Category: Culture

The tragicomedy of the coronavirus

There are, as far as I know, only two people in my extended family who were paid to write for publication. The other one was my great-aunt, who worked at the Morrison County Record in Little Falls, Minn., and doubled as their cooking columnist.

That does not mean the non-writers in the family cannot tell stories. And so my mother makes her worldwide writing debut:

Yesterday Steve went into panic mode since he was eating his last banana for breakfast. He says he’s going to go to the store and get three or four. He is very picky about his bananas and won’t eat one if it has a brown spot so can’t stockpile.

That is, by the way, my father (Steve is his middle name), not the writer of this blog. His actual first name is Paul, the same as his father’s, but back in the days when many people went by their middle names he was Paul Stephen, since he was born on St. Stephen’s Day, and not Paul Leonard. Their decision to name me for Paul Stephen, but in reverse, set in motion years of confusion over the intended recipients of phone calls and mail.

Me: You’re going to risk life and limb for a few bananas?

I tell him I’ve got it covered, so at bedtime I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m. to take advantage of the store’s senior early hours, 6:30–8:30 a.m. Didn’t sleep well knowing I had this daunting task that I was committed to.

That is apparently hereditary. Back in my business magazine days I would make 6 a.m. morning TV appearances at a Green Bay TV station an hour from the house. I was paranoid that I would not get there in time, knowing full well that if you don’t get there on time, they’re not going to move you elsewhere in the show. I always did get there in time, but I spent the rest of the day in a caffeine-fueled haze due to my lack of sleep.

At 6:13 a.m this morning my eyes pop open — I beat the alarm clock. Ran and shut the window (I like it cold to sleep), ran to turn up the furnace since I like it warm to get dressed, started my first cup of coffee in the Keurig. Did my daily blood sugar test and it was good — yay, more carbs today! Day is starting off great. Checked out the window and it is dark and raining. Great, since it might keep the old farts indoors. Went to the bathroom for a quick tooth brushing, used a cold wash cloth to wake myself up, applied lots of moisturizer so wrinkles don’t resemble the Grand Canyon. Penciled on two misaligned eyebrows (I’m not going anywhere, even for bananas, without my eyebrows). They work if I don’t smile or squint. I’ve got this! Serious case of bed head — rainy and cold so a knit hat works, plus I have matching cloth gloves to wear in the store. No touchy anything! Gloves can be washed or left in the car until spring.

I am dressed, in the car and on the road at 6:48. Weird because there is not a car in sight. Made me wonder if the store would be open. I take a risk and drive 30 in a 25 mph zone. Figured no cop would give a ticket to a “fragile” (doctor’s label, not mine, since I think of myself as a flyweight Ninja Grandma) senior who is doing an emergency food run for the family.
Get to the store — wait, there are cars in MY store’s parking lot. I don my gloves and bravely walk in the door. Wow, only saw a couple bodies and they were stocking, etc.

Good news — there were muffins. Hooray, since I allow myself one-fourth of a muffin as a treat. God is soooooooo good — bought two packages. No, that’s not hoarding because there were plenty on the table.

Go to produce and found four perfect greenish yellow bananas, beautiful raspberries that I plan to do a reverse mortgage to afford. (If hunky Tom Selleck says reverse mortgages are good, I’m there.)

Peppers look good though with my neuropathy glove-covered hands there is no way I can open up the freaking plastic bags — was holding up progress so gave up. My beloved grapefruit were plentiful so I grabbed a bag of seven, and my favorite lettuce blend.

I’m definitely on a roll … until this young guy invades my personal space. I’m thinking about giving him the finger but have never been able to determine what one to use.  I’m told a thumbs-up gesture does not convey the message appropriately. Oh well, the glove probably would make it difficult anyway.

Observation: women are being respectful; men are clueless! Nothing new there. Probably a dozen or so people in the whole store. Shelves are bare in the toilet paper area, but I did find some Pinesol liquid so I can make my own spray if my supply runs out.
Picked up one dozen eggs and several of my low-carb yogurt. I’m definitely on a roll since I was able to find most of what I wanted/needed. Hooray and worth the trip!

Stopped to profoundly thank a manager type who was checking prices. Seemed to make her so happy and she in turn thanked me for shopping their store. I’m thinking people are going to bigger probably better stocked shelves.

By this time my stomach is growling so loud that my social-distancing fellow shoppers are looking at me probably wondering if one of the first signs of the virus is noisy stomachs. They’re definitely looking fearful. So as not to offend, I head to the checkout where I am delighted to find my favorite youngsters at the register — a cute little Asian guy bagger and a young woman who is sooooooo good at her job. She remembers everything and always reminds the bagger to not make my bags heavy since I have a bad back. How sweet is that?  I thank them both profusely and ask what time they had to get to work. Turns out they reported in at 6 a.m. but she has the day off tomorrow.
It is now 7:31 a.m. and I push my treasures in my cart and can’t get the right button (remember gloves here) to open the back door. Finally throw caution to the wind and open it myself. I duck as it raises up. I load my bags in the car and drive home. Still no traffic on the road.  So eerie!

Get home and take only the perishables into the house.  I saw the instructions of how to handle groceries. I spend the next hour cleaning everything — if the peppers taste a little weird so-be-it.

At 8:36 sleeping Jesus emerges in his jammies from the bedroom and says (drum roll, please) “Are you going somewhere?” Dane County has another C-19-related casualty.

I have never heard of my father referred to as “sleeping Jesus.” Apparently he outgrew being a morning person.

I must say I haven’t had such an adventure since I skipped an afternoon of school in the ninth grade. I was terrified the whole time and vowed it wasn’t worth it. Didn’t get caught but I believe I’m still being punished by getting frequent urinary tract infections.

Of all the people I know, my mother is the last person I would have thought would have ever skipped school. Proof of the cosmic unfairness of the universe: Had I ever skipped school, or for that matter done one-tenth of what my father allegedly did when he was in school, I would still be locked in their basement on lifetime grounding.

While this is meant to be a joke, I sit here with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. I am so blessed to live in a country where the aged are being treated aggressively for the virus, unlike some other countries who triage them out as hopeless. My beloved family and friends are well at this point and the grocery stores are making special hours to help us seniors stay healthy. What else could I wish for except for solutions to be found to fight this terrible disease.

I close by wishing you continued good health. Stay well!

A sermon you won’t hear Sunday

R.R. Reno:

At the press conference on Friday announcing the New York shutdown, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “I want to be able to say to the people of New York—I did everything we could do. And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”

This statement reflects a disastrous sentimentalism. Everything for the sake of physical life? What about justice, beauty, and honor? There are many things more precious than life. And yet we have been whipped into such a frenzy in New York that most family members will forgo visiting sick parents. Clergy won’t visit the sick or console those who mourn. The Eucharist itself is now subordinated to the false god of “saving lives.”

Truth is another casualty of this sentimentalism. The media bombard the public with warnings about the danger posed by the coronavirus, when the truth is that only a small percent of the population of New York is at risk. By an unspoken agreement, leaders, public health officials, and media personalities conspire to heighten the atmosphere of crisis in order to get us to comply with their radical measures.

A number of my friends disagree with me. They support the current measures, insisting that Christians must defend life. But the pro-life cause concerns the battle against killing, not an ill-conceived crusade against human finitude and the dolorous reality of death.

Others speak as if triage signals moral failure. This is false. We are always doing triage. Only the great wealth of our society allows us to pretend otherwise. We do not spend 100 percent of GDP on healthcare. Even in normal times, we ration healthcare by price, waiting times, and physician discretion. We do not offer organ transplants willy-nilly. Our finitude always requires the hard moral labor of triage. That demand is now more visible, because the potent virus puts great pressure on our immune systems and healthcare systems. But it is always there.

Put simply: Only an irresponsible sentimentalist imagines we can live in a world without triage. We must never do evil that good might come. On this point St. Paul is clear. But we often must decide which good we can and should do, a decision that nearly always requires not doing another good, not binding a different wound, not saving a different life.

