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Thanks, Morty

Today is Morty’s last day as president of Williams. Have you thanked him yet? You should! (I just did.) Although you will get a misleading bounce-back message, e-mail sent to Morton.Owen.Schapiro at still reaches him as he unpacks his boxes in Evanston. So, send him a thank-you note — and tell him that EphBlog sent you!

If I had to single out the most important aspect of Morty’s presidency for me, it would be the way that he was always so open, honest and thoughtful in his public discussions of Williams policies. (Great collection of examples here and here.) I am unaware of any elite college/university president who has maintained such high standards of transparency. Say what you will about the substance of his decisions, but Morty always called them like he saw them. For that, and many other accomplishments, I will always be a fan.

What Morty accomplishment is your favorite? (Only good things today, please! Criticisms come tomorrow).


Cycling News

Here’s an article from Valley News highlighting Ben Grass ’07, a (former and future) Dartmouth Medical School student who is undertaking a century ride to raise funds for a cancer research center, after recently having cancer surgery there himself.

Grass …  said he’s received “incredible support” from the Williams College cycling team, many of whose members will join Grass for his Prouty trek. (Look for the folks in the purple, cow-spotted uniforms.)

Go Ephs!

[h/t Williams Cycling]


Summers Long Ago

Charles Stewart Maurice Class of 1861











photo credit Jekyll Island Museum

A Jekyll Island website gives a glimpse into the life of Charles Steward Maurice, Class of 1861, who went on to become an engineer. He trained at RPI, accelerating his studies and joining the U.S. Navy in 1862. After the war, he went into private practice, building a number of impressive bridges. For many years, Maurice summered in Georgia with his very large family, and he seems to have been actively involved in the life on Jekyll Island despite being a Yankee.

When I saw the blurb for the link, I thought of the powerful changes Maurice’s generation, both North and South, lived through.  The books are about to close on the fiscal year for the endowment, the belt will have to be tightened further, and things will still be very difficult for many Ephs, but Williams survives and her sons (and daughters) continue to excel. I pause for a moment and am grateful to all who have made that possible.


Athletics Round-Up

A few athletics-related tidbits from the past week:

  • great article on new Eph tennis coach Dan Greenberg ’08
  • recently-promoted Boston College men’s basketball associate head coach Pat Duquette ’93 is a candidate for the Holy Cross head coach job (which would instantly create a fun Patriot League rivalry with Dave Paulsen’s Bucknell squad, although Duquette seems like a bit of a long shot; still, the more his name is out there, the better his chances of landing a D-I head coaching gig during the next cycle of openings)
  • there is a bit of an SID war going on at Williams and Amherst — Amherst updated its web page to prominently feature the high points from its historically successful year, while Williams, in turn, features a decidedly different spin, highlighting its own impressive athletics results.

Class History: 2009

Class Historian Kevin Waite ’09 kindly provided a copy of his remarks from the Ivy Exercises on June 6, 2009.

At the end of freshman year, the world came crashing down around our ears – or so we thought. In our eyes, the administration had taken away everything that was good and sweet by implementing the cluster system and depriving us of our time-honored sophomore right: Mission. We were outraged that we couldn’t all live together in a building that looks more like a juvenile correctional facility than any college dorm I’ve ever seen. We longed to congregate in its riot-proof corridors and nestle into those cold, sterile cells we called rooms. We even made some pretty clever T-shirts to memorialize our class’ great loss. They read Class of 2009 Mission: Impossible.

If only we had been so fortunate to remain the Mission Impossible class. But no, now our class shirts, if we were to make them, would read something very different: Class of 2009: Gainful Employment Impossible. Yes, thank you once-flourishing economy for hitting one of the worst tailspins of the century right when we finally need jobs. Fantastic. But in our monumentally bad timing, there is a silver lining. For starters, it gives us bragging rights over some of our parents who had to contend with the job market of the 70s. But more importantly it has provided some much-needed perspective. All of a sudden, it doesn’t seem so bad that the administration wouldn’t let us live in the collegiate equivalent of Sing Sing. And all the hiccups of the last four years, which once seemed catastrophic, now seem somewhat inconsequential, or even kind of funny. After all, when in your junior year, your college becomes the butt of a national poop joke, what can you do but laugh?

For the first eight or so months, freshman year went swimmingly – adjusting to College life, hanging out the Frosh and Odd Quads, discovering Queer Bash… and then boom: the campus turned into a B-rate horror flick. It was the attack of the caterpillars in Billsville. You probably could have crossed the entire campus without setting foot on pavement or grass – that’s how thick the blanket of caterpillars was that spring.

Then the surreal, got surreal-er when Swedish pop sensation and self-styled Pleasureman, Gunther invaded the Purple Valley. I have no idea how we convinced such a complete hedonist to visit our small liberal arts college in the frigid valley of Boondocksville, Mass. but we did. Expecting to find “the sexiest College ever,” Gunther instead got about 200 sleep-deprived type A students, eager to let off a little steam in Goodrich. Maybe he thought we meant ASU when we said Williams College. But we did not disappoint. As if to justify ourselves and prove to Gunther that even small colleges can bring the noise, we broke a church.

