Davos Divas Denounce Disparity

January 27, 2011

The World Economic Forum meets regularly in Davos, Switzerland to do whatever it is the Forum does. Whatever that is, there will be more women doing it this year than in years previous: the Forum’s Women Leaders & Gender Parity program has made a priority of increasing the participation of women in the event, this year mandating (under the auspices of unknown authority) that 50% of representatives from any particular organization be female.

(Despite its collective brain power, the program may not have realized that the only thing quotas ensure is that organizations will produce token representation when necessary for the sake of compliance, while avoiding any appreciable, system-wide change… or that quota systems encourage the promotion of those conforming to criteria over those worth promoting.)

The same thing is underway at Dartmouth College, where a lady named Evelynn Ellis has been named vice president of institutional diversity & equity. The fact that such a position exists and is salaried handsomely is worrisome enough; what is more so, especially considered in conjunction with affairs in Davos, is that such intelligent people have missed the obvious solution to problems of gender parity:

Hire people, promote them, and reward them based on their ability and achievement. Just as hiring men over women for the sake of anachronistic chauvinism is wrong and leads to gross inequity, so too does hiring women over men for the sake of politically-correct tokenism. Hire the people who deserve hiring, promote those who deserve promotion, and reward those deserving of reward… and ignore their race, gender, ethnicity, orientation, and the rest of it. The result will be an organization full of able, deserving people held back by neither prejudice nor politics.

Prof. Jeff Hart on WFB

August 15, 2010

Dartmouth English professor emeritus Jeffrey Hart wrote this essay, “Understanding William F. Buckley,” shortly after Mr. Buckley’s death. It appeared first in The Dartmouth Review, the collegiate newspaper inspired by the late intellectual’s National Review and to which your editorial staff briefly and poorly contributed. In it, Professor Hart offers a glimpse, frustrating in its brevity, of what made Mr. Buckley so indespensible a man: his intellectualism and curiosity and determination, but equally the joy and tenacity with which he experienced life.

The essay is re-printed here slightly abbreviated; the Professor’s analysis of National Review’s political stances has been sacrificed to afford his memories of summers in Gstaad with the Buckleys more room.

I did not meet Buckley until the summer of 1962, and then almost by accident. I was teaching a Columbia summer term course in the Victorian novel. One of the students in this course came into my office for a conference. She noticed on my desk a copy of The Fabric of Society by Ernest van den Haag and Ralph Ross, a brilliant and comprehensive summary of the social sciences, economics, psychology, political philosophy, sociology. The student asked me if I would like to meet Van den Haag, and when I said yes invited me to a cocktail party at her apartment in Greenwich Village.

William F. Buckley, Jr. at work.

There I found that she affectionately called him “Ernie Pooh.” He certainly did not seem Pooh-like. He seemed very European, dark, with a sharp nose and a black comb-over, smoking a thin European cigar, wearing tight European trousers, and narrow shoes made from the skin of some reptile. Anyone less Pooh-like would be hard to imagine. At the cocktail party he had a friend with him, Anatole Broyard, a man famous in the Village and later an incisive book critic for The New York Times. Friends soon told me that Van den Haag and Broyard cut a wide swath through the female population of the Village and were the opposite of discreet about their adventures. Broyard later wrote a memoir of life in the Village with the humorous title When Kafka was the Rage.

Van den Haag and I became friends and it developed that he was a talent scout for Buckley. “Would you review books for National Review?” he asked me, and I said I would be glad to. This led to some extraordinary experiences, including work as a speechwriter for Reagan and then Nixon in 1968.

Soon I received a phone call from Buckley’s secretary and agreed to meet him at the National Review office, then at 150 E. 35th Street, and go to dinner with him. I did not know at the time that this secretary Gertrude Vogt had been a passenger on the Orizaba and had seen Hart Crane jump off the stern of the ship and disappear.

When I arrived I met Buckley in his office evidently doing some last-minute things to the magazine before it went to the printer. He was bent over a table with pages of typed copy scattered over it. The tail of his J. Press shirt hung out as he worked hurriedly. His tie knot was down to his chest. Finally, he pulled himself together and we headed out to a local Chinese restaurant. He was excellent company and I had a preliminary glimpse of what many would later experience as his genius for friendship, which transcended differences of opinion. As I would discover, he was passionate about enjoying life, sailing, skiing, playing the piano harpsichord, paining, good wine and cigars.