There is a demonic side to the sentimentalism of saving lives at any cost. Satan rules a kingdom in which the ultimate power of death is announced morning, noon, and night. But Satan cannot rule directly. God alone has the power of life and death, and thus Satan can only rule indirectly. He must rely on our fear of death.

In our simple-minded picture of things, we imagine a powerful fear of death arises because of the brutal deeds of cruel dictators and bloodthirsty executioners. But in truth, Satan prefers sentimental humanists. We resent the hard boot of oppression on our necks, and given a chance, most will resist. How much better, therefore, to spread fear of death under moralistic pretexts.

This is what is happening in New York as I write. The media maintain a drumbeat of warnings. And the message is not just that you or I might end up in an overloaded emergency room gasping for air. We are more often reminded that we can communicate the virus to others and cause their deaths.

Just so, the mass shutdown of society to fight the spread of COVID-19 creates a perverse, even demonic atmosphere. Governor Cuomo and other officials insist that death’s power must rule our actions. Religious leaders have accepted this decree, suspending the proclamation of the gospel and the distribution of the Bread of Life. They signal by their actions that they, too, accept death’s dominion.

More than one hundred years ago, Americans were struck by a terrible flu pandemic that affected the entire world. Their reaction was vastly different from ours. They continued to worship, go to musical performances, clash on football fields, and gather with friends.

We tell ourselves a fairy tale about that reaction: Those old-fashioned people were superstitious and ignorant about medical science. They abandoned the weak to the slaughter of the disease for no good reason. We, by contrast, are scientific and pro-active, meeting the threat of disease with much greater intelligence and moral rectitude. We suspend worship and postpone concerts. I’m sure we’ll cancel family reunions as well. We know best what is most important—saving lives!

That older generation that endured the Spanish flu, now long gone, was not ill-informed. People in that era were attended by medical professionals who fully understood the spread of disease and methods of quarantine. Unlike us, however, that generation did not want to live under Satan’s rule, not even for a season. They insisted that man was made for life, not death. They bowed their head before the storm of disease and endured its punishing blows, but they otherwise stood firm and continued to work, worship, and play, insisting that fear of death would not govern their societies or their lives.

We, by contrast, are collectively required to cower in fear—fear that we’ll die redoubled by the fear that we’ll cause others to die. We are stripped of whatever courage we might be capable of. Were I to host a small dinner party tonight, wanting to resist the paranoia and hysteria, I would be denounced. Yesterday, Governor Cuomo saw young people playing basketball in a New York City park. “It has to stop and it has to stop now,” he commanded. Everyone must live under death’s dominion.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn resolutely rejected the materialist principle of “survival at any price.” It strips us of our humanity. This holds true for a judgment about the fate of others as much as it does for ourselves. We must reject the specious moralism that places fear of death at the center of life.

Fear of death and causing death is pervasive—stoked by a materialistic view of survival at any price and unchecked by Christian leaders who in all likelihood secretly accept the materialist assumptions of our age. As long as we allow fear to reign, it will cause nearly all believers to fail to do as Christ commands in Matthew 25. It already is.

The unintended consequences of social distancing

Ethan Sacks:

As the coronavirus advances across the country, more Americans are staying in their homes. That sort of “social distancing” is considered essential to slowing the spread of the virus and easing the burden on the beleaguered health infrastructure.

But for those suffering from depression, especially those who struggle with suicidal thoughts, it is definitely not what the doctor ordered.

Any “isolation is so devastating to our own mood because we’re left stuck with our own thoughts,” said Emily Roberts, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist. “If you’re struggling with a mental health disease, if you are relying on therapy which requires you getting out of your house, it’s going to be very hard to motivate yourself to get the help you need.

“The fact that there’s so much of an urgency to disconnect creates a lot of fear with people.”

The potential side effect of the crisis is something mental health professionals are scrambling to address amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, especially as health resources are diverted to the most immediate concerns. The scale of those concerns in turn is precisely what makes this time an unprecedented stressor for even the most well adjusted among us.

“It’s unclear from one day to the next what any local community is going to do in response to the coronavirus, if people are going to have to stay at home, which then has implications on how we work on caring for them,” said Lynn Bufka, associate executive director for research and policy for the American Psychological Association.

“What’s going to be the implication for disruption? Not everyone is going to be able to continue to get the help they need. Clinicians are very much thinking right now about how to do that.”

Especially when a person battling depression has to simultaneously contend with being infected with the coronavirus in self-isolation.

“It’s important for those who are infected or who feel physically ill and have depression to be in touch with their support systems,” Roberts said. “For clinicians and counselors who have clients with depression, for family members and friends of someone in isolation, especially with a history of depression, it is imperative that you check in and remain in contact with them.

“Motivation is hard to muster when one is ill. When you couple that with depression, it’s even harder to find the energy to get out of bed and take care of yourself.”

Part of what takes such a big mental health toll during a pandemic is that it goes against the primal human social instinct to seek comfort in a larger group — whether it be family, friends, neighbors or co-workers.

In post-9/11 New York City, for example, many residents leaned on a shared sense of experience and community to process an unprecedented attack. This time around, it’s easy to slip into the unease of viewing a fellow New Yorker as a potential coronavirus carrier or a rival for that last bottle of hand sanitizer on a store shelf.

“Humans are wired to be social creatures, and that’s how we cope when a big disaster happens,” said Judith Moskowitz, a professor of medical social science at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “Now, we’re being told to cope with this by staying away from each other.”

She pointed to a 2004 study of 129 Toronto residents who were under quarantine during the SARS epidemic of the previous year, which found that post traumatic stress disorder and depression were observed in 28.9 percent and 31.2 percent of respondents, respectively.

Moskowitz said that as the need for social distancing or self-isolation continues, the key is to maintain human contact as best as people can.

If more than one person is hunkering down in the same place, shared activities, such as playing with children or having conversations that focus on pleasant topics, can be positive distractions. If a person is alone, connecting with loved ones — even if it’s virtually through FaceTime, Zoom or Skype — is essential.

Similarly, therapy can be available remotely, as well. But there is a question, Bufka said, as to whether enough insurance companies have moved quickly enough to adapt, with some still requiring face-to-face therapy sessions for financial reimbursement.

Roberts, who has been recording video advice to navigate anxiety amid the pandemic on her website, said self-care is important, as is staying on a routine of sleeping, waking, taking medications and eating at regular times. Netflix and chilling is fine without going overboard; screen time and intensely focusing on news updates should be compartmentalized.

Physical activity is more imperative for those afflicted with mood disorders for a dose of serotonin — the neurotransmitter that helps regulate emotions. That can include stepping into a backyard, and going for a walk around the block when it’s not crowded is also a boost. “If you’re not sick, going outside safely to get some vitamin D from sunlight and fresh air can be very helpful,” Roberts said.

Every little bit can help lower the potentially toxic effects of boredom, loneliness and anxiety.

“If you can, picture carrying around a bucket that gets filled up by various pressures, and the more filled it gets, the harder it is to walk,” Bufka said. “For some of us, some space is taken up by the challenges of child care or a stressful job. Depression is something that takes up a lot of space in a bucket. It makes carrying it around more unwieldy.

“If you add in the stressor of coronavirus, it can get filled up past the top.”

Others have pointed out that the “cure” —essentially shutting down the economy — will be worse than the actual disease. In this case the disease that isn’t being taken care of — depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and other mental illnesses even experienced by people who didn’t have mental illnesses before the past month — will be worse than the disease that is being taken care of.


Playboy magazine, 1953–2020

You may wonder why I chose to write about Playboy magazine today.

I have written about Playboy twice in this blog in the past. The first was when Christine Hefner, daughter of founder Hugh Hefner (Bill Clinton’s role model), made a typically stupid political statement. The other was a reference to a Playboy article about the new cars of 1983 that were underwhelming in power,  like most 1980s cars.

