My Old School

And I’m never going back … to my old school.

One day when I was about fourteen, my parents gave me a brochure from the Georgetown Preparatory School, in Garrett Park, Maryland. This was before Tom Brown’s School Days was on television, and I had no notions about private schools. All the kids I knew and all the kids on TV attended public school. But my father had gone to a Jesuit school in New York City, and thought that I would do well under the same sort of tutelage.

To be accepted I had to take the Secondary School Aptitude Test, the SSAT, and be interviewed. I always loved taking standardized tests; to me it was like a day off school. At the interview they asked what sports I played. I knew almost nothing about team sports other than baseball, which I had played badly, but my Mom offered that I loved to swim. They let me in.

Now I read about Georgetown Prep as an elite school. There were some guys from wealthy families, and some diplomat kids, but a lot of the guys were from striving middle class backgrounds like me. Some had to work in the dining hall to help pay their tuition. It wasn’t Eton, or even Choate. I somehow knew were better off than Cardozo, but I never felt that we were very different than the other schools we swam against: St Albans, Sidwell Friends, Good Counsel, Bullis, Bishop Ireton, Gonzaga.

I certainly got that classical education at Prep: we took Latin, Calculus, read books by DWMs, and dreaded Speech class. There were no dummies in my form, and I think that not wanting to look bad in class spurred me to try harder than I would have at public school. We were also made to sit down and do three hours of homework every evening, whereas at home I probably would have watched a lot more TV. We were also encouraged to do team sports, which led me to the swim team. All of that was good.

But Prep was all-male, so public school would have offered far more interaction with girls. A few young ladies from Stone Ridge attended our science classes. They were the source of many fantasies, but I never spoke to them. A lot of private school girls attended our mixers, but I was too terrified to talk to them. In four years I think I met two girls through Prep. I was staying overnight with a classmate, and his mother’s friend brought her daughter, who I now remember as looking like Martha Plimpton, sort of awkward/pretty. She played her guitar and sang Joni Mitchell’s Clouds for us. We were not on each other’s wavelength, but I wish I had tried harder. Later I was at a school play, and sat next to the sister of a classmate. She was pretty. We talked quite a bit, and she was very nice, but I had no idea what my next move might be. The next day her brother teased me about my great romantic encounter. And that was the end of that.

So I read that current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is accused of trying to molest a 15 year-old girl from Holton-Arms, at a party. I didn’t go to parties at day student’s houses, but I heard some bits about them. We had a minor sensation after one of my classmates punched one of my swim teammates over a girl, which I believe happened at a party.

Kavanaugh and Gorsuch attended about a decade after my time. GP seems to appreciate the notoriety of alums in the highest court in the land, but people on twitter now refer to it as that, “creepy little all-boys school.” Democracy Now! quotes journalist Sarah Posner:

“It is becoming abundantly clear, even by the account of Kavanaugh himself and Mark Judge, that there was an environment [at Georgetown Prep] that was out of control, quite frankly. And lets be very clear and fair here. We are not saying that every student at Georgetown Prep acted this way. But according to this article in The Washington Post this morning, which I again urge everyone to read, this was a very prevalent atmosphere there—the drinking, the drugs, the abuse of girls from neighboring high schools.”

I just hope people realize that many of us were not elite rich kids, or heavy drinkers, or would-be sexual predators.

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Robots Need Power

I’m seeing a lot of articles predicting a future determined by Robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI). I grew up watching animated cartoons and live action shows featuring both metal robots and human-looking androids. Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy featured a robot intended to replace the inventor’s dead son, and in The Living Doll, Julie Newmar played Rhoda the Robot for laughs and sex appeal. Since this was fiction, both robots had lots of unexpected personality, and we related to them as sympathetic characters. But at the same time, children’s TV shows often used robots as villains because a hero could destroy scads of them without coming off as a callous killer, or running afoul of the TV codes against violence.

I later read Asimov’s stories about robots programmed to obey three embedded laws to ensure human superiority. In other science fiction stories, robots were often a threat, often superior to, and sometimes hostile to humans. Think of the giant robot, Gort, in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

And now we are being warned that robots are going to take away our jobs. We are also being warned that computer systems using AI are going to manage our lives. I’ve been skeptical of both of these ideas, but there is no doubt that each is happening in the short term, though in limited ways. Robots are used in manufacturing, in check out lines and may even drive us around in cars. AI seems poised to permeate internet marketing and inventory operations, even to monitor our every shopping whim.