The breaking of the Goodrich floor came on the heels of a Spring Street fire that destroyed the beloved Purple Pub, and suddenly it seemed as if Williamstown was as destructible as Richmond in 1865. (And now I’ve hit my College-mandated limit of one awful Civil War joke.) Then, it took over two years to convert the charred building into a massive cement crater, conveniently timed to coincide with graduation. Now all the parents can see how the bottom of the Village Beautiful became the Village Chernobyl. But limited to one bar, we made do like the resourceful Williams students we are, and even made some new friends in the process – like 28-year old townies.

But these four years have been marked by far more than breaking and burning buildings. When racist graffiti appeared on a Willy E white board, the campus responded with the Stand With Us Movement. And this year, members of our class led the school in Claiming Williams, a highly successful day of talks, panels and performances centered on issues of discrimination and intolerance. Athletically our class was dominant. We brought home a number of national titles, while our football seniors never lost a game to Amherst in their careers. And no graduating senior has seen us lose a Homecoming game while enrolled as a student.

Now we have the privilege of graduating with Morty. And what took him 20 years, most of us have managed to do in only four.

Those four years have been challenging, funny, exciting, sad, fulfilling, and even incendiary. But at the end of it all, Class of 2009, I think we can agree, we’ve made some great history together.

It would be fun to collect these from past years. Does anyone have a copy that we can post?


Tui Sutherland, Jeopardy Champ

Tui Sutherland ’98 won Friday’s episode of Jeopardy with an impressive total of $23,600.  You can see her video greeting on this page.  I assume she will be on again Monday to defend her title … good luck!  Something must have been in the water at Williams in the late 1990’s, because Peter Rubin ’97 also fared well on Jeopardy a few years back.  Then again, certain Ephblog posters from that era may fall into a slightly less knowledgable category (although, I am confident I could have cleaned up Cliff Claven’s Jeopardy board).


Pot of Gold

Pot of Gold

Special thanks to “Nuts” for finding this beautiful photo by Akemi Ueda ’11. On the link, Akemi says:

After moving into my room for the summer, I got to see this amazing double rainbow from the fourth floor of Morgan. Awesome end to the day.

And an awesome photo, Akemi. Hope you are having a great summer!


Is there a Bicentennial Un-Medal?

I was unhappily surprised to learn that one of the leaders of the fight against gay marriage in Washington, D.C. is Williams alum Harry R. Jackson, Jr., Senior Pastor at the (apparently irony-impaired) Hope Christian Church, among other honorifics.  It is hard to pick just one from the many stupid things attributed to Jackson in this article, but I’ll start with: “Mr. Jackson’s opposition to same-sex marriage stems from a firmly held belief that same-sex marriage will hurt the institution of marriage, which he said is already suffering in the black community.”

Yeah, the REAL cause of the enormous proliferation of single moms and totally uninvolved dads in D.C., in particular in the D.C. black community, is the fact that gays in the District have aspirations towards getting married.  Riiigghhhhtttt …. I guess “Logic” must not have been offered as a course during Jackson’ s tenure at Williams (or HBS).  Were only Jackson to devote some of his obvious energy and talent to addressing the ACTUAL causes of the large volume of births to young, unwed mothers in D.C., rather than trying to distract attention from the problem by attacking something wholly unrelated, he might do his Williams degree proud.  I live in a D.C. neighborhood that has suffered from a recent surge in gun violence, resulting in numerous deaths, and in every case both the intended victims (a few random bystanders have also been hurt) and the perpetrators have been young black males.  I guarantee none of them were the product of gay marriages.  I would bet, on the other hand, that almost none of them, victims and perpetrators alike, had two actively engaged parents with no involvement in the criminal justice system.  I just wish someone with such an influential voice would try to use it to help steer some of these kids who are crying out for support in the right direction, rather than demonizing people he undoubtedly has little-to-no contact with, and who in all events are in no way, shape, or form responsible for the massive problems in D.C.  You can read more of Jackson’s thoughts, the vast majority of which seem to focus on his antipathy towards gay marriage, here (if you want to spend your time more wisely, I can provide the Cliff’s Notes version right now: “gay people suck, but really, I have nothing against gay people.”)  Many of his almost entirely specious arguments sound disturbingly similar to the racist whites who opposed civil rights for blacks on the grounds that they were just trying to protect against the spread of values they found problematic, but who were in fact using the centuries-old tactic of scapegoating the “other” to distract from wholly unrelated social ills.  You could certainly go back to 1960 and replace “interracial marriage” with “gay marriage” in virtually any argument Jackson puts forth, and it would carry just as much water.


The Telos

A recent revision to the Williams College page on Wikipedia mentions “The Telos, a journal of Christian thought.” I see no mention of such a publication at Williams. Can anyone enlighten us? We would love to link to and/or publish some of this work.