Back in my business magazine days our company did work for Playboy, specifically developing and retouching photos for the magazine, which I believe was printed by Quad Graphics, in the days before digital photography and photo software were very prevalent. (Hint: No body is perfect.)

There is, of course, the cultural question of whether pornography objectifies women. One side observes that visual images with the goal of titillation have been around far, far, far longer than Playboy. The other side might be the only point on which religious and cultural conservatives and far-left feminists agree. Talk to people like Dr. Drew Pinsky and they can tell you more than you want to know about the seedy side and corrosive effects of pornography.

Other than the photos, Playboy became known for the Playboy Interview feature, which ran for several pages and was sometimes thought-provoking. The Playboy Interview might have first become famous in 1976, when Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, then a Southern Baptist, not only sat down with a Playboy writer, but admitted he had lust in his heart for women to whom he was not married. That might have become the point when people started reading Playboy for the articles, or so the joke went.

Then, in 1990, Playboy interviewed New York developer Donald Trump. You can imagine how interested people became in that interview a decade and a half later (while widely misquoting Trump about his opinion of Republicans). Hefner, one of the U.S.’ greatest self-promoters, credited himself for Trump’s election.

The thing all along was that Playboy offered really one thing that other men’s lifestyle magazines such as GQ (which, along with occasional nudity that didn’t show off the sexy bits, teaches readers how to spend far too much on clothing) and other highbrow magazines like Vanity Fair — photos of nude women. Other magazines went, shall we say, down-market from Playboy (as you are about to read), and then the genre called “lad magazines” (think Playboy but they’re wearing bikinis) further eroded Playboy’s market share.

Kayla Kibbe writes about Playboy’s approach as of last year.:

“People have been upset about nude women for years.”

That’s what Mike Edison, who has a knack for stating the obvious, has to say. The author of Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! Of Playboys, Pigs, and Penthouse Paupers, Edison literally wrote the book on nude women and the exact ways people have been upset about them ever since a naked Marilyn Monroe first graced the pages of Playboy back in 1953.

Flash-forward several decades and a few waves of feminism, and people are still upset about naked women, but often in new and increasingly nuanced ways. These days, the moral outrage publications like Playboy and its racier ilk have long weathered has been augmented by a more liberal-minded brand of criticism: What place, if any, do fading empires built on the backs of nude women and their male gazers deserve in the Me Too era?

That verbiage — “in the Me Too era” — has become a convenient if ill-defined and ultimately lazy way of referring to today’s fraught sexual climate, which has left people across political and ideological spectrums struggling to find their footing in a society in which unprecedented opportunities for sexual liberation, positivity and representation are increasingly plagued by very negative and violent sexual realities.

As Playboy’s executive editor, Shane Michael Singh, tells InsideHook, “It’s an era of simultaneous sexual freedom and panic.” When people question what we can and can’t do, or what can and can’t survive “in the Me Too era,” what they’re really asking is whether we can continue to celebrate sex and sexuality in a world that has so long exploited it for patriarchal benefit.

In keeping with the magazine’s sometimes overlooked history of progressivism — which began but certainly didn’t end with sexual liberation — Playboy has an answer. That answer comes in the form of a revised and relaunched structure and editorial strategy, which the New York Times, with only a hint of skepticism, has called “a newer, woke-er, more inclusive Playboy.” The new revision, one of many but perhaps the most significant the magazine has seen in recent years, reflects a complete editorial and artistic overhaul helmed — for the first time in the magazine’s history — by a young, Hefnerless, and largely female creative team.

The result is a quarterly ad-free magazine in which interviews with democratic candidates and editorials examining the importance of due process in Title IX cases are printed on thick-stock pages alongside nude pictorials of a more artistic and perhaps more thoughtful nature than the leering centerfold gazers of yore might expect.

“We pay close attention to conversations about nudity in today’s culture and consider those dialogues as we think through how nudity can be a medium for exploring protest, free expression, individuality, sexual freedom, rebellion and equality,” Singh says. The cover of the magazine’s summer issue was created by fine art photographer Ed Freeman, whose underwater shoot features three female activists who have lent their support to causes like HIV awareness and ocean conservation.

While the magazine’s newest iteration doesn’t bear much resemblance to Hugh Hefner’s nearly 70-year-old creation at first blush, so-called “woke Playboy” is in many ways a modern-day revision of the ideological tenets that, according to Playboy supporters, have always underscored the ethos Hefner once dubbed “the Playboy Philosophy.”

Playboy has always intrigued a wide range of readers — gay or straight, male or female, conservative or liberal, black, brown or white,” Singh points out. “That’s because our core values — an appreciation of equality, freedom of speech, gender and sexuality, and pleasure — are universal values.”

“We live in a time where people are afraid to talk about sex. That’s heartbreaking,” says Edison. “One good thing about Playboy,” he tells InsideHook, “obviously it comes with some baggage — but it did open the conversation.”

That’s a conversation Playboy seems determined to continue, not in spite of, but rather because of the fraught sexual climate in the wake of the Me Too era.

“While the sexual landscape may be fraught and tense, consumers are hungry for answers — and answers they can trust,” Singh tells InsideHook. “We address our current climate’s sexual tensions not by ignoring the uncomfortable realities, but by confronting them head-on.”

While Playboy critics often question the brand’s relevance and/or appropriateness in a post-Me Too world, such as those who called the 2018 reopening of the Manhattan Playboy Clubtone deaf,” Edison points out that such criticism relies on an ultimately tenuous link between print erotica and sexual violence.

“I don’t believe that talking about sex or looking at a naked model contributes to non-consensual behavior,” he says. “That connection just doesn’t exist for me.” Fortunately, it doesn’t exist for the creative team behind the latest iteration of Playboy, either.

“At Playboy, we recognize that being sex-positive means an individual has the right to explore their sexuality however they’d like, without judgment or regulation, as long as it is consensual,” says Singh.

That culture of consent extends to the magazine’s pictorials as well. In the Times’ August feature, Singh described Playboy’s approach to what he called consensual objectification. “I think objectification removes the agency of the subject. Consensual objectification is the idea of someone feeling good about themselves and wanting someone to look at them,” he explained.

“That’s the key,” he tells InsideHook. “The women (and men) we photograph — and who take the photographs — have agency over the art they’re creating.”

What Playboy’s consensual objectification proves is that sex can still be celebrated not just despite, but as a crucial reaction against the ways in which it has been exploited.

“Awful creeps like the Harvey Weinsteins of the world — he didn’t do that because he read Playboy, or Hustler, or Penthouse,” says Edison. “Eliminating the ugliness of this awful, patriarchal, misogynist bullshit doesn’t mean throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

While Playboy, true to form, has taken an evolutionary lead in the new era of adult mags, it’s not the only publication of its kind to address and adapt to today’s shifting sexual attitudes.

In fact, the magazine’s recent push toward more artistic photography resembles the nude photoshoots that have always graced the thick, glossy pages of Treats!, a fine arts quarterly that was already being hailed as a “modern gentlemen’s magazine” before Playboy even set out on the reinvention project that began with the short-lived decision to drop nudity before reintroducing it in 2017.

“I always try to portray my models artistically,” Treats! founder Steve Shaw said in a 2015 interview with HighSnobiety. “I’m not looking at them physically or sexually — it’s more creatively.”

Today, Shaw maintains that the key to artistic nudity is context. “It all depends on how the nudity is presented,” he tells InsideHook. “I don’t consider Treats! sexual. It is sensual,” he adds. “If you do sexual right, it becomes sensual. It involves a creative and trusting relationship between the photographer and model.”

According to Shaw, however, Playboy and Treats! don’t have much in common. “The only reference is there is nudity, we just do it in a more sophisticated and artistic way,” he says, adding that raunchier flesh mags like Penthouse and Hustler “have far outlived their usefulness.”

