Archive for June, 2012

Quote of the Day

Posted on June 28th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

“He frequently explained full, passionate kisses as ‘blowing the Holy Spirit into her.'”

—from a lawsuit by a Virginia woman who alleges that Catholic priest Thomas J. Euteneuer molested the woman repeatedly while claiming to be performing an exorcism. Euteneuer is a high-profile anti-abortion advocate.

Smarter and Funnier? Really?

Posted on June 27th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

From Charles McGrath’s NYT remembrance of Nora Ephron, emphasis added:

Nora Ephron, an essayist and humorist in the Dorothy Parker mold (only smarter and funnier, some said) who became one of her era’s most successful screenwriters and filmmakers, making romantic comedy hits like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally,” died Tuesday night in Manhattan.

I challenge Mr. McGrath to name anyone, other than himself—since that’s obviously who he’s referring to*—who would seriously argue that Nora Ephron, as talented as she was, was smarter and funnier than Dorothy Parker. I mean, has he seen Bewitched?
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* On rereading, I think this may be unfair to McGrath. That parenthetical feels like the kind of thing an editor with a strong personal opinion might insert after McGrath has gone to sleep…

She’s Baaaack! (At UVA)

Posted on June 27th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

More than two weeks after pressuring her to resign, the University of Virginia governing board has unanimously voted to reinstate Teresa Sullivan as president.

The Washington Post:

“We have both come to the conclusion that it’s time to bring the U-Va. family back together,” [Rector and board chair Helen] Dragas told the Board of Visitors. It was a startling reversal for a board leader who had been steadfast in her insistence that Sullivan was moving too slowly to address fiscal and academic challenges.

What does it all mean?

Too many things for me to say before another cup of coffee. But one point does occur to me: That, as with Larry Summers’ time at Harvard, the appointment of an arrogant leader who thinks that he or she can remake a university using private-sector principles and force of will doesn’t work.

Helen Dragas runs a family business that builds condominiums; she apparently is quite good at this. She has no particular background in higher education. But she does have a lot of political connections.

So I think there is a lesson here: that as universities, whether public or private, lust after greater engagement with the private sector, they risk being thought of and getting treated like the private sector.

Which probably isn’t what they really want.

The reinstatement of Teresa Sullivan is a victory for academic values. But I think it’ll be the exception more than the rule, and for this, universities can largely blame themselves.

Jeff Selingo, who’s the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, explores some of these issues in an op-ed that ran in yesterday’s Times. I don’t agree with a lot of it, but I think he’s right when he says this:

Other information industries, from journalism to music to book publishing, enjoyed similar periods of success right before epic change enveloped them, seemingly overnight. We now know how those industries have been transformed by technology, resulting in the decline of the middleman — newspapers, record stores, bookstores and publishers.

Colleges and universities could be next

Selingo emphasizes that universities have to focus more on technology and online education. I’m not so sure that this is the answer. I think universities have to remind the country of what they do well and why they do it; what their values are. But the silence on this from the leaders of the top universities—Harvard, Yale, Stanford—has been deafening, and in large part I think this is because they are all compromised, whether from buckraking on corporate boards, starting branches in states that don’t adhere to principles of free speech, or running a university that’s essentially an adjunct to Silicon Valley.

Where is the university president who’ll stand up and say that in an era of profound international change and upheaval, this is why American universities—and a liberal arts education— matter more than ever?

Brooklyn Sunset (4)

Posted on June 26th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

6.25 (after the rain)

6.25 (after the rain)

That’s the Manhattan skyline in the distance….

Sheryl Sandberg Gets Promoted

Posted on June 26th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, BusinessWeek, Forbes—every single news organization Google can find covers the news that Facebook just named Sheryl Sandberg to its board from a gender perspective.

Here’s BusinessWeek:

After months of enduring ridicule and criticism for having no women on its board, the social network headed into a May 18 initial public offering that’s since become a case study in what not to do. The issue wasn’t just how the shares were priced and traded, but how the whole IPO package was handled and sold to investors.

Sandberg, with her extensive global network and roots in Washington, is clearly more sensitive to such matters. She’s in touch with advertisers, customers, investor groups, and other women leaders in a way that her boss is not. She understands the power of role models, both inside and outside the company. She knows about the pressure to put more women on boards

It’s fascinating to read how sexist the paragraph above is, how laden with gender-stereotypes: Sandberg is “more sensitive,” more “in touch,” more understanding, more aware of the pressure… Why? Because she’s female, clearly. (I will grant that she’s probably more in touch with other women leaders than Mark Zuckerberg is, but I didn’t know that close ties to female leaders were essential to Facebook’s growth.) Imagine how upset this writer (who’s female) would be if a man wrote such a paragraph about a woman, but the stereotypes were less flattering.

I’m just a blogger, so, you know, take what I say with a grain of salt…but there are a few awkward points to raise about this inspiring drama of female empowerment.

First , Sheryl Sandberg was the prime mover behind that disastrous IPO; she was the person who picked Morgan Stanley’s Michael Grimes to manage it…which he didn’t.

Says the Times:

Grimes’ connections have counted. In 2001, he befriended Sheryl Sandberg, who became a young Google executive and is now the chief operating officer at Facebook. Mr. Grimes regularly visited Ms. Sandberg, offering free advice to the search company on financial issues like stock sales and acquisitions

And that worked out pretty well.

I’m sure it’s a fine thing that Facebook has a woman on its board. The company was clearly having a rough time without one.

But by obsessing on Sandberg’s gender—an obsession Sandberg has very smartly cultivated—the media overlooks something more important: the fact that adding Sandberg to the board is a textbook case of bad corporate governance.

