yet many Ephs would disagree, would argue that gender discrimination is wrong whenever it occurs. Could any readers who feel this way explain to the rest of us why this ’05 alum is, at best, misguided?
Jennifer Dolloff ’01 has passed away.
Jennifer L. Dolloff, 28, of 42 Meadow Road, died unexpectedly on Sunday, June 11, 2006, in New York City.
Born in Concord, she was the daughter of Jim and Barbara (Lineberry) Dolloff. She was a graduate of Nashoba Regional High School and held a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Williams College. Upon graduation she moved to New York City, where, for the past four years, she has worked as an administrative assistant for various nonprofit organizations.
Jennifer held a passion for music and enjoyed playing the drums. She will be sadly missed by all those who had the pleasure to have known her.
Condolences to all.
Perhaps I haven’t made this clear enough, but we are eager to have more authors on EphBlog. As the FAQ explains, an “author” is someone who can start her own thread rather than having to comment on someone else’s. This allows you to start conversations that you think would be interesting or useful. We (want to) give you the power!
As examples of people who should join us as authors, I’ll point to anon ’05 and lx guy. Both highlight interesting links in the comments to other posts. Alas, those links did not get the attention which they deserve, because, I think, many readers don’t read the comments. But, if anon ’05 and lx guy were authors, they could start new threads around these issues. Please join us.
There is an WSO thread about the World Cup. Alas, WSO thinks so little of we older alums, that we can’t login and participate. If I could, I would ask what people thought of the Red Stripe ad that just played on ESPN during halftime of the excellent Spain-France game. Check it out. The add features a black man dancing to Reggae music while holding a bottle of Red Stripe. The white man looks on. The black man hands the white man the bottle. The white man begins to dance, although awkwardly. The tag line is something like: “Red Stripe: Helping our White Friends Dance for over 70 Years.”
Can you imagine what would happen if, say, a sports team at Williams made a skit like this, or even a video? I bet that would lead to an interesting campus discussion!
Back to the game.
Happy Blogiversary to Kim Daboo ’88.
It seems I have been ranting and rambling here for an entire year. When I started I expected to lose interest in a few weeks or maybe months but Oliver’s addition to our household has proved to be a source of endless blogging material.
I know I’m not the most skilled writer or the funniest blogger out there (though I think I could safely pit my son and dogs against any other child or dogs in a cuteness contest) but I have tried to be as honest as I can be in a public forum while remaining married.
That is the trick, isn’t it? Check out some of Kim’s favorite posts. I like this one.
The US simply did not come to play in this World Cup. But it was a fun scene. I was a bit removed from the screen, having chosen to keep my fireside poll position, but there was a roomful of African guys and we jawed back and forth in a friendly way. They respected the Americans but as with most of the continent, had fully embraced the Black Stars as their own, as well they should.
It was all good fun. Except for one aspect that left a nasty taste in my mouth, even if I restrained myself. There were two white South African women rooting for Ghana, and why wouldn’t they. But they kept referring to Ghana as “we,” which seemed a bit odd. I suppose they have some claim to the continent as well, but it struck me as disjunctive and maybe a bit pretentious.
Huh? It is OK for non-white South Africans (the “African guys,” I assume) to root for Ghana, to think in terms of “We just scored!” But if a white South African deems to think in exactly the same terms about Ghana’s team, Derek calls this “pretentious.” It leaves “a nasty taste” in his mouth.
This is the worst sort of racialism. In Derek’s world, unless your skin is the correct color, you have no business identifying with Ghana. You must treat them as the unknowable “other”; you must think in terms of “them” not “us”. I can understand why a person born in Africa would have more of a “claim to the continent” than someone, like me, not born there. I might also understand why someone with, say, all four grandparents born in Africa might have a greater claim than someone born of immigrant parents. But Derek is basing his distinction solely on race.
Perhaps Derek could provide some guidance to the rest of us on what teams we may and may not cheer for during the rest of the World Cup, based, of course, on our racial background. In the meantime, I’ll be rooting for Ghana. Go Black Stars!
Thanks to Dan Drezner ’90 for the pointer.
A short informercial on the long term harmful effects of singing a cappella in college. Made for the reunion concert of the Williams College Springstreeters, a group whose alumni include broadway actors Seb Arcelus and David Turner and Sony recording artist LeeHom Wang.
Not to mention my roommate Tim Farnham ’88. I worry that Tim suffers from the dreaded Can’t Let Go of College A Cappela Disorder (pronounced Clo-go-cad). Why else would he be living in Vegas? Don’t let that impressive academic CV feel you. It’s an act! Tim needs help!