Even those racier Playboy successors, however, have made some moves toward a more progressive image in recent years. Under newly-tapped executive editor and White Lung frontwoman Mish Barber-Way, Penthouse is making its own shift to appeal to a younger, more socially conscious audience.

“The goal is smart, high/low content that confronts the culture war while also being able to laugh at the world and, more importantly, ourselves,” Barber-Way told Riot Fest this past March after the launch of Penthouse’s new digital platform.

Like Singh, Barber-Way also feels moved to defend sexual representation and free speech against a growing culture of conservatism. “We’re in a really interesting time right now, because I feel like there’s this really puritanical, Victorian way of looking at sex and sexual interaction that’s coming in,” she told Culture Creator in 2018. “But it’s also in conjunction with this overexposed ‘sex sex sex’ in our face all the time. There’s this clash there.”

While Barber-Way may be less interested in navigating the ideological implications of that clash than the creative team at Playboy — “I think when people try and over-analyze it and dig too deep in it, then it starts to get so complicated and then it isn’t what it was supposed to be anymore,” Barber-Way added on the Culture Creator podcast — she certainly isn’t afraid of getting in the middle of it. “I’m not worried about offending anyone,” she said in the same interview. “That was the whole premise behind Penthouse and Hustler: you’re already offending someone who’s uptight with the fact that there’s sex in this magazine, so why worry about everything else, you know?”

Even Hustler, by far the most unapologetically low-brow of Playboy‘s disciples, can’t help but speak out against the conservative powers that be. Back in 2017, Hustler founder Larry Flynt took to Twitter to offer a dubious $10 million bounty on information leading to the impeachment of Donald Trump. More recently, the magazine has sprinkled progressive editorials asking if “socialism will save us” and if “the war on drugs is finally over” in between the traditional hardcore pictorials Edison calls “borderline gynecological.”

Meanwhile, the industry isn’t just blowing the dust off mid-century titles and refashioning them for a millennial audience. Cooper Hefner, who exited Playboy earlier this year, has announced plans to launch a brand new media platform, which, as he told CNN, will provide thoughtful lifestyle content and journalistic integrity alongside “healthy adult content.” Originally announced as “Hefpost,” the as-yet-unreleased platform appears to have rebranded as “Stag Daily,” based on a link to what seems to be a largely inactive Twitter account in Hefner’s own Twitter bio.

What these relaunches, revisions and new endeavors suggest is that even faced with the exposed underside of dark sexuality in America, a brave new generation of thoughtful, conscientious and consensual sexual celebration is on the horizon. We can toss aside the sordid residue from a bygone era of overt sexuality, yes — but that doesn’t mean we have to throw Playboy out with the bathwater.

Unless you do. Kibbe’s story was written last September. London’s Independent reported yesterday:

Playboy has announced it is ceasing printing its magazine for the remainder of the year amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In an open letter shared on publishing platform Medium, Playboy’s CEO explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the company to “accelerate a conversation” they had been having internally.

Mr Kohn wrote that “as the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic to content production and the supply chain became clearer and clearer” the firm spoke about how they could “transform” its quarterly magazine “to better suit what consumers want today/ And look at how they could “engage in a cultural conversation each and every day, rather than just every three months”.

The Spring 2020 Issue will be the final printed publication for the year.

Mr Kohn explained that Playboy will “move to a digital-first publishing schedule” for all of its content, which includes interviews and pictorials.

He indicated that the magazine would not return to a regular publishing schedule in 2021 and instead would only issue “innovative printed offerings” in the form of “special editions, partnerships with the most provocative creators, timely collections and much more”.

“Print is how we began and print will always be a part of who we are,” Mr Kohn stated.

The Playboy magazine was first launched in 1953 and became widely known for publishing semi-nude and nude images of female models.

In 2015, it was announced that from March 2016 the publication would no longer publish nude pictures.

However, a year later the company backtracked on this decision.

This month, Playboy magazine released its Spring 2020 “Speech Issue”, which the publication said “boasts a remarkable collection of essential voices”.

Following the announcement of the new issue, it was revealed that Jamil had taken on the role of guest editor for the quarterly magazine, in partnership with her I Weigh movement.

As part of her involvement in the issue, The Good Place actor took part in an interview and photo shoot for the issue, for which she was photographed wearing oversized suit outfits.

Jamil stated on Twitter that she specifically wanted to be photographed as a man would be for the shoot, with measures including ensuring none of the images were retouched and she wore comfortable clothing.

This  might be the least surprising business news of the day. Sports Illustrated cut its publishing schedule to more or less monthly, to the point where subscribers don’t know when it’s coming. I fully expect within a year (or maybe much faster given the oncoming coronavirus recession) that SI won’t print anymore. It is practically impossible to cover sports in a monthly, as Sport and Inside Sports discovered. People Magazine can get away with whatever publication schedule it wants, since People prints nothing important. It’s different when your publication is tied to events, including sports.

Playboy Magazine was probably killed by the Internet, where what Playboy offers can be found for free. (Or so I’m told.) But the decision to try to appeal to a woke audience was obviously not the right answer. They’re too, for lack of a better term, sex-negative to pay several dollars for a printed magazine.

To be honest about it, Playboy was only worth reading for the photos. As with every time Rolling Stone or GQ or some other non-political magazine writes about politics, Playboy probably should have stuck to what it could actually do. (Though recall Frank Zappa’s observation that music journalism is writers who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for readers who can’t read.)

The coronavirus freakout

The Daily Wire:

Physician David Drew Pinsky, commonly referred to as Dr. Drew, slammed the media in a CBS News interview late last week, saying that it is responsible for causing the American public to panic, which is hurting businesses and people.

“A bad flu season is 80,000 dead, we’ve got about 18,000 dead from influenza this year, we have a hundred from corona,” Dr. Drew said. “Which should you be worried about, influenza or Corona? A hundred versus 18,000? It’s not a trick question. And look, everything that’s going on with the New York cleaning the subways and everyone using Clorox wipes and get your flu shot, which should be the other message, that’s good. That’s a good thing, so I have no problem with the behaviors.”

“What I have a problem with is the panic and the fact that businesses are getting destroyed, that people’s lives are being upended, not by the virus, but by the panic,” Dr. Drew continued. “The panic must stop. And the press, they really somehow need to be held accountable because they are hurting people.”

Overnight, the New York Times reported:

As Italy restricted travel across the country, Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, visited Wuhan, the city where the global outbreak began. China signaled that it would begin easing some travel restrictions around Wuhan.

State news media said Mr. Xi met with front-line medical workers, military personnel, community workers, police officers and officials.

This is not to say that I trust China, except to the extent that I think Li wouldn’t be running around in Wuhan if he seriously believed he could get the coronavirus. (Because politicians are often cowards.)



Todd Starnes:

The Centers for Disease Control is grappling with a massive outbreak of Trump Derangement Syndrome among Democrats and the Mainstream Media following pre-race festivities on Sunday at the Daytona 500.

President Trump was named grand marshal of “The Great American Race” and his appearance sent leftists scampering to their designated safe spaces.

Tens of thousands of race fans cheered, “USA, USA” as Air Force One flew about 800 feet over the speedway as “America the Beautiful” played over the public address system.

When the president arrived he was greeted with spectators waving “Make America Great Again” flags and chants of “four more years.”

“It doesn’t get more American than this,” NASCAR driver Joey Logano said.

And then he did what no other sitting president has done – he took a lap around the track. “The Beast” was the official pace car of the race.

Despite the fact “The Beast” is actually a diesel truck with a limousine body.

Among those breaking out into a flop-sweat was New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman. She accused the president of “using the official apparatus of government for what appears to be a political event.”

It’s as if she’s already writing the first draft of another round of Articles of Impeachment: Abuse of the White House Motor Pool.

NBC White House Correspondent Kelly O’Donnellnoted that the trip to Daytona was an “official White House event.” Meaning, that the president’s appearance and trip around the track in “The Beast,” was paid for by the “taxpayers.”

