Archive for December, 2006

Death of a Dictator

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

Saddam Hussein is dead, hanged in the dawn.

(In what is either a sick joke or brilliant marketing, depending on your sense of the absurd, the New York Times prefaces its video coverage of Saddam at his execution with an ad for the film “The Last King of Scotland,” which is about Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.)

No matter one’s stance on the death penalty, it is impossible—and wrong—to feel sorry for Hussein, a mass murderer and the inflictor of vast misery. And there is relief in knowing that he will not be able to prevaricate and stall until he dies a natural death, like Augusto Pinochet, doing his best all the time to whitewash history’s verdict.

Still, there is little satisfaction in Hussein’s death. It is chilling to watch the video of masked hangmen tightening the rope around his neck. Surely they wear masks for fear of retaliation—not a good sign in and of itself—yet at the same time, their hooded visages invoke memories of terrorist videotapes, upheld knives, terrified hostages. Even at the death of a dictator, the line between right and wrong does not seem so stark as we would like.

Hussein’s death probably will do nothing to promote peace, and may well provoke some short-term chaos. That does not mean it was not necessary or important; how many families of the murdered will rest somewhat easier tonight?

But success in Iraq will be determined by the state of that nation when we leave, and on that score, the death of a dictator is inconsequential. If things do not improve in Iraq, how long will it be before the people of that country begin to speak of Saddam Hussein with nostalgia in their voices?

Nifong in the Hot Seat

Posted on December 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The North Carolina state bar has filed an ethics complaint against district attorney Mike Nifong, the man who continues to botch the Duke rape case.

In perhaps the most serious accusation, the bar also said Mr. Nifong had engaged in “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” by suggesting to reporters that a condom was used in the alleged attack when he had in his possession a sexual assault examination report that indicated otherwise.

…[Nifong] has also admitted going too far in some of his public comments. In his interview with The Times last week, for example, Mr. Nifong said he was wrong to have described members of the lacrosse team as “a bunch of hooligans.”

Um….well, yes.

Meanwhile, a poster below named the “victim” in the Duke case, so if you believe that her name should be public, take a look; a quick Google search shows that, in effect, her identity is public. There’s even a Wikipedia page on her.

By the way, that Wikipedia page is fascinating. Reading it, I learned an enormous amount of information that I’d never before seen; it’s enough to make you think even more that Nifong is an incompetent, silly man in way over his head—which makes him dangerous.

It’s remarkable how these voluntary journalists who create Wikipedia have committed an end-around around the mainstream media…. Obviously, you can’t trust everything you read on Wikipedia, but then, you shouldn’t trust the MSM either. And the piece on this woman seems relatively balanced.

It is hard not to emerge from reading about her with the conclusion that she is a sad, troubled, and somewhat pathetic person—but not a rape victim.

Go West, Young Humanist

Posted on December 29th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

Stanford has just instituted a new policy: a $5,000 research grant every year for every professor in the humanities, whether tenured or non-tenured.

In announcing the grants, President John Hennessy cited the difficulty of humanities professors getting support at a time that “the challenges of the world will make humanities as important, if not more important, than they’ve ever been.”

(That, by the way, is a very different message than the one emanating from Mass Hall the past few years.)

Stanford seems to be doing an excellent job of supporting the sciences while reaffirming the importance of the humanities, and this move is another shot across Harvard’s bow…..

In Cambridge, such grants are currently unlikely because of the deficit spending initiated under Larry Summers and Bill Kirby. FAS, whose deficits are approaching $100 million a year, with no capital campaign imminent, probably can’t afford to spend, what, $30-35 million a year on such a plan?
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Correction: As several of you have pointed out, my math is shaky; a more accurate figure would be perhaps $3 million.

What’s Up with Duke

Posted on December 28th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Because nefarious district attorney Mike Nifong dropped the news two days before Christmas, I haven’t written about the latest developments in the Duke travesty, also known as the Duke rape case.

Because the alleged victim no longer remembers whether she was (sorry) penetrated—after having previously claimed that she was raped in three orifices—Nifong has dropped charges of rape. He continues, however, to press charges of kidnapping (!) and sexual assault.

Why did this happen now? Because a representative from Nifong’s office only just interviewed the accuser, a mere eight months after arrests were made.

Nifong is a fool, and everything he does only reinforces that conviction.