The New York Times reports:
Dozens of members of the Bush administration’s domestic security team, assembled after the 2001 terrorist attacks, are now collecting bigger paychecks in different roles: working on behalf of companies that sell domestic security products, many directly to the federal agencies the officials once helped run.
At least 90 officials at the Department of Homeland Security or the White House Office of Homeland Security — including the department’s former secretary, Tom Ridge; the former deputy secretary, Adm. James M. Loy; and the former under secretary, Asa Hutchinson — are executives, consultants or lobbyists for companies that collectively do billions of dollars’ worth of domestic security business.
More than two-thirds of the department’s most senior executives in its first years have moved through the revolving door.
Think this doesn’t have an Eph connection? Think again.
As a growing number of Department of Homeland Security employees exit the agency, the practice of former officials joining prestigious research or academic institutions while working on behalf of for-profit companies is not uncommon in Washington.
C. Stewart Verdery Jr., the former assistant secretary for border and transportation policy, frequently testifies before Congress, identifying himself as an adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a partner at a lobbying firm. Among other clients, he represents Lockheed Martin, the giant military and domestic security contractor, which is now competing for an estimated $2 billion Homeland Security Department border security deal.
What, you might wonder, does Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti actually do? Good question! From their sleazchure:
We understand the process of getting things done in Washington. Who to go to. Who to avoid. When to strike. When to lay low. How to approach. How to retreat. What matters to leaders and what is mere background noise.
We’ve traveled the back roads, navigated the shortcuts and negotiated the hairpin curves that can lead to victory. Time and again. Unique access and unparalleled expertise are our strong suits.
1) MVC, like many/most of the professionals in Washington sells access, which translates into power and money. Lest you do-gooders look askance at this, note that many “attorneys” and “consultants” in Washington are lobbyists in all but name.
2) The Times article is stupid and partisan. Does anyone doubt that Democrats also move from government to lobbying and back again? What do you think senior officials from the SEC, DOD, DOT and every other federal department do when they leave government? Become gardeners? Or even bloggers?
3) If, like me, you think that all of this is sleazy, whether it be Democratic or Republican, the SEC or the DHS, then one solution is to cut the size of government. The reason that companies pay millions of dollars to MVC is because doing so leads to getting many more millions of dollars in benefits from the Federal Government. If the government had less power, there would be fewer benefits in lobbying it. A second solution is to decrease the number of political appointees.
4) None of this is meant to impugn Verdery. (My memory is failing, but surely he and I were on the same side of a barricade or two back in the day.) If you want to work at the highest levels in Washington then you will be a political appointee. As an appointee, you will need to have a job/career while your party is out of power. (You also have a mortgage to pay and college savings for your kids to accumulate.)
The shame is that too many smart, decent, talented folks like Verdery spend their time redistributing wealth rather than creating it. But, if we must have lobbyists, let us hope that the most powerful and prominent among them are Ephs.
Again, the problem here is not Verdery. Instead, consider this ridiculous rant from Frank Rich.
The Department of Homeland Security, in keeping with the Bush administration’s original opposition to it, isn’t really a government agency at all so much as an empty shell, a networking boot camp for future private contractors dreaming of big paydays. Thanks to an investigation by The Times’s Eric Lipton, we know that some two-thirds of the top department executives, including Tom Ridge and his principal deputies, have cashed in on their often brief service by becoming executives, consultants or lobbyists for companies that have received billions of dollars in government contracts.
What did all of Rich’s friends from the Clinton administration do after 2000? Run homeless shelters? The hypocracy here is not Verdery and other government officials who work in areas that — surprise! — they have developed expertise about and contacts in. Former SEC officials, like Arthur Levitt ’52, go work for — you guessed it! — the Wall Street firms they used to regulate. Former DOD officials — wait for it! — work for companies in defense-related fields.
What is the most dishonest paragraph in the Times article? This one:
The shift to the private sector is hardly without precedent in Washington, where generations of former administration officials have sought higher-paying jobs in industries they once regulated. But veteran Washington lobbyists and watchdog groups say the exodus of such a sizable share of an agency’s senior management before the end of an administration has few modern parallels.
Love those unnamed “veteran Washington lobbyists and watchdog groups.” The Times provides no direct evidence on this point, no quotes backing up the claim that more former officials from DHS (in raw numbers or in percentage terms) have gone into related-private sector work than is typical. This is nothing but a partisan smear job. In raw numbers, larger organizations like DOD generate many more (defense-related) positions for lobbyists, executives and consultants than DHS does. In percentage terms, I would put my money on the SEC. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single former top SEC official, Democrat or Republican, who didn’t go right back into the world of finance.