But unlike Commander Data, these systems require electricity. Right now we create most electricity by burning fossil fuels: coal, oil, natural gas, and some by splitting atoms in nuclear power plants. We generate a negligible amount of power with wind and solar, but not enough for industrial robots or AI server farms.

And there’s the rub. Almost everything we do to generate power creates more of the greenhouse gases that drive man-made climate change. Are the oligarchs going to cut back on electricity to combat climate change? Not willingly, I suspect.

To make up for dwindling conventional oil reserves, we have increasingly turned to the mining of tar sands, hydraulic fracturing , and ‘clean’ coal. Hanford, Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima have damaged any public feeling that reactors are safe, but more importantly, less famous reactors around the US have frightened away investors by being persistently unprofitable.

Yet, a smattering of recent OpEd pieces advise the US to retool and try again with nukes. A Yale Environment 360 article reframes the well-known nuclear disasters as acceptable risks compared to those associated with extracting or mining fossil fuels. Wired Magazine predicts that Next Gen nuclear designs – many using molten salt – will be inherently safer than the ones that failed so famously.

I’m not happy about it, but given the dismal reports from the oil markets, I do expect that the US will turn to nuclear power again in the near future.

 

The Creeping Known

Comet TV showed The Creeping Unknown a few weekends ago. I remembered this old black and white British sci-fi flick from when I was a kid, but had forgotten a few details. According to wikipedia, TCU was the American name of The Quatermass Xperiment, a 1955 film version of a popular 1953 BBC series called The Quatermass Experiment. Hammer Film Productions changed the title to emphasize its X-Certificate, which was not the American type X-rating but the old British Board of Film Censors’ X for too much sex, violence or coarse language. There is no sex or coarse language at all, and the violence is extremely tame by today’s standards, but after reading the script, the head of the board sent Hammer a letter advising that the film might be too disturbing for even an X.

Maybe they were reacting to one scene – I still remember being scared by it – in which the still human-looking Unknown comes upon a friendly young girl playing with her dolly. Turns out the young actress was Jane Asher, who nearly married Paul McCartney, but was lucky again. Other than that there is a bit of implied violence as two or three people and a lot of zoo animals are killed by the Unknown off camera.

People react emotionally to violence against children … sometimes. Mass shooters kill children and we hear, “thoughts and prayers.” US police shoot dark-skinned children and we hear, “well, all lives matter.” The US has been killing Middle Eastern men, women and children with drone strikes for decades, and we hear almost nothing. Israel has been killing Palestinian men, women and children for decades, and we hear that they were a threat. Saudis have been bombing Yemini men, women and children and we hear how great it is that Saudi women can drive cars now. But recently the resistance has been clutching their pearls over Trump’s executive order that immigrants be separated from their children. So we’ve seen wrenching images of children crying and kept in cages. And Rachel Maddow cried.

All of this is loathsome, as is Trump’s strategy to use the suffering of these children to make his immigration bill seem more palatable. But right wing Trumpists and left wing Sandernistas correctly point out that rough treatment of immigrants didn’t begin with Trump. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was created in 2003 following the Homeland Security Act of 2002. So George W Bush, Barack Obama and the current President have each had purview of the agency. Obama did not urge separation of children, but under his administration from 2009 to 2016, ICE deported a record 2.4 million immigrants, earning Obama the nickname “Deporter-In-Chief.”

The separated children issue appears to have been effective. Trump was forced to back down on his policy, or at least to appear to back down. And some photographer will win a prize for his photo of a weeping little girl. But I suspect that the Resistance is doing itself no good in the long run. They continue to search for some tangential issue to trip up Trump, instead of criticizing him as the useful idiot of the oligarchy. Because the resistance is also part of that oligarchy.

The American Prison Experiment

Last year, when I read that TYT fired reporter Jordan Chariton, I had a visceral reaction. I dropped my subscription to The Young Turks and subscribed to The Real News Network.  I thought Chariton had used poor judgment in sleeping with one of his interns (who was young, married and ambitious), but I also realized that I had become increasingly dissatisfied with TYT’s “shtick” if you will. I liked Jimmy Dore on Aggressive Progressives, and thought Emma Vigeland and Michael Tracy were promising, but except for Chariton, the show seemed like a rehash of other peoples’ reporting, regurgitated for hip, young viewers. TRNN was about as sober as Democracy Now! and even featured Aaron Maté, whose name I remembered from Amy Goodman quickly reciting the DN credits. TRNN also seemed devoted to local reporting in Baltimore.