Some astounding characters wrote from National Review, at least one of them, Willmoore Kendall, a Yale professor and genius. He was a political philosopher in the Leo Strauss tradition, and advocate of “majority rule” democracy. That meant that we governed ourselves according to the Constitution. He was suspicious of “rights,” which could de-rail majority rule.

A couch still exists at National Review, The Willmoore Kendall Memorial Couch, on which he had been caught inflagrante with one of the secretaries.

Of the major figures at National Review, I learned most from Kendall and James Burnham: constitutional theory from Kendall, policy analysis from Burnham. I also developed a friendship with Buckley that would last until his death in March 2008. Buckley had a way of drastically changing peoples’ lives, and it was fascinating to be connected with his magazine as it went on to change its leadership twice, and with that the value of the magazine itself.

Matthew Hart, the youngest of my four children, is Buckley’s godson and now lives near Lake Tahoe in California; when he heard that Buckley had died he sent me an e-mail:

I just wanted to send you my condolences about Mr. Buckley. I know you have been friends for a really long time. He was always nice to me as a kid and still wrote to me on my birthday up to my 20s. He didn’t have to, but he did. It really shows class when someone like him takes time to engage us as kids. He could have spent the time talking with adults who were around (and probably wanted more of his time) but he didn’t. For some reason he seems like the type of person who doesn’t exist anymore. I’ll always have the memories of Switzerland and skiing with the A Team and being reminded not to pass the Leader but being led off into some sort of gulch we had to hike out of in three feet of snow. Well, what can you do? We made it out after all. That’s what happens when you leave the trail I guess. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Matthew was in Gstaad only once. I went several times beginning in the 1970s – I had been a senior editor at National Review since 1969 and a few impressions of life at Gstaad provides a sense of the joi de vivre that was characteristic of Buckley’s life.

At Gstaad, the Buckley schedule ruled our social life, and his schedule was always the same. We all skied in the morning while Buckley worked in his chateau on some writing project. Then all the skiers met for lunch at one or another restaurant at the base of one of the mountains. After lunch, fortified by plenty of wine, we followed the leader to another mountain and skied there until late afternoon.

At the top of one of the mountains was a restaurant called The Sky Club, members only. One morning Buckley and I were skiing together, and he decided to have lunch at the Club. As we were putting our skiis on the rack outside Buckley indicated to me an elderly man in a one-piece blue ski outfit also putting his skis on the rack. Buckley whispered to me that he would tell me about him when we found a table.

Over lunch he said that he had stayed with this man, the Count von Something at his castle in Germany to do some research for a novel he was writing. The first night they sat down in front of the fireplace and had some drinks and there above the fireplace on the wall were life-sized oil portraits of Josef Goebbels and Herman Goering. Came the obvious question: Why were those portraits there? “Because they were my godfathers,” said the Count. Oh.

Buckley’s chateau, which he leased annually, was an enormous place located at the base of one of the mountains. It was in Rougemont, a few miles from Gstaad. You could finish a day by skiing right to its rear entrance.

On my first visit to the chateau I entered through the front door, which seemed the normal way for drive-up guests to get in. But I found myself in a large kitchen with a stone fireplace for cooking a large piece of meat on a spit. All it needed was a dwarf cook, preferably with a leather apron.

On the second floor of the chateau, up stone steps of course, was Buckley’s office where he worked in the morning, and also his studio. He painted in oils, when the creative urge moved him mountains, sailboats, unrecognizable portraits. Buckley had many talents including being the most influential journalists of his time, but painting was not one of his gifts.

I heard that once, before I had begun to go to Gstaad, David Niven had told Buckley that Marc Chagall was coming to Gstaad, that Chagall enjoyed Buckley’s spy novels and would like to stop to say hello. “Fine,” said Buckley. “I’d like to meet him.” “Wait a minute, Bill,” said Niven. “Chagall is a real artist. World famous. You wouldn’t take him to your studio, would you?” “Of course not,” Buckley replied. Niven and Chagall showed up at the chateau, Buckley took him immediately to his studio, and Chagall, gazing at Buckley’s paintings, said in French, “The poor paint.”

Another time, Ted Kennedy visited the Buckley’s in Rougemont, skiing and partying. On one occasion he asked, “Mind if I borrow one of the cars and drive into Gstaad?” “Hell no,” Pat Buckley said, “There are two bridges between here and Gstaad.”

