Archive | Obituary

Aaron Swartz has died

I woke this morning to the terrible, terrible news that Aaron Swartz has committed suicide. He was one of the early friends and boosters of the Monkey Cage, an utterly decent and brilliant young man, who seemed possessed of endless energy for a variety of good causes. He was under indictment from the Department of Justice for having downloaded millions of JSTOR articles in breach of terms of service, a crime for which they proposed to sentence him to decades of prison time. He will be missed.

Continue Reading

Richard Ben Cramer

Here is an obituary, his book What It Takes, his amazing Esquire piece on Ted Williams, and some reminiscences by reporters and peers.  I read What It Takes not long after it came out.  I must have been 18 or 19 years old.  I didn’t know then that I would become a political scientist or study campaigns, but perhaps the fact that I read that book at a relatively young age should have been a clue.

I pulled it off my bookshelf and opened it at random to p.505.  Cramer is talking about Michael Dukakis (ellipses in the original):

What a marvelous machine was Michael’s campaign.

“We try,” said the brilliant body man, Mitropolous, with a puckish smile (phyllo wouldn’t melt in his mouth) … “to play error-free ball.”

With Michael, it was more than try…more like compulsion.  It wasn’t just speeches (of course, he had to work over the speeches)…and not just his interview with every employee (the Dukakis campaign would spent five hundred dollars to fly the new receptionist for Washington to the State House, so Michael could tell her how to answer phones correctly)…Michael wanted to see, to edit, every press release.  He wanted to see every questionnaire sent back to newspapers and interest groups.  He wanted to see the thank-you notes.

Alas, that left little time to take care of business.

What business?

State business!

That was the summer, 1987, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts opened Route 25. It was a fine road, seven miles of clean new concrete to take an hour off the commute from the Boston suburbs to the Cape.  Michael meant to go to the opening.  He built the road.

Sasso said, “Mike, you’re not governor anymore.  You’re running for President.”

Michael said he wanted to go.

“Mike! Who gives a shit whether Route 25 is open?”

Governor Dukakis opened Route 25.

Damn, what a great book.  RIP, Richard Ben Cramer.

Continue Reading

Albert Hirschman has died

News via Dani Rodrik on Twitter. He was a great economist, whose influence was nonetheless far greater outside his academic specialization than inside it. Exit, Voice and Loyalty is the book that will be remembered, but his essays gathered in Rival Views of Market Society and other volumes glistened with insights and were wonderfully written to boot. His book on National Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade, which turned his empirical work on how the Nazis reshaped trade relations to their own advantage is less influential than it deserves to be, because it is so hard to get, but nonetheless had substantial influence on the field of international relations. I don’t know enough to say much about his work on development, except that people who know more than me took it seriously. He deserves a good biography – his life was nearly as extraordinary as his thought.

Continue Reading

Arlen Specter and “Moderation”

Longtime senator Arlen Specter (R, er, D-PA) has died and is being largely lionized as a man of the now-missing middle. As one such headline suggests, “Centrist Sen. Specter Died Fighting for Moderation.”

But this blog has not shown a lot of love (see here and here, for instance) for various paeans to self-described independent centrist movements seeking moderation in a smorgasbord of present positions. And Sen. Specter’s career strikes me as an intriguing addendum to those concerns. Others will (already have, e.g., here) weigh in on his role as vetter of judicial nominations; in my own research focus, presidential power, Specter was similarly all over the map. On the one hand, he was very interested in limiting the scope of presidential signing statements, convening hearings in 2006 to explore and denounce George W. Bush’s expansive use of this tool. On the other, he invented a theory of an inherent presidential line-item veto that did not convince even the Reagan administration. And in 2006, he voted for the Military Commissions Act, even after publicly declaring it to be “patently unconstitutional on its face.” (A judgment with which the Supreme Court agreed, a while later.)

Did this variance make him “moderate”? Or just annoying? These particular shifts didn’t seem particularly grounded in principle. And as a thoughtful obituary on NPR this morning noted, Specter wound up “reviled by the right [and] mistrusted by the left.” As is well known, he began political life as a Democrat, shifted to the GOP for a long Senate career and, in the end, fled a Republican primary only to be defeated in a Democratic primary instead.

Granted, Specter was perhaps not temperamentally suited to serve as a bridge figure, even before the party caucuses separated themselves so dramatically; Bert Rockman recounts Sen. Russell Long of Louisiana drawling that “Ah-len is a hard man to do a favor for…”  But given how often pundits call out for more people in the “middle,” presuming a “sensible center” (as Richard Darman put it) could dominate American politics, it is worth noting in Specter’s career and political demise the challenges such a path poses.