And as near as I could tell the American taxpayers overwhelmingly approved of the president’s visit.

So why were so many Pajama Boy Snowflakes and Mexican Man Shoe Feminists so bothered by the Daytona 500?

Could it be that the race started with an invocation that included a preacher praying in the name of Jesus? Or was it the fact that no one took a knee during the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner? Or maybe it was the display of so much red-blooded “toxic masculinity”?

I contend Ms. Haberman and Ms. O’Donnell were more upset with the people in the stands. President Trump explained why in his address to the fans.

“NASCAR fans never forget that no matter who wins the race, what matters most is God, family and country,” he declared.

The reason why Democrats and the Mainstream Media suffered a sudden onset of Trump Derangement Syndrome is because NASCAR values are the antithesis of everything the leftists stand for – freedom, liberty, patriotism.

The president’s lap around the Daytona International Speedway was a victory lap for gun-toting, Bible-clinging, flag-waving patriots. Well done, Mr. President.

And if you’ve got a problem with that, might I kindly suggest you blow it out your tailpipe.

Perhaps those NASCAR hicks (as Trump non-fans have been saying on social media today) realize that Democrats are the party that would like to ban auto racing for being unsafe and harmful to the environment, and private vehicle ownership. Democrats, after all, foisted on us Cash for Clunkers, in which workable cars were deliberately destroyed. Plus, of course, hunting and fishing, gun ownership, meat-eating, animal agriculture and other red-blooded-American activities.

Ironically the race itself was rained out and rescheduled to today. Liberal tears are blamed.


Red over blue

Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox:

The political and cultural war between red and blue America may not be settled in our lifetimes, but it’s clear which side is gaining ground in economic and demographic terms. In everything from new jobs—including new technology employment—fertility rates, population growth, and migration, it’s the red states that increasingly hold the advantage.

Perhaps the most surprising development is on the economic front. Over the past decade, the national media, and much of academia, have embraced the notion that the future belonged to the high-tax, high-regulation economies clustered on the East and West Coasts. The red states have been widely dismissed, in the words of the New York Times, as the land of the “left behind.”

Yet the left-behind are catching up, as economic momentum shifts away from coastal redoubts toward traditionally GOP-leaning states. Just a few years ago, states like California, Massachusetts, and New York held their own, and then some, in measurements of income growth from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Now the fastest growth is concentrated in the Sunbelt and Great Plains. Texans’ income in the latest 2019 BEA estimates was up 4.2 percent, well above California’s 3.6 percent and twice New York’s 2.1 percent. The largest jumps—and this may matter a lot in 2020—took place in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Iowa.

The same pattern is visible in overall job growth. Over the past decade, only two blue states—California and Washington—ranked in the Top Ten. Last year, according to estimates by the economic-analysis firm EMSI, only purplish Colorado made the top tier, which was led by Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. These top states are now adding jobs at almost twice the rate of California and even more quickly than laggards like New York or New Jersey.

Without exception, the major blue states, even when they are doing well, usually have experienced slow population growth. Now some, notably New York, are actually losing population. California, once the growth beacon, is seeing virtually no growth: a state of almost 40 million gained a measly 50,000 residents last year.

Virtually all the states losing domestic migrants are deep blue. According to Census Bureau estimates, between 2010 and 2019, New York led the losing states, with a net domestic-migration loss of 1.379 million, followed by California (912,000), Illinois (856,000) and New Jersey (491,000). The big gainers were red, led by Florida, which gained 1.29 million, Texas (1.15 million), North Carolina (476,000), and Arizona (454,000). These states are often the destinations for blue-state refugees.

Some blue-state defenders downplay the demographic shift, though it’s real enough: much of the migration is coming as a result of more people, notably millennials, ditching metropolitan areas with large and dense urban cores to more dispersed, and more affordable, urban locations. Data developed by William Frey of the Brookings Institution indicate that all of the ten metropolitan areas with the greatest millennial net migration from 2012 to 2017 were in the South and West, while a reverse youth movement has taken place in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. As millennials enter their thirties, many are seeking to nest in states where housing prices are lower. In markets such as Columbus, Atlanta, Dallas–Fort Worth, and Houston, house prices are from one-third to one-half, adjusted for incomes, lower than those in Los Angeles or San Francisco. These migrants often seek out suburban areas with good schools and safe streets. Such areas exist in the blue states, too, but they tend to be more expensive.

Immigration flows, long a source of demographic vitality for coastal metropolitan areas, have been shifting to the interior, as Brookings has noted. From 2010 to 2018, the foreign-born population of Houston, Dallas–Fort Worth, Austin, Columbus, Charlotte, Nashville, and Orlando increased by more than 20 percent, while San Francisco’s foreign-born population grew only 11 percent, and New York’s by 5 percent. Los Angeles suffered a loss of nearly 1 percent. The foreign-born are also headed in increasing numbers to unlikely locations such as North Dakota, which experienced foreign-born growth of 115 percent, and South Dakota (58 percent), while states such as Minnesota and Iowa had more than 25 percent growth.

Many urban politicians act as if talent will continue to cluster in elite places like San Francisco, New York, West Los Angeles, or Seattle, but companies seeking to recruit educated workers increasingly flock to places like Dallas–Fort Worth, Orlando, Nashville, and other affordable red-state metros. The movement of corporate offices has been particularly marked, with an estimated 1,800 firms leaving California for the Lone Star State in just one year. These companies are not just low-wage employers but high-paying firms like Toyota, Nissan, McKesson, Bechtel, Jacobs, Parsons, and Sanford Bernstein. Once a jobs magnet, California has emerged as the largest sender of jobs to Texas. Between 2000 and 2013, the Golden State was the source of more than 51,000 jobs, about one-fifth of all jobs moving to Texas. The most recent survey for Chief Executive Magazine ranks Texas, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Indiana as more business-friendly, while blue bastions California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Connecticut stood at the bottom.

The impacts on higher-wage-sector growth are evident. In the category of business and professional employment, the largest source of high-wage jobs, the biggest gains over the decade were in Utah, the Carolinas, and Texas; only blue Oregon and purple Colorado were in the top 10, which also included some surprising Midwestern states such as Missouri, Michigan, and North Dakota. Last year, the red-blue gap strengthened further, with Utah and Idaho growing almost 50 percent faster than California, and almost five times as quickly as New York or New Jersey. Even the high-tech sector, long clustered in a handful of places, gradually is moving toward red America. Over the past decade, three prominent blue states—California, New York, and Washington—ranked in the top ten, with North Carolina, Utah, and South Dakota in the lead. Last year, however, New York dropped toward the middle, while Idaho, Utah, and Tennessee took the top spots.

The process of geographic change is more like a slow, steady drip than a torrent. Such long-term trends in employment and demographics will take years, even decades to overturn. New York, California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have been building their intellectual capital for generations, and they likely will remain preeminent in certain core industries—tech and entertainment in California, finance and media in New York and Connecticut—for the foreseeable future.

But these shifts will have consequences. New York and California depend heavily on high-income earners to fund their massive budgets, with the very rich accounting for roughly half of all income-tax revenues. When these affluent individuals saw their state and local deductions drop in 2017, they were more tempted to decamp to low-tax states like Florida. But even before the change in federal tax policy on local deductions, a Bloomberg study found Florida and South Carolina reaping multi-billion dollar gains from migration, much of it from states like Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. Just in 2017 and 2018, Illinois lost over $12 billion in income due to out-migration. This year, perhaps not surprisingly, Governor Cuomo blamed New York’s fiscal challenges in part to the migration of wealthy people from the state.

California’s losses are less extreme, perhaps a testament to the power of the tech economy and the state’s beauty and mild climate. Yet rather than the rich arriving “in droves,” as the Los Angeles Times insists, more people making over $200,000 left than came, by a small margin, from 2014 to 2016, according to IRS data, even as the middle orders were leaving in large numbers. In California and other blue states, a legacy of high spending, a slowing economy, and burdensome taxes is taking its toll, particularly on the state and local budgets. Overall, despite its still-strong economy, California suffers from a significant pension burden; U.S. News places California 42nd in fiscal health among the states.

