Archive for January, 2006

Here She Is…

Posted on January 30th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The face transplant recipient….

face

She apparently agreed to be photographed by the Sunday Times of London

While Larry Sumers Is Off at Davos…

Posted on January 30th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

…and Bill Kirby twists in the wind….

Stanford has posted dozens of lectures, interviews, speeches, performances and more on iTunes.

And they’re all free….

It’s this kind of exciting initiative that shows why the chaos at Harvard matters: It’s not just a getting of what isn’t happening at Harvard, but what is happening at other universities. I’ll bet that no one at Harvard has even considered such a move. And with a new dean in the works, I’d say that Harvard—if it even were able to do such a thing—is at least a year behind Stanford.

Which makes me repeat my suggestion to the Harvard community: If you don’t stand and fight, the Summers presidency—a time of scandal and controversy, anger and frustration—may prove to be the years during which Harvard loses its foremost spot in American education.

Welcome to the new world, Harvard. There’s no room for complacency….

Shleifer and Summers: A Conspiracy Theory

Posted on January 30th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Why hasn’t Larry Summers taken any action against his friend Andrei Shleifer, despite the fact that Shleifer has admitted to conspiring to defraud the federal government, cost Harvard tens of millions of dollars, and brought shame and scandal upon the university?

Well, what if—and bear with me here for a moment, as I speculate—what if Shleifer had something on Summers that, if it were publicly known, would topple the Harvard president? And the disclosure, or non-disclosure, of this information were in some way linked to a satisfactory resolution of Shleifer’s awkward situation?

Might that explain why Larry Summers has not only refused to take action against his fellow economist, but has repeatedly intervened on Shleifer’s behalf?

It might.

What could such potent information be?

Perhaps it could be that Summers knew that Shleifer was investing in Russia in violation of Harvard and federal ethics rules. And did nothing about it.

I emphasize that this is just speculation on my part, an attempt to explain a sequence of events that seems otherwise inexplicable; I have no insider information, no secret facts. There are other possibilities: friendship. A belief by Summers that Shleifer did nothing wrong. Who knows?

But this scenario does make a certain sense…and David McClintick hinted as much in his excellent piece for Institutional Investor, “How Harvard Lost Russia“….

I quote, and add italics:

“Off duty and in swimsuits, the mentor [Summers] and his protégé [Shleifer] strolled the beach at Truro. For years, with their families, they had summered together along this stretch of Massachusetts’ famed Cape Cod. Close personally and professionally, the two friends confided in each other the most private matters of family and finance. The topic of the day was the former Soviet Union.

You’ve got to be careful,” the mentor, Lawrence Summers, warned his protégé, Andrei Shleifer. “There’s a lot of corruption in Russia….”

This quote does not appear to have come from Summers, but from Shleifer or perhaps his wife, Nancy Zimmerman. Could it be construed as a shot across the bow?

We could say more….

The plot does thicken, doesn’t it?

Bill Kirby, In Conclusion

Posted on January 30th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

So…what to make of the ouster of FAS dean Bill Kirby?

Some thoughts.

1) As embarrassing as it is to Kirby, this craziness is also embarrassing to Summers, who lost control of this story. The Crimson broke the story on Friday night, publishing its web article about half an hour before Kirby and Summers released their statements of pap.

Even I can not believe that Larry Summers really wanted this to happen while he was off in Davos…although I have heard some feedback suggesting that he likes that idea, because it means he’s busy getting adulatory press for sitting on panels and being pithy about India while the Kirby mess erupts back home in cold Cambridge.

2) The Crimson is becoming a real problem for Larry Summers, and the reasons why should worry the Harvard president. In its tick-tock of last January’s events, the Crimson found people inside Mass Hall willing to talk. And in its Kirby scoop, the Crimson found sources close to the Corporation willing to talk.

What does this mean? That people in Mass Hall and close to the Corporation are no longer covering for Summers. No, even stronger, I think: That people very close to Summers have turned against him.

Larry Summers can no longer assume that his innermost councils are safe from disclosure. That makes governance a very difficult proposition.