A few months ago, TRNN brought on liberal radio stalwart Marc Steiner and his first interview was with Chelsea Manning. I had heard a lot about Bradley Manning alerting us to military abuses in Iraq, languishing in prison, changing his gender to become Chelsea, surprisingly being pardoned by President Obama, and now running for the Senate here in Maryland. Before watching that interview, she was a cipher in a uniform, but afterwards she seemed credible as a candidate.

I ran across a notice that Manning was going to be in town at a place called The Impact Hub, and was thinking it would be interesting to attend. I got an email from Penny, who runs Light Street Cycles, where I go for all my bike needs, and sometimes just to chat. I was already a customer when Penny and I ran into each other at an Occupy Baltimore event, and realized we were on the same political wavelength. Manning is one of her heroes, and she had signed me up for the Circles of Voices discussion of Mass Incarceration that featured Manning. Cool.

So I took light rail to North Avenue Station and walked over the Hub, which is part of the renovated Centre Theatre, in what was once a prewar car dealership near the intersection of North Avenue and Charles Street. The door was supposed to be locked, but they opened for a fellow delivering pizza so I came in, too. The Hub appears casual inside with lots of techie design flourishes contrasted with rough concrete, rusted steel and sliding fire doors. I was half an hour early and happened to ask JC Faulk, who runs the sessions, if I was in the right room, and he had me sign in and fill out a name tag. I poked around and noticed very small signs for wayfinding to restrooms, which after several turns, corridors and doors turned out to be inside the Centre Theatre. On my way back, I found Manning looking a bit confused and led her back to the Hub. I tried introducing myself but she didn’t respond.

Back in the Hub more people were showing up. I’m tall so I always sit towards the back in flat spaces. I started speaking to a young teacher named Erin about Lies My Teacher Told Me, and a former teacher named Jason joined in. Eventually Penny showed up. I introduced her as the mother of a teacher, so they all chatted away while I people-watched. JC was fine with us hobnobbing, but asked us to find a person we didn’t know and tell them something that wasn’t obvious about ourselves. Birte turned around and told me she was German, but had lived in the Netherlands for several years. She was a few weeks from obtaining her PhD in the US, and returning to the Netherlands. I said, “dankuwel,” and she smiled, which reminded me of Angelique Kerber’s toothy head shot on the WTA site. I told her I used to sing and act on stage. She had been brought along by her friend, a tall, blonde girl named Rachel. My hound dog days are long past, but there were a lot of pretty young women in that room.

JC settled the crowd of about sixty and laid out the ground rules, such as Attack the ideas, not the person. One would think that rule was fairly obvious but last week a firefighter throttled a city planner during a public discussion of whether separated bike lanes were crowding out fire lanes. Right here in Baltimore. Another rule was Immunity. Another was Don’t Interrupt. Another was Know When to Step Up and Step Back. Another was No Recording or Filming, but JC pointed out that CoV staff was filming this event. He also told us that the door was locked to keep out a white supremacist that was trying to use the available office facilities.

JC told us that he started this effort after seeing his community in turmoil after the death of Freddie Gray. He introduced Tawanda Jones, the sister of Tyrone West who was killed during a struggle with police some months before the Freddie Gray riots.

JC said he wasn’t interested in promoting candidates and hadn’t much use for the sly talk of most politicians but felt that Manning had been honest and forthright in her campaign. Manning said she was running for Senate, but wanted to set that aside for the evening’s discussion. She told us some of the ins and outs of being incarcerated, and it occurred to me that being alone in a corridor with a large stranger like me would probably be intimidating for a rather small person like her who had been in prison for seven years.

Manning talked about the guards “losing” the request forms that prisoners had to submit for toiletries, and prisoners looking out for one another by stockpiling those items for anyone that got screwed over. My mind turned to the infamous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, in which a researcher named Philip Zimbardo randomly assigned nine male students each as guards and inmates, dressed them accordingly, and let them loose against each other in a few basement rooms on campus. Despite the crude simulation, all parties seemed to conform to their roles with utmost seriousness:

There were three types of guards. First, there were tough but fair guards who followed prison rules. Second, there were “good guys” who did little favors for the prisoners and never punished them. And finally, about a third of the guards were hostile, arbitrary, and inventive in their forms of prisoner humiliation. These guards appeared to thoroughly enjoy the power they wielded, yet none of our preliminary personality tests were able to predict this behavior. The only link between personality and prison behavior was a finding that prisoners with a high degree of authoritarianism endured our authoritarian prison environment longer than did other prisoners.