Then there are political consequences. Power has been shifting out of the Northeast for decades, and the area, which in 1950 had 115 members of the House, now has 78, down one-third. California, waxing for well over a century, is now growing below the national average, and is likely to lose a seat. Meantime, red states will probably gain seats. Texas is expected to pick up three seats; Florida two seats; and Arizona, Colorado, Montana, and North Carolina one each.

Of course, changes in Washington could alter this trajectory. Widespread endorsement by Democratic candidates to ban fracking in places like Texas, North Dakota, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania could drive these states into recession. In Texas alone, by some estimates, 1 million jobs would vaporize, while nationwide, according to a Chamber of Commerce report, a full ban would cost 14 million jobs—far more than the 8 million lost in the Great Recession.

Policies that will raise energy prices and regulate manufacturing could harm states like Utah, Nevada, and Michigan, where industrial workforces have expanded during the past decade. By contrast, such policies will have little direct effect on states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or California, where manufacturing employment has either declined or stagnated.

But if the current stalemate in Washington continues, we can expect the economic, demographic, and political shift from blue to red states to continue—and even accelerate. It can only be reversed, or slowed, when the political and business leadership in blue states finally recognize that their current policies are, economically and demographically, unsustainable.

Notice that Wisconsin is not listed in this piece. Too much blue.


Our crises

The, uh, interesting week last week prompted two writers I read to proclaim we’re in a crisis.

First, David French:

I thought—after federal officials let Jeffrey Epstein kill himself in prison—that I could no longer be shocked by incompetence. Yet, here I am, the day after the Iowa caucuses, shocked again. Also today, some thoughts on how Twitter creates its own reality, and we can’t do anything to stop it. Today’s French Press:

  1. Iowa’s meltdown is a perfect representation of a true national challenge.
  2. The human reason Twitter (or something like it) will always have too much influence.

If you follow my writing at all, you know that I think that policy is far less consequential to American life than culture. Now, that doesn’t mean at all that politics or policy are irrelevant or that they don’t influence culture to some extent, but if we’re weighing the relative importance of American culture versus American policy to the health of the nation, our culture is far, far more consequential.

And here’s a cultural reform of great potential consequence—let’s make America competent again. As I type this newsletter, we still have no official results from the Iowa caucuses. And the story of the meltdown is simply excruciating. Here’s how the New York Times begins its account:

DES MOINES — Sean Bagniewski had seen the problems coming.

It wasn’t so much that the new app that the Iowa Democratic Party had planned to use to report its caucus results didn’t work. It was that people were struggling to even log in or download it in the first place. After all, there had never been any app-specific training for this many precinct chairs.

So last Thursday Mr. Bagniewski, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Polk County, Iowa’s most populous, decided to scrap the app entirely, instructing his precinct chairs to simply call in the caucus results as they had always done.

The only problem was, when the time came during Monday’s caucuses, those precinct chairs could not connect with party leaders via phone. Mr. Bagniewski instructed his executive director to take pictures of the results with her smartphone and drive over to the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters to deliver them in person. She was turned away without explanation, he said.

The app didn’t work. The phones failed. The county couldn’t even deliver the results in person. And then, compounding the errors, the Iowa Democratic Party couldn’t clearly explain what went wrong. David Axelrod’s tweet was blunt and absolutely correct:

David Axelrod@davidaxelrod

However bad the handling the count has been, the Iowa’s Democratic Party’s handling of the messaging around it has been an abject disaster. It should be taught in classrooms as an example of what not to do in a crisis.

The Iowa Democratic Party will eventually announce the winner …

But let’s back up for a moment and imagine an alternative history of the United States. In this alternative history, we simply ask what would be different if American politicians, journalists, election officials, bureaucrats, and captains of industry were simply better at their jobs—in matters large and small.

What are the ripple effects if Palm Beach County election officials designed a less-confusing ballot for the 2000 election? How does America change if our intelligence agencies were more accurate in their assessment of Saddam Hussein’s chemical and nuclear weapons programs? Or, if we still failed on that front, how is our nation different if military and civilian leaders had not made profound mistakes at the start of the Iraq occupation?

We can do this all day. Let’s suppose for a moment that industry experts were better able to gauge the risks of an expanding number of subprime mortgage loans. . Would we be more trusting of government if it could properly launch a health care website, the most public-facing aspect of the most significant social reform in a generation? How can we accurately judge foreign threats if ISIS is dubbed a “jayvee team” the very year that it explodes upon the world stage and creates the largest jihadist state in modern history?

The ripple effects of incompetence are staggering. It’s easy to mislabel or misunderstand it as malice, especially when a person feels the sting of its consequences. And when the incompetence is particularly egregious, conspiracy theories can flourish. I mean, are we supposed to believe that federal officials wouldn’t keep close watch on the most famous prisoner in the entire federal prison system? Really? At a time when the media is reporting establishment Democratic alarm at the rise of Bernie Sanders, are we supposed to believe that the abject failure of that same establishment when Bernie is on the cusp of a potentially game-changing victory is entirely accidental and innocent? Really? Even after 2016?

In a time of negative polarization, “they can’t do their job” turns into “they hate me” and—ultimately—“their job is to screw me over.”

America will never be free of mistakes, and the more difficult and complex the job, the greater the likelihood of confusion and failure. But perhaps America’s political and journalistic class needs a bit of a course correction—instead of measuring virtue by ideas and intentions, let’s place a greater emphasis on execution and accountability. No one is entitled to a job. No state is entitled to its premier position in presidential primary contests. Incompetence has consequences, and those consequences should not be borne exclusively (or, if possible, even primarily) by its victims.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. The work ethic in this country has slipped as workers bitch about their bosses (sometimes justifiably), badly run businesses get government bailouts (see General Motors), and a certain political party believes all businesses are crooks, and acts upon that belief.
Arthur Brooks made these comments at Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast:

As you have heard, I am not a priest or minister. I am a social scientist and a university professor. But most importantly, I am a follower of Jesus, who taught each of us to love God and to love each other.

I am here today to talk about what I believe is the biggest crisis facing our nation — and many other nations — today. This is the crisis of contempt — the polarization that is tearing our society apart. But if I do my job in the next few minutes, I promise I won’t depress you. On the contrary, I will show you why I believe that within this crisis resides the best opportunity we have ever had, as people of faith, to lift our nations up and bring them together.

As leaders, you all know that when there is an old problem, the solution never comes from thinking harder in the old ways; we have to think differently — we need an epiphany. This is true with societal problems and private problems.

Here’s an example of the latter: I have three kids, and two are still teenagers. (Pray for me.) Two years ago, when my middle son, Carlos, was a senior in high school, my wife, Ester, and I were having a rough parent-teacher conference. It was his grades. This was an old problem which we had tried everything to solve, but we were getting nowhere. We left the conference in grim silence and got in the car. Ester finally broke the silence.

“We need to see this problem in a whole new way,” she said.

“I’m all ears, sweetheart,” I answered, “because I’m at the end of my rope.”

“At least we know he’s not cheating,” she said.

See, that’s thinking differently! And that’s the spirit in which I want to address the problem of political contempt.

(By the way, in case you’re wondering what happened to Carlos: Currently he’s in Parris Island, S.C., at boot camp for the U.S. Marine Corps. We couldn’t be prouder of him.)

To start us on a path of new thinking to our cultural crisis, I want to turn to the words of the ultimate original thinker, history’s greatest social entrepreneur, and as a Catholic, my personal Lord and Savior, Jesus. Here’s what he said, as recorded in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, chapter 5, verse 43-45: You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Love your enemies! Now that is thinking differently. It changed the world starting 2,000 years ago, and it is as subversive and counterintuitive today as it was then. But the devil’s in the details. How do we do it in a country and world roiled by political hatred and differences that we can’t seem to bridge?