3) Who will be the next dean? Summers has learned that putting in a weak figure can create more problems than it solves. But what strong figure would want the job? One would have to ask the Corporation for guarantees of independence from Mass Hall…and, of course, once that person took office, those guarantees would be unenforceable and, therefore, worthless.

One possibility: Summers appoints a strong figure who happens to be already close to him. But would the faculty work with/trust such a figure?

Another scenario: scientist Jeremy Knowles comes back for a year to try to rescue the curricular review and position himself as a possible replacement for Larry Summers…but would Summers really want the crafty Knowles back in power?

4) The curricular review has already had a pretty tepid base of support. That is instantly weaker. After all, the passage of that review would depend on deals cut with the dean, promises made, barters agreed-upon. All of those are now dead letters, as any incoming dean would never agree to honor promises made by his predecessor in exchange for votes.

Since Bill Kirby was essentially the only person who had a self-interest in pushing for the curricular review, who will be its advocate now?

It is impossible not to conclude that this review—one of Larry Summers’ highest and most publicized priorities for Harvard—is dead. And the really sad thing is, given the quality of the review, that is probably a good thing.

5) Whither Benedict Gross? The dean of Harvard College isn’t much present these days… Would any incoming dean want to keep him on when he’s barely there anyway?

6) It is also hard not to conclude that Bill Kirby’s tenure as FAS dean has been an unmitigated disaster for the Harvard faculty. During his term, Kirby agreed to allow Mass Hall to solicit FAS alumni for their gifts and redirect those gifts to other parts of the university, a huge loss of power; sold Mass Hall to the central administration in a secret deal; committed to building projects that have created a deficit that’s soaring toward nine-figures; and overseen a tragically inept curricular review that even its authors seem disinclined to defend. It’s hard to take much positive out of this.

7) Of course, the ultimate responsibility for the Kirby fiasco lies with the man who hired him and constantly worked to subvert his authority: Larry Summers.

I believe that one test of leadership is the fate of the people who work for the person in the seat of power. Does the president of Harvard make the people who work for him look good? Does working for him benefit their reputations and careers?

Could anybody find me one person—honestly, just one—whose public reputation and professional career have benefitted from a close working relationship with Larry Summers? (And no, Lisa New doesn’t count.)

Because at Harvard, Summers is making everyone who works for/with him (Lucy McNeil, Bill Kirby, Dick Gross, Steve Pinker, Bob Rubin) look bad.

You certainly have to think that Bill Kirby’s dream of becoming a university president is now dead.

It’s something the next crop of decanal candidates might want to consider……

Once More Into the Frey

Posted on January 30th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

In the Times, Edward Wyatt keeps the heat on, pointing out that, hey, James Frey’s agent and editor also have some ’splainin’ to do.

Further down in the article, some of book publishing’s top editors explain why they can’t afford to hire fact-checkers.

As Wyatt reports: “There are absolutely going to be instances where you see it necessary to hire a fact checker or researcher,” said John Sterling, the president and publisher of Henry Holt & Company. “But I don’t see in the foreseeable future that any publishing house is going to hire a full-time fact checker to go through every single book published.” Whether or not fact checkers are hired, is not the relevant point, Mr. Entrekin said. Many memoirs are already scrutinized by a publisher’s legal department in order to make sure that no one is defamed or libeled. As part of that process, “questions inevitably come up,” Mr. Entrekin said, adding, “If the author can’t answer those questions, it sends up a red flag, and a good editor will know to ask the questions.”

This is sort of true. Both of my books were lawyered by their respective publishers (one of whom was John Sterling; American Son was published by Henry Holt). And, especially with Harvard Rules, HarperCollins’ lawyer did a good job of pushing me for factual back-up of any potentially libelous material.

But two points.

First, the publishing biz is far more concerned about libel than accuracy, and that’s essentially what these lawyers do. James Frey’s book, for example, was lawyered…and it’s obviously complete nonsense. The reason? Everyone’s name was changed (well, invented), so no one had legal standing for a lawsuit. Boom—the lawyer did his job.