But Nifong isn’t the only person who’s erred in this matter; some of the Duke faculty and students were quick to judge the accused, who, because they were white, male, affluent, and athletic were quadruply damned.

On InsideHigherEd.com, KC Johnson holds their feet to the fire….

Incidentally, I’ve had a lengthy discussion with a friend who’s a media lawyer about the ethics of disclosing the accuser’s name. I’ve long been in favor of it; he argues that, awkward though it may be, preserving rape victims’ anonymity still means that victims bring charges when otherwise they might not.

But in an age when false charges of rape are increasingly common, doesn’t this actually provide an incentive to make a false accusation? The knowledge that you will be protected by the press….

At what point now will the press report the name of the Duke accuser? Will it ever? And how is that fair to the three Duke men whose names and faces have been in the papers and on television countless times, for months?

There He Goes Again

Posted on December 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 37 Comments »

Larry Summers is back, talking about the alleged problem of older professors, in a piece by the M-Bomb in today’s Globe.

“The aging of the faculty, caused in large part by the absence of mandatory retirement, is one of the profound problems facing the American research university,” said Lawrence H. Summers , who as Harvard president pushed for the hiring and tenure of more younger scholars. “It defies belief that the best way to advance creative thought, to educate the young, or to choose the next generation of faculty members is to have a tenured faculty with more people over 70 than under 40, and over 60 than under 50.

Summers may be right; he may not. It’s hard to tell, because as far as I know, he’s never presented any data on the issue. It is not necessarily obvious to me, for example, that older professor are not “the best way…to educate the young.” I’ve had older professors who were far better than younger ones, in part because of their age and what they’d learned about teaching.
(Not to mention what they’d learned about life.)

It’s an interesting soundbite, and like many of Summers’ soundbite arguments, it sounds clever—”more people over 70 than under 40,” snap-snap—but on some consideration, reveals itself to contain no internal logic, only implicit assumptions.

As I say, Summers may be right. But this is an argument he’s never made thoroughly in public—though he did once say the same thing right in front of the elderly but still very competent Alan Greenspan—and it would be useful for him to explain what underlies those implicit assumptions.

Wednesday Morning Zen (Holiday edition)

Posted on December 27th, 2006 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Clouds over Quito
Photo by Lucy Keith

Merry Christmas, Etc.

Posted on December 25th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

I’m spending a little family time…the blog will be back soon. Meantime, here’s hoping that the end of the year finds everyone out there happy, healthy, and optimistic under the circumstances.

Would You Vote for a Mormon for President?

Posted on December 21st, 2006 in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

I wouldn’t—not if the candidate truly believed what the Mormon Church espouses. And in Slate, Jacob Weisberg wouldn’t either. A nice piece, for which I’m sure he’ll take some heat. But he’s right. Mormons are free to believe what nutty theology they want to. And the rest of us are free to think that Mormonism is absurd and that anyone who believes such nonsense shouldn’t be running the most powerful country in the world.

The "Jewish Cabal" at Harper Collins

Posted on December 20th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

ReganBooks publisher Judith Regan has been fired from NewsCorp for allegedly making anti-Semitic remarks during a conversation with HarperCollins lawyer Mark Jackson.

During a conversation with Jackson about the slimy new novel, 7, purporting to tell the sins of Mickey Mantle, Regan allegedly listed the members of this cabal (Jackson, like any good lawyer, took notes). They are: Jackson, HarperCollins president Jane Friedman, HarperCollins editor David Hirshey, and the literary agent Esther Newberg.

Funnily enough, I happen to know every member of this cabal but one—publishing is a small world—and so I will add whatever insights I can.

The notes of the Jackson-Regan conversation were provided to the Times by Gary Ginsberg, an executive vice-president at NewsCorp. Gary and I used to work together at George, where, to be frank, he spent more time cozying up to our boss than he did working. (Gary now lists himself as having been the magazine’s “Counsel,” which is untrue.)

In time, he moved on to work at a consulting/lobbying firm, Clark & Weinstock—as he repeatedly said, George didn’t pay enough—and after a year or so of that, he went to NewsCorp. Gary, who had once worked for Bill Clinton, was always more interested in power and money than in ideology. After John Kennedy’s death, Gary labored successfully to cement a relationship with John’s sister, Caroline.

