The Dartmouth Insurgency (cont.)

In a stunning (at least to their critics) upset, Dartmouth alums Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki have each won a seat on the college's board of trustees. Robinson, a Hoover fellow and former Reagan speechwriter ("Tear down this wall" came from his pen), and Zywicki, who teaches at George Mason University's law school, had run Internet petition drives to get on the ballot, an effort chronicled in these pages by Duncan Currie ("The Dartmouth Insurgency," April 25). The results were made public last week, following nearly two months of electronic and mail-in voting.

Chalk up another victory for the "new media"--namely, for the right-leaning blogosphere. Robinson, a past contributor to this magazine, and Zywicki, who blogs at the Volokh Conspiracy site, relied heavily on online word-of-mouth to publicize their uphill efforts against four candidates handpicked by the alumni council.

Dartmouth rules bar trustee candidates from electioneering--but only once they've been certified. So as they labored to acquire the requisite 500 petition signatures, Robinson and Zywicki were free to tout their platforms on personal websites and friendly blogs. Though their candidacies were uncoordinated, each championed similar goals: ending Dartmouth's de facto campus speech code and improving the undergraduate experience.

Although both stressed that these issues were nonpartisan, blogs sprang up almost overnight to denounce them as ideological threats. Groups such as "Alumni for a Strong Dartmouth" and "Dartmouth Alumni for Social Change" zinged Robinson and Zywicki for their "reactionary" politics and criticism of Dartmouth president James Wright.

The Dartmouth establishment had a good reason to be startled by the two outsiders. In 2004, another petition candidate, Silicon Valley tycoon T.J. Rodgers, won election to the board of trustees--the first petition candidate to do so since 1980. Rodgers, a self-described libertarian, ran on a similar platform to those of Robinson and Zywicki.

Now three center-right alums in two years have gained positions on the 18-member board by campaigning against the Dartmouth administration and against politically correct speech codes. To say this has raised eyebrows and ruffled feathers in Hanover would be an understatement. Robinson and Zywicki--like Rodgers before them--have gone at the academic establishment head-on and emerged victorious. They join the board officially in June, following Dartmouth's commencement exercises. Their first meeting will probably take place next September.

Trustee-elect Robinson spoke to The Scrapbook last week, calling the outcome "a victory for alumni participation in the governance of Dartmouth College." He emphasized that blogs "made it possible for me to reach alums" and kept up "interest in the campaign."

More broadly, he said, graduates everywhere can now stay in much better touch with developments at their alma mater. "I learned more in three months of reading these blogs about the actual state of affairs in Hanover, New Hampshire, than [I did] in 25 years of reading the alumni magazine." Blogs thus pose a mortal threat to the "propaganda machines" of major universities. Said Robinson: "That strikes me as a sea change."

Physician, Shrink Thyself

Remember how, back on February 1, 2004, New York Times op-ed page editor David Shipley wrote a column describing the high standards he used to select the articles that appeared in his pages? "Our decisions about which essays to publish aren't governed by a need for editorial variety alone," Shipley wrote. "Among other things, we look for timeliness, ingenuity, strength of argument, freshness of opinion, clear writing and newsworthiness."

And remember how, two days later, on February 3, 2004, Shipley published an essay by Erin Sullivan--the author of Saturn in Transit and The Astrology of Midlife and Aging--which used astrological tables to predict the outcome of the 2004 Democratic primaries? "If seeking the presidency is like reaching for the stars, then why not look to the stars--and the other heavenly bodies--for insights on the candidates," Sullivan wrote. "John Kerry . . . is a Sagittarius with four Gemini planets in the public relationship sector of his birth chart. . . . Born with the rare Mars retrograde, he entered life with a rage--a deep, inner need to overcome (the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also had the Mars retrograde). . . . The long-term picture depicts him achieving his highest goals." Oops.

When we read Sullivan's essay last year--title: "The Stars Have Voted"--The Scrapbook chuckled softly to ourselves; how witty and sophisticated, we thought, that Shipley would make fun of his own pretentious "high standards" by publishing a piece of credulous pseudoscience not a week later!

But maybe it wasn't a joke at all. Last Wednesday, May 11, the Times printed an op-ed by Belinda Board headlined "The Tipping Point." Board is described as a "clinical psychologist based at the University of Surrey" who moonlights as "a consultant on organizational psychology," and her article was just as laughable as Erin Sullivan's--except it wasn't preceded a few days earlier by a haughty note from the Times's op-ed editor. There was nothing remotely ironic about it, in fact.

Board's point, best we can make of it, is that Undersecretary of State John Bolton, the president's distinguished if embattled nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a psychopath . . . not that there's anything wrong with that. Writes Board: The "characteristics of personality disorders can be found throughout society and are not just concentrated in psychiatric or prison hospitals." Case in point: John Bolton, who "has been described as dogmatic, abusive to his subordinates and a bully." Yet the president continues to support him. Why? "Sometimes the characteristics that make someone successful in business or government can render them unpleasant personally. What's more astonishing is that those characteristics when exaggerated are the same ones often found in criminals." Board's conclusion: Successful executives like Bolton "share personality characteristics with psychopaths."

Her advice to Congress: Weigh carefully Bolton's combination of "extreme characteristics," contrasting the "characteristics that have propelled" him "to prominence" against those that "can cause untold human wreckage."

Incidentally, Thomas Lifson subsequently pointed out at that Board is identified by the University of Surrey as a Ph.D. candidate. As he points out, "the 'research' on which she based her op-ed was done in 2001, four years ago. We have to wonder what her status was at the time. An undergraduate?"

Our advice to the New York Times: Go back to running horoscopes.

As the Crow Hears

We missed this at the time, but there was a classic mistranscription in the International Herald Tribune's coverage of Pope John Paul II's funeral last month: "His folded hands intertwined with a rosary, the body of Pope John Paul II was laid out inside the papal palace on Sunday as the balance of power in the Roman Catholic Church began its shift to the unnamed man who will soon replace him. . . . Tucked under his left arm was the silver staff, called the crow's ear, that he had carried in public." As the correction sheepishly noted: We "used an incorrect term to describe the silver staff of Pope John Paul II. It is a crosier."

The Guardian later noted, forgivingly: "This kind of thing often happened, particularly in the Guardian, in days when stories had to be phoned through to copytakers, which is how we came to review a work called Lazy Luminations, by Britten."

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