And two, I don’t believe that a publisher can’t afford to pay some smart twenty-something $35,000 a year to check facts. The truth is—and I leave John Sterling out of this, because he’s an honorable guy—publishers don’t want to check facts.

Again: Some stories are too good to check…and while the Frey affair might be damaging to Frey and Nan Talese, Doubleday has made millions of dollars off the book.

You can bet that, knowing what they know now, they’d still do it all over again.

A Dean’s Dismissal

Posted on January 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Harvard faculty of arts and sciences dean Bill Kirby has been fired by Larry Summers.

(Well, according to the Crimson, which broke the story, Kirby was “forced to resign.” Same difference.)

Below are his statement of resignation and Larry Summers’ de riguer but patently disingenuous statement of praise. I’ll write later about what this all means, in my opinion, but now, it’s a beautiful Saturday morning…

Bill Kirby:

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to let you know that after four years of serving as Dean,
I have decided to return to the Faculty at the end of the current
academic year.

I do so in the belief that, together, we have set a strong foundation.
First, we have invested heavily in the Faculty: by expanding our
ranks in every division and discipline; enhancing time for research
and discovery; appointing younger colleagues, who, with our support,
will flourish here as scholars and teachers; and committing ourselves to
a Faculty as diverse as it is strong. Second, we have invested in the
architecture and infrastructure that give form to our ambitions in the
sciences, international studies, and the arts: the laboratories, centers,
studios, and theaters that are now permanent parts of our collective
future. Third, and most important, we have recommitted ourselves to
our students: by processes of curricular review and renewal; increased
financial aid for undergraduate and graduate students alike; and expanded
educational opportunities for them across Harvard and around the world.
For our continued growth in all these domains we have developed a strong,
long-term, financial plan.

The events of the past year have posed serious challenges. Yet we have
continued to focus on the essential business before us. As we look to
the future, it will be important for the President and the Dean to work
closely together, in collaboration with the Faculty, toward our common
objectives. I feel confident that my successor, President Summers,
and the Faculty as a whole will have a solid basis on which to build.
Meanwhile, there is work to be done, and we have a full agenda before
us this spring.

For myself, the allure and the increasingly dynamic nature of my field
of study — modern and contemporary China — have made my decision a
timely and compelling one. I look forward to working with colleagues
and students as we extend our study of China’s past, present, and future
role in the world.

No one can serve in this office without being grateful for the privilege
of working with this stellar faculty, no small number of whom I have
had the honor to recruit; of being supported by the dedicated staff that
serves us all in FAS; of meeting and befriending our wonderful alumni;
and — above all — serving the students for whom, at the end of the day,
this University exists.

Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

William C. Kirby

Larry Summers:

