A hugely accomplished woman…

… using her expertise as an economist and her far-ranging speculative intelligence to improve the world, has been stabbed to death.

Molly Macauley, a vice president at the think tank Resources for the Future, was walking her dogs in the evening near her Baltimore home when she was attacked.

Her cv reveals a workaholic, a person profoundly committed to the care of the earth and environs (“No Free Launch: Analysis of Space Transportation Pricing”). An adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins, she was also (among many other responsibilities) on the board of advisors for the William & Mary public policy program.

Scott Pace, Director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said “her loss is a loss to all of us, whether family and friends, colleagues, or the community in which she lived.” In an email, Pace characterized her as “an incredibly intelligent, energetic, and caring person who brought both warmth and rigor to her profession and the space community. … She combined high personal standards with a willingness to mentor and care for others that is often too rare.”

Professor Avril Henry, whose life work was one of utter delicacy and beauty…

… as she devoted her considerable intelligence and visual skill to the understanding and preservation of England’s medieval heritage, lived alone in a Devon cottage. In retirement, she was active in her town’s affairs, in the continued pursuit of her research, and in the right to die movement.

Because of what she called, in her suicide note, “the illogical, cruel British law” which forbids assisted suicide, once she became too debilitated and ill to want to go on, she had to die an undelicate and ugly death, alone, days after having been harassed by the police for having imported certain lethal drugs.

The note is a model of incision and self-control — and pathos, as she arranges “burial in my orchard” and specifies that she washed the pills down with “a miniature bottle of Cointreau.” Meticulous and courteous to the end, she notes that

If I have fouled the bath in death, please please be kind enough to wash it down: Dettol is provided.

A sad death for a proud, autonomous woman.


Mary Warnock has written:

When opponents speak of “life being precious”, they forget that life isn’t a kind of stuff, like water, which has an objective value, and which we can be urged not to squander, but to preserve. If a human being has got to the state where her life is hateful to her, no one else can insist it is valuable. It is for her to judge its value.

Warnock also points out that better palliative care, while a solution for some people, would be insupportable for others.

I do not believe that everyone would prefer palliative care. There are those for whom it would be a nightmare and who would prefer death to the drawn-out process of being kept alive and conscious, however kind, attentive and competent their carers.

This is the second right-to-die professor UD has taken note of on this blog. She tends to agree that this is one of the great human rights issues of our time, and she will approach the controversy by following stories about professors who act on their belief that reasonable people deserve the freedom to decide when they have had enough of life.

UD thanks dmf.

A comment on the religious argument:

The main idea here is the “sanctity of life” — the belief that life is precious and death should never be hastened. I can understand this point of view, but I think it should apply only to believers. Why should the rest of the population be held to this standard?

Zaha Hadid, a Great Architect, Has Died.

There will be plenty of commentary on her difficult work and personality. UD posted about one of her buildings here.

Give, so that others may afford their medicine.

This fall, [Katie] Uva started an online fund-raising campaign to match a $1 million donation from Mr. Shkreli to Hunter in the hope of persuading the school to return the donation. So far, the campaign has raised about $800 from 16 donors.

Back in whenever, UD noted the embarrassing one million dollar donation Martin Shkreli gave his high school, a place affiliated with Hunter College. She asked then if anyone would do anything about it – like return it, or keep it and direct it to anti-Shkreli uses.

The school said and did nothing.

But with Shkreli’s arrest, things are hotting up a bit on that front. The New York Times today features a student (again, note that the moral courage here comes from a student, not the school) who has launched an anti-Shkreli fund-raising campaign.

Giving to that campaign seems to UD an easy and efficient way of responding to the tendency of this country to nurture monsters.

Women’s Liberation.


A woman casts off her burqa
as she escapes ISIS.

Details here.

—Love, says Bloom. I mean the opposite of hatred.

Ireland says yes.

O Little Infinity!

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.

Neruda’s words in English.

Valentine’s Day 2015.


When I got to the scene there were cordons… People didn’t want to tell me he was dead… One of his security guards was killed because he didn’t have time to take out his gun because the terrorists had Kalashnikovs…

I didn’t want to leave; I didn’t want to leave his body…

He died standing. He defended secularism; he defended Voltaire’s spirit… He was executed with his comrades, as he would say; not companions, comrades…”

Jeannette Bougrab, professor of law; and companion, Charb.