Does this mean that Verdery and his compadres are off the hook? Hardly! Just because sleaziness is standard is no reason for you to sleep well at night. Consider Verdery’s work for the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition. Why is the EWIC paying Verdery and MVC thousands of dollars? Simple. EWIC wants to shape immigration legislation and it believes, reasonably enough, that Verdery/MVC will help it to do that.
The world of power and favors in Washington DC is disreputable enough that the New York Times should be able to report it fairly and still generate some moral outrage.
Al Gore has just given his concession speech in Centennial Park, and I listened, intent not on his words, dry as they were, but on the crowd which gathered to support him, to their mood and reactions, to their hopes, vain and dashed. Gore had not carried Tennessee.
I returned to the Seton Lodge beside Baptist Hospital, amid patches of rain and forgotten hopes. My mother had open heart surgery that morning, another surprise, and this would be the first election day I did not spend at Williams, nor vote in Williamstown.
As I exited the elevator to the balcony, a woman crept toward me, awkwardly. Her hands felt her way, as she crawled, slowly, hand by hand against the painted brick of the building’s exterior. My eyes turned to her face, and found her eyes in turn blank, staring empty into the night, without focus or direction. I thought she was blind.
She wore a simple handmade dress, a patchwork of material, and the man who followed her, a farmer’s blue overalls and scratchy beard. I looked at her face again, and found cracked skin behind her searching eyes, her cheeks sunken, and weak, as wrinkled as her forehead.
Today’s NYTimes wedding section is replete with Eph weddings (including Nicole Humick, Jonathan Botts, and Christopher Bonner). The featured wedding story, which likewise involves a newly married Eph, highlights a Williams-related moment as a crucial epiphany.
I don’t want to start any turf wars, hence I’ll bow out here and leave extolling the virtues of married life to DK.
It is the nature of Hebrew school teachers to wish we could impart a genuine love of our material to our charges, and it is the nature of adolescents to wish they were anywhere but Hebrew class. So it goes. (At least my older kids listened with apparent attention when I closed class by reading a modified kaddish de rabanan — that was heartening.) In the end, what can one do? I hope they learned something; maybe they’ll remember something fondly; and in the fall we’ll regroup and try this whole enterprise over again. For now, school’s out for the summer…huzzah.
Teaching Hebrew sounds like teaching statistics.
Professor Marc Lynch writes:
A few minutes ago, my 3 year old daughter looked up from the Wiggles and said “what are you blogging about, daddy?”
I said “Iraq.” She nodded seriously and then went back to Pirate Dancing.
And I found myself contemplating with horror a world in which three year olds know what “blogging” is.
Hmmmm. My ten year old does not know what blogging is. One of us is doing something right in the fatherhood department! ;-)
Hello, fellow Ephs and other Eph-curious blog readers:
I’m Mary, an ’05 alum, and I’m posting to spread the word and get some advice on a project I’ll be involved with this coming fall. Starting in September, I will be heading to India for six months with Students Partnership Worldwide, an NGO working in Africa and South Asia to improve health and environmental education in rural communities. What with all the great work Williams students and alums have done through Williams in Africa, the Peace Corps, and countless other organizations, I thought EphBlog would be an excellent place to tap into some development work wisdom. This is a topic that’s been brought up recently in the Channel for Charity postings, and I hope my thread can add to it.
Students Partnership Worldwide takes a specific approach to development and education, so I’ll try to give a brief description of their programs. SPW volunteers live in rural villages and work in small teams with other young people from the US, the UK, and from the host country. This partnership between foreign and local volunteers is part of what makes SPW’s methods unique. Their programs also focus on motivating young people to make sustainable changes in their communities through clubs and other projects. In addition to working with schools to provide education on issues like HIV and malaria prevention, volunteers assist with everything from recycling centers and school libraries to girl’s health groups.
I’ll be spending my six months in Tamil Nadu, India’s southernmost state and currently the region with the highest rate of HIV infections in the country. I’ve heard that Tamil Nadu is one of the most beautiful areas of India, so I’m obviously eager to get there and see for myself. To be honest, this kind of work is a big departure for me… I majored in English, and while I’ve written a couple rather complicated and boring papers on Salman Rushdie, this has probably not done much to prepare me for the realities of living in rural India. But I know that many other Ephs have successfully burst this kind of cultural bubble, and if any of you are reading now, I’d like to hear your stories.
To help cover program costs, I’ve also pledged to raise a $6000 donation before going overseas. This is my first solo fundraising challenge, so any advice in that area would be much appreciated, whether general or specific. I would also be very grateful for any loose change that might be rattling in a generous Eph pocket. I’m looking into setting up a website, but until that gets off the ground I can be reached by email (email@example.com) or by posting a comment if anyone has pearls of wisdom, stories, or questions about SPW. You can also check out their site (www.spw-usa.org) for more information on the program.