The two-week experiment ended after only six days at the urging of Zimbardo’s girlfriend, a psychologist named Christina Maslach, who was appalled by what she saw. One “prisoner” had been in solitary confinement for several hours, and was interviewed two months later:

I began to feel that I was losing my identity, that the person that I called Clay, the person who put me in this place, the person who volunteered to go into this prison – because it was a prison to me; it still is a prison to me. I don’t regard it as an experiment or a simulation because it was a prison run by psychologists instead of run by the state. I began to feel that that identity, the person that I was that had decided to go to prison was distant from me – was remote until finally I wasn’t that, I was 416. I was really my number.

Manning was under Prevention of Injury isolation, essentially solitary, for about ten months. BTW, Zimbardo and Maslach later married, and each has had a successful career in psychology.

Manning said that after three years in prison she had accepted, like most prisoners, that she would be serving her full 35 year term. (Though she would have been eligible for parole after about a third of the sentence.) She was initially in denial that all but four months of her remaining sentence had been commuted by President Obama – a charitable act for which I forgive many of his neoliberal transgressions – except drone strikes on innocent civilians.

After she had finished, JC broke us into circles. After some negotiation we settled on three groups: those who had been incarcerated, those who knew someone incarcerated, and my group, those who had not been and did not know anyone who had been incarcerated. A big fellow named Mike began to collect our group, describing himself as a natural extravert who was trying to step back. I told him I was a reformed introvert. IIRC there were only about eleven of us. Mike, Peter, me, Asia, a woman without a tag, A woman with very short hair, another woman, a man, Maria, an older woman, and Magda. I said I was surprised we had even one person of color, and then hoped I wasn’t offending her. She seemed OK.

JC told us to begin, so I brought up the Stanford Prison Experiment, which most had heard about. I suggested that it was very easy to fall into the assigned roles in prison and in society. As if to verify that, someone suggested that prison was a necessary evil. Others objected and felt the entire prison system should be dismantled. I pointed out that many outlets credited the increase in incarceration with a corresponding decrease in crime. I recounted surveying Mecklenburg Correctional Center, a medium security facility in Southern Virginia in the late 1970s, which seemed like a relatively civilized place.

I asked if anyone felt that American prison was restorative rather than punitive. They all laughed and said punitive. Someone brought up the Nordic prison system as much less abusive to prisoners, but someone else observed that it worked well but in a very homogenous society. JC had told us that the US had 25% of the world’s prisoners but only 5% of its population. The US has 655 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, depending on how it is calculated. Seychelles has 735, but their total population is only 92,000. I thought Russia was next, but Cuba has 510, while Russia has 450 and Thailand has 445. Norway has 70, Denmark has 61 and Sweden has 53. CoV staff were roaming with boom mikes and cameras.

Several people pointed out that increasing prison population was a result of the War on Drugs, which was intended as an extension of slavery and Jim Crow oppression. Hence we had non-violent offenders thrown in with serious criminals. Maria talked about being from an immigrant family and always being afraid of dealing with the police. Someone asked if being in jail counted. We realized that while we had not been incarcerated in prison, several of us had been arrested and held for some short period of time. I asked if anyone expected that they would be able to stay away from incarceration the way things were going. The older woman foresaw having to be arrested for protesting.

JC asked the different groups to sum up. The incarcerated groups had been extremely in favor of dismantling the prison system, and had covered many of the same issues we discussed. Penny added that while our group self-selected and were against mass incarceration, she knew lots of people that considered it a sensible response to crime.

JC closed by asking us to speak one-on-one with someone answering the question, What happens if I ignore someone in pain? Peter and I paired up, and we each had to speak to the other for three minutes while the other listened intently. He talked about trying to be more empathetic as a mental health professional, and I spoke about what had happened in personal relationships.

Many thanks to Penny for including me, and for giving me a ride home.

Update 20180528: AP reports that Chelsea Manning was literally on the ledge.

[Friend and Campaign Communications Director Kelly] Wright said that Manning’s adjustment to life outside prison has been “extremely difficult.”