Elsa Cayat, a Free Woman, Killed at Charlie Hebdo.

A writer, a psychoanalyst, she’s remembered here by one of her patients.

In her big messy office buried under annotated books and crumpled papers, with a cigarette on her lip and a coffee cup in her hand, and always perched on very high heels, she drew me into hard-hitting therapy sessions that invariably began Sooooooo, tell me

Dans son grand bureau foutoirdesque, croulant sous les livres annotés et les papiers froissés, la clope au bec et un petit noir à la main, toujours perchée sur ses talons vertigineux, elle m’aspirait pour des séances sans concessions qui démarraient invariablement par « Alooooooors, racontez moi… »


“[W]hen Hanna’s mother, who was in the middle of a divorce, tried to pay with a credit card, she found that her husband had canceled her credit. As Hanna fought back tears, a saleslady took out scissors and cut up the plastic card. It was not until the law changed two years later that women became entitled to credit without their husbands’ sponsorship…”

“In July 1999, the little girl who had seen her mother’s credit card scissored became a tenured law professor with all the associated stature and job security.”

This blog is authored by the daughter of a suicide – a man who, like Vermont Law School’s Cheryl Hanna, had one of the world’s great jobs (he was a branch chief at NIH who did cancer research) as well as family happiness (Hanna told an interviewer “I was sort of getting to that point in life where it probably wasn’t going to happen… Now I have this crazy family. I thought I was just going to have a career.”) – and University Diaries has from its beginning discussed both particular university suicides and the larger national problem of suicide (most recently Robin Williams’ death has had people thinking about it).

In this nicely written brief review of Hanna’s sad and traumatic youth, and then her socially committed, successful academic career, UD senses the same complex mix of painful early years and strikingly successful adult years that characterized her father’s life. There’s also the same strange onset of a total determination to die (her husband describes “the rapid onset and severity of Hanna’s depression”) on the part of a person everyone recalls as – in the words of a colleague – “a vibrant, enthusiastic person who was fun to be around.”

“People seemed to run out of their own being,” Philip Roth writes in one of his novels, as his character tries to figure out why even people with what look like great lives kill themselves. It is an odd thought – that just as each of us is given a physical life of a certain length, so each of us has a — call it a spiritual allotment…

Maryam Mirzakhani…

challenging the Summers model.

“The couple traveled the globe together to work on humanitarian causes.”

A beautiful life massacred. In two weeks their first child would have been born.

Elif Yavuz, 33, was born in Turkey, raised in the Netherlands, and educated here in the United States, at Harvard. Her partner was from Tasmania but like her a totally global citizen.

As an HSPH doctoral student [in the Department of Global Health and Population], Elif completed her dissertation research on malaria in eastern Africa,” [Harvard School of Public Health Dean Julio] Frenk wrote. “[She] had lived and worked abroad for many years, both in Africa and in Asia. She was currently working with the Applied Analytics Team at the Clinton Health Access Initiative [a global organization based in Boston] and preparing her thesis for publication.”

“Women who wear the burqa by choice do not exist.”

Fadela Amara, “[French] founder of the activist group Ni Putes Ni Soumises, translated as ‘Neither Whores nor Submissive,’ and later … the Secretary of State for Urban Policies,” spoke a couple of days ago about France’s anti-burqa law at the University of Chicago’s International House (UD lived in an apartment directly across the street from I House when she studied there).

Amara knows France’s fundamentalist ghettos well; she has watched them become cults of “forced marriage, polygamy, [female] circumcision, and violence against women.” Outlawing the full burqa (the law had seventy percent support among the French) has had some effect on

[t]he strategy of radical Islamists … to send in veiled women to force unveiled women to wear the burqa. And this is a real battle that has been going on for 15 years in France. And women who do not wear the veil, who were refusing to wear the veil, have been harassed and attacked, either verbally or physically — verbally by insulting them and calling them sluts, because for them these are not women who are respectable…. So we decided to stop all of this. And to act in a way to protect the women who were resisting in these neighborhoods.

Israel – where any woman who boards certain buses or walks on certain streets can be assured of being called a slut and spat on – could learn from the way France is dealing with its fundamentalist bullies.

