Bari Weiss's 'How to Fight Anti-Semitism' Is Just a Frustrating,  Book-Length Op-Ed | The Nation

Dear Bari Weiss, I thank for your well written article. I am someone–as you put it–with skin in the game. Two members of my immediate family are at Fieldston, one is a teacher, the other is a student. There is a huge missing piece in your writing: the experience of the teachers themselves. (I highly recommend the article “Private Schools are Indefensible” in The Atlantic to fill in the missing gaps.) You do address some of these gaps in your humorous “Rich People Problems” on your Substack but you seem almost to systematically avoid the teachers’ perspectives, such as the one expressed in a “Guest Editorial: A letter to journalist Bari Weiss” by Thomas Schramm, an actual teacher at Harvard-Westlake. Although I do not teach at Fieldston, I am a Fieldston parent and as such have lived and breathed the day-to-day experiences of that imperfect institution for many years. Perhaps from your vantage point things are far more dire than they are in reality. You write with an air of authority on these matters but you’re not actually involved with the operations of any school I’m aware of (if I’m mistaken, please let me know). Despite your Ivy League bona fides you are not part of this world yet it feels like you presume to speak on its behalf, for its benefit, in order to chide and admonish us about its woeful misdirection. But again, you have left teachers out of your analysis.

I submit there is actually a third way that is neither in lock-step with the bogeyman of social justice reform in pedagogy that you seem to see everywhere nor in league with those who have taken up the ideological banner of “real” liberalism, co-opting the language of anti-racism and open dialogue, while firmly situated in very familiar conservative territory. There is no reason in the world why reading “Stamped” means you can’t also read Steinbeck; my children will read both Coates and Shakespeare (whether or not it is part of the curriculum). I am interested in the larger educational project of my kids and their peers. A phenomenon that I know you’re familiar with is that those books, movies, or thinkers who get banned frequently appear on the Amazon best seller list. In other words, the education of the elite is not the sole provenance of administrators at private schools. Parents play a role and other care-givers or guardians also play a role (as do my kid’s peers–perhaps one of the most influential ones).

Let’s get back to the teachers. The teachers are the ones in the crucible. They have to answer to whomever the board of trustees hire to run these schools. These boards are frequently populated by mega-rich parents of students. They are the true gate-keepers of pedagogy. The Atlantic article that I referred to highlights the gross ways in which parents at schools like Fieldston tend to treat the teachers of their children as though they were workplace subordinates. They become easily inflamed when they have paid full tuition only to find their child is receiving (God forbid) a “B” in a certain class their child had barely put any effort in. In fact, kids at Fieldston are so delicately coddled that I have trouble imagining how they will function outside of the rarefied storybook atmosphere of endless concessions and accommodations they regularly receive (and I don’t mean kids with documented learning differences). The teachers are also the ones who have to take the DEI trainings (Diversity Equity and Inclusion)–the real target of your article. Here I agree with some of your findings. There are certain absurd examples that you can point to that most people would find abhorrent. You seem, however, to miss the larger point in all this. Up until this moment in history, meaning just the last few decades, there haven’t been any real, sustainable efforts to address the kinds of racial, economic, and gender disparities that exist in our society.

It is all well and good to quote Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a Dream” speech in which one day Dr. King’s children, “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” However, Dr, King’s daughter, Bernice King, says her father is asking us “to get to a place — we’re obviously not there — but to get to a place where the first thing that we utilize as a measurement is not someone’s external designation, but it really is trying to look beyond that into the substance of a person in making certain decisions, to rid ourselves of those kinds of prejudices and biases that we often bring to decisions that we make.” Dr. King’s dream explicitly acknowledged that we are not yet at the dreamed-of point where we can judge a person solely by the content of their character because we all have biases and prejudices to overcome–all of us. To pretend we’ve somehow magically bypassed that necessary step and pretend that so many grossly obvious disparities don’t exist and exert influence on our decisions is to live in an aspirational fantasy world. I believe in the free exchange of ideas but let’s not kid ourselves that this can happen in some kind of vacuum that is free of history, that is just willful ignorance. Yes we may differ about how to get there but I also reject that there is some invisible, insidious, ideological “invisible hand” that is corrupting the youth of today. Rousseau faced similar criticisms when he wrote his “Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men” 2 and a half centuries ago. More to the point, the teachers at Fieldston are the ones–individually–who have to decide how and where to implement any of their DEI training; some wholeheartedly embrace it and other teachers are looking for jobs at other schools. But there is a third group–let’s call them “the middle way”–who are uncomfortable with some of the DEI training but also recognize the very real inequalities such programs seek to confront. Yes this is necessarily an uncomfortable process, it will be as messy and mistake-filled, as any new moral and intellectual venture should be if we’re to take it seriously. It is also neither as static nor monolithic as its detractors would have us believe. If you disagree with the philosophical and critical theory underpinnings these efforts come from, then let’s have that debate. The bottom line is, kids at Fieldston are physically, intellectually, and psychologically safer there than probably anywhere else on the planet. Just ask the security detail that protect the school’s perimeter… if you’re lucky or rich enough to get inside in the first place.

I think Tina Fey put it best at the Fieldston Commencement Speech in 2011: “To the young white males in this audience, I want to say it’s going to be okay. We are still going to let you run almost everything. Because I think it must be a bad time to be a white guy because everyone is so psyched to get rid of you. And the road to equality for everyone else may feel like a loss to you guys. It’s going to be okay. I for one don’t care what anybody says. I like white dudes.”