First, we need to make it personal. I remember when it became personal for me.

I give about 150 speeches a year and talk to all kinds of audiences: conservative, progressive, believers, atheists and everything in between. I was speaking one afternoon some years ago to a large group of politically conservative activists. Arriving early to the event, I looked at the program and realized I was the only non-politician on the program.

At first I thought, “This is a mistake.” But then I remembered that there are no mistakes — only opportunities — and started thinking about what I could say that would be completely different than the politicians. The crowd was really fired up; the politicians were getting huge amounts of applause. When it was my turn to speak, in the middle of my speech, here’s more or less what I said:

“My friends, you’ve heard a lot today that you’ve agreed with — and well you should. You’ve also heard a lot about the other side — political liberals — and how they are wrong. But I want to ask you to remember something: Political liberals are not stupid, and they’re not evil. They are simply Americans who disagree with you about public policy. And if you want to persuade them — which should be your goal — remember that no one has ever been insulted into agreement. You can only persuade with love.”

It was not an applause line.

After the speech, a woman in the audience came up to me, and she was clearly none too happy with my comments. “You’re wrong,” she told me. “Liberals are stupid and evil.”

At that moment, my thoughts went to … Seattle. That’s my hometown. While my own politics are conservative, Seattle is arguably the most politically liberal place in the United States. My father was a college professor; my mother was an artist. Professors and artists in Seattle … what do you think their politics were?

That lady after my speech wasn’t trying to hurt me. But when she said that liberals are stupid and evil, she was talking about my parents. I may have disagreed with my parents politically, but I can tell you they were neither stupid nor evil. They were good, Christian people, who raised me to follow Jesus. They also taught me to think for myself — which I did, at great inconvenience to them.

Political polarization was personal for me that day, and I want to be personal to you, too. So let me ask you a question: How many of you love someone with whom you disagree politically?

Are you comfortable hearing someone on your own side insult that person?

This reminds me of a lesson my father taught me, about moral courage. In a free society where you don’t fear being locked up for our opinions, true moral courage isn’t standing up to the people with whom you disagree. It’s standing up to the people with whom you agree — on behalf of those with whom you disagree. Are you strong enough to do that? That, I believe, is one way we can live up to Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies.

Let’s take a step back now and diagnose the problem a little bit.

Some people blame our politicians, but that’s too easy. It’s us, not them — I am guilty. And frankly, I know many politicians, many of them here today, who want a solution to this problem every bit as much as I do.

What is leading us to this dark place that we don’t like?

The problem is what psychologists call contempt. In the words of the 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.” In politics today, we treat each other as worthless, which is why our fights are so bitter and cooperation feels nearly impossible.

The world’s leading expert on marital reconciliation is Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington. Over the course of his work, Dr. Gottman has studied thousands of married couples. After watching a couple interact for just one hour, he can predict with 94 percent accuracy whether the couple will divorce within three years.

How can he tell? It’s not from the anger that the couples express. As I already told you, anger doesn’t predict separation or divorce. The biggest warning signs, he explains, are indicators of contempt. These include sarcasm, sneering, hostile humor and — worst of all — eye-rolling. These little acts effectively say, “You are worthless” to the one person a spouse should love more than any other. Want to see if a couple will end up in divorce court? Watch them discuss a contentious topic and see if either partner rolls his or her eyes.

Why do they do that? The answer is that it’s a habit, and that habit is tearing their marriage apart. And like a couple on the rocks, in politics today, we have a contempt habit. Don’t believe it? Turn on prime-time cable TV and watch how they talk. Look at Twitter — if you dare. Listen to yourself talking about a politician you don’t like. We are guilty of contempt.

It’s a habit, and it’s tearing our society apart.

How do we break the habit of contempt? Even more, how do we turn the contempt people show us into an opportunity to follow the teachings of Jesus, to love our enemies?

To achieve these things, I’m going to suggest three homework assignments.

First: Ask God to give you the strength to do this hard thing — to go against human nature, to follow Jesus’ teaching and love your enemies. Ask God to remove political contempt from your heart. In your weakest moments, maybe even ask Him to help you fake it!

Second: Make a commitment to another person to reject contempt. Of course you will disagree with others — that’s part of democracy. It is right and good, and part of the competition of ideas. But commit to doing it without contempt and ask someone to hold you accountable to love your enemies.

Third: Go out looking for contempt, so you have the opportunity to answer it with love. I know that sounds crazy, to go looking for something so bad. But for leaders, contempt isn’t like the flu. It’s an opportunity to share your values and change our world, which is what leadership is all about, isn’t it?

I’m asking you to be kind of like a missionary. I’ve had missionaries on both sides of my family, and they are amazing entrepreneurs. They don’t go out looking for people who already agree with them, because that’s not where they are needed — they go to the dark places to bring light. It’s hard work, and there’s lots of rejection involved. (Here are words that have never been uttered: “Oh good, there are missionaries on the porch.”) But it’s the most joyful type of work, isn’t it?

I’m calling each one of you to be missionaries for love in the face of contempt. If you don’t see enough of it, you’re in an echo chamber and need a wider circle of friends — people who disagree with you. Hey, if you want a full blast of contempt within 20 seconds, go on social media! But run toward that darkness, and bring your light.

My sisters and brothers, when you leave the National Prayer Breakfast today and go back to your lives and jobs, you will be back in a world where there is a lot of contempt. That is your opportunity. So I want you to imagine that there is a sign over the exit as you leave this room. It’s a sign I’ve seen over the doors of churches — not the doors to enter, but rather the doors to leave the church. Here’s what it says:

You are now entering mission territory.

If you see the world outside this room as mission territory, we might just mark this day, Feb. 6, 2020, at the National Prayer Breakfast, as the point at which our national healing begins.

God bless you, and God bless America.

Well, someone has to go first. Think that’s going to happen in Washington or Madison?


Yet another sign of our fractured times

CNN warns:

Not even your fonts are safe.
If it feels like everything has become politicized in these hyper-partisan times, there’s more where that came from: Researchers have found that people perceive certain fonts and font styles as more liberal and others as more conservative.

Serif fonts, or the ones with the little flourishes at the end of letters, are seen as more conservative, while sans serif fonts, the ones without the flourishes are seen as more liberal, according to a study published in the journal Communication Studies last month.

For example, study participants saw Times New Roman as more conservative than Gill SansBlackletter, which looks like it belongs on a newspaper masthead, was seen as the most conservative font, while Sunrise, a cartoonish-looking script, was seen as the most liberal.]

“If you think about serifs being used in more formal types of print or communications, maybe they’re viewed as more traditional and sans serifs are viewed as more modern,” Katherine Haenschen, an assistant professor of communications at Virginia Tech and the lead author of the study, told CNN. “There’s a small but significant difference in how people perceive these fonts.”

People also tended to view fonts that they liked as more aligned with their own ideology.

The more that Republicans liked a font, the more conservative they thought it was. The more Democrats liked a font, the more liberal they thought it was — a phenomenon known as “affective polarization.”

Haenschen decided to look into whether fonts can be seen as liberal or conservative after noticing something peculiar while driving through Virginia.

A candidate running for state legislature was using different signs in rural areas than he was in a more liberal college town.

Haenschen used to work on political campaigns, so she said she knew there had to be a reason behind the varying signs.

So she turned to her co-author Daniel Tamul, also an assistant professor of communications at Virginia Tech, and the two decided to test the theory to find out.

Turns out, there was something to it.

Haenschen and Tamul conducted two experiments to shed light on the topic.

For the first, 987 participants were shown the phrase “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” in one of six fonts and styles: Times New Roman regular, Times New Roman bold, Times New Roman italic, Gill Sans regular, Gill Sans bold or Gill Sans italic.