Thanks for reading and responding!
(Also, good luck to everybody involved with Channel for Charity. I passed the frosh swim test by dogpaddling, so I’m really impressed with what you guys are doing.)
Charlotte Silverman ’10 is hanging out with Kristine Lilly.
“It’s inspiring to be coached by such amazing players,” said Charlotte Silverman, 17, who has attended Lilly’s camp since its inception. This year, Silverman will join Lilly’s ranks as a coach.
“It was hard not to be motivated by the people who are the best at the game,” Silverman said. “Especially after they won the World Cup, you began to realize these are really amazing people and you really aspired to be like them.”
Silverman recounted a moment at the opening game of the 1999 World Cup at Giants Stadium in New Jersey when Lilly stepped onto the field for warm-ups and waved to Silverman, sitting among thousands in the stands.
“I will never forget that,” Silverman said.
Silverman will graduate from Joel Barlow High School in Redding June 21 and in the fall will play for the women’s soccer team at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. The school is seeded fourth in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.
Good luck in the fall.
Three years ago it was a feat so rare it had never been accomplished.
Now, it’s been three years since it hasn’t been done.
Williams College was awarded the U.S. Sports Academy Directors’ Cup presented by NACDA for the academic year 2005-2006. It is the eighth straight Directors’ Cup for the Ephs, whose athletic program has won 10 of the 11 Directors’ Cups awarded at the Division III level.
That has allowed the Ephs to be deemed No. 1 nationally both in academics (U.S. News & World Report) and athletics (Directors’ Cup) for the third consecutive year — a feat which had never been done by any other of the 1,053 NCAA member institutions at any level before Williams accomplished it during the 2003-2004 year.
Thanks to Dick Quinn for the tip. Note that I was sceptical that the Williams streak would continue, given the decreased emphasis on athletic excellence in admissions. I was wrong.
Congratulations to all.
Astronaut Stephanie Wilson has a Williams connection.
Next month, Stephanie Wilson will go from looking at the stars to traveling among them. Wilson, 39, who has been a NASA astronaut for 10 years, is one of seven crew members who will travel on the Space Shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station. The flight is scheduled to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on July 1.
Wilson said her interest in space began when she was a 13-year-old middle-school student at Crosby.
“I had a career-awareness class in eighth grade,” she said. “Our assignment was to go and interview someone in a career field that we might be interested in.”
Wilson said she chose Williams College professor Jay M. Pasachoff, a well-known astronomer who has written several textbooks and tradebooks in astronomy, physics, mathematics and other sciences. A member of the Williams faculty since 1972, Pasachoff is chair of the astronomy department and director of the Hopkins Observatory.
Good luck to Wilson and kudos to Pasachoff for taking the time to so inspire a child 25 years ago.
It’s June 21st and we’re smack dab in the middle of our swim window. Our safety boat captain tells us that Thursday will be too windy, which is a dissapointment, but Friday and Saturday apparently both look very encouraging.
To take a step back, our group’s set…aching even…to do the swim. We’ve been training hard (I never thought I’d be able to swim a mile, let alone three), and are optimistic about our chances. At the same time, however, we realize that there are no guarantees when you’re talking about this sort of event. All we know is that we’re in about as good as shape as we could hope for.
I don’t know if it really hit me that I was about to swim the Channel until I picked up our wetsuits and flippers (the flippers were generously donated by SBR-Sports)…I thought I’d be terrified (I hate deep water), but I’m actually pretty excited now. I think the excitement among some of our swimmers helps–we kind of bounce it off each other.
With the swim so fast approaching, I haven’t had much time to put into the charity side of the swim over the past couple of weeks, but things seem to be rolling along fine now without my active involvement. One of the nice things about events like this is that they spread quickly through word-of-mouth. Many of the people who hear about what we’re doing tell their friends who tell their friends…which has led to some donations from people who we don’t know who aren’t affiliated with Williams or Oxford in any way, which is quite exciting. The Williams European alumni association has been particularly wonderful about spreading word of our swim and supporting us, and I hope that word spreads through other alumni associations as well. We hope to continue fundraising even after the swim is over.
So, it’s 2am and early in the morning of the 22nd now which means that there’s a very good chance that I’ll be swimming in about 30 hours time. I guess I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little nervous, but knowing that what you’re doing will make a huge difference for so many people really helps calms the nerves…I can’t wait until we can officially present our donation to the Mothers Programmes and the Williams in Africa Program.