Cell phones and the Purple Bubble

Brother Smartness contends that cell phones killed the Williams party scene:

The advent of communication technology has drastically, and negatively, altered the manner in which we socially interact.[…]
Think, for a second, about how natural the phrase “running late” has become.  I can’t even front, because I myself have pulled this card on a number of occasions in the past.  The problem lies in trying to be at too many places at once; trying to accomplish more than possible in 24 hours.
Communicating on blackberries or texting on phones at dinner and/or clubs (a pet peeve of mine) make it impossible to live in the moment.  I’ve always contended that cell phones killed the party scene in college. Prior to cell phones every party had potential.  After cell phones, if a party was bad and that information became available through the wire, it was a straight wrap.  Mull that one over if you happened to be in the purple bubble circa 2002.
We risk losing, in the hustle and bustle of trying to be more productive, our sense of respect for one another, which I would argue is important in a world where human interaction is becoming increasingly unnecessary.
The game plan this summer and beyond is put the phone away and arrive on time, never fashionably late.  For the sake of maintaining the sanctity of humanity, I encourage you to do the same.

The advent of communication technology has drastically, and negatively, altered the manner in which we socially interact.[…]

Think, for a second, about how natural the phrase “running late” has become.  I can’t even front, because I myself have pulled this card on a number of occasions in the past.  The problem lies in trying to be at too many places at once; trying to accomplish more than possible in 24 hours.

Communicating on blackberries or texting on phones at dinner and/or clubs (a pet peeve of mine) make it impossible to live in the moment.  I’ve always contended that cell phones killed the party scene in college. Prior to cell phones every party had potential.  After cell phones, if a party was bad and that information became available through the wire, it was a straight wrap.  Mull that one over if you happened to be in the purple bubble circa 2002.

We risk losing, in the hustle and bustle of trying to be more productive, our sense of respect for one another, which I would argue is important in a world where human interaction is becoming increasingly unnecessary.

The game plan this summer and beyond is put the phone away and arrive on time, never fashionably late.  For the sake of maintaining the sanctity of humanity, I encourage you to do the same.

Can anyone else who was at Williams at the same time comment on this? By the time I got there in 2003, Verizon was quite well established on campus.

On the other hand, cell phones did bring some advantages when they came to Williams. As JG notes:

We graduated in 2001 not only in the rain, but during a thunderstorm. Graduation was paused partway through due to lightning and everyone went running for the science quad buildings during the 45-60 minute delay. Since it was a million years ago before everyone and their mother (and 5 year old) had a cell phone – and Williamstown had little to no reception – nobody could find their families.

On the other other hand, there are times when I would be fine with people not being able to find me. In the age of the cell phone, it is almost impossible to be unfindable. If I leave my phone off, or fail to pick up or return a call relatively quickly, I expect that the person trying to reach me is liable to get a little annoyed. For the sake of  maintaining amicable social relations, I feel obligated to keep the phone/email/messaging device on at all times. And of course, these devices are powerful and addictive in and of themselves, regardless of their social utility. As Stephen O’Grady writes in a love letter to his iPhone 3GS, “I seriously feel like I’m living in the future.”

Twitter makes the pressure to always-be-connected even worse, as Jennifer Mattern discovered:

As one friend observed, “If the people in my life need to know what is happening in my life every 20 seconds, there is something very wrong, either with them, or with me.”[…]

Facebook gives you a fighting chance. If you’re not the brightest bulb, not the sharpest tack, you can still hang out and find your posse. Addictive as it is (Facecrack, Crackbook), one can skip a daily dose and still pick up pretty much where one left off. Yes, Andrea is still in a relationship, heart heart. Yes, Gayle’s pictures from her trip are online now. No, you have not been Superpoked by Etienne, but Tim wants you to join his mob.

Brain. Can. Process. Yes.

Twitter is Facebook as played by Lindsay Lohan on Red Bull minus her daily Ritalin. It’s Racebook, run by people who are tethered to their Blackberrys and iPhones, pithy, clever people who always have a good line. I watch them in amazement. They make bathroom stops hilarious. They multitask with a vengeance. Sparks fly out of my computer when I log into Twitter. […]

I can be funny. I can’t be funny THAT FAST AND THAT REGULARLY. I have nothing to market. I have nothing to tweet. I am tweetless.

If, however, your brain can keep up with Twitter, you may want to follow us on Twitter and/or check out the many Eph Twitterers that we follow. You may find some people you recognize in there. Some of the more prolific Eph Twitterers include Stephen C. Rose ’58, Steve Case ’80, Kim Daboo ’88, and Ethan Zuckerman ’93 . There are many others.

And here are some more Williams-specific Twitter accounts, if you’re into that kind of thing:

PS – A previous post that is kinda sorta related, at least in my mind.


So 2006

Ethan Zuckerman ’93:

It’s nice to be listened to. I guess. Maybe. Though I now find myself wondering whether I wouldn’t be better off shutting up.

Me too.

I saw the first reports of Michael Jackson’s death on Twitter around 6pm. I ran a little script I threw together some weeks ago called “twitcent” to see just how many tweets would share the news. Twitcent takes advantage of the fact that Twitter gives a unique, sequential ID to each tweet to estimate the intensity of posting around certain terms. It retrieves a page of 100 search results for a particular search term – say “Michael Jackson” – and looks at the ID numbers of the first and last tweets listed. Take the difference of those numbers, and you get how many tweets were posted between search result #1 and #100. Divide, and you’ve got a percentage of tweets on the system in a discrete, small interval mentioning the term.

