Bloomberg Starts with an A-Plus

Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg may be a newcomer to city politics, but he clearly has the instincts of a veteran. His appointments so far, and his demeanor in the face of difficult times, bode well for the next four years, sending a clear signal that his administration will draw upon talent from all sectors.

Heading the transition team is Nat Leventhal, the former president of Lincoln Center and an extraordinary candidate for a job which involves the appointment of the hundreds of men and women who will literally be running the city. After naming Mr. Leventhal, Mr. Bloomberg unveiled four more top-level appointments: Ray Kelly, David Dinkins’ police commissioner in the early 1990’s, will return to that crucial post; Marc Shaw, a veteran government operative, will be deputy mayor for operations; Dennis Walcott, who heads the New York Urban League, will be deputy mayor for policy; and Patricia Harris, a Bloomberg L.P. executive who was the hidden architect of the Mayoral campaign, will become deputy mayor for administration.

It’s an impressive, inclusive list, free of mediocre time-servers and unqualified cronies. These appointees know and understand government, and yet they’re hardly the kind of partisan political hacks who often wind up in powerful jobs because of blind loyalty to the boss.

Mr. Shaw’s expertise as a former budget director under Mayor Giuliani will come in handy as the new Mayor grapples with a budget deficit that could be as high as $5 billion in the next fiscal year. Times are going to be hard, as hard as they have been in years, so Mr. Shaw, who has shown himself adept at handling budget crises and settling union demands, figures to play a powerful role at City Hall.

Mr. Walcott will advise the Mayor on education, health and social policy, areas that will be especially important in an economic downturn. Independent of the normal political machines, he is trusted and respected by all New Yorkers.

Ms. Harris’ experience in the private sector, and the confidence Mr. Bloomberg has in her, will serve her well as she oversees City Hall operations and the city’s parks and cultural institutions. This may be the first time in history that we’ll have a deputy mayor who has the background to understand the importance of the arts and culture in the life of New York City.

Mr. Kelly, the once and future police commissioner, made a reputation for himself as a uniformed cop. More recently, he gained valuable experience in fighting terrorism as head of the U.S. Customs Service. He is humane yet as tough as they come, a worthy choice to lead the NYPD in the post-Giuliani era.

If this assessment sounds rosy, it is nothing compared to the optimism Mr. Bloomberg exudes as he prepares for the trial ahead. While there’s no denying the looming deficit, he has continued Mr. Giuliani’s very public enchantment with New York and belief in the city’s ability to renew itself in a time of unprecedented uncertainty. If a man is known by the company he keeps, Mr. Bloomberg is off to a fine start.

All Rhodes Lead to Harvard?

In early December, the names of this year’s Rhodes Scholars were announced, and 32 young American men and women suddenly had their futures eased considerably. For even if a Rhodes Scholar does not attain the public heights of former Rhodes scholars Bill Clinton or Bill Bradley, he or she will always carry an aura of brilliance and being “destined for greatness.” They will always be offered the best jobs; they will always cause deep murmurs of approval from prospective in-laws. Even if they screw up in spectacular fashion, they will still have the reflected glow from the Rhodes.

Now whether any year’s crop of Rhodes scholars are truly the country’s best and brightest is open to debate. Since the scholars must be nominated by their universities, it’s a fair bet that those who prevail have a talent for schmoozing professors and administrators that is equal to their intellectual firepower.

Where did this year’s scholars come from? Those who await the day when the Ivy League no longer dominates the country’s intellectual firmament will be disappointed: Of the 32 American winners, a third attend Ivy League schools. Of those, five attend Harvard University, with two each from Yale and Princeton universities and one from Dartmouth College. Coming in right behind Harvard, with three scholars each, are two non-Ivy schools: Duke University and-perhaps a sign of national priorities-the U.S. Military Academy. The other winners hail from schools both well-known, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, and lesser known, such as the University of Central Arkansas and the University of Rhode Island. All will be heading to Oxford University for two or three years, thanks in part to Cecil Rhodes, the British industrialist who created the award in 1902 and who said the scholars should “esteem the performance of public duties as their highest aims.”

The Ivies seem to be on something of an upswing: In each of the last two years, the Ivies fielded six winners. But even with this year’s Ivy-friendly results, about half of the winners attended a diverse sample of great schools across the country. Which should bring some relief to high-school seniors and parents who are currently sweating over the Harvard application.

Busy Hands, Smart Brain

New Yorkers are famous for talking-not just with their mouths, but with their whole bodies, particularly their hands. Entire conversations can be deciphered from a great distance merely by noting hand movements and gestures. New Yorkers don’t just talk; they perform.

Now it turns out that hand gestures may actually increase the human brain’s capacity to think clearly and remember things. Researchers at the University of Chicago conducted a study in which adults and children were given a series of math problems and memory tests, and found that when the subjects were allowed to gesture, they remembered 20 percent more material than when they were told to keep their hands still on a table. The results, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that the brain has to do less cognitive work when the hands are in motion, freeing it up to remember more. The authors, Dr. Susan Goldin-Meadow and Dr. Howard Nussbaum, said their research may explain why people gesture even while talking on the phone, when no one can see them.

If hand movements indeed make us smarter, who knows, schools may one day combine algebra with gym. Until then, just keep moving.

Bloomberg Starts with an A-Plus