Archive for February, 2007

How We Choose Our Presidents

Posted on February 27th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

The Washington Post reports that voters care more about whether a candidate smokes than his or her race….

Barack, time to quit.

I wonder why, though. Do they think the president will get cancer in office? Do they feel that smoking is retro? That it’s a sign of weakness? That it’s suggestive of smoky back-room politics?

Or is it just—my theory—that we have so many negative connotations about smoking, we impose them on people who smoke?

Which, in my opinion, is not entirely unfair. I do look at Obama’s inability to quit and see it as a sign of weakness.

Oh, and bad news for Mitt Romney: 3 in 10 voters say they’d be less likely to vote for a Mormon….

More on the New Republic

Posted on February 27th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

A relative points out the greatest example of The New Republic’s editorial failure in recent memory: Its dogged support of Joe Lieberman against Ned Lamont in the 2006 Connecticut Senate election.

As expected, Lieberman is acting like a spoiled, petulant brat in the Senate, continually threatening to take his ball and go home. He is an embarrassment to my home state and to his once credible reputation.

The New Republic’s failure to realize that Lieberman is a politician whose time has gone typifies the kind of editorial idiocy that has led the magazine to cut its frequency of publication in half. They wonder why their circulation is slipping….

Is Harvard Following Yale’s Lead?

Posted on February 27th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Yale Daily News suggests that, if Harvard is lucky, Drew Faust may be a president in the mode of Yale’s Rick Levin—just as Larry Summers was a president in the mode of the disastrous, where-is-he-now? Benno Schmidt.

Following the turmoil under Schmidt and Summers, both of whom were appointed from outside their respective universities, search committees at both schools picked insider candidates who displayed leadership styles markedly different from their predecessors. Whereas Schmidt and Summers engendered ire among their faculties, Levin and Faust are, by all accounts, widely respected at their institutions…..

Yale has enjoyed a period of stability, prosperity and growth under Levin; Harvard would welcome the same. But would it be satisfied with the same?

Boycotting Summers?

Posted on February 27th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

So, as part of the rehabilitation of Larry Summers, Tufts president Lawrence Bacow invited the hedge fund employee and former Harvard president to give a talk. Innocent enough, right? Well, now some Tufts professors are calling for a boycott of Summers’ lecture.

According to InsideHigherEd….

Having Larry Summers here is like a slap in the face,” said Gary Goldstein, a professor in the physics and astronomy department. “I see him being invited here as a lack of awareness about how that affects our campus environment.

How exactly does it affect your “campus environment,” Professor Goldstein?

(In fairness to the professor, I should at least mention his argument: It’s a high-profile lecture series which he feels has been weighted toward conservative speakers—apparently Summers falls into that category—at the expense of “progressive” speakers.)

I, um, haven’t always been supportive of Summers. But the man has hardly done anything boycott-worthy. All this does is confirm Summers’ arguments about the mediocrity of the professoriat.

(Although at least Goldstein is a scientist; if he were a humanist, all of Summers’ stereotypes would be fulfilled.)

Goldstein goes on to say, “Having Larry Summers here is like a slap in the face.” Professor Goldstein is clearly a sensitive man.

On another note, Summers’ talk is entitled “Rethinking Undergraduate Education.” Is this more evidence that Summers is working on a book about universities?

Faust Cleans House

Posted on February 27th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

Drew Faust is wasting no time; as the Crimson reports, Harvard v-p for Alumni Relations and Development Donnella M. Rapier has announced her resignation. As even Rapier seems to admit, Drew Faust fired her.

This move has been expected since about five minutes after Faust was named. As one person told me at the time, “They’re going to get rid of Donella because she’s a Larry person and because she couldn’t get a campaign off the ground.” Some felt that she wasn’t qualified for the job, that she was “in way over her head.”

Who will Faust install in Rapier’s place? Put your money on longtime aide Tamara Rogers, who went to Harvard-Radcliffe, has worked at Harvard for ages, has a good reputation and is well-liked both within and outside the university.

Who’s next on the chopping block? It would be grossly unfair to speculate….

The New Republic Splits in Half

Posted on February 26th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

I was saddened by the news that the New Republic, where I began my career in political journalism, has lost so much circulation that it is moving from a weekly to a biweekly.

I am also saddened by the magazine’s peremptory announcement that we subscribers will now simply be receiving half as many issues as we paid for, and too bad about that.

And, finally, I am amused by editor Franklin Foer’s remark that the magazine now hopes to publish articles that will “transcend ideology.”

This sounds very much like what my old boss, John Kennedy, said when he described the new magazine he was creating, George, as “post-partisan.

Transcend ideology…post-partisan…yup, pretty much the same thing.

But what magazine ripped John a new one for coining that term? You guessed it: The New Republic. First, literary editor Leon Wieseltier trashed the magazine in a column he essentially co-wrote with his old friend, Maureen Dowd. “The message of George is…don’t take politics seriously.” Etc., etc.

Then TNR published an absolutely vicious piece accusing John of squandering his family’s dignity. (News to William Kennedy Smith, I’m sure.)

What wonderful irony! Twelve years after George was founded, TNR admits that John was right. (I’m not holding my breath waiting for an apology.)

And the irony goes even deeper…because at the moment, those political magazines which have the passion to take on the Bush administration are actually doing well. This might actually be a moment when a little ideology would be a good thing.

The reason TNR has been slumping for years is not that it isn’t viable. It’s because it’s been badly edited….

Stanford’s Buckraking President

Posted on February 26th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal published a shocking and terrifically good piece about Stanford president John Hennessy. (Online, but available to subscribers only; the Stanford Daily writes about it, not very well, here.)