Being able to use technology to perform this sort of analysis is not rocket science. Take a couple CS courses at Williams (134 and 136) and you could do it too. Making the computer do what you want it to do is an incredibly valuable skill. If you are a Williams undergraduate, you should get some.

Is it accurate? I dunno. If my assumptions are right, it should be – if Twitter’s not always numbering sequentially, or if some large percent of tweets on the system are unsearchable, less so. Anyway, I ran several search terms through the engine and saw something I’d never seen before – search terms registering in double digit percentages, and the term “Michael Jackson” appearing in 13 – 20% of the tweets.

So I tweeted the following: “My twitter search script sees roughly 15% of all posts on Twitter mentioning Michael Jackson. Never saw Iran or swine flu reach over 5%” And then I went to make dinner.

When I got back online this evening, the tweet had been quoted in Wired News, the New York Times Bits blog, Washington Post’s mocoNews, and in the San Jose Mercury News.

Geez, think these guys read each other much? I’m flattered, I think.

A proper quote from me would probably have been something like: “The search string ‘Michael Jackson’ is getting intense interest on Twitter at the moment, showing up in between 13-20% of tweets. It’s unlikely this level of intensity will continue through the night, but at the moment, it exceeds the intensity I’ve seen on Twitter during slower-breaking stories like #swineflu, #pman and #IranElection.” That, unfortunately, is 337 characters – far too long for anyone to read anymore. And a clarification in the form of a blogpost? That’s so 2006.

Indeed. Are you reading Ethan and the other interesting bloggers at Eph Planet? You should be.


Williamstown Theatre Festival Is 55

vintage poster from Adams Memorial Theatre













and facing a shorter season than usual, mainly due to budget constraints, according to an article highlighting the approaching season and summarizing WTF’s history.

This is a shorter season than Williamstown audiences are used to — four Main Stage productions instead of five and only three in the Nikos instead of four. The season also is starting two weeks later than usual. And while available space at Williams College for the Festival’s technical and support staff is part of the reason for the late start, the chief reason is the sagging economy, Martin said.

“The only other options we faced were to either significantly trim our production budget or the size of our productions.

“It seemed to me that of all the options, this (a shorter season) was the least noxious.”



Journalism and International Issues

As I’ve now visited 4 top liberal arts schools (Williams, Amherst, Haverford, Swarthmore), I’ve realized I want to attend the one that will enable me to pursue my interest in foreign journalism. That’s why I’m looking for a school that emphasizes both writing and international issues.

Journalists at the Providence Journal have told me that it is most important to build a deep knowledge base and to develop the critical thinking that is so essential to successful journalism. Thus I’m convinced that a liberal arts education is a better option than formal journalism training.

Can you discuss how Williams–through its mission, academics, and the student body’s political activism–would be the best place for a student who is passionate about journalism and international issues?

Are there any Eph journalists reading EphBlog who can talk about how their Williams experience laid the foundation for a successful journalism career?


Purple Cows at Harvard Commencement

harvard_commencementNot a subscriber to Harvard Magazine? Then you missed this article on Harvard’s Commencement, featuring a picture of some goofy alum and his adorable daughter (Williams class of 2021).

The caption reads: “David Kane, Ph.D., ’98, associate of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, and his daughter Cassandra enliven the faculty procession with his dangling purple cows from Williams (his alma mater) and her Mad Hatter headgear.”

I attached the magnetic purple cows (a reunion gift from a few years ago, I think) to my mortarboard in order to show the colors at the event. I brought Cassandra because I thought it would be a hoot, and it was.

Perhaps all you need to know about the difference between Harvard and Williams is that, at Harvard, the faculty (or the less than 5% of them that bother to come to Commencement) parade between rows of graduating seniors who are expected to clap for them.

At Williams, we do things differently.


STAT 10 Help Sought

I will be teaching STAT 10 Applied Data Analysis during Winter Study 2010. It is the successor course to ECON 18 from last January. Below is the draft of my course description. Although I am just as happy to teach this class with 4 as with 40 students, I think that several dozen students would be better off taking my class than taking some of the weaker (but still serious) course offerings. [Which is not to say that the typical student would be better off in my class than in something unusual and/or travel-related.]

Anyway, how should I reword this to make more students (who would benefit) more likely to sign up?
Read more


Playwright A. R. Gurney ’52 Brings It Home

photo credit Williamstown Theatre Festival

A. R. Gurney ’52 has a play, Children, on the boards at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

“It’s always a special pleasure for me to come back (to Williamstown),” Gurney said. “Williams was where I first discovered I wanted to be a playwright. (Stephen) Sondheim was two years ahead of me, and when he left the mantle fell on my puny shoulders. I couldn’t write a note of music, but I found people who could.”

More here on him and on his work.

Break a leg.

(photo credit Williamstown Theatre Festival)


Revolutionary Road

This thread on College Confidential mentions a Williams reference in Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. [Source here. Click to enlarge.]


The more times that Williams is mentioned in the same sentence as Princeton, the better.