Because the phrase that participants were shown was neutral and didn’t contain a political message in itself, researchers were able to test whether the font itself was actually influencing people’s perceptions.

Participants then rated the various fonts as liberal or conservative, and answered questions about their political party affiliations, their political ideologies, age, gender and race.

For the second experiment, 1,069 participants were shown either the phrase “A large fawn jumped quickly” or the name “Scott Williams” in one serif font (Jubilat or Times New Roman), one sans serif font (Gill Sans or Century Gothic) and one display font (Sunrise, Birds of Paradise or Cloister Black Light).

Jubilat was the font that Bernie Sanders used in his 2016 presidential campaign, while Century Gothic was similar to a font that Barack Obama used in his 2008 presidential campaign, researchers said.

So naturally, Jubilat was viewed as more liberal than Times New Roman, even though they’re both serif fonts. And Century Gothic was viewed as more liberal than Gill Sans, even though they’re both sans serif fonts.

“Even within font families, there are differences in how voters are perceiving them,” Haenschen said.

Researchers didn’t look at why exactly people viewed certain fonts as more liberal or conservative, but Haenschen said that’s something that could be explored in future studies.

So what do we do with the knowledge that even fonts are seemingly no longer neutral?

If you’re someone who works on a political campaign, there are a few implications, Haenchen said.

For one, candidates running for political office should work with professional designers when designing their campaign materials to choose fonts that will be effective.

Secondly, designers should think about whether the fonts they’re using convey any sort of political quality, and whether that political quality aligns with that candidate’s message.

Generally though, the effect that fonts have on people’s perceptions is relatively small, Haenschen said.

For example, if Bernie Sanders changed the font on his campaign materials, there probably wouldn’t be much of a difference in how people see him because he’s already a widely known figure.

The choice of font could, however, make a difference for a new candidate, like someone running for school board, town council or state legislature, Haenschen said. While researchers don’t know for sure whether a font would change people’s perceptions of a candidate, that’s another question that could be explored in the future.

“Does support for something like the Green New Deal change if we market it in a conservative versus a liberal font? I don’t know, and that’s something worth exploring,” she said.

No, the Green New Deal is a stupid idea regardless of font choice.

For what it’s worth, I have switched two newspapers and one magazine from Times to New Century Schoolbook, because the latter has a larger X-height (size of each character) and is therefore easier to read.

In fact I’ve never used Gill Sans for anything, just because I don’t like how it looks. My preference for headlines is a Franklin Gothic variant, in part because it may be named for my favorite Founding Father.

There may be something to this serif vs. sans serif thing, though.

The headline is a serif font. The subhead isn’t, but it’s in authoritative ALL CAPS.


Meanwhile, back in my home town …

David Blaska:

Over at Isthmus, Dylan Brogan has committed some excellent journalism on Madison’s public schools. We’ve linked to his piece on the chaos at Jefferson middle school, where parents and public wonder why a 13-year-old student who shot another student with a BB gun remained in school after 25 previous, serious disciplinary incidents. We know about that sorry history only because a whistle blower released the disciplinary file to Channel 3000.  

His news story is headlined “A rotten semester.” It is the No. #1 trender at Isthmus on-line and has attracted considerable comment, including this brilliant insight from Blaska:

Behavior education plan

The late Milt McPike is revered as an educator because for 23 years as principal (and 5 years as vice principal before that) he ran a tight ship at East high school. The man was known to frog march a miscreant student outside to the waiting squad car. The WI State Journal reports a revolving door of principals at 9 of MMSD’s 12 middle schools in the last 3½ years.

Not coincidentally, that followed the bureaucratic behavior education plan that Jennifer Cheatham imposed on the district, removing control of the classroom from teachers and schools from principals. Cheatham was supported by a school board invested in “white privilege” and “implicit bias” to excuse the chaos in the schools.

This trenchant observation drew a response from one Stan Endiliver, who (contrary to his intention) betrays why virtue-signaling progressives like himself are piping at-risk kids to disaster by playing the victim dirge on the blame-someone-else fife of victimhood. (Whew!)

MMSD teacher here; relax

1. If you are a parent of a student in MMSD, you have nothing to fear.[Blaska: as long as you stay out of the line of fire.] There are many caring teachers and principals that are doing great things. Our district is not perfect, but we are doing our best to serve all kids …

3. If you are looking to Blaska as a saviour, just move. [Blaska: Which is why Sun Prairie is building a second high school] He has no idea what he is talking about. I am in a MMSD school every day, and have been for 15 years, and his vision of us is ludicrous. Leading kids out of school to squad cars is exactly why we are in the position we are in. We have a lot of kids dealing with real trauma and there are a lot of problems that are rooted in mental health issues. Give the district more resources to heal, and that would be a great place to start. 

5. It all comes to back to race. Have you done your homework on Madison? The zoning? The fact that our schools were only fully integrated in 1983? The days of blindly complying with your teacher are over, but many people would love to go back to the time when it was like that.

I hear teachers say things like “when I was in school, you would never…” well guess what, when we were in school we were being socialized into a white supremacist system. That system is coming down, and this worries a lot of people, whether they consider themselves woke or not. — Stan Endiliver

That system is coming down

Yes, Mr. Endiliver, the days of blindly complying with your teacher are, indeed, over. Now we have 15 to 20 middle school students trashing Lakeview branch library and taunting the first responders, “We don’t have to listen to the police” and “You can’t touch us.”

Progressives like Endiliver might call that progress. We do not. At some point, these kids will have to blindly listen to someone, some place: if not the teachers or the librarians, if not the police — then whom? Certainly not an employer or a customer. At what point are they — and you, Endiliver — going to quit blaming the past for the present? These kids’ parents were out of school by 1983! And do not tell me that Madison 1983 resembled in any way Selma, Alabama 20 years earlier. 

I do not know where you were schooled, Endiliver. But my schools in Sun Prairie, public and Catholic, did not socialize anyone “into a white supremacist system.” To the contrary, it reinforced our responsibility to family, community, and our God. But you are correct on one point, MMSD teacher, that system is, indeed, coming down.

Blaska’s Bottom Line: This quote attributed to America’s unofficial poet laureate, Bob Dylan: “A hero is someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.” 

But wait, there’s more!

As if proving MMSD teacher Endiliver’s pont about the system coming down:

NBC TV-15 reports: Five school-aged teenagers were arrested Tuesday afternoon (01-21-2020) following a high-speed pursuit that wound through several Dane Co. cities before the suspects abandoned the vehicle on the Beltline.

Three of them, Ashanti Freeman (age 17), Toneice Horne (17), and Reginald Sexton (18), were booked into the Dane Co. jail on multiple counts, while the other two teens, ages 15 and 16, were taken to the Juvenile Reception Center. The 16 year old had seven active arrest warrants.

According to the Monona Police Department, all five were piled into a GMC Acadia as it raced away from a Dane Co. deputy around 1 p.m. January 14 along the Beltline. Town of Madison officers laid stop sticks along the road, near Rimrock Rd., that punctured its tires, but the suspects kept going.

Monona Police say its officers joined the pursuit near South Towne/West Broadway and followed the SUV until it stopped near Monona Drive.

About that kid nabbed with a gun at West high

From Madison police blotter: South District detectives have developed probable cause to arrest a teen, arrested earlier this week at West High for having a gun at school, for armed robbery and disorderly conduct after connecting him to a drug-related holdup.

Tyrese T. Williams, age 18, Madison, is accused of pointing a handgun at two other teens, both acquaintances, after the victims picked him up under the premise that Williams was going to purchase a small amount of marijuana from one of them. The trio drove to the 1900 block of Post Rd. where the crime was committed around 2 p.m. Saturday.

Instead of providing cash, Williams pulled out the gun and ended up fleeing on foot with one victim’s backpack.

Blaska’s second Bottom Line: Yes, teacher Endiliver, the days of blindly complying with your teacher are over, but many people would love to go back to the time when it was like that.  Blaska is one of them.