On that note, it’s definitely not too late to donate. In fact, it won’t be too late to donate next week, next month, or even next year. While we will formally “present” our donation to our charities sometime in the early fall–a donation that will go far in helping prevent the spread of HIV from mothers to their children–so much more is needed before this is no longer a problem in Africa. Please do donate–you can donate directly and US tax deductibly to the Mothers Programmes at www.mothersprogrammes.org (please specify that your donation was inspired by our swim–it’s necessary to help us keep track of the numbers), or securely online via our website www.channelforcharity.org. 100% of your donation will go to the charities.
Cross your fingers for us–hopefully next time I post on here will be with good news and maybe even some pictures!
Former Eph Goalie Nick Armington ’06 has signed with Real Salt Lake in Major League Soccer. Salt Lake seems like a more fun place to hang out than Iceland, but maybe my prejudices are just showing through again. Dick Quinn provides more details:
Armington has worked tirelessly to attract the attention of the MLS including putting together a highlight tape and attending goalie workouts and tryouts with MLS teams like the MetroStars, the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake. He was on the draft list for the 2006 MLS SuperDraft but was not selected.
During the Winter Study period this past January Armington even traveled to Iceland in hopes of securing a GK spot on one of their professional teams.
Good luck to Armington! Chasing a dream is an excellent way to spend your early 20’s.
In a previous thread, Rory suggested:
Now, the above paragraph can be blasted as some “PC” crap or the fact that I’ve done too many facilitations. But it is an example of what could be done. I also think it’d be interesting to see what happened if you took a two week vacation and had someone as “postmaster” for the day each day who would be expected to make at least one update with Williams news. I guess we could let you comment…:P Perhaps changing the face of ephblog for a time would let some people who feel uncomfortable commenting on your post
This is a genius idea! I would love to take a two week hiatus from EphBlog. Who is willing to volunteer to do a post each day in my place?
Note that this is not hard to do! Just take a look at Eph Planet or the Record or put “Williams College” into Google News. Pick out anything you find interesting. You don’t need to provide paragraphs of commentary or analysis. Just a link and a quote are enough. There are a score of interesting Record articles from the last semester alone that we have set to review.
The only constraint is that you would need to do this for all 14 days. EphBlog has a responsibility to bring new material to our readers each day. But the good news is you can do this ahead of time using the “future” publish option, as Diana does with her campus photos. Indeed, I think that someone could provide all 14 posts in just an hour or two. You could start now or next month or in the fall. EphBlog needs less of me and more of everyone else.
Also, I appreciate Rory taking the time to make these suggestions. Although I disagree with Rory about many, many things, I am always thankful for his participation here.
Interesting article on street gangs in New York City 15 years ago.
Robert Jackall, a sociology professor at Williams College, was working on a book about the Wild Cowboys, another Dominican street gang in Washington Heights. During his research, Jackall tagged along with various police officers as they rolled through the streets of upper Manhattan. Seeing but not seeing, recalled Jackall, was a strategy not just for the residents of the Jheri Curls building, but also for the entire neighborhood.
“Snitches get stitches,” said Jackall. “That was the maxim. You never stuck your nose in other people’s business. Ever. And if you found yourself caught there accidentally, you made sure that other people would not cause any problems.”
Nevertheless, the rigorous prosecution of the Jheri Curls and later of the Wild Cowboys and Young Talented Children gangs, eventually helped snuff out Dominican gangdom in New York, according to Jackall. In the mid ’90s, just as reports of Dominican gangs in New York began dwindling, stories about the arrival of Dominican gangs began popping up in places like Hartford, Connecticut, said Jackall. In other words, the Dominican gangs eventually did what countless other aging groups have done in New York as they grew older, became more established, or just plain got sick of the hassles of the city: They moved to Connecticut.
Good advice. Jackall’s book would make for an interesting Winter Study CGCL seminar.
Last September, Bruce Lahn, a professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago, stood before a packed lecture hall and reported the results of a new DNA analysis: He had found signs of recent evolution in the brains of some people, but not of others.
It was a triumphant moment for the young scientist. He was up for tenure and his research was being featured in back-to-back articles in the country’s most prestigious science journal. Yet today, Dr. Lahn says he is moving away from the research. “It’s getting too controversial,” he says.
Dr. Lahn had touched a raw nerve in science: race and intelligence.
What Dr. Lahn told his audience was that genetic changes over the past several thousand years might be linked to brain size and intelligence. He flashed maps that showed the changes had taken hold and spread widely in Europe, Asia and the Americas, but weren’t common in sub-Saharan Africa.
As scientific tools for probing genes become increasingly powerful, research into human differences has exploded. Most of the time, scientists are looking for clues about the causes of disease. But some research is raising tensions as scientists such as Dr. Lahn venture into studies of genetic differences in behavior or intelligence.