The Mountaintop Gets Gussied Up










This article provides a lot of details about the plans for Bascom Lodge on top of Mt. Greylock. Parts of the lodge will open on July 1st. A community barbeque will fete the reopening on July 4th. As the article makes clear, what’s planned is not just a renovation but a restoration combined with considerable upgradings.

I was up there earlier this month, when they had a very long way to go. It’s not clear from the article and what I saw then whether the new lessees are just opening the cafe, or will have more of the lodge ready.

In addition to the cafe, the plans include an evening fine dining option (what a romantic option that could become), a shop purveying both hiker-type necessities and local crafts, and eventually reopening the lodging components. Hostel accommodations will be retained for hikers (including the Appalachian Trail long-distance types) but a large part of the lodging will be given over to more luxurious facilities meant to, and priced to, compete with local bed and breakfast and inn offerings. The rooms are being restored/renovated to a 1930s look (the lodge was built in that era by the Civilian Conservation Corps).

When the project is complete, the lodge will be available for weddings and conferences, in addition to general use by the public. The new lessees also plan to hold community cultural events there on Wednesday nights.

It’s a grand vision (with the Devil being in the details, as always). The principals, who have a 25-year lease, are a chef and a textile designer. I hope they succeed. It’s going to be hard in this economy, especially with a short season (the lodge will not be open in the winters), but it could take off into something very popular with the warm weather sets.

Maybe PTC will check it out for us when he’s back in the county next week.


North American Supreme Court

Former Williams professor KC Johnson read Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s undergraduate thesis: “La Historia Ciclica De Puerto Rico. The Impact Of The Life Of Luis Muñoz Marin On The Political And Economic History of Puerto Rico, 1930-1975.”

This is, by coincidence, a topic about which I know something — I did a biography of Ernest Gruening, a sometimes friend, sometimes foe of Muñoz Marín, and also did a journal article on Puerto Rico and the Good Neighbor Policy. The thesis is quite good. I’m not sure it’s a summa cum laude thesis… but summa grades essentially depend on the competition and the standards at the time.

As for the thesis as a whole, from a historian’s perspective: It’s solidly researched and fairly well written — uses lots of data, more or less presents an argument, and has a pedagogical approach (political/economic history, focus on a key political leader in Muñoz Marin) that is very much mainstream. This is basically a pedagogically sound thesis that (with one exception) allows the facts to speak for themselves.

There are also a few jarring elements that contrast to the pedagogical approach. First, I’m curious as to when Sotomayor ceased being a Puerto Rican nationalist who favors independence — as she says she does in the preface. (The position, as she points out in the thesis, had received 0.6 percent in a 1967 referendum, the most recent such vote before she wrote the thesis.) I don’t know that I’ve seen it reported anywhere that she favored Puerto Rican independence, which has always been very much a fringe position….

Second, her unwillingness to call the Congress the U.S. Congress is bizarre — in the thesis, it’s always referred to as either the ‘North American Congress’ or the ‘mainland Congress.’ I guess by the language of her thesis, it should be said that she’s seeking an appointment to the North American Supreme Court, subject to advice and consent of the North American Senate. This kind of rhetoric was very trendy, and not uncommon, among the Latin Americanist fringe of the academy.

Third, she had an odd habit of inserting [sic] into quotes not to identify an error but because she disagreed with the (usually innocuous) content of the quotes.

Fourth, she asserted that Muñoz Marín’s economic program, called Operation Bootstrap, failed primarily because Puerto Ricans continued to think of themselves as colonials. This, like the reference to the US Congress as the ‘North American’ Congress, was 1970s-trendy dependency theory rhetoric, but was wholly unsupported by the evidence that she presented in the thesis (and, indeed, by virtually any evidence that has appeared since that time).


Summer- A re posting of some fun places

Local swimming hole #1- Dorset Quarry

Local Swimming hole #2- The Hopper

Local swimming hole #3- The Tubs

Local View- The Pownal Quarry

Local Historic Site- The Ice House

I am headed home next week. Contact me if you would like to get together and see some of these spots… I’ll be there. Summer in the Berkshires.


Michael Weiner ’83, MLBPA Executive Director

This article reports that Michael Weiner is the likely successor to Donald Fehr as Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Player’s Association.  If selected, Weiner will have a chance to spar with fellow Ephs Hal Steinbrenner ’91 and Bob Nutting ’84.

The common theme in that article: Weiner’s intellect.  In fact, the article could serve as a thesaurus for intelligence: “sharp,” “very bright,” “intelligent,” “equipped,” and “intellectual” are all used to describe Weiner.  At the same time, he is described by a current MLB player as a “very cool guy.”  Sounds like a lot of Ephs I know …

Note: I have updated this post with a photo and link to today’s illuminating New York Times feature.


Electronic Ephemera

L.E. Modesitt ’65 asks some good questions:

[Our society] seems to think that electronic storage is permanent and that, because it’s electronic, anyone can access it and figure it out. Neither assumption, of course, is true, widespread as both appear to be.