Illustrated by artwork showing Hennessy holding a thick wad of cash, the article begins by noting that last November Hennessy earned more than $1 million, none of which came from his presidential salary. The money included a $75,000 retainer from Cisco and revenues from sales of stock in Cisco, Atheros Communications and Google, where he sits on the board.

That month makes up only one part of an income stream that many in academia consdier without precedent for a university president. In the past five years, through exclusive investments and relationships with companies, Mr. Hennessy has collected fees, stock and paper stock-option profits totalling $43 million…That dwarfs his $616,000 annual compensation at Stanford…..

Mr. Hennessy’s outside business interests crisscross his life at Stanford. Stanford and Google have a number of business relationships, giving Mr Hennessy a seat on both sides of the table. He has invested in venture-capital firms generally inaccessible to the public, many of which invest the university’s money. Mr. Hennessy has introduced some of these firms to promising Stanford entepreneurs. He has also put his own money into Stanford-based projects.

The article then goes on to detail conflicts of interest that would make an Enron executive blush. It is astonishing that Stanford’s board of trustees permits this—but because Hennessy is a gifted fundraiser, it does.

This is a fascinating and important story; you can’t help but think that it’s only a matter of time till one of Hennessy’s investments blows up in Stanford’s face.

And the article realizes something very important: As universities get richer and richer, and those who work at them fall prey to the greed that courses through today’s money culture, the way that universities are reported on needs to change. Universities must be considered subjects for business, political and investigative reporting. At the moment, universities exist in a gray area where they exploit private sector opportunities while claiming to be non-profits that should be reported on only for that aspect of their work. Meanwhile, the money pours in, and university officials reach out their arms—and open their pockets—to catch it….

Here’s a suggestion for Derek Bok: President Bok, you’ve written eloquently on ethical issues regarding universities and the private sector, but your writings have been reluctant to mention specifics and spark controversy.

You could do an enormous service here by writing about the increasing profiteering of university presidencies—it’s astonishing to read how many university presidents earn lucrative outside incomes by sitting on corporate boards which have business before their universities—and naming names.

Faust the Aristocrat

Posted on February 26th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

In the Globe yesterday, the M-Bomb and Maria Sacchetti wrote this long and interesting profile of Drew Faust. The dominant theme is that Faust was composed and mature from an early age—the letter-writing to Eisenhower was hardly an isolated example.

The part of the piece I most enjoyed delved into Faust’s childhood. Knowing that Faust went to prep school, I knew that hers couldn’t have been such a hardscrabble existence. Turns out that Faust grew up with extraordinary privilege.

Catharine Drew Gilpin was born on Sept. 18, 1947 , in New York City to the former Catharine Mellick , a New Jersey socialite, and McGhee Tyson Gilpin , a Princeton graduate from Virginia who became a thoroughbred horse breeder. Her parents, who met on a fox hunt, lived near New York before she was born.

[Blogger: Her parents met on a fox hunt? Fabulous. You can’t make this stuff up.]

The family later moved near Millwood, in Clarke County, Va. Known as “Drewdie,” she was raised mainly at Lakeville Farm , a white farmhouse on hundreds of acres with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At Scaleby , their grandmother’s estate nearby, she and her three brothers swam in the pools and read by the fire in the Georgian mansion, with crystal chandeliers and a ballroom on the top floor.

[Blogger: The pools, plural?]

“The Gilpins are to Clarke County what the Kennedys are to Hyannisport,” said Paul Jones , a retired school principal who once worked with Faust’s uncle. “You would go by Scaleby and look at how the other half lived.

Great stuff.

Here’s a question: Would a young woman from that background today go in Faust’s direction, living a life of hard work, leadership, and accomplishment? Or, as part of America’s money culture, would she follow the Paris Hilton model?

(Hint: This is not so much a question about feminism as it is one about American cultural decline.)

A Minor Correction

Posted on February 26th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

In the Crimson, Samuel Jacobs writes:

But after working at John F. Kennedy Jr.’s George magazine and writing a book about the magazine’s late founder—its publication complicated by lawsuits and allegations that Bradley was profiting off Kennedy’s death—the New York writer found himself drawn to Harvard and following its players.

All true, except that there weren’t any lawsuits involved. Threats of lawsuits, sure. But on one actually followed through…because they would have lost. There was really nothing to sue about.

Perhaps the Crimson was thinking of this $12.5 million libel suit that was filed against me?

I Blush Crimson Red

Posted on February 26th, 2007 in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

Today’s Crimson has a story about this little ol’ blog.

Since breaking ground two winters ago, Shots in the Dark has become a motley circus, filled with its own distinct set of acts and performers with Bradley serving as ringmaster. The blog, at, provides those sitting at their desks anywhere from Mather House to Manhattan with a view of machinations in Mass. Hall and an ear to whispering throughout the Yard.

Some of the descriptions of SITD include: “catty,” “chatty,” less than influential, irresponsible (that was me), “democratic” (love that one!), and “prescient.”

I would add “often wrong.”

The sage Robert Putnam says, “I think that the best part of his blog is the commentary from other readers.” I agree. While I enjoy writing a post that seems useful, what I really enjoy is reading your comments. That’s where I feel that I’m learning something, and where I feel that in a small (irresponsible, etc.) way, I have sparked some conversation. Even on those occasions where you folks make mincemeat of what I write—I’ve usually deserved it—you are a great community of contributors, and I thank you for it.

So welcome, new Shots in the Dark readers. And thanks to all of you who have visited over the months. I couldn’t do it without you.