Archive for April 19, 2009

Samuel Beer

April 19, 2009 Leave a comment


Samuel Beer died. The Boston Globe had an obituary last week and the New York Times posted one at their website today.

Beer was a professor at Harvard, famous among undergraduates for years because of his course Soc. Sci. 2. Here’s how the Globe opens its obit:

Pumping his fist for emphasis as he paced at the front of a Harvard classroom, his thick reddish-brown hair and mustache a focal point for any student not already enraptured by the lecture, Samuel Beer offered undergraduates compelling arguments on both sides of thorny political issues as he taught a course known by its catalog abbreviation Soc. Sci. 2.

“Sam’s lectures were remarkable for their objectivity,” Melvin Richter, then a professor of political science at Hunter College at City University of New York, said in 2001 during a 90th birthday gathering at Harvard for Professor Beer. “Often students were completely convinced by the first set of views, only to find the second set equally persuasive.”

Professor Beer could be very persuasive, whether the audience was a student, a politician, or a historian in England. A professor emeritus at Harvard, where he taught for more than 35 years, Professor Beer died April 7 at his home in Washington, D.C., after his health failed swiftly in the past few weeks. He was 97 and divided his time between residences in Cambridge and Washington.

With Soc. Sci. 2, he influenced scores of political thinkers and policy makers, and counted among his teaching assistants Henry Kissinger and James Schlesinger. Professor Beer also was well known for Western Thought and Institutions, a course he taught at Harvard for three decades that melded elements of political theory and comparative government, and which acolytes recalled as serving up history and political science in equal measures.

“He was larger than life, an extraordinary personality,” said Stanley Hoffman, the Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser university professor at Harvard. “He had many lives. He had the life of a scholar and he had the life of a politician. He also was a sportsman, and one of his sports consisted of parachuting from planes, and he did that for a very long time. He didn’t give it up until one time, when he was not exactly a youngster, he twisted his ankle upon landing.”

Valued for his sharp intellect and discerning editing eye for graduate papers, Professor Beer had a presence that made him a force beyond the walls of Harvard. He formerly served as chairman of the political organization Americans For Democratic Action, and was an early vocal supporter in academia for the first US Senate campaign of Edward M. Kennedy.

I took Soc. Sci. 2 in my junior year. Read more…

Categories: Education, History, Politics

The 500 Club

April 19, 2009 Leave a comment
Gary Sheffield joins the club

Gary Sheffield hitting his 500th home run

Gary Sheffield hit his 498th and 499th career home runs last September 26th as a Detroit Tiger, but just before the start of the 2009 season a few weeks ago, the Tigers dropped him. The Mets signed him soon thereafter, and on Friday night he hit his 500th home run, becoming the 25th member of the 500 club. It’s still a fairly exclusive club, but everyone knows it ain’t what it used to be, and many blame steroids. Perhaps one should simply blame the passage of time.

In recent years, as each new member has entered the club, I’ve recalled how I once thought it would always be limited to a handful of players. I used to know every member and his home run total. Indeed, what I remember is when there were exactly four members. I thought of their home run totals as iconic, as fixed points in the universe. Ruth 714, Foxx 534, Williams 521, Ott 511. That’s it. No room for more. No need for more. I didn’t understand how the present becomes the past, or how quickly it becomes the past. But here we are, nearly 50 years later, and I don’t even try to remember the new iconic numbers. I did for a while. I can’t do it anymore. Read more…

Categories: Sports