We have books and records dating back thousands and thousands of years, evidence from other cultures and civilizations, written insights into what they did and how they acted. If we follow the trend — and go “paperless” as all the businesses urge us — what insights will we leave? We can’t even read computer records of thirty years ago.

This is even truer on a personal letter. My father kept letters he thought were memorable, and they’re still available, yellowed paper and all. Somehow, I don’t see much in the way of memorable emails being saved (if there are even such)… and there’s another factor involved as well. Most letter-writers, and possibly most writers whose works are recorded in print form, tend to write more accurately and clearly, almost as if they understood that what they wrote might be scrutinized more than once.

In my mind, all this leads to a number of questions:

Do disposable communications too often equate to disposable thoughts and insights?

Do impermanent and easily changed records lead to greater carelessness? Or greater dishonesty and fraud?

What exactly are we giving up for the sake of going electronic and paperless?


Try Out Camp

Parent ’12 writes:

John McPhee has a piece on college recruiting for Lacrosse in this week’s New Yorker (May 25). Unfortunately, unless one has a subscription, only an abstract seems to be available on line.

EB is the only place that I read about college sports. Could anyone comment on “tryout camp,” which apparently is verboten. The college coaches’ (recruiters?) cryptic notes in the full article pull for an emotional response.

From the article:

THE SPORTING SCENE about college lacrosse tryouts. In early summer, high-school rising seniors from all over the United States play lacrosse for three days on the vast campus of the University of Maryland, at College Park. The two playing fields designated for lacrosse are parallel and generously fenced-parents are not permitted inside the fence. In the narrow strip that separates the fields college lacrosse coaches sit on folding chairs under large golf umbrellas, watching the games. They carry clipboards, rosters on the clipboards, and typically they are writing cryptic notes on the player’s performance. When the camp began, in 1985, it was called Top 205, because two hundred and five high-school players is the number it hoped to attract. It has two overlapping sessions now that draw some eight hundred and eighty high-school players, who are all here on their coaches recommendations. By N.C.A.A. rule, there can be no “tryout camp,” so 205 sends recommendation forms to every high-school lacrosse coach in the country, and the camp may accept, on a first-come-first-served basis, anyone who applies. The players want to come because they know who is going to be watching. Since the nineteen-eighties, the number of summer lacrosse camps has gone from under forty to more than four hundred. Tuition at the 205 camp is five hundred and ninety-five dollars. Some of the college coaches are far enough along in recruiting talks with some of these high school stars that they have come to regard them as theirs.

Think that this is outrageous? I guess that you won’t be sending your son to the Williams College football mini-camp (pdf) next month.

Our mini-camp is designed to give rising high school seniors the opportunity to experience a typical pre-season day of college football. This is a non-contact, one day mini-camp, which will focus on drills and techniques specific to each position.

Signing up for the camp requires an $85 check made out to Mike Whalen. Comments:

1) There is a great senior thesis to be written about the history of athletic recruiting at elite colleges.

2) The system is thorough and efficient. Coaches want to find the best players (subject to certain academic minimums) and players want to be found by coaches. The more that players and coaches know about each other beforehand, the better for all concerned. If anything, I would like to see this sort of matching extended beyond athletics. The world would be a better place if Williams faculty had more contacts with prospective students.

3) Just what is the relationship between Williams College and this football camp? Although there are many ways that something like this can be organized in a sensible and open manner, there are also many opportunities for abuse and self-dealing. Details, please.

UPDATE: Formatting of quote fixed.


Computer Science at Williams

A question from College Confidential.

Computer Science at Williams

a pretty simple question…how good is the computer science program at williams?

I cannot tell anything from the department webpage. In general LAC cs depts are not as good or respected as most universities, but I know Williams tends to be the exception to many rules.

There is little doubt that the Williams Math/Stat Department is one of, if not the, best among LACs. But I don’t know anything about how we compare on Computer Science. I have heard good things about various professors (shout out to my fan Professor Dudley Bailey) but also complaints that the department is too theoretical.

Informed opinions welcome.


Dog On It

This review of Dog On It, a detective novel by Peter Abrahams ’68 (aka Spencer Quinn), was written by Chad Orzel ’93 and originally posted on his sciencey blog, Uncertain Principles.

Dog On It is a twist on a hard-boiled private eye story: It’s narrated by Chet, a former police dog cadet now owned by Bernie Little, a down-on-his-luck private detective in the Southwest somewhere (it’s not entirely clear where– Chet’s a little fuzzy on geography). Really, how could I pass up a book by a talking dog.

Obviously, the attraction of this sort of book is not so much the mystery, as the dog voice. I’m happy to say that Quinn nails that, as shown by this passage where Bernie decides to take up jogging:

There were lots of outings where Bernie walked and I ran, but Bernie running would be a first. We went out the back door, through the yard, out the gate, into the canyon. Bernie started running, sort of, up the trailthat led to the hill with the big flat rock on top. It was nice out, the sun hidden by the distant mountains but the sky still light, the air not too hot. I loped along beside Bernie, then ran circles around him, and when that got boring, took off for the hilltop.