Continue Reading

Herb Ellison has Died

Scott Radnitz sends along the following sad news:

Herb Ellison died on October 9. He taught at the University of Washington for over 30 years and played a major role in promoting scholarship and training in Soviet and Russian studies in the U.S.

On a personal note, I want to add that although I never met Herb in person, he and I once shared an hour together as guests of Seattle NPR in the aftermath of the Beslan tragedy in Russia early in my academic career. Although he had many, many more years of experience in all matters Russia under his belt than I did, he never once acted as if I was anything other than a peer throughout the show. I had always wanted to thank him in person for this, but unfortunately never got the chance and am saddened to know now that I never will.


Update: Some additional thoughts from Steve Hanson, the Vice Provost for International Affairs at William & Mary, and a longtime colleague of Herb’s at the University of Washington:

As Herb’s colleague at the UW for two decades, I was also a direct beneficiary of his deep passion for Russian studies, his love of spirited debate, and his boundless energy for building institutions that would provide support for the next generation of scholars in our field. He was a key player in establishing and/or promoting many of the organizations that helped scholars both in the US and in the former Soviet Union advance their careers in Soviet and post-Soviet studies, including IREX, ACTR/ACCELS, the Kennan Institute (which he briefly directed), and CIEE. At the UW, Herb directed both the REEU/REECAS Program and the Jackson School of International Studies as a whole. Herb was a legendary teacher who inspired countless students to pursue careers in the field. And on top of all this, he remained an active researcher until nearly the very end, completing his excellent biography of Yeltsin from the University of Washington Press when he was already in his 70s.

It will always be one of the greatest pleasures of my career to have had the opportunity to honor Herb with the founding of the Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies in 2004. I am so glad that we recognized Herb’s contributions in this way while he was still in a position to appreciate it.

Continue Reading

Russell Train, RIP

Not everyone gets to have their name entitling a famous court case limiting presidential power, so it seems only right to take note of the death this past week of Russell E. Train (1920-2012), noted conservationist and Nixon/Ford-era environmental administrator.

Now, Train did many things in a long and storied career – he was a tax judge turned environmentalist (apparently spurred by a safari epiphany) who became president of the World Wildlife Foundation—his memoir is called Politics, Pollution, and Pandas. In between he was undersecretary of the Interior department from 1969 to 1970, chaired the newly created Council on Environmental Quality from 1970 to 1973, and served as the second administrator of the EPA from September 1973 through the end of the Ford administration. He believed in global warming when Republicans were allowed to, and after they weren’t (working with current EPA head Lisa Jackson on expanding regulation of tailpipe emissions). He even managed to get Nixon to promise to “propose programs to make better use of our land” in the 1971 State of the Union address (to the bemusement of the President, who apparently asked afterwards, “Who’s the son-of-a-bitch who put land use in that speech?” (Note to unitary executives: it’s a good idea to read your State of the Union addresses before you give them.))

But he also wound up as the name of a 1975 Supreme Court case seeking to defend the president’s right to impound funds, Train v. City of New York (420 U.S. 35). Nixon had claimed that while Congress had every right to appropriate funds, presidents could decline to spend those funds. As it became clear that the funds Nixon did not want to spend were on programs he had opposed in the first place, critics charged he was effectively exercising a line item veto. The Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, for instance, made funds available to localities for sewage treatment upgrades; Nixon ordered that only $2 billion of the $5 billion allotted for fiscal 1973 be spent, and $3b of the $6b for FY74. Train, at EPA, withheld the “extra” funds. The city of New York – which was also, by the way, the entity that sued Bill Clinton over funding denied it under the Line Item Veto Act in 1997 – went to court.

In the meantime, the Congressional Budget Act that re-made the budget process in 1974 also included the Impoundment Control Act (PL 94-344), prohibiting the practice in statute. In Train, the Supreme Court piled on.  “As conceived and passed in both Houses, the legislation was intended to provide a firm commitment of substantial sums within a relatively limited period of time in an effort to achieve an early solution of what was deemed an urgent problem,” wrote Justice Byron White. “We cannot believe that Congress, at the last minute, scuttled the entire effort by providing the Executive with the seemingly limitless power to withhold funds from allotment and obligation. Yet such was the Government’s position in the lower courts—combined with the argument that the discretion conferred is unreviewable.”  The Court held that neither argument was correct.

It was hardly the end of executive machinations over budgetary discretion. But it ended one front of the wars of Watergate.



