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March 2011 Archives

March 7, 2011

Look! A woman!

Marty Kaplan

SignetBee.gifIt's a 140-year-old Harvard club. When you join, they give you a rose to press and return in your first book. Among my proudest accomplishments: I made it co-ed. Here's what I wrote about it as a curtain-raiser to this year's annual Signet Society dinner, which honors its female alumni.

If you don't count the 'Cliffies serving lunch - one of whom later headed a major Hollywood studio - there were no women in the Signet when I became president in 1970.

Actually there were almost no undergraduate members at all. The war in Vietnam cast a shadow on Cambridge. Automatic student deferments had been abolished, and only a lucky lottery number stood between Harvard men and the draft. Storybook life in the Yard had given way to a stormy succession of protests, strikes, occupations, busts, tear gas, wrenching debates, bitter confrontations with university leadership, trashed and boarded-up windows on Mass. Ave. and Mount Auburn Street: hardly a friendly climate for sherry sipping, lit'ry lunches and aspirational roses. The number of incoming Signet members in each new cohort skittered close to zero. At one dismal election, I recall someone asking, "What is the point?" Recourse to answers like Shelley's - "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" - seemed haplessly inadequate.

Not only did the Signet appear to be blithely irrelevant to the moral churning in the larger world; it seemed out of touch even with the change occurring at Harvard. In my freshman year, we Harvard men had to wear coats and ties to meals. When women came as dinner guests to the Freshman Union (now the Barker Center), a wave of fork-on-water-glass clinking - Look! A woman! - would sweep the room. When women visited us in our dorm rooms, it was only during strict "parietal hours," a few days a week, doors open - and keep three feet on the floor, please. The Houses were all all-male. [Below: From Allen Ginsberg, at a Signet dinner]

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March 16, 2011

Themes & Refrains at TED 2011

Johanna Blakley

tedkid.jpgI had the great pleasure of attending TED last week - not in Long Beach but in Palm Springs, where a very international crew of 600 fired-up TEDsters watched a simulcast of TED on monitors so large and numerous that I kept thinking I was going to bump into the TED speakers during the breaks.

It was a very intense week (attendees tend to talk about being exhausTED and having TEDaches), filled with a tremendous range of topics and resurging themes. TED is an excellent opportunity -- an unprecedented one, actually -- to take the temperature of the academy and Silicon Valley and every imaginable media and design industry and that cross-cutting world of energetic do-gooders who are trying to improve one thing or another in the universe.

I was a little surprised by the theme that emerged most profoundly for me this year. If I had to give it a title, I might call it this:

Personal Perspective: A Blessing & A Curse

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March 29, 2011

Michael J. Copps and the Comcast Catast

Scott McGibbon
Scott McGibbon is a Project Specialist at the Lear Center

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The ongoing challenges to corrupt oligarchies in the Middle East have shaken the world and reminded Americans how powerful the pull of liberty and democracy can be anywhere. These echoes of our own revolutionary history flood our TV and computer screens, filling us with concern, fear and hope. The causes are varied and specific to each nation, but among the common grievances are lack of government transparency and choke-hold grips by powerful elites on national economies and mass media: TV, radio, movies, newspapers, even Web access.

So it seems worthwhile to revisit something that happened -- bloodlessly -- in America only a few weeks ago: the FCC's approval of the Comcast-NBC/Universal merger. It got plenty of all-media buzz at the time, as befits a multi-billion-dollar Hollywood deal that mated the largest cable and Web service provider in the US (covering 39 states, with the worst customer satisfaction ratings) with one of the remaining six American media conglomerates. But it pretty much barreled its way to approval at the FCC on a 4-to-1 vote, which included one Democrat and the Chairman, Julius Genachowski, who was appointed by President Obama. This deal was so big and powerful, the US Department of Justice had to weigh in on it and approve it. Which it did.

Only one FCC commissioner voted against it. Here's what Michael J. Copps -- my new hero -- had to say:

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