And right away spotted a lizard, one of those green ones with the tiny eyes! He saw me, too, and darted toward higher ground. I tor after him, closed the distance fast, and sprang, my front paws outstretched, and came down right on him. Or not quite. What was this? He’d bolted down a hole, a small round hole in the dirt. I started digging right away, real fast, got a nice clawing rhythm going, all four paws involved, and soon had a big hole under way. But all of a sudden I caught a whiff of something, a nasty smell with a bit of bacon mixed in, that meant one thing and one thing only: javelina.

I raised my head, sniffed the air. No doubt, and it was coming from down the hill, closer to the trail. I glanced around, saw that I’d dug a hole, although I wasn’t sure why. I lowered my nose and trotted after the scent.

Writing from the POV of a dog allows a nice dodge around one of the big problems facing mystery writers, namely, constructing a mystery that is straightforward enough for the reader to put everything together, but not so obvious that the PI looks like a dolt for not figuring it out twenty pages in. When most of the critical facts are known only to a scatterbrained dog, though, it’s much easier.

Quinn also avoids the big trap of dog-centered stories, which is unrealistic communication between the dog and a human. There’s no “What’s that, girl? Timmy fell in a well?” business here– when Chet barks to try to communicate key information, he’s more likely to be told to knock off the racket.

There are a few glitches, of course. At a couple of points, there’s a kind of deus ex machina quality to the ways that Chet gets to and back from the places where he needs to be for the story to work. But those are easy to forgive, because the dog voice is so charmingly… doggy.

It’s a little hard to believe that nobody has done a PI novel from a dog’s point of view before, and maybe they have. Whether the idea is entirely original or not, though, Quinn has absolutely nailed it, and I hope to read more Chet and Bernie books in the future.

Mr. Abrahams/Quinn also writes a blog written from Chet the Dog’s point of view.  Chad Orzel is working on his own dog-centric book, How to Teach Physics to Your Dog, written as a series of conversations between himself and his dog Emmy, the Queen of Niskayuna, about quantum physics.


Public Affairs has a Flickr account

While browsing photos on Flickr tagged with “Williams College,” I came across an account for the Williams College Public Affairs office. Wow! They seem to have posted their professional photos that they took for College publications. For instance, there are many pictures from Commencement 2009. Also notable is this great collection of photos of music professor David Kechley beaming, while posing with different instruments. An example:

This is a great step forward for Williams embracing technology. If they put all of their excellent, professional-quality campus photos online, it will be a treasure of a viewbook for anyone looking for pictures of Williams. An example of this kind of thing: the Library of Congress.


Gender Games

Interesting news release.

Why Have Men Taken Over Coaching Women’s Sports? New Research Offered in “Gender Games”

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., May 29, 2009 — As women’s sports have grown in the last 30 years, the percentage of women coaching women has declined from above 90 percent to under 45 percent. Why?

“Past studies demonstrated that women coaches encounter gender issues that persist due to the inherently male-centered nature of sport,” said Christina Cruz, author of “Gender Games: Why Women Coaches are Losing the Field” (March 2009, VDM Verlag).

Cruz’s book examines the “intertwining aspects of gender, relationships, coaches’ struggles, and the resultant sense of self as coach.

“Women coaches do not feel the effects of the gender inequities on the fields and courts, but in the hallways and staff meetings, in their roles as ‘colleagues’,” she writes. “These issues force women into ‘micro-competitions’ (seemingly inconsequential, private struggles that female coaches have within the context of their relationships) in an effort to gain respect, to stand their ground, to find voice, to survive inappropriate behavior, and to be accepted as part of the athletic department.”

Today, women’s collegiate sports have been absorbed by men’s athletic departments and are coached by more men than women. In 2008, women directed only 21.3 percent of the programs and coached only 42.8 percent of women’s teams as head coaches.

In her book, Cruz points out that female coaches endure a value system that puts men on top, the perception that men work harder than women, and the problems of juggling family and work. They constantly face comparisons to their male counterparts, and men’s athletics often garner more attention than do women’s athletics.

The book includes compelling stories from five female coaches, which shed light on the “strong sense of self as coaches and diminished sense of self as colleagues.”


1) I think that the College should do a better job of having academically-inclined non-faculty give tutorials. This would not involve placing them on the faculty or even paying them extra. It would just be a way of expanding the academic offerings of Williams and involving administrators more directly in the intellectual life of the community. Cruz would probably teach an amazing tutorial in her areas of interest. Why not have her do it? Other administrators who should also be given the opportunity to teach tutorials include Dean Dave Johnson, Gail Bouknight-Davis, Stephanie Boyd, and many others. This is a larger topic, of course, but the more tutorials that Williams offers, the better.

2) For those interested, see here (pdf) for Cruz’s dissertation. This book is clearly based on this work, especially the interviews with 5 coaches. (Quiz: Although the coaches are anonymous, insiders can figure out which is an Eph. Can you? Bonus question: Tell the story of how her troubles were the unseen cause of Hank Payne’s departure.)

3) Does this book come anywhere near providing an explanation for men coach so many womens teams? Not that I can see. (And not that I am willing to pay $76 (for a paperback!) to find out.) Cruz’s dissertation provides 5 interesting stories about the struggles that these specific coaches have faced, but it does little to address why women coach a “low” percentage of womens teams. (In a gender-perfect world, what percentage would they coach?) But perhaps the book has a lot of new material . . .