Mark Zuckerberg already runs the company in a high-handed way; he describes Sandberg as his “partner.” She simply can not play the role a corporate board member should play: that of a strong, independent and external voice. A role that is particularly important when you have an imperious CEO. And as the Times’ Dealbook section does point out, even with Sandberg, Facebook has a small board for a company of its size.

Given what’s gone on in recent years with Hewlett-Packard and that little thing called, you know, the financial crisis, have we forgotten so quickly the importance of corporate governance, and the devastating impact of crony capitalism as practiced by rubber-stamp corporate boards?

Or would a woman never make those mistakes?

One related issue that people still occasionally discuss is executive compensation. Think Sheryl Sandberg will fight to rein in out of control executive pay? Sandberg has worked at Facebook for four years. In that time, she has been granted 44 million shares of Facebook stock; they are now worth $1.4 billion. In 2011, she was paid $300, 000 plus $30 million in Facebook shares.

The Business Week writer quoted above attributes positive qualities to Sandberg because she is female, but it seems to me that Sandberg is acting with all the greed and self-interest of so many powerful men who have come before her.

To be fair, Sandberg has to stay at Facebook till 2022 to be fully vested in those $1.4 billion worth of shares. Here is a prediction that I will bet anyone a fancy dinner comes true: Sandberg will leave the company well before that, but stay on the board, and Facebook will count that position as continued full-time employment.

As long as she does what Zuckerberg wants.

Oh, and finally: Sandberg is already on a bunch of corporate boards: Walt Disney, a board which has been criticized by numerous investor groups for awarding excessive pay to CEO Bob Iger (Sandberg earns $466, 341 annually for attending those meetings; Starbucks ($280k a year for that one), the Brookings Institution, Women for Women International, V-Day, and the Ad Council. Either she spends a lot of time doing this stuff, which is problematic, or she spends relatively little time doing this stuff, which is also problematic.

My wife asked me the other day why I’m so tough on Sandberg. The answer’s simple. It’s not because I have anything against women in corporate life, or that I don’t like Sandberg because she’s female. It’s that I don’t automatically admire her because of her gender. I don’t really care that she’s a woman. (In my opinion, feminists should consider this a compliment.) Certainly it bothers me that the media en masse abandons its critical judgment just because of Sandberg’s sex.

And because of Sandberg’s gender being a non-issue for me, I can see some issues in her rise to power that the mainstream media completely overlooks, because, well, isn’t she swell?

Sheryl Sandberg will go into politics someday; I wouldn’t be surprised if she ran for President one day. So isn’t it worth pointing out that the narrative she has crafted, and into which the media has so completely bought, isn’t the only way to evaluate her career?

Quote of the Day

Posted on June 25th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

“I highly recommend it.”

Business Insider’s Henry Blodget reads The Catcher in the Rye, likes it.

Brooklyn Sunset (3)

Posted on June 23rd, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Taken at 8:36 PM, June 22

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Brooklyn Sunset (2)

Posted on June 23rd, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Taken 8:25 PM, June 23
(Now, basically)

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Brooklyn Sunset

Posted on June 23rd, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

We’ve been having some pretty great ones recently…

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More on NPR Intern Emily White

Posted on June 22nd, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Couple updates on the controversy involving NPR intern Emily White, who recently blogged that, while she didn’t “illegally” download music, she had only paid for 15 albums out of a music library containing 11, 000 songs:

1) Someone with whom I was discussing this issue recently said to me, “What’s wrong with her uploading promotional materials sent to record stations? [One of White’s ways of procuring new music.] The record companies want ‘tastemakers’ like Emily White to get that stuff.”

My response: While that’s not a crazy argument—record companies certainly try to get new music in the hands of hipsters for promotional reasons—they’d probably prefer that she buy it. And anyway, who’s to say that Emily White didn’t comb the back catalogues of the record stations where she worked and upload, say, the complete Neil Young?

Where does NPR stand on the matter? It’s actually unclear from their ethics policy, which says this of “review materials”:

Review materials are for reviews, not personal gain.
We may accept free event passes, copies of books or other materials for the purpose of doing reviews or stories. These items belong to NPR and may not be sold. In many cases, they will be kept for possible future use and reference. They also may be distributed to staff for personal use (including donations to charities) after they are no longer needed.

That doesn’t really cover creating copies of review materials for personal use…

2) David Lowery, formerly of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, has written what has become, I think, the most widely read response to Emily White.

Lowery notes that in paying for the technology used to steal music—iPods, computers, Internet bandwidth—Emily White, an avatar of her generation, is actually supporting massive corporations while screwing artists.

“Congratulations—your generation is the first in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to weirdo freak musicians!”

Lowery, who now teaches a course on the music business at the University of Georgia, also makes this point [emphasis added], which I think is an important one:

Now, having said all that, I also deeply empathize with your generation. You have grown up in a time when technological and commercial interests are attempting to change our principles and morality. Rather than using our morality and principles to guide us through technological change, there are those asking us to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change–if a machine can do something, it ought to be done. Although it is the premise of every “machines gone wild” story since Jules Verne or Fritz Lang, this is exactly backwards. Sadly, I see the effects of this thinking with many of my students.

I would like to hear more from Emily White, but she seems to have gone into hiding. (Not, so far as I can tell, because NPR has fired her.)

FInally, I will say that I saw Cracker at the 9:30 Club in Washington on November 18, 1993—Counting Crows were the warm-up band—and they were awesome. Here is one of their best songs.