Pilar Ossorio, a professor of law and medical ethics at the University of Wisconsin, criticizes Dr. Lahn for implying a conclusion similar to “The Bell Curve,” a controversial 1994 bestseller by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray. The book argued that the lower average performance by African-Americans on IQ tests had a genetic component and wasn’t solely the result of social factors. Referring to Dr. Lahn and his co-authors, Prof. Ossorio says: “It’s exactly what they were getting at. There was a lot of hallway talk. People said he’s doing damage to the whole field of genetics.”
The 37-year-old Dr. Lahn says his research papers, published in Science last September, offered no view on race and intelligence. He personally believes it is possible that some populations will have more advantageous intelligence genes than others. And he thinks that “society will have to grapple with some very difficult facts” as scientific data accumulate. Yet Dr. Lahn, who left China after participating in prodemocracy protests, says intellectual “police” in the U.S. make such questions difficult to pursue.
Research along these lines is not currently conducted at Williams. But might it be one day?
Williams College has been awarded a $145,924 grant from the National Science Foundation for the project “Acquisition of DNA Analysis Instrumentation for Research and Education,” under the direction of Jason A. Wilder, assistant professor of biology.
I’d wager that some of the advantaged alleles that Lahn identified are more likely to be found in Williams students than in the general population. It is an empirical question.
I can’t imagine a faculty member at Williams even discussing in public the possibility of links between genetics and intelligence/behavior next year. A decade from now, there will be no avoiding the topic. The truth will out, eventually.
Professor Troy Duster, a speaker at Williams this past winter, is quoted in the article.
For instance, researchers have found that most Europeans have a genetic variant that lets them fully digest milk as adults. The variant is much less common in Africa and Asia, where lactose intolerance is widespread. Scientists theorize that it spread quickly among Europeans because drinking milk from domesticated dairy animals conferred a nutritional advantage. Similar evolutionary reasoning may explain why many people in malaria-prone parts of Africa carry gene variants linked to malaria resistance.
Other research is starting to explain variations in human skin color and hair texture. But scientists tense up when it comes to doing the same sort of research on the brain. Sociologist Troy Duster, who studies the use of racial categories by geneticists, worries that scientists will interpret data in ways that fit their prejudices. He cites the sorry history of phrenology, a study of skull shapes popular in the 19th century, and other pseudoscientific techniques used to categorize people as inferior. “Science doesn’t transcend the social milieu,” says Dr. Duster, of New York University.
True. Duster sounds like an interesting guy. It is too bad that no one blogged and/or podcasted his talk at Williams.
Henry Harpending, a University of Utah anthropology professor who recently published a theory for why Ashkenazi Jews tend to have high IQ’s, says Dr. Lahn once suggested they co-author an article for Scientific American about the genetics of behavior, in which they could explain why “Chinese are boring.”
“I think that Bruce doesn’t understand political correctness,” Dr. Harpending says. Dr. Lahn says he only vaguely recalls the conversation but confirms that he wonders whether during China’s imperial times there was “some selection” against rebellious individuals.
I wonder what would happen if Lahn mentioned this theory during a talk at Williams.
Dr. Lahn’s group zeroed in on the role of two genes, called ASPM and microcephalin, that are known to have a role in brain size. Humans with defective copies of either gene are born with brains only about one-third the normal size.
Studying DNA from several species, the Chicago team found that, over millions of years, the genes had undergone more rapid change in monkeys, apes and humans than in other animals. Their next step was to determine if evolution had continued in modern humans. Dr. Lahn’s graduate students began decoding DNA from 1,184 people belonging to 59 groups from around the world, including Bedouins, Pima Indians and French-speaking Basques.
The data showed that evolution had continued in recent millennia. A statistical analysis of DNA patterns suggested that new mutations in each of the two brain-related genes had spread quickly through some human populations. Evidently, these mutations were advantageous among those populations — just as the genetic variant promoting milk digestion was advantageous to early Europeans. Dr. Lahn and his team further observed that the new mutations are found most frequently outside of Africa.
What the data didn’t say was how the mutations were advantageous. Perhaps the genes play a role outside of the brain or affect a brain function that has nothing to do with intelligence.
While acknowledging that the evidence doesn’t permit a firm conclusion, Dr. Lahn favors the idea that the advantage conferred by the mutations was a bigger and smarter brain. He found ways to suggest that in his papers. One mutation, which according to his estimates arose some 40,000 years ago, coincided with the first art found in caves, the paper observed. The other mutation, present mostly in people from the Middle East and Europe, and estimated to be 5,800 years old, coincided with the “development of cities and written language.”