Williams Expedition 2009

This sounds pretty darn cool.


Insightful to Crackpot

The Transcript reports that:

For Mark C. Taylor, retiring from Williams College will not mean time for rest, relaxation and reflection, but instead the Cluett professor of humanities emeritus will continue working at another institution about four hours away.

“For the last few years I have been teaching down at Columbia (University), and finally I had to decide whether I would stay there or come back here. I decided to retire from Williams and finish my career at Columbia” he said Thursday.

Taylor became a visiting professor of religion and architecture at Columbia University in 2003, and has since become chairman of the religion department and co-director of the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life.

He said a situation arose at the university where a variety of circumstances presented an opportunity for change in which the way the graduation program is done in the religion department. He plans to be at the university to be a part of that change.

“The situation there is allowing me to put into practices many of the ideas I have developed and wrote about while I was here at Williams,” he said.

Those ideas include the integration of technology in a way that links classrooms and lessons between colleges and making education less specialized to a subject or topic.

He said the higher education system is unsustainable as it is now, and needs to be changed beginning at the graduate level.

True, but, as we have discussed, it is not clear that Mark Taylor is the solution. Best description of his recent New York Times op-ed?

It’s a frustrating piece, since it moves quickly from ‘insightful’ to ‘crackpot’ and back again.

Back to the Transcript:

“For me the teaching, research and writing have always gone together and reinforced each other that doesn’t happen as often in graduate programs,” he said.

He said the challenge academia is facing is how to create an education system that is intellectually responsible and economically viable.

Taylor retired from Williams College on June 7 after 36 years of teaching religion and philosophy among other courses including art, architecture, literature and literature theory.

“I’ve always liked teaching, and Williams has been a terrific place,” Taylor said. “I also, over the years, have done a lot of writing, and Williams was supportive and gave me the opportunity to do that.”

He said one thing he will miss about Williams College is its students.

“I’ve been fortunate over the years to have terrific students, which I have stayed in touch with,” he said. “I’ll miss the daily interaction I have with them.”

He said people often ask him why he has stayed at Williams so long.

“The answer I give is always true; the students and the mountains,” he said.

A nice line.

Taylor’s fellow Williams faculty members will note what he left out . . .

Taylor said he doesn’t plan to leave Williamstown, as he completes his teaching career at Columbia University in New York City.

“I would not have written what I have written if I had not been in this barn,” he said. “What you think is a function of where you are.”

A few years after Taylor and his wife, Dinny, moved to their house on Stone Hill in 1989, he converted a barn on their property into his study.

Taylor has written 25 books over the years, and is hoping to have three more completed by the end of the summer; a philosophical memoir, a book about art and a book about the ways higher education needs to change.

While Taylor has a doctorate in religion from Harvard University and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Copenhagen, he has always wanted to teach.

“I don’t think there is anything better to do than work with young people at the most formative period of their lives. Nothing is more rewarding,” Taylor said.

Agreed. And that’s why I will be teaching again next Winter Study! Look for me in STAT 10: Applied Data Analysis. Taking my class will significantly increase your chances of getting a good internship or job.

Taylor’s father taught high school science, and his mother taught high school literature.

Besides teaching religion and philosophy, Taylor is a photographer and landscaper, and has had his artistic work displayed at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams.

Taylor said the humanities are always in peril because they’re the least practical, but if economists studied history and literature instead of algorithms, the financial crisis wouldn’t have happened.

“I think it’s very important for people to study religion, philosophy, literature, art and history. You can’t understand the world without them,” he said.

Classic Taylor stupidity. Almost all the people involved in the financial crisis had elite educations, with plenty of history and literature. Jimmy Lee ’75 majored in economics and art history at Williams.


Journey to the tri-state point

Last weekend found me in Northfield, MA, helping out at a race (where I saw Ross Smith ’05), so after the successful completion of said race, my boyfriend and I naturally drove over to Williamstown. Had I thought to pack a camera, I could have taken pictures to populate another hundred Photo IDs, but I didn’t, so you’ll have to settle for narrative (with one photo, below).

I decided that we would run along the Taconic Crest Trail and find the tri-state marker where MA, VT and NY come together. Though I had run the Taconic Crest Trail with the cross country team many times, I had never been to the tri-state point, which I had heard was not far off the trail. Since my boyfriend enjoys bushwhacking and county high-pointing, it seemed like the ideal afternoon adventure / long run.

MA-VT-NY tri-state marker

MA-VT-NY tri-state marker

We first went to the Mountain Goat, where we purchased the WOC guide to hiking around Williamstown, and the excellent WOC map of the area. The man working there was very chatty, and we left much more informed about long-distance biking journeys than we had been when we entered. (As we drove through the College, I also saw many more white-haired, purple-shirted men than I expected. Williams was deep into Reunion season. David Kane was there, but I didn’t know it until I got back.) We then proceeded to Petersburg Pass, where we parked, crossed the road, and began the run along the crest trail.

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