Gary’s primary role at NewsCorp, so far as I can tell, is that of a consiglieri, a fixer—he told the New Yorker about brokering a three-hour lunch between Bill Clinton and Rupert Murdoch— which is probably why he was the guy picked to dish to the Times. (And by the way, credit the Times for getting his name out there; in other news organizations, Ginsberg, who prefers to operate behind the scenes—it’s undignified to be seen as the guy spreading the story—appears to be identified only as a “NewsCorp spokesman.”

Mark Jackson is HarperCollins’ libel lawyer; I sat in a room with him for a couple of days while we went over Harvard Rules with a fine-toothed comb. He’s a lovely guy and an excellent lawyer, and if he says that Judith Regan spoke of a Jewish cabal, then she did. But it’s odd that she’d include him in the sinister group; I could be wrong, but I don’t think Jackson is Jewish.

David Hirshey was my editor for Harvard Rules. He’s also a lovely guy and is a terrific editor. One of his skills is in publicizing books, and he’s known at being particularly good at speaking with the press. He is also the editor of Jane Leavy, who wrote Koufax—what a good book!—and is now working on a serious biography of Mickey Mantle. That may be why Regan included him in her cabal; possibly she suspected him of hostile leaks to the press about her own Mantle book. (I have absolutely no proof of this; it’s just a hunch.)

Jane Friedman is the publisher of HarperCollins; I’ve never met her, but she is not considered a fan of Judith Regan. I mean, who is?

The one wild card in this mix—which is to say, the one person not affiliated with NewsCorp or Harper Collins—is the literary agent Esther Newberg, also known as Lobster Newberg. (Newberg is not one of the better-liked people in publishing.)

As a young graduate of Wheaton College, Newberg was one of Robert F. Kennedy’s “Boiler Girls” in 1968, and she was one of the party girls present at Chappaquiddick in 1969. (She was actually Mary Jo Kopechne’s roommate for the weekend.) She has forever kept her silence about what happened there, and the Kennedy family has rewarded her with access and money; she is the family literary agent, and not long ago lunched at Michael’s with Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg to celebrate Schlossberg’s birthday. Newberg’s association with the Kennedy’s is her claim to fame, and probably her claim to relevance; she’s such an unpleasant person that if she didn’t have the Kennedy family tie, she’d be in serious trouble in this town. Then again, if she didn’t have Kennedy connections, she might not be so imperious and abrasive.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I know this from first-hand experience. When I began work on my book, American Son, a memoir about my time at George with John Kennedy, Newberg went on the warpath against me, calling my original editor, spreading nasty rumors about me, smearing my reputation. She helped cost me my first contract with the publisher Little, Brown. Then, after I wrote the book without a publisher and eventually sold the manuscript to Henry Holt, Newberg called people there and tried to torpedo the deal. (She had never, of course, read the manuscript; the point was that this was an unauthorized book about a Kennedy, and Kennedy books were her franchise.)

So why should Newberg allegedly conspire against Judith Regan? Easy: Because Regan published The Other Man, a book by former model Michael Bergin in which he claimed that he had cuckolded John Kennedy by sleeping with his wife, Carolyn Besset. Newberg would have gone postal about that book (which was, to be honest, hideous), and she has a long memory. Lashing out against those whom she considers to have slighted the Kennedy family reputation has become her life’s work.

Newberg and Ginsberg, incidentally, are friends, and talk on Kennedy-related matters, as their access to Caroline Kennedy is professionally and socially valuable to both of them. So Ginsberg might also have had it in for Regan after the publication of The Other Man.

What does all this mean? It’s hard to say. One obvious conclusion is that Judith Regan made some powerful enemies, skilled at working behind the scenes—and, at least in the case of Newberg and Ginsberg, working together. But the fact that those enemies happen to be Jewish has absolutely nothing to do with why they dislike her so.

In trying to publish the O.J. book, Regan gave those enemies an opening; she was weakened. And in then accusing her critics of a Jewish conspiracy, she committed hara-kiri.

It will be very interesting to see what Regan’s promised lawsuit discloses.

Jeffrey Sachs for President

Posted on December 20th, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

A poster below mentioned a new website promoting Columbia economist (and Larry Summers rival) Jeffrey Sachs for president. I assumed that meant president of Harvard. Oh, no….that would be president of the United States.

Hmmm….I liked the “president of Harvard” idea better.