That suggested brain evolution might have occurred in tandem with important cultural changes. Yet because neither variant is common in sub-Saharan Africa, there was another potential implication: Some groups had been left out.
Commencement Speaker Eric Lander is not a fan.
Dr. Lahn’s paper and talk at his university — in which he also claimed the gene variants were probably linked to higher IQ — provoked a strong reaction both on and off campus. Dr. Collins, head of the federal genome program, obtained advance copies of the papers and circulated them to top population geneticists. He wasn’t persuaded by the statistical evidence for evolution and criticized Dr. Lahn’s work in media interviews.
The papers won wide attention among researchers, and several responded by setting out to test Dr. Lahn’s findings. Scientists at the Broad Institute, a top genetics center in Cambridge, Mass., have been reanalyzing some of the data and say they may challenge Dr. Lahn’s finding that evolution acted on ASPM, one of the genes. Broad’s influential chief, Eric Lander, says scientists probing recent evolution run the risk of “seeing a difference, and saying there is a story to fit it.”
Ephs interested in keeping up on this topic should read Gene Expression, the best single source for updates.
More recently, Dr. Lahn says he was moved when a student asked him whether some knowledge might not be worth having. It is a notion to which he has been warming.
I often feel the same. But, most days, I can’t help trying to live up to the example set by my professors at Williams. Knowledge is often painful and awkward and disquieting, but that is no excuse for averting our eyes.
Although Father’s Day usually calls for celebration at EphBlog — a time to remember and rejoice in all that our fathers have done for us — this year my thoughts return to the life and death of Aidan Crane.
Here is the eulogy that Professor Sam Crane gave for his son.
In fourteen years Aidan connected with more people than any one of us can know. He filled a large place in the world.
His effects on the people who met him were numerous and varied.
Aidan often brought out the good in people. This was especially true for the children around him. When he was in school here in Williamstown his classmates made him a part of their doings in countless ways. They knew he could not see, and that it was best to engage him through his sense of touch. Many a day it was, when he would come home from school and we would find flowers and pebbles and sticks and grass tucked in the crevices of his wheelchair, the daily evidence of how his friends had brought him things to feel and sense, to connect him to their surroundings
He also moved many of the adults who encountered him. I remember some years ago, we were up in Manchester. We rolled into a little restaurant to have some lunch. Maureen went up to the counter to order some food. I stayed with Aidan and Maggie, who was then just an infant. We ate. It was all fairly normal. But then a man, who had been sitting at a nearby table, got up and came over. A complete stranger. And, out of the blue, he said he had noticed us, and what a beautiful family we were, and how lucky we were to have each other. This was Aidan’s work. Aidan had inspired him.
And Sam Crane inspires me and, I am sure, many other Eph fathers. May we all be the sort of fathers to our children that Sam is to his.
Consider the sad tale Joe Masters ’02 and the pin hole camera.
A Yale Law School student’s roommate searching a computer hard drive for an episode of “24” discovered that a third roommate and his girlfriend were unwitting stars in a clandestinely filmed video of them showering together in the apartment.
Joseph Masters, 26, who lives in an apartment in the 1200 block of Chapel St., was arrested Thursday on voyeurism charges. According to the arrest warrant, Masters used a pinhole camera he received as a gift to film unknowing subjects — namely one roommate, that roommate’s girlfriend, and his own girlfriend — in the apartment.
Masters’ two roommates filed a complaint with police in April after one of the roommates found video footage of the third roommate and his girlfriend showering together in an apartment bathroom. Both appear naked getting in and out of the shower in the video, which was shot when the camera was set near the sink in the apartment’s main bathroom, according to the warrant. The video ends showing Masters removing the camera and bringing it to his bedroom.
One roommate stumbled upon the video on April 3 while he was searching for an episode of the television series “24” on his laptop. All three roommates’ computers were linked through a common wireless network set up by Masters, who is computer savvy and owns an out-of-state computer-based business called Builderadius, according to the warrant.
Yale’s directory lists Masters as a member of the Yale School of Law’s class of 2007.
He had a large amount of computer equipment at the apartment, and police seized much of it while executing a search warrant April 5.
Masters told police that he installed the pinhole camera in the apartment out of “sheer curiosity.” He admitted to making two videos, the one of the roommate and his girlfriend in the shower, and another one of his own girlfriend in another location, according to the warrant.
Masters’ girlfriend told police that Masters admitted to her that he had filmed the video without her knowledge and that he said he was seeking psychological counseling. She does not plan to file a criminal complaint against him, according to the warrant.
Masters is due to be arraigned June 17 in Superior Court in New Haven.
