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.

 

 

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Bad Boys, Mean Girls and Normies

Despite not knowing what it was for, I joined Twitter a few months ago. I don’t tweet much, but I follow people I respect, and read a wider variety of articles. Aussie progressive gadfly Caitlin Johnstone tweeted that, except as concerns Russia, President Trump seems to be caving to the establishment agenda. I decided to circle back to John Robb at Global Guerillas, and in an article from a few days ago, The OODA loop of Trump’s Insurgency has been Smashed, he agreed. OODA means Observe, Orient, Decide, Act:

 … the real uniting goal of Trump’s insurgency was “opposition to a failed establishment.”

That goal held the insurgency that put him in office together, despite gaffes, scandals, leaks, etc that would have ended the political career of any other candidate.  It was also a goal that allowed the insurgency to continue after winning the election.  In most cases, once the goal has been accomplished (i.e. remove Mubarak), the insurgency evaporates.

The reason it didn’t: the media. …

It was maddeningly clear that the establishment media was in the bag for Hillary Clinton over Sanders, then over Trump. In the world according to Robb, that was enough to keep resentment of Clinton stoked, but it hasn’t been enough to maintain a Presidency aimed at dismantling the Deep State. Steve Bannon, the architect of that goal, was ushered out weeks ago, and now:

 … senior military staff running the Trump administration launched a counter-insurgency against the insurgency. …

•Former generals took control of key staff positions.
•They purged staff members that were part of the insurgency and tightly limited access to Trump.
•Finally, and most importantly, they took control of Trump’s information flow.

That final step changed everything. General Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, has put Trump on a establishment-only media diet.  Further, staff members are now prevented from sneaking him stories from unapproved sources during the day (stories that might get him riled up and off the establishment message). … by controlling Trump’s information flow with social media/networks, the generals smashed the insurgency’s OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act).  Deprived of this connection, Trump is now weathervaning to cater to the needs of the establishment (as seen with his new stance on DACA and the Wall).

Robb broke down his view of the Trump political climate further back in August in, American Politics: Bad Boys vs. Mean Girls. I’ve quoted but rearranged his descriptions:

The political parties and the media aren’t the primary actors in the US political system anymore.  Increasingly, politics is being waged online by networks.  A fight between two powerful and very different online social networks:

Robb claims that the ‘Bad Boys’ “(similar to a gang or tribe) network grew in support of Donald Trump,” but I think they’ve been growing as long the middle class has been collapsing and have long flourished on certain corners of the internet. In Kill All Normies, Angela Nagle sets a possible beginning of transgression for it’s own sake in 2003 on 4chan, but I encountered the same sort of misanthropic and misogynistic ‘transgressors’ in usenet in the 1990s. Eventually, as explained by Ta-Nehisi Coates recently, they and Trump were bound to find each other.

 [Bad Boys] has one organizing principle: disrupt the status quo.  This network fights like an open source insurgency composed of many small groups and individuals acting independently.  It disrupts from the shadows.  It’s opportunistic, disorganized, and aggressive.  It misleads, angers, and intimidates.  It scores victories by increasing fear, uncertainty, and distrust.

Robb calls Trump’s opponents the ‘Mean Girls’ “(similar to a social clique or ruling aristocracy) network solidified in response to Trump’s unexpected victory.” Again, I believe that some sort of establishment or Deep State has been around for decades, but found a more compelling common cause in opposing Trump.

[Mean Girls’] cohesion and single mindedness neutered the Trump administration even before he took the oath. … It has one organizing principle: repel the barbarians.  This network fights like a ruling clique, albeit vastly larger than we have seen historically due to the scaling effects of social networking.  This network openly connects people in authority across every major institution (from education to the media to the government to the tech industry) and leverages it and the politics of identity to establish moral authority.  It fights by categorizing, vilifying and shunning enemies.  It scores victories by manufacturing consensus.

One only has to read my old haunts TalkingPointsMemo or dagblog, or watch Stephen Colbert or John Oliver or Samantha Bee go after Trump, or one of his staff, or even Bernie Sanders to see this clique in action.

Which leads to my question: Where does the progressive citizen who wants things to get better for everyone fit in? Clearly the Bad Boys want to toss out anyone who isn’t white (or doing a pretty good imitation of white) and start over in a pastoral America that never really existed. There’s no place for the Normies there.

Just as clearly, the Mean Girls profess a world where everyone can be equal and get ahead based strictly on merit. That’s great if you are one of those who can swing a tech job, but not much comfort when those tech firms are transferring the few remaining blue collar jobs to immigrants, foreigners or robots. The Mean Girls become much more pragmatic when asked to support the more progressive reforms proposed by Bernie Sanders.

Are the Bad Boys and Mean Girls just the loudest part of the electorate? Could we create a populist network to rival either of them?