I doubt that Kennedy considered that thigh-slapping funny.

Social life at the chateau resembled that at the Buckleys’ 73rd Street and Park Avenue duplex: interesting and civilized people, usually accomplished in one way or another; conservatives but not only conservatives: Kitty and Ken Galbraith, David Niven, Taki Theodoracopolis (a glamorous multi-millionaire, great skier, and good enough at tennis to compete at Wimbledon).

Other guests included: the latest actor to play James Bond; “Swifty” Lazar the agent; Arthur Schlesinger. Once I asked Arthur about Jack Kennedy’s off-the-charts womanizing to see how he would handle that question. Everyone knew that Kennedy’s behavior made Bill Clinton look like a monk in comparison. Of course, Arthur professed to know nothing about it.

David Niven was one of the pleasantest people you could meet, witty, debonair, civilized. One year when he was ill with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, we were instructed not to say anything funny, since if Niven tried to laugh he might choke. Since at the Buckley gatherings, wit was the coin of the realm, this inhibition tended to produce near silence: “Good skiing today.” “I hear Ali Khan is in town . . .” “Looks like snow tomorrow.”

But with the illnesses of Pat Buckley and then Bill, the good times in Gstaad had to end.  

Author Cahill, at Woodsy Rest

November 18, 2009

The Wall Street Journal recently reported enduring travel chronicler Tim Cahill, known for his horseback rides across the Mongolian steppes and fruitless searching for the elusive Caspian tiger, does his best composing at rest in a rustic, 500-square-foot cabin in southwest Montanna. The cabin is an hour’s drive from Mr. Cahill’s house in Livingston, Montanna and is hidded year-round by thick trees and an anonymous driveway.

Mr. Cahill, co-founder of Outside magazine and author of the descriptively-titled travel logs “A Wolverine is Eating My Leg” and “Jaguars Ripped My Flesh, spends several months every year holed up in the folksy retreat, writing and relaxing. There are two guest cabins nearby, which are part of his property, and an outhouse; the National Forest Service leases Mr. Cahill the half-acre the buildings sit on for about $2,000 a year. Fewer than 200 other cabins share similar arrangements in the area, and these comprise Mr. Cahill’s neighbors. Winters, an old Monarch stove heats the cabin. Summers, a screen door opens onto a small porch where Mr. Cahill enjoys making barbequed chicken “Simon and Garfunkel style”: with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

A little further off the back porch, the Gallatin national forest begins: almost two million square acres of untouched, pristine wilderness which flow eventually into the Greater Yellowstone Wilderness Area. Mr. Cahill’s rambles in this vast woods became the subject of his 2004 book, “Lost In My Own Backyard.” Easily enough accomplished, apparently, when your “backyard”  is roughly the size of Switzerland.

Tim Cahill, retreatist.

Against the Current

July 18, 2009

In top-notch collegiate and professional rowing, rowers can bring an oar in and out of the water as many as 45 times every minute. The sport is one of the oldest and most demanding in America, not to mention the rest of the world, and requires extraordinary dedication.

Dartmouth College men's crew, Connecticut River.

Dartmouth College men's crew, Connecticut River.

2009 has seen its share of notable regattas: American oarsmen finished in the top five (of 37 teams) in Lucerne, Switzerland at the third World Cup regatta; the 138th U.S. Rowing National Championships were held in June on Mercer Lake in New Jersey; the University of Washington’s men’s team placed first at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships this year; and in May, Stanford’s women’s rowers won the sport’s NCAA championship.

Few Americans noticed. Despite being the oldest collegiate sport (pre-dating football by over a decade), rowing garners barely a second on ESPN highlight reels; sportscasters are largely unaware American university teams won gold medals at eight consecutive Olympic games, boasting crews of mainly Yale and Naval Academy men. The most well-known American race, Boston’s Head of the Charles Regatta, draws about 300,000 viewers yearly. Hardly Superbowl numbers. 

It’s only-semi-deserved elitist image has kept would-be rowers at a distance, many say. Also, demands of the sport are high: almost 90% of college rowers quit, owing in large part to the tremendous time commitment the sport requires. Both factors keep converts at bay and a lid on the sport’s public draw. “It’s almost like it’s this closet subculture,” says Kate Sullivan, a trustee of the Riverside Boat Club, one of the country’s oldest private rowing clubs, of the sport’s perceived exclusivity. “On the one hand, it’s too bad. Then again, it isn’t.”