“I have seen firsthand and up close the violence inflicted on her by years of imprisonment, solitary confinement and torture,” Wright said. “This is made worse by the impossibly high expectations our society sets for public figures, especially on social media.”

The Roseanne Reboot

The legendary TV comedy Roseanne debuted in 1988. I hadn’t much use for the vulgar Married With Children, and thought this might be the same sort of show. So, I didn’t start watching until around 1992, and only then because a new girlfriend was a fan. I found that Roseanne Barr had turned the usual middle class family sitcom on its head. I enjoyed the inside jokes as cast members came and went, and watched fairly often until it went off the air. A few years ago, I started getting a broadcast channel called Laff TV, which showed four old episodes every night, and caught up from the beginning of the series to all the strange stuff that happened near the end.

In 2012, Barr campaigned as a candidate for the Green Party. I wasn’t sure she could be taken seriously after the crotch-grabbing national anthem incident, but at the convention I spoke to a very intelligent young woman who had really wanted to vote for her and was disappointed that Barr didn’t put forth more of a coherent campaign. Barr lost to Jill Stein, and then ran under the banner of the Peace and Freedom Party.

I thought Barr had settled down to a life raising macadamia nuts in Hawaii, but according to her bio she had tried to start several new comedy series, one of which – Downwardly Mobile – was rejected by NBC as too progressive.

In 2017, Sara Gilbert and John Goodman did a brief skit on The View, playing Darlene and Dan Conner watching football together. Then rumors swirled that the original cast would get back together for a reboot of Roseanne. That, I thought, could be great, but will probably be disappointing. It’s hard to recapture the magic.

Later I heard Roseanne described as a Trump supporter. On closer reading it seemed more accurate to say that she didn’t care for Hillary Clinton, but then a 2009 photo shoot with Roseanne dressed like Hitler surfaced. I suspected that Barr was cannily fanning the flames of controversy to get more people to watch the premiere, but it might have backfired. I’ve run across caustic anti-Roseanne tweets by Resistance types that refuse to watch the series because it must be pro-Trump.

In the first show of the reboot, Roseanne setup a long scene for a cheap joke. Roseanne had voted Trump, and had been estranged from Jackie, who supported Clinton, but who admitted that she had been convinced by Roseanne’s anti-Hillary rants to vote for Stein. “Who’s she?” was Roseanne’s rejoinder, skewering her old opponent. And that was about it for party politics. Roseanne and Dan do complain long and hard about economic politics, just as they had in the original show, but they are also surrounded by a rainbow coalition sort of family. DJ has an African-American child, and presumably an African-American wife serving in Afghanistan. Darlene is a single mother with a rebellious daughter and a sweet son who likes to wear dresses. Becky is a widow who waits tables and sleeps around. Jackie is now a Life Coach. Other former regulars float in and out, all with problems drawn from today’s headlines.

In one episode, Dan complains about losing a drywall project to some “illegals,” which is about as close to a Trump attitude as I have seen. In another episode, Roseanne is wary of the new Muslims across the street. When I was a kid there was an episode of Lassie where the family had a Chinese boy staying with them for some reason. Gramps was frustrated by how the boy planted seeds one by one, and neighbor kids threw rocks at him, but eventually tolerance prevailed over prejudice. I have seen the same plot in countless sitcoms over the years. Likewise, Roseanne and Dan quickly made their peace with the new neighbors.

I tell people that the series is pretty much like it always was, but, “The show has drawn both criticism and praise for its depiction of conservative views, most notably reflecting the political leanings of series star and creator Roseanne Barr,” according to an article in Variety: ‘Roseanne’ May Move ‘Away From Politics’ in Season 2, ABC President Says:

“In the episode, Barr and John Goodman’s characters fall asleep on the couch, with Roseanne saying “we slept from ‘Wheel’ [of Fortune] to [Jimmy] ‘Kimmel.’” Goodman’s Dan responded that they “missed all the shows about black and Asian families,” to which Roseanne retorted “they’re just like us. There, now you’re all caught up.” Many took the joke as a jab at fellow ABC comedies “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat.”

Dungey said she was “surprised at the reaction” to the joke. “We thought the writers were tipping their hat” to those other shows, she said.

According to recent reports co-showrunner Whitney Cummings is leaving for other projects. I hope the show survives., but ratings are everything, of course. John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf are still powerhouse actors, and Sara Gilbert is as sarcastic as ever. The rest of the cast is used judiciously. I like Lecy Goransen as Becky, but I’d like to see them bring back Sarah Chalke’s yuppie character again.