“She now continues to work as a senator for life and last month harshly criticized Mario Monti’s government of technocrats for abolishing the peer review mechanism in funding policies to researchers.”

That was just a few months ago; and now Rita Levi Montalcini has died, age 103.

She won a 1986 Nobel for her work in nerve growth factor; a few years later, she started a foundation for the scientific education of African women. Well into her hundreds, she spent part of each day at the lab, and part at the foundation.

An atheist, she said the reason she lived so long was selflessness – she never cared or thought much about herself, but spent her energy on scientific and social problems that engrossed her. Pesky obstacles like a sexist father, fascism, anti-semitism, and a whole lot more sexism, were ignored, or somehow gotten around.

UD’s buddy, Tenured Radical, deserves all sorts of praise…

… for having understood what Columbia University’s Sudhir Venkatesh was long before the New York Times got wind of it. Her post about Columbia’s adorably rogue sociologist appeared way back in April 2009, and her attack on his book about living in a Chicago housing project tells you a lot about the power of the singular, agile, independent blogger to get out ahead of issues (look how long – with a few exceptions – it took everyone else), and about the power of a true education in the methods and ethics of particular scholarly fields.

Of course TR couldn’t know, when she wrote, that Venkatesh’s financial ethics are apparently as shaky as his scholarly; she couldn’t have read these 2010 accounts of his teaching (missing many classes; making highly-selected, immense-tuition-paying Columbia students watch YouTubes when he was too busy to show up); but no one reading her devastating review of his book can miss the larger picture of this man as another in the lengthening line of Jonah Lehrers, Marc Hausers, and Johan Haris.

All of these men, when cornered, said a version of what Venkatesh has said:

I was overwhelmed, I was working both at Columbia and at the FBI, and I struggled to keep up.

In all of these cases, we’re supposed to sympathize with people making up research (Hauser) and quotations (Lehrer, Hari), misusing funds (Venkatesh), and lying to pretty much everyone — because they’re so destructively ambitious that they’ve taken on more than they can handle.

When Tenured Radical went after Sudhir Venkatesh in 2009, several of her readers, in the comment thread, accused her of envy. One of his friends, quoted in the New York Times story, accuses his detractors of envy.

Envy’s a beaut. UD‘s all-time favorite use of it has to be Greg Mankiw’s and Eric Cantor’s, as they labor away against new tax policies. People who aren’t rich envy rich people and want to hurt them — that’s what changes in taxation are about.

Envy’s a real human emotion, to be sure. A biggie. But just because everyone’s susceptible to it, and just because it’s so low, cynical argumentative opponents realize it can be a hell of a good button to push. Instantly it distracts people from the intrinsic legitimacy of your arguments; it makes it all about you, and your grubbiest motivations. It is the quintessence of ad hominem technique.

Bravo to TR, then, not merely for having seen Venkatesh before others saw him, but for standing up to the you’re envious folk.


A statistics professor at Columbia recalls:

When Sudhir was in charge of Iserp, he told us that they were out of money and would not be able to honor existing commitments. Or, to be more precise, that things that I considered commitments were not actually so because they had only been transmitted orally, and that more generally Iserp was broke and could not support research in the way that we had expected. I was pretty angry about that, but when Sudhir informed me that he was suddenly stepping down as head of Iserp to work on a project with the Justice department, I assumed that he was better suited to be a researcher than an administrator and I offered him statistical help with his DOJ project if he ever needed it. I figured he was back on the research track and that this was better for all concerned. I don’t think I’d be a very good administrator myself, so I just figured Sudhir had been over his head. I’ve only seen him once since, it was a year or so ago at a sociology seminar, but we were sitting in different areas of the room and I had to leave early, so we did not get a chance to speak.

When I later heard that hundreds of thousands of dollars were missing, that put a different spin on the story. I had heard rumors of an investigation but I’d never known that there was an official document, dated Aug 4, 2011 (nearly a year and a half ago!) detailing $240,000 of questionable expenses including $50,000 for fabricated business purposes. If, as Sudhir is quoted as saying in the news article, he’s only paid pack $13,000 of this, I assume more will happen. It’s not clear why the university would pay a salary to someone who still owes them over $200,000.

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