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    Stockpiling Books

    I've been buying a lot of books this summer. That's not "a lot of books" by the usual standards, because I've always been a better-than-average bookstore customer. Lately I've been buying a lot of books even for me. But I haven't been buying them to read. I've been buying books to write.

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    The Muslim Brotherhood Blows It

    One of the most startling things about the terrible events in Egypt is that the Muslim Brotherhood, the great-granddaddy of all Islamist movements, has blown its shot at governing the country, a chance the Brotherhood spent decades waiting and planning for. That does not excuse the military coup, and the Brotherhood isn't the only party to blame. But there's no point in pretending that Morsi and the Brotherhood have been defenders of constitutional democracy either, and their refusal to share power or respect civil process helped create the mess their country is in tonight.

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    What College Trustees Are For

    So it turns out that New York University has bought its president a summer home on Fire Island (h/t Tenured Radical). Or rather, a special foundation associated with New York University has loaned the university president, John Sexton, around a million dollars to buy a beach house, and there seems a real possibility that much of that million-dollar mortgage will eventually be forgiven, so that Sexton won't have to pay it back. NYU has also made similar vacation-home loans to other top administrators and VIP faculty, at least some of them on the same forgive-over-time plan. This represents a brave new financial frontier in higher education. No other university buys its executives second houses. This seems like an obvious story of an out-of-control administration. But more importantly, it's the story of a board of trustees failing to do its job.

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    Red States and Blue States after DOMA

    I'm delighted about the Supreme Court's decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor. It's a triumph for human dignity, and also a triumph for federalism. The federal government should not be in the business of restricting the rights that individual states extend to citizens. If thirteen states see fit to recognize same-sex marriage, Washington should not interfere. 

     

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    Hard Truths About College Admissions and Affirmative Action

    Public debates over affirmative action in college admissions, such as all the hubbub about Fisher v. Texas (in which a not-so-qualified white student named Abigail Fisher sued before the Supreme Court to end affirmative action at the University of Texas), usually run into basic confusion about how college admission works in the first place.

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    The Other Thing College Is For (and Why It Matters)

    If you ask anyone what colleges and universities are for, they'll give you more or less the same answer: to educate people.  That's a good answer. It's the one I give myself. But it's only half the truth. Colleges and universities actually fulfill two separate roles. We all know about both of them. We only talk about one of them. And because of that, we misunderstand almost everything about how higher education works and how it might be improved.

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    Blogging Like Chaucer

    I love academic bloggers. Academic bloggers worry me sick. And the bloggers who keep me up at night are the ones who have adjunct or alt-ac jobs but are trying to move to the tenure track. Some of those people are using blogs and social media to advance their careers in ingenious ways which I would never have foreseen. But others seem, at least from my vantage, to expect or hope that their online work will help their career in specific ways that it will not and cannot. Being online can help an academic career. But it's important to be clear about what it can help and what it can't.

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    Boston and the End of the War on Terror

    Five weeks after a terrorist attack on Boston, President Obama has declared that the War on Terror, "like all wars, must end."  If I had told you a year ago that he would make such a speech a month and a half after a high-profile terrorist attack on a major American city, neither you nor I would have believed me. But the lessons of Boston drive home the wisdom of the President's decision. It showed us that a terrorist attack is meant to be lived through and that Americans are ready to live through one.

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    In Praise of the Writing Binge

    When I got my first job, I also got a book of advice for new professors. It gave me some sensible-sounding advice about writing. Avoid binge writing, it said. Write at regularly scheduled hours and keep each session brief. Too many graduate students are used to writing in crazy binges, the authors said, rather than developing steady writing habits. Faculty had to learn to write all the time, and also had to learn to STOP writing even if things were going well. And I tried to take that advice seriously.

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    Why It's Hard to Smear Jason Collins (and Not as Easy to Smear Keynes)

    It's been a tough week for elite gay-baiting. First Howie Kurtz, hack journalist extraordinaire, lost his job at the Daily Beast because he badly botched an attempt to smear NBA center Jason Collins. Part of what Kurtz botched was the facts, claiming that Collins had concealed the fact that he had once been engaged to a woman when Collins had "concealed" that fact by explicitly stating it in his Sports Illustrated coming-out article. ("When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged," is pretty straightforward.) Kurtz, to his credit, has made a full apology.