Continue Reading

Ben Heineman Remembered

Ben Heineman, presidential troubleshooter and Lyndon Johnson confidant, has died at the age of 98. His NYT obit is here. Heineman was offered various jobs by LBJ, including the chance to become a department head or director of the Bureau of the Budget, but turned them down. However, he made an important study of the Budget Bureau in 1967 that LBJ did not release but which, along with other studies of that era, helped prompt the 1970 transformation of that agency into the Office of Management and Budget.  Heineman’s 1980 book with Curtis Hessler, Memorandum for the President, lays out some of the lessons he saw for the increasingly complex task of exeuctive branch management. See too Larry Berman’s 1977 Political Science Quarterly piece here (gated, except to JSTOR subscribers) on the Heineman report’s role in shaping OMB.

Continue Reading

Elinor Ostrom and Camp Wopatopa

This is a guest post by Rick Wilson, the Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Political Science at Rice University.


There are a lot of great people and scholars in political science.  This week we lost one of the best.  Elinor (Lin) Ostrom, as already noted on this site, died early Tuesday morning.  She left an impressive intellectual legacy.  More than that she was a warm, generous, open and demanding scholar who nurtured countless students, post-docs and co-authors.  No one who was touched by Lin would fail to remember the bright twinkle in her eye, usually backed up by: “how can you show me that this is true?”

I was fortunate to be one of Lin’s students.  She welcomed me into Camp Wopatopa (formerly the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis and now the Elinor and Vincent Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis).  When I arrived (more years ago than I like to think), the Workshop was a fascinating intellectual hub at Indiana.  The regimen was strict – a weekly colloquium that was visited by political scientists, economists, policy people and whoever was drifting through the area.  This was coupled with the year long seminar on Institutional Analysis and Design – a requirement for all.  Often times graduate students presented at the colloquium – I can recall more than a few times when both Lin and Vincent took me to task for offering some incomplete (and often silly) idea.    Nonetheless the Workshop inspired us all to be active members of a vibrant intellectual community.

Lin’s favorite refrain always was: “so what’s the question?”  This was quickly followed by: “so what’s the theory?”   Methods were always celebrated, but took back stage to the question.  For Lin the question always dictated the appropriate method.  There was no one-size fits all approach to answering a theoretically driven question.  When I approached her about using experiments in my dissertation, she paused, asked why I wanted to do so, and satisfied with my answer, sent me packing with a lengthy reading list.  She had never run experiments, but was happy to let me move ahead, satisfied that I had a reason for doing so.  If the method fit the question, then she was happy.

This methodological diversity has always shown in Lin’s work.  One of her recent books, written with Amy Poteete and Marco Janssen, is Working Together:  Collective Action, the Commons and Multiple Methods in Practice.  This is a wonderful book that exemplifies Lin’s career.  She and her co-authors detail the central question (the problems inherent in collective action for common pool resources) and then proceeds to triangulate on the question with a multiplicity of methods.  This is an accessible but very deep book that exemplifies what is best about political science and why Lin was such an exemplar of a fine political scientist.

Lin was a public citizen.  She believed in putting our science forward and using that science to make a difference.  The science was always foremost for Lin.  She wanted us to get it right and use what we learned to improve institutions.  To this end she was relentless in pushing what she learned and working with many different people to get the research out.  Lin’s hallmark was that she was a scientist first and foremost.  She did not make policy recommendations unless they were firmly rooted in theory and empirics.

Not many political scientists win the Nobel Prize for Economics.  Lin’s winning the prize was a great source of pride for all of us and for many reasons.  For me it was an acknowledgement of the importance of politics and economics.  For my long time co-author, Catherine Eckel, an economist, it was a vindication of behavioral economics and a remarkable symbolism.  The day that Lin won the Nobel prize Catherine called me up at the crack of dawn to ask me if I had heard that Lin had won.  I hadn’t.  She then told me “It’s about time they gave the Nobel Prize in Economics to a girl – and they had to go outside Economics to do it!”  Lin broke many barriers.

Lin will have a long-term impact on all of us.  Her students will remember the lessons that she taught us about doing science.  Visitors to the Workshop will remember the exacting standards she set.  Co-authors will remember countless revisions until the article was right.  Political science will remember a kind, generous person who wanted to know the answer to so many questions and then use that knowledge to improve policy choices.  She is going to be sorely missed.



Continue Reading

Remembering Elinor Ostrom

I did not know her personally, and am not well-qualified to comment on her work.  However, here are some links:

Readers are welcome to leave other links or remembrances in comments.

Continue Reading