Kord-Kutting & Kaepernick

A few days ago on Facebook, one of my brothers “liked” an article showing empty seats during the first week of NFL football. Why? Because he feels that people should stand for the national anthem instead of protesting like Colin Kaepernick and a growing number of players and fans. The article implied that attendance is down because people who think like him are angry, and boycotting the games.

Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King has also proposed a boycott of NFL football but for exactly the opposite reason. Like Hank Aaron and a lot of people, King believes that Kaepernick is getting blackballed by the NFL owners for taking a public stance against police killings of black people that in many cases presented no obvious threat. For example: Tamir Rice, a boy playing with a toy gun, John Crawford, a man holding an air rifle he had just picked up in a WalMart; Philando Castile, a man who properly told the police he had a permit to carry, Walter Scott, who was shot in the back eight times as he was slowly running away from a traffic stop, and many, many others.

Today, Shaun King tweeted a link to this Bloomberg article, NFL TV Ratings Slump Again, with the comment, “Our boycott is working.” But the article, and the embedded video interview with Leo Hindery, Jr tell a different story:

Fewer people watched the opening week of National Football League coverage than they did last year, a decline TV executives chalk up to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

Cable news and the Weather Channel almost tripled their audiences in prime time and grew fourfold during the day, according to data from the networks, drawing fans away from football. Thursday Night Football was down 13 percent, and Sunday games on Fox and CBS also declined. Sunday Night Football on Comcast Corp.’s NBC, featuring the arch-rival New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, was a rare bright spot.

A drop in viewing last year caused consternation at league offices and the major media companies that count on the NFL to deliver the biggest audiences on TV. Executives blamed several factors, led by interest in the presidential election and a poor slate of games. Pro football drew $4.2 billion in regular season ad sales last year, according to Kantar Media and SMI Media Inc.

Eager to get off to a good start this year, the league responded by scheduling more appealing match-ups early in the season. That didn’t work last week, and networks are now pointing to the weather.

King rejects the weather excuse, and I’m sure some people are boycotting the NFL both in support of and against Kaepernick, but if you watch the video, media investor and businessman Leo Hindery, Jr makes a case that cord-cutting among the younger generations is a looming disaster for all sports programming.

“You have a youth generation coming up whose attention spans are shorter, and the devices they use are different, they don’t sit on couches and buy bundles of programming. … The young person today looks at the NFL as over-commercialized, too many advertisements, too little relative action vs alternative, 3 1/2 hours to watch an NFL game tonight that didn’t start until 8:30, most of us can’t stay up until 11:30. … Once you give viewers a choice of a la carte or voluntary programming, only watch what you want to watch, only pay for what you watch. We grew up in an industry that for decades was, ‘you ate what I serve, you pay what I charged’.”

Hindery notes that ESPN has dropped from 100 million households to 88 million in ten years. He expects a crash in sports revenue.

I’m not sure if there is a satisfactory outcome for either of these boycotts. The NFL can’t afford to lose their white apologist viewership or their woke black viewership, and sadly the police aren’t likely to stop shooting people of color. Add in the growing concern over concussions and lasting brain damage in football, and I frankly wonder whether the NFL may be doing Kaep a favor in the long run.

The Angry Blue Planet

My weekend morning ritual has been to watch reruns of Men Into Space (1959) at 7:30 AM on Comet TV. Although I was completely unaware of the show until a few years ago, I’m sure I would have loved it as a boy. Essentially the show presented space exploration as a serious military project with very little tolerance for any speculative elements and roughly zero dissenting social commentary. The technical aspects seemed real enough for the time, though the space suits are obviously not pressurized. The show revolved around Air Force Colonel Edward McCauley, who was Ward Cleaver in a uniform – an authoritarian, by-the-book officer that always turned out to be right about everything. When not traveling into space, the Colonel and his subordinate officers enjoyed cookouts with their wives and girlfriends, who were extraordinarily attractive despite wearing pointy bras and way too much makeup. On two occasions women astronauts made it into space, but the writers couldn’t let us forget just how different they were from men.

I watched The Angry Red Planet again last weekend, a well-meaning scifi flick also from 1959. My siblings and I watched this flick in the 1960s, and thought it exciting then. As an adult it is harder to ignore the flaws, but even though it relies on stock sets and characters that wouldn’t last a day under Col. McCauley, the special effects weren’t bad for the time, and the plot was straightforward. Basically, four Terrans travel to and land on Mars, where they are beset by bizarre local flora and fauna and are finally told to stay away by advanced inhabitants. Even with a doctoral degree, Iris Ryan didn’t fare much better than the women on Men Into Space. Colonel Tom could hardly stop hitting on “Irish” throughout the mission. Warrant Officer Sam is a fairly goofy sort who is in love with his ray gun, and Professor Gettell is one of those 60s scientists that apparently doesn’t specialize because he knows everything.