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
As he announced earlier today, Bill Kirby has decided to step down as
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and return to the faculty at
the end of the 2005-06 academic year. Starting this summer, he will
take the lead in guiding Harvard’s growing array of initiatives focused
on China, his longtime field of scholarly expertise, as director of the
Fairbank Center for East Asian Research. I want to express my
gratitude, personally and on behalf of the Harvard community, for
Bill’s imaginative and dedicated leadership of the FAS these past
several years.
As Dean, Bill has guided the Faculty with remarkable foresight,
openness to change, and deep devotion to the University’s highest
values and purposes, during what I believe will prove to have been a
transformative period in the life of the FAS.
* He has shown a deep commitment to assuring the best possible
experience for students at Harvard College - both by launching and
leading the first comprehensive review of Harvard’s undergraduate
curriculum in a generation, and by pursuing innovative ways to enhance
residential and extracurricular life.
* He has stimulated and steered the ambitious growth of the FAS faculty -
now more than 700 strong - through intensive recruitment efforts and
with special attention to charting new scholarly directions, improving
our faculty-student ratio, and bettering the tenure prospects of
outstanding junior faculty members.
* He has worked creatively with colleagues to expand opportunities for
study abroad and to spur closer student-faculty engagement — including
a dramatic rise in freshman seminars and the advent of faculty-led
junior seminars in several of the largest concentrations.
* He has pursued essential enhancements in financial aid for both
undergraduate and graduate students, to keep Harvard’s doors open to
outstanding and diverse students from across the economic spectrum.
* He has initiated critical large-scale investments in the Faculty’s
facilities, in the sciences and beyond, that will augment Harvard’s
academic capacities for decades to come.
* He has undertaken to strengthen the administrative structure of the
FAS, both to involve more faculty members in planning and
priority-setting and to ensure responsiveness to student concerns.
To these and other initiatives — and through what has been a
not-uncomplicated time in the life of the University — he has brought
a consistent commitment to the best interests of the FAS and its
faculty, students, and staff, and to fruitful collaboration with
Harvard’s other faculties and schools.
With Bill, I look forward to a productive spring semester for the FAS,
which will be an important one for the curricular review and in other
key areas. I look forward, as well, to supporting Bill’s leadership in
guiding Harvard’s efforts to deepen and widen our scholarship and
teaching about China in the years ahead. We are fortunate to have
someone of his experience, collaborative outlook, and deep knowledge of
China to shape our thinking about creative new ways to engage with the
most populous nation on earth, at the start of a century whose defining
developments seem sure to include China’s rising influence around the
globe. Few areas of academic interest hold greater promise for the
University in the decades ahead, and Bill is exceptionally well
positioned to help Harvard move forward.
The search for Bill’s successor as Dean will begin promptly. After
consultation within the faculty, I plan to invite a broad-based faculty
advisory group to work with me on the search, in line with customary
Harvard practice. As the search proceeds, I also intend to consult more
widely with members of the faculty, including the FAS Faculty Council
and the department chairs, and to seek the perspectives and counsel of
students, staff, and alumni. Meanwhile, members of the Harvard
community are strongly encouraged to offer their advice and
nominations, in confidence, by writing to me in Massachusetts Hall or
by e-mail, starting January 30, to fasdeansearch@harvard.edu.
For now, I hope you will join me in thanking Bill Kirby for his
farsighted and devoted service to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and
to the University as a whole, and in helping to ensure both a
productive final semester of his deanship and a smooth transition in
the time ahead.
Sincerely,
Lawrence H. Summers

Oh, all right, I have two quick things to say. One, the curricular review is now DOA. And two…the search for a new dean is going to be very interesting. Who would take the job now?

Doubleday to Frey: See Ya!

Posted on January 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Awed by the power of Oprah, Doubleday abandoned its previous go-suck-an-egg defense of James Frey and issued this statement:

News from
Doubleday & Anchor Books

The controversy over James Frey’s A MILLION LITTLE PIECES has caused serious concern at Doubleday and Anchor Books. Recent interpretations of our previous statement notwithstanding, it is not the policy or stance of this company that it doesn’t matter whether a book sold as nonfiction is true. A nonfiction book should adhere to the facts as the author knows them.

It is, however, Doubleday and Anchor’s policy to stand with our authors when accusations are initially leveled against their work, and we continue to believe this is right and proper. A publisher’s relationship with an author is based to an extent on trust. Mr. Frey’s repeated representations of the book’s accuracy, throughout publication and promotion, assured us that everything in it was true to his recollections. When the Smoking Gun report appeared, our first response, given that we were still learning the facts of the matter, was to support our author. Since then, we have questioned him about the allegations and have sadly come to the realization that a number of facts have been altered and incidents embellished.

We bear a responsibility for what we publish, and apologize to the reading public for any unintentional confusion surrounding the publication of A MILLION LITTLE PIECES.

We are immediately taking the following actions:

• We are issuing a publisher’s note to be included in all future printings of the book.

• James Frey is writing an author’s note that will appear in all future printings of the book.

• The jacket for all future editions will carry the line “With new notes from the publisher and from the author.”

• Although demand for the book remains high, we are not currently reprinting or fulfilling orders until we make the above changes.

• The publisher’s note and author’s note will be posted prominently on the randomhouse.com website.

• The publisher’s note and author’s note will promptly be sent to booksellers for inclusion in previously shipped copies of the book.