Best of all Roseanne is real without being a reality show.

Update 20180529: Roseanne Barr tweeted out, “Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes had a baby = v,” the v meaning Valerie Jarrett. Barr soon deleted the tweet and apologized, but it was too much even for coworkers Wanda Sykes and Sara Gilbert. ABC execs wisely canceled Roseanne. What a shame for a talented cast doing a pretty good show.

Tennys Court

As a fan, I have been following the Australian Open (AO) tennis championships, which feature both women and men players. That seems to mean I’m old.

According to a 2016 study of sports leagues, the average age of the ATP’s television audience is 61, fourth highest of all major sports. The WTA fares better; its average viewer age was 55, and the age of its audience decreased between 2006 and 2016.

I actually prefer watching the WTA, but I’m still older than the demographic they want.

After some lean decades, the AO moved from the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club to Flinders Park (now called Melbourne Park)  and has blossomed into equal standing with Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open. Its main stadiums are named Rod Laver Arena, Hisense Arena and Margaret Court Arena.

In the weeks leading up to the AO, there was a lot of media chatter about players boycotting, or even renaming Court Arena. Though a fantastic player, with 24 major titles to her name, Margaret Smith Court was a traditional woman, who only toured when she wasn’t being a dutiful wife and mother. Though she had played and lost badly to Bobby Riggs in the Mother’s Day Massacre  – the precursor to the Battle of the Sexes – Court was reportedly lukewarm towards Billie Jean King’s efforts to start a more egalitarian women’s tour. After her tennis career, she converted from Catholicism to evangelical Pentecostalism, eventually becoming pastor of her own ministry, where she espoused conservative Christian values … and attacked gay rights, as she told the West Australian in Perth:

“Politically correct education has masterfully escorted homosexuality out from behind closed doors, into the community openly and now is aggressively demanding marriage rights that are not theirs to take,”

“The fact that the homosexual cry is, ‘We can’t help it, as we were born this way,’ as the cause behind their own personal choice is cause for concern,”

I believe that Court is entitled to her beliefs, and as an evangelical, to preach them, but I also believe that she had to expect a great deal of criticism in return from a sport with outspoken lesbian heroes like Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, to name only two.

But as the tournament progressed, the controversy over Court Arena faded. LGBT supporters wore rainbow colors on their clothing while playing, but no one refused to play their scheduled matches on Court. Upsets and scintillating matches took over the headlines. Two lower-ranked male players, Hyeon Chung and Tennys Sandgren made unexpected runs into the quarterfinals. Chung is a talented South Korean who recently won the ATP Next Generation exhibition in Milan. Nextgen featured eight young players who are only starting to make a mark in the tour. Tennys Sandgren wasn’t one of them, but his name had garnered occasional attention among writers looking for easy headlines, and he seemed to be an affable fellow, and he was an American from Tennessee.

At the AO, Sandgren vaulted from near-obscurity in defeating journeyman Jeremy Chardy, 2014 champ Stan Wawrinka, fellow newbie Maximilian Marterer and world #5 and genuine contender Dominic Thiem. These were his first four wins in the main draw of any major tournament. But he found himself under the scrutiny of the media, and twitterverse callouts of his tweets that had been ignored before suddenly became worth a second look.

Sandgren, it turned out, had been following the tweets of Tommy Robinson, Nicholas Fuentes and had retweeted articles by Jordan Peterson. Tommy Robinson is a pseudonym for Stephen Christopher Yaxley, a political activist who led the English Defence League, founded the European Defence League, worked in the British Freedom Party, a think tank called Quilliam and a UK offshoot of the German anti-Islamist group Pegida (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes). Robinson had been moving away from the more violent groups, but remained opposed to the introduction of Islamic culture. Nicholas Fuentes is not the Peruvian footballer, he is a white supremacist student from Boston University who has been quoted saying, “Multiculturalism is cancer.” He left BU after receiving threats due to his participation in the Charlottesville white supremacy rally.

I can hardly fault Sandgren for retweeting Jordan Peterson. Around the middle of last year, my browsing habits led Google to suggest videos of Petersen speaking with Camille Paglia and other intellectuals, and he sounded fairly reasonable. I looked for more information, and found that he was a psychologist interested in religion and ideology, and had become famous, or infamous, for refusing to use transgender pronouns at his school, the University of Toronto. Many reasonable people reject the more extreme political rhetoric, but it seems that Peterson also espouses a strictly binary view of sexuality in which men are men and women are women. Not unlike Margaret Court. Still he’s a lot more palatable than, say, Ben Shapiro, who recites alt-light talking points as fast as possible and calls it debate.