I also watched a recent apocalyptic scifi short called Rakka, starring Sigourney Weaver, which is available on youtube, and runs about twenty minutes. Rakka is set in 2020, and opens with narration by Weaver:

We were once mankind. We were humanity. And now, we’re no more than pests, vermin. They came here to exterminate us. They took our history and culture. They covered our landmarks in dying humanity. … They killed us in waves when they first arrived. They built these megastructures that spew methane. They’ve sewn their crops, snuffing out our plant life. Raising the global temperature, causing our cities to flood. They waged war on Earth. They set fire to our forests. It’s already hard to breathe, impossible to breathe if you are close to the stacks. … They hack into our psyche, into our minds, paralyzing us, taking control of our cerebrum and limbic systems, rendering us as slaves.

It occurred to me that much of this could have been a speech given by any of various indigenous peoples about more advanced conquerors. It could also be a speech about what the well-to-do are doing to the Earth right now.

 

Tranzit.ro has just posted two hour video of two short lectures and a panel discussion called Europe: Economic Crisis and Political Alternatives. I gather the lecture series took place at or near Petru Maior University in Romania.

As you watch the video, from left to right sitting at two flimsy tables are the moderator: Alex Cistelecan (Petru Maior University, CriticAtac)

Michael Roberts, a Marxist economist living in London, author of The Great Recession (2009) and The Long Depression (2016).

Mark Blyth, economics professor at Brown University and fellow at The Watson Institute, author of Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the 20th Century (2002) and Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (2015).

On your far right is another moderator: Cornel Ban of Boston University, author of How Global Neoliberalism Goes Local (2016).

The sound quality is uneven, and photographer spends a fair amount of time scanning the crowd instead of the screen, which is hard to see. But some Romanian girls are quite attractive.

Where is Europe going and what can be done about its economic malaise? The final instalment of our series of lectures ‘Culture and Politics of Crisis’ focuses on the current European political and economic deadlock. As such, it sets the stage for a dialogue between two of the most important political economists of our time: Mark Blyth and Michael Roberts. For Roberts, the European crisis is diagnosed from a Marxist perspective. For Blyth, the analysis is infused by heterodox Keynesian views. Consequently, the two scholars diverge both in terms of situating the main cause of crisis and the main solution to it: for Roberts the emphasis falls on the general fall of the rate of profit affecting capital in our time, with anti-capitalism as the solution. For Blyth the crisis is caused by a lack of demand and investment and the way out is a different kind of capitalism. Between these diverging diagnostics and challenging solutions affecting the global and continental predicament, the fate of the East of Europe will also come in the spotlight: what are the limits of the semi-peripheral condition of this region and what remedies does it permit – Lexit, national sovereignty, regionalism à la Visegrad? Is a reformed, more social and egalitarian EU possible? Or, if not, how – or even why? – should we stop its nationalist disintegration?

Fair and Balanced

I read that Fox will be no longer using their, “Fair and Balanced” tagline. I wonder who will snap that one up? Maybe the DNC? Maybe the Republican’s charity softball team? I think Fox is replacing it with, “Laughing Our Ossoff.” Or maybe the Democrats already have that trademarked, having spent a fortune to run another Republican-lite candidate while campaign consultants laughed all the way to the bank.

The Dems reminds me more and more of the Washington Generals, who were paid to play straight up basketball (and lose) against a team that ignored the rules in favor of showmanship.

The Redskins get to keep their name, and no NFL team has signed Colin Kaepernick, who offended the league by pointing out that police were shooting dark-skinned people almost as casually as they shoot barking dogs.

Shaun King believes that Black Lives Matter is losing the struggle. I think we are all losing the struggle, but no one is shooting at me yet.

 

Forty Years Later

The movie Star Wars opened in theatres about forty years ago. It was later called A New Hope, but then it was just another summer movie. I have run across several articles proclaiming how great it was, and asking people to comment on how it changed their lives. It always reminds me of a girl.

That summer, I got a letter from my college roommate who had seen it already, and he said despite all the hype, it was actually pretty good scifi. Technology showed signs of wear and tear, and even had dust and dirt streaks. He recommended it.

I was working in Southern Virginia, moving from town to town managing a crew of other summer interns. We were all architecture or engineering majors who had gotten work with the Corps of Engineers. There were two groups, one was guys from Maryland (me) through Massachusetts. Another was guys from Virginia through Texas. I put in a few weeks with the Southern group, then took over the Northern group.

At the end of the summer, we all came together for a few weeks. Before that, the guy from Notre Dame, Larry, wanted to visit his friend in Augusta, Georgia over a long weekend. He couldn’t rack up that sort of mileage on his government car, but I was using my own car. Coincidentally, my college girlfriend was visiting my previous college roommate who was interning in that same city. She had only given me his phone number but not his address, and I thought I might be able to call them up when I got there.