    Then, Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson (also a columnist for the Daily Beast) was also forced to apologize after publicly gay-baiting landmark economist John Maynard Keynes. Ferguson decided to tell an audience that Keynes wasn't interested in long-term policy effects (itself a gross distortion of Keynes's position) because Keynes was a homosexual in a childless marriage. Yes, really. That's the standard of logic and evidence to which Ferguson holds himself.

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    Things We Did Not Learn About the Marathon Bombings

    Let's recap the things that did not happen on the sorry day that the Boston Marathon was bombed:

    Five unexploded bombs were not discovered nearby. No unexploded bombs were discovered nearby.

    The government did not shut down cell-phone service as a precaution to prevent more detonations. The cell phone system around Copley Square simply became massively overloaded, so that calls could not get through (but texts, which take much less bandwidth, could).

    The police did not arrest anyone or identify any suspects.

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    Marathon Day

    Boston is my home, my beloved city, although I have not lived there for many years. And Patriot's Day, the Monday of the Boston Marathon, is the proudest day in a proud city's year. We open our city to all, and hold one of the world's greatest sporting events, the oldest annual marathon on the globe. We hold that race in public streets and fill the sidewalks to cheer. It is Boston's day to celebrate the many things that make it Boston.

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    Seeing the Headlights

    Six years ago today, in the early morning hours of April 5, I hit a patch of highway ice while driving to the airport in an unexpected snowstorm and spun out sideways. My car was totaled, with all of the damage to the driver's side door. I survived unscathed. I did not get whiplash. I did not miss my plane.

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    Justice Roberts's Gay Marriage (and Mine)

    The Supreme Court spent Holy Week (or, as Jesus would call it, Passover) debating gay marriage, which Chief Justice John Roberts clearly opposes. Religious opponents of gay marriage like to argue that the purpose of marriage is to beget children, so that only heterosexual marriages are "real," because only biological fertility makes a marriage "real." By this standard John Roberts's own marriage is not real, and neither is mine. I do not believe that, and neither should he.

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    Ten Years After Iraq: Top-Down Leadership

    The decision to bring "democracy" to Iraq displayed a deep and obvious contempt for democracy itself. George W. Bush considered the decision to begin a war his personal prerogative, and both the political establishment and the media establishment treated it that way. The war was inevitable; the decision had already been made. Not supporting the war was treated as foolish (because futile) and unpatriotic (because patriotism was defined as supporting the President's decisions).

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    Why Faculty Governance? (Teresa Sullivan and U.Va. Redux)

    On Thursday, the American Association of University Professors, a national faculty union, released its report on last summer's debacle at the University of Virginia, where, if you recall, the Board of Visitors fired the UVa's President, Teresa A.

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    Cooking in Rome: Soda Bans and the Illusion of Choice

    A judge has overruled Mayor Bloomberg's soda ban, calling it "arbitrary and capricious." So New York City's ban on large sugary beverages, meaning more than 16 oz. servings, is basically dead. This is a big win for Big Gulp Libertarianism, which derided the government soda ban as Nanny State tyranny, taking away individual's freedom to make their own rational choices. But you know what else is arbitrary, capricious, and erodes individual freedom of choice? Marketing.

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    A Short Guide to Bad Oscar Hosts

    Seth MacFarlane hosted a slow-motion catastrophe of an Oscars broadcast Sunday night. His terrible performance immediately sparked two internet conversations: one about what a terrible Oscars host Seth MacFarlane was, and a second about who had, if anyone, been an even more terrible Oscars host.

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    Harvard's Cheating Scandal and the Failure of Mentoring

    The Harvard cheating scandal has ground to something like its conclusion, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 students being suspended asked to withdraw. There's been a lot of discussion, from different perspectives, about student ethics, educational standards, and what the world is coming to.

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    David Mamet and the Tragedy of the Literary Tough Guy

    So David Mamet decided that he had to weigh in on gun laws, and tell everyone that everyone should have lots of guns all the time.

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