But Sandgren had also retweeted so-called Pizzagate conspiracy rants, and some insults directed towards black folk in general and Serena Williams in particular. He responded to social media attacks by deleting his tweets, which only made him look guilty of something. After defeating Thiem, Sandgren botched the post-match interview by reading a prepared statement attacking the media’s right to question anything he had done on social media, and proclaiming: “It’s my job to continue on this journey with the goal of becoming the best me I can and to embody the love Christ has for me, for I answer to Him and Him alone.” Yeah, that was going to work.

As his match with Chung began, Serena tweeted simply, “Turns channel.”

Soon after losing to Chung, Sandgren tweeted a sincere-sounding statement rejecting alt-right beliefs. Some folk bought it, but I found his statement politically-correct and unconvincing. I suspect that Sandgren still leans alt-light, but is now afraid to express what he really feels – which is a shame. Even though I disagree, I would rather hear what people really think than hear carefully-constructed pablum. In a similar vein, Glenn Greenwald tweeted that while he in no way endorsed Sandgren’s tweets, he did regret that a young person had no space to make mistakes.

I posted before about the unfortunate near-riot when Charles Murray attempted to debate professor Allison Stanger at Middlebury College. As predicted, the Resistance and the MeToo movement have brought about an inevitable backlash. In New York Magazine, self-described Oakeshott-conservative Andrew Sullivan claims even the LGBT movement has lost focus:

The movement is now rhetorically as much about race and gender as it is about sexual orientation (“intersectionality”), prefers alternatives to marriage to marriage equality, sees white men as “problematic,” masculinity as toxic, gender as fluid, and race as fundamental. They have no desire to seem “virtually normal”; they are contemptuous of “respectability politics” — which means most politics outside the left. Above all, they have advocated transgenderism, an ideology that goes far beyond recognizing the dignity and humanity and civil equality of trans people into a critique of gender, masculinity, femininity, and heterosexuality. “Live and let live” became: “If you don’t believe gender is nonbinary, you’re a bigot.” I would be shocked if this sudden lurch in the message didn’t in some way negatively affect some straight people’s views of gays.

While I realize that Sullivan is not entirely wrong here, his POV is very insular. He, a gay conservative, got what he wanted out of the LGBT movement, and that should be good enough for everyone.

The refusal to consider other viewpoints, or to even listen to anyone that disagrees has become a pathology in our culture. It is the key first step in dehumanization of the other. A fellow, Umair Haque posted on Medium that he believes our very culture is severely ill:

American collapse is much more severe than we suppose it is. We are underestimating its magnitude, not overestimating it. American intellectuals, media, and thought doesn’t put any of its problems in global or historical perspective — but when they are seen that way, America’s problems are revealed to be not just the everyday nuisances of a declining nation, but something more like a body suddenly attacked by unimagined diseases.

Seen accurately. American collapse is a catastrophe of human possibility without modern parallel . And because the mess that America has made of itself, then, is so especially unique, so singular, so perversely special — the treatment will have to be novel, too. The uniqueness of these social pathologies tell us that American collapse is not like a reversion to any mean, or the downswing of a trend. It is something outside the norm. Something beyond the data. Past the statistics. It is like the meteor that hit the dinosaurs: an outlier beyond outliers, an event at the extreme of the extremes. That is why our narratives, frames, and theories cannot really capture it — much less explain it. We need a whole new language — and a new way of seeing — to even begin to make sense of it.

The Passing of a Playboy

I’ve been intrigued by the reactions to the death of Hugh Hefner – the founder of Playboy Magazine. Erotica goes back thousands of years on cave walls, in paintings, sketches, and later in woodcuts and engravings. Since the invention of halftone printing there have been magazines like PhotoBits, first published in 1898. Pinup girls like Bettie Page used to pose for such magazines, which were usually sold discreetly to adult men, who usually concealed them. Playboy was the first high-quality, mass market men’s magazine to feature nude pictorials, and the first of the type that many women and children ever saw on the shelves. My father concealed his Playboys, though not very well, but we had neighbors whose parents were less conscientious.