So I agreed to drive us down there. Along the way I was surprised to discover he didn’t believe in evolution. It wasn’t a bad drive. His friend’s name was Leonard, and they knew each other from track team, both doing long distance running. He was an in-your-face extravert. “Two Words!” he shouted at Larry when we got there, “Two words and you’ve got it made here: All Hail!”

“All Hail?” I thought, but he was really saying, “Aw Hell!” in an exaggerated local accent. I told him I was there to try to find my girlfriend, and he asked, “Is this bad news?” Anyway I never connected with her, but we men had a good time, played some tennis, and drank some beer. Now, Leonard had a girlfriend, a buxom local gal, I forget her name, but she had a roommate, Anne, who was a visiting student from Belgium, who was the thin, pretty sort that I always notice. She spoke English but was generally quiet.

So the five of us went to see Star Wars. Somehow I ended up sitting next to Anne at the theatre, and was very conscious of being near a pretty girl who wasn’t my girlfriend. Star Wars, as you probably know, is a very American movie. Parts of the film echo both Western gunfight serials, and old WWII dogfight flicks. I laughed at the more obvious references, but Anne would just look at me with a puzzled expression. I don’t think she understood why a guy would laugh during a battle scene.

Afterwards we all went to a big old bar with loud music. Larry and Leonard were reliving old times. I tried to talk to Anne, but it was tough sledding with the noise and language barrier. By that time I had completely forgotten about the movie.

Now I can’t remember how we got to the next situation, but somehow, Larry and Anne were in my car and we were following Leonard’s car. He had accused his girlfriend of steppin’ out with someone else, so they were having a fight, and she was going to take off in her car, and he was going to follow her. Poor Anne suddenly realized she was in a car with two American guys she hardly knew and panicked. I was trying to think of some way to assure her that she was perfectly safe – even though I didn’t really know the route back to their apartment – but I realized it probably looked pretty bad to her. She got out and yelled the other girl’s name. I don’t actually remember what happened next, or how we made it back to Leonard’s place, but that was the last I saw of Anne.

Today she probably tells her grandchildren scary stories about American architects. I look back and wish I had had a chance to just talk to her. Yeah, the movie was good, but the only life-changing drama was in the real people I was meeting.

Dueling Conspiracy Theories

Something happened during the last election. Depending on what news outlets you follow, you probably believe either that candidate Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government, sabotaging the campaign of Hillary Clinton, or that the DNC ordered the assassination of Seth Rich. You may not believe either accusation, and frankly there is no solid proof that either is true. You probably don’t believe both to be true, which is unlikely but still possible, because your media outlets have been presenting these as either-or conspiracy theories.

Seth Rich worked for the Democratic National Committee as a Voter Expansion Data Director. Some people claim he secretly favored Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton.

On 10 July 2016, at about 4 AM, Rich was walking home from a bar in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, DC NW. (I lived in and around DC until 1990, and never heard of that neighborhood, but in general NorthWest DC had become a place where affluent young people wanted to live.) Police were alerted to gunfire at 4:20 AM, and found Rich bruised and shot twice in the back. His girlfriend told reporters:

“There had been a struggle. His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything… They didn’t finish robbing him, they just took his life.”

Rich still had his wallet, watch, phone and was wearing a $2,000 necklace. There had been twenty robberies in the area, and police later labeled the killing a “botched robbery,” but it may actually have been a botched amateur assassination, since nothing was taken and he was still conscious when found. He died at hospital.

Two or three days later, WikiLeaks published nearly 20,000 Democratic National Committee emails. John Podesta and the DNC claimed those emails were obtained by Russian hackers, which given the numbers of hackers from Russia, is plausible. The DNC expanded that claim to involve the Trump campaign, and there is currently a House Intelligence Committee investigation into whether there was any collusion between Trump or his campaign, and the Russian government.

Julian Assange refused to confirm or deny that Rich had leaked the emails, but on August 11th, Wikileaks offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to Rich’s killer.

Former DC policeman Rod Wheeler, working indirectly for Rich’s family claims that he was told by a reliable FBI agent that Rich’s laptop proved that he had sent the emails to Gavin McFayden, a mentor of Assange and an official of Wikileaks, who has since died of lung cancer. Wheeler has recently walked back that claim.

Today, legions of podcasters are waiting for Kim Dotcom to fulfill his promise to prove that Seth Rich leaked those emails to Wikileaks. Dotcom claims he was involved, too.

But no matter what Dotcom does or doesn’t reveal, the full force of the Deep State will still be behind the Russian hacking theory, which seems to be the best means of attacking a President that recklessly announced his hostility to the establishment during his inaugural address.