• An advertisement concerning these developments will appear in national and trade publications in the next few days.

David Drake
VP and Director of Publicity
Doubleday Books
xxxx@randomhouse.com
212/782-XXXX

Russell Perreault
VP and Director of Publicity
Anchor Books
xxxx@randomhouse.com
212-572-XXXX

What’s missing from this? Any acknowledgement that the folks at Doubleday, especially Nan Talese, bear any responsibility for the fraud of this book. Was there no one at this company who read the manuscript—originally shopped as a novel—and said, hey, guys, wait a minute here….? Did they really care if Frey had cooked a few details in the book? I suspect they didn’t. As the old saying goes, some stories are too good to check.

Yesterday on Oprah’s show, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen made a good suggestion. Publishers operate on the cheap even though they’re now part of huge multinational corporations, he said. Hire a friggin’ fact-checker.

Of course they should; it’s absurd that publishers expect writers to pay for their own fact-checking. Frankly, they can afford it far more than we can, and many writers, faced with paying $5,000 or so for a decent fact-check of their book, will simply blow it off. Publishers know this and don’t much care. As long as they won’t get sued over a mistake, they don’t care much about its existence.

Oh, and as long as Oprah doesn’t destroy them on national TV for it.

The Question Oprah Didn’t Ask

Posted on January 26th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Well, you can stick a fork in James Frey–he’s done. Frey’s made a lot of money from A Million Little Pieces, but after the devastating interview that just took place, would anyone trade places with him? He’s living proof of how a man could gain his fortune and lose his soul.

As the show went on, Frey said less and less, but just sat on Oprah’s couch looking silently miserable.

The irony is, he still isn’t telling the truth. Here’s what he should have said:

“You know, Oprah, I wrote this book as a novel, but nobody wanted to buy it in that form. Then Nan Talese, an editor at Doubleday, the woman sitting on the couch next to me, suggested that it be published as a memoir, because memoirs sell more copies than novels do, and that’s how she bought it. Nan knew that I had presented it as fiction, and so when the change to memoir didn’t seem to bother her, I went along with it. Hey, she’s the expert, right? I was just happy to sell the book and make some money. I should have known better, but my ambition and greed got the better of me, and I’ll regret that for the rest of my life.”

But Frey, who turns out to be not such a tough guy after all, didn’t have the cojones to tell that truth. Instead he sat there–completely alone, though there were four other people on the couch–while everyone else excoriated him. It made me wish that, for once, for real, James Frey would fight back.

Because some of the blame should go to Nan Talese. She took a manuscript that was presented to her as fiction (though she has since denied this, it appears to be one case where Frey really is telling the truth) and peddled it to the world as a memoir.

On Oprah, she claimed otherwise. “If [I] had any inkling of this…” she said breathily.

Well, receiving a manuscript labeled “novel” is usually a pretty good sign that something isn’t true. And Oprah should have put her on the spot and said: “Nan, you claim that you had no inkling that this wasn’t true. Yet James has repeatedly said that he first tried to sell you the book as a novel. Is he lying about that, or are you lying now?”

Talese also claimed that she too had a root canal without Novocaine.

Oh, bullshit.

Can you people just stop lying? Please?

Sometimes, People are Funny

Posted on January 26th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

So I was just checking out A Million Little Pieces on Amazon to see how it’s selling—#5 today, and I’m sure it’ll go higher after Oprah, but man, Frey’s earning his money these days—and I saw this review:

12 is a pretty good average, January 25, 2006

Reviewer: Jon Swift - See all my reviews

I have not actually read this book but James Frey says that only 12 pages of his book are untrue and I think that’s a pretty good average. I think it’s a great and compelling book and recommend it highly. Only 12 words of this review are untrue. Can you guess which ones they are?

Genius.

Oprah Turns on Frey

Posted on January 26th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Holy cow, does she ever.

I’m going to watch the show myself later, but for now, here’s Gawker’s take—so embarrassing to Frey, it’s almost painful to watch.

I can’t wait to watch it….