I subscribe to the self-described progressive outfit The Young Turks (TYT), who have one show called, “Old School.” During a recent broadcast founder Cenk Uygur announced Hefner’s passing as breaking news. Even though they have vastly different backgrounds and business models, Uygur seemed to feel a connection to his fellow entrepreneur/publisher:

Cenk: What’s funny is that I just got a little emotional. I almost teared up, I didn’t, but … what do I know about Hugh Hefner. I interviewed him once. He was nice…. He was part of America, man.

Malcolm Fleschner: He was an iconic figure in America.

Cenk: I just got really, really sad.

Malcolm: There is only one Hugh Hefner, there is nobody like him, and there never will be again, we’ve lost him, whatever you thought about him, he was a uniquely American figure and had a massive impact on our culture …

Cenk: If ever a person was iconic, it was Hugh Hefner … Man, he lived a good life.

On TYT’s Pop Trigger, a younger group, Brett Ehrlich, Grace Baldridge, Daron Dean, and Jason Carter also covered Hefner’s passing, and extolled Hefner as forward-thinking, even while acknowledging his objectification of women. On the TYT main show, Ana Kasparian, Ehrlich and Baldridge again seemed to take Hefner for granted as an exponent of social progress, despite his flaws. On their recurring youtube show, Reality Rescued, TYT’s roving reporter Jordan Chariton even tossed out that he had first masturbated to Playboy, shocking poor Emma Vigeland.

I had seen many of my father’s copies before December 1967, but will always remember a Playboy pictorial on erotic Art Nouveau engravings by Aubrey Beardsley, Gustav Klimt, Franz von Bayros and Norman Lindsay which my younger self found much more provoking than remote and detached photos of Hef’s carefully selected bunnies. I could probably buy a copy, but it probably wouldn’t live up to my memories.

Even though he was a vocal champion of (many) liberal social values, Hefner fares less well with liberals than the TYT progressives. In a New Yorker article, Hugh Hefner, Playboy, and the American Male, Adam Gopnik writes:

There was a time when his excursions into the Playboy philosophy, which was not quite as ridiculous a document as its title makes it sound, were, though never taken seriously, at least seen as significant. Now, they seem not merely quaint but predatory.

For The American Thinker, Rick Moran writes, Hugh Hefner is Dead:

What was Hefner’s role in this transformative America? Actually, he was a lot less impactful than certainly Hefner would have us and the media believe. He did not initiate the sexual revolution. We can thank the Pill for that. Rather, Hefner rode the wave of changing morals and mores by creating bankable images of nearly nude women, along with sharp political and cultural commentary from some of the best liberal writers in America. He made it cool to be a cad and reinforced the male fantasy of consequence-free sex.

And The New Republic decries, Hugh Hefner’s Incomplete Sexual Revolution:

What derailed the male revolt was the female revolt. Women reasonably asked themselves: If men like Hefner were abandoning the traditional claims of chivalry, then what were they offering? The answer: a patriarchy without any promise of protection—a raw deal.

Without a trace of irony, today’s intersectionally woke neoliberals signal their virtue by pointing out that Hefner profited from wrapping himself in the social revolution at the same time that he was sexually exploiting his lowly-paid female employees.

Interestingly, a woman architect really appreciated Hefner. Writing for the AIA journal, Architect, Karrie Jacobs penned, Playboy Magazine and the Architecture of Seduction in 2016, quoting Beatriz Colomina:

… Hefner made [midcentury modern design] mainstream. That’s the point of the exhibition, that Playboy did more for modern architecture and design then any architectural journal or even the Museum of Modern Art. At its peak, it had seven million readers.

I gave a lecture at Cornell at the beginning of this research. At the end of the lecture, a woman said to me, “Now I understand why my father, who never went to a museum, who never had any idea about art or architecture or design, had an amazing collection of midcentury furniture.”

And then I had a correspondence with her. She asked him, “Where did you get all this furniture?” And he said, “Playboy told me to buy it.”

That is absolutely spot on. Along with the girls, and the interviews, and the fiction, were descriptions of the Playboy Pad: apartments or houses that would reflect well on the bachelor’s good taste, with lists (and costs) of the Barcelona chairs, Burberry raincoats, Fleischmann’s Preferred Blended Whiskey, Miles Davis albums, Blaupunkt hi-fi sets, etc that midcentury human male bowerbirds could purchase and arrange to attract a mate.