Good luck with that arraignment. The obvious lesson for the rest of us is the same that it has been for many years. Never, ever do anything with a computer — document, e-mail, blog post, video, anything — that you would not want to see on the front page of the New York Times.
Now, in the best of all possible worlds, Ephs would do the right thing (i.e., not take videos of naked people without their permission) automatically. They would not need the fear of exposure to constrain their actions. But, in this imperfect world, fear (and shame) serves a useful purpose. Don’t want to end up like Masters? Don’t do anything suspect with a computer. If it is electronic, it isn’t always private.
A cynic might view this as advice-giving to miscreants. Am I arguing that Masters should feel free to spy on his roommates? No! But, if he insists on acting in such a sketchy fashion, he had better leave his computer (or any other permanent record) out of the exercise.
Sam Crane and his alumni travel group are having an interesting time in China.
Dinner was a bit adventurous today: venison and – get ready for it – camel hoof. I had never had the latter before but…when in Dunhuang…
And the internet connection at the hotel is marvelously cheap: only about 75 cents for half an hour!
What a great place.
Indeed. Pictures, please.
EphBlog is pleased to report the results of the alumni election.
Alumni Trustee: David C. Bowen ’83
Tyng Administrator: Jean Henderson Tibbetts ’75
Thanks to Brooks Foehl ’88 and Wendy Hopkins in the Alumni Office for the news. There were approximately 3,700 ballots cast, about 15% of total alumni.
1) The Alumni Office refuses to release the vote totals for the candidates or even to provide the number of votes cast for just the winner. I can understand why it might be embarrassing to report that a certain candidate only got 10 votes but is there any reason not to release the vote total for the winner? The more transparently the Society of Alumni is run, the better for all concerned.
2) Why do only 15% of the alumni both to vote? Well, many don’t care. But many of the Ephs that I have talked to don’t vote because the College makes it impossible to cast an informed vote by hiding from us the actual opinions of the candidates on important policies. See our previous discussion.
3) Once Bowen takes office, 3 of the 5 alumni trustees will be African American, 1 Hispanic (I think) and all male. See here for more details. I think that the racial diversity that this group adds to the Board is a good thing since, in an ideal world, the Board would “look like Williams.”
4) The all male aspect of this group is not something that the College likes to see. There may have been some efforts to change this in recent years by having 2 out of the three candidates be women, as was true this time. But, perversely, this may have had the effect of splitting the women’s vote! I wouldn’t be surprised if pre-1974 alums were more likely to vote for a male candidate, especially given the way that the College refuses to provide them with any better reason than biography for casting their ballots. Don’t be surprised to see all three candidates next year be women.
Brown announced Northwestern assistant Craig Robinson as its next men’s basketball coach at a news conference Thursday morning. Multiple sources told ESPN.com that Robinson was informed he was chosen among five finalists Monday evening. Williams College coach Dave Paulsen was considered another finalist to replace Glen Miller. Miller left Brown for Ivy rival Penn when Fran Dunphy took the Temple job, replacing Hall of Fame coach John Chaney.
Paulsen ’87 was also a candidate for the Dartmouth job two years ago. Although Paulsen will probably never have a chance at Williams to coach players as talented as those on the national championship team of two years ago, I hope that he will stay at Williams for decades to come. On average, alumni make better coaches (and professors) than non-alumni because they understand the College and its students and its culture deep in their bones. They are also more likely to embrace Williamstown as a permanent home for themselves and their families.
This is an Eph Diary of sorts. This summer, my dad is helping to install plumbing for air ducts in a lobster hatchery near my house. How, you may wonder, is this a Thing Eph? Let me tell you.
I spent last fall at Williams-Mystic, where one of the courses is Marine Policy, for which each student chooses a current marine policy issue and talks to real live people on each side of the issue, eventually writing a paper. Mine was on the issue of aquaculture off the coast of the island upon which I live. One day, I was looking at the news and noticed that the MacArthur “genius” Fellowship recipients had been announced, and I looked at the list on a whim.
It turned out that a lobsterman (who also happened to have a marine biology degree) on my island had been awarded one of the fellowships, and that his project was to create a lobster hatchery to ensure that there would be enough lobsters to keep the island’s lobster economy going. Since my topic was aquaculture, and hatching lobsters and releasing them into the water to catch later is a form of aquaculture, I called him up. And so it went; I actually ended up interviewing his wife, who just happened to be the former head of the Maine marine policy bureau. My parents made their acquaintance, and now my dad is helping him do plumbing. Such a thing might never have happened without Williams-Mystic and its emphasis on learning by doing and by talking to actual people.
By the way, during the coming academic year when more people read EphBlog, I may continue my “Mystic Mondays” to further elucidate the mystical things that occur at Williams-Mystic.