Star Trek Picard

The 12 Best Star Trek Episodes for Celebrating Captain Picard's Return

In the immensely capable hands of Akiva Goldsman & Michael Chabon, Picard is a pitch perfect tonic–to mix metaphors–for this moment in time. That is: Life in NYC during the Coronavirus Pandemic. It is the first day I’ve begun without immediately getting news (passively or otherwise) in the morning since we went into lockdown. (Thank you in all sincerity to Cuomo and Doctors Fauci & Birx; to all who would listen to science.) As someone who is pathologically hermetic, it has been strange to see [almost] all strata of life in the U.S. transition to domestic vigilance.

Obligatory lazy nerd caveat: I am writing without immediately checking if a certain reference or influence is a bona fide ingredient in the show. I’m just tasting and telling. With that out of the way, Star Trek has learned amply from Interstellar, Solaris, Mr. Robot, and of course The Expanse. Basic stuff, fun stuff like f’ing automatic seatbelts because (duh) inertial dampeners don’t always work perfectly 100 percent of the time. Not to mention the Cessna-like, single-prop flying, piloting using holographic controls to weave around in battle. I just binge-watched the entire first season and will now blather on about it–2nd obligatory caveat–this is raw and spoiler-heavy so “emptor” be warned.  I am especially biased because I loved and watched Star Trek: Next Generation back in the day and am currently re-watching it now as my primary media diet during our city’s shelter-in-place [songs bubble up, Talking Heads “Life During Wartime,” R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of The World As We Know It,” and World Party’s, “Is It Like Today?”].

The Borg! The Cube. Cyborgs. Synths. Organics! What first came to mind was memories of one of Alvaro Mutis’ Maqroll stories about a boozy (riverboat) captain with aguardiente at the ready as both drink and disenfectant. The moody, disaffected Captain Rios is at first reluctant to truck with Picard through the cosmos. The Latino / Latinx character is cracked into multiple holographic, helper selves, some of whom speak with Irish and Scottish accents as well as one that only speaks Spanish. After Picard and Data, Captain Rios is a welcome ex-Starfleet man with a cool-ass ship for hire. Rios could easily be plucked from a Mutis’ story. Or one by Borges [Borg.] He reads Unamuno for exactly the reasons that the very cute, and nervy Alison Pill as Dr. Jurati states in her first awkwardly expository dialogue with Captain Rios: “I lived with a man who lived in books and had to put up with me… my father.” “Space is just cold and empty. It’s in the name.” It doesn’t care whether you live or die. So Rios is an existentialist of the Kierkegaard variety with tomes like Fear and Trembling by his bed. Like Kierkegaard, Rios is an orphan who marvels at how we can exist in an unspeakably cruel [multi-]verse that is our brief conscious blip on the radar before disappearing [maybe?] forever.

I am [re-]watching the original Star Trek: The Next Generation the correct way–by falling asleep to the companion podcast, The Greatest Generation (no relation). I am so grateful for this comedic gem. Thank you @BenjaminAhr & @cutfortime! As I am fond of quoting “we are all babies and poets in the middle of the night / struggling with being.” Their podcast helps you do that last bit. With regard to the podcast it truly is an authentic peek into some affectionate and unrepentant nerdery. I was that kid too. You know. 1 of only 3 kids in the entire Jr High that had a personal set of keys to the Computer Lab where we died over and over again playing “Oregon Trail” on some second-hand Apple IIe’s. It took me a long ass time to find my people. I was feeling Close Encounters of the Third Kind & 2001 on a primal level at age eight, for realz though.

I was drawn to Picard as a reluctant father figure [’cause I grew up without mine] in the same way that Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton of Stand By Me fame) appeared to be. 2nd Spoiler: for the podcast, Ben and Adam treat this uncomfortable tension between Picard and Wesley with merciless jokes of the kind that… well go have a listen. No go on, I’ll wait….

So Patrick Stuart is the Man. Branagh or however you spell his name wishes he were Stuart. Jean-Luc Picard is the consummate philosopher-king, Starfleet captain. [stray related bits… a character in Game of Thrones comments “no one glowers like you”] Picard is that dude. No one can so archly deflect senseless bullshit like Picard. Imagine if he were in our country’s press core right now? I also secretly believe Picard would destroy people in rap battles if he had to (but really that’s just one weapon in his arsenal to deploy like his fencing skills). Let’s be clear, Picard doesn’t need to flex. His gravitas will slice you in half. These ramblings will be continued soon. CyberShepherd out!

It’s finally here…the long-awaited second half of Tina Fey’s hilarious Fieldston School Commencement Address. Scroll down for a complete transcript provided by oppositeofperfection.tumblr.com . Thank you to TinaObsessed for letting me know.

Thank you! It’s an honor to be here at the Fieldston school today and I am beyond flattered that you would want to spend this momentous day of your life with me. This is a seriously good looking group of people.  You guys could fold shirts at Abercrombie.  For real.

I would never attempt to tell you how to proceed with your lives…but I will tell you a little bit about how I got here and maybe that will be of interest to you.  I graduated high school in 1988.  To give you an idea of what 1988 was like….McDonald’s commercials still had the Hamburglar in them…and crack had just been invented.  It was a simpler time.  We didn’t face any of the techno-stress that you guys must have.  Texting, and IM’ing, and facebook, and i-chat, and skype, and wiz-bang, and myspace.  Wiz-bang is not a real thing.  I just wanted to freak out any parents who are here…make them think there was some thing their kids were doing that they weren’t  aware of.  We didn’t have any of that stuff.  Once we got home from school and sat down with a jar of pringles to watch Oprah….we were pretty much cut off from the outside world until the next morning.  And I prefer it that way.  I wouldn’t want to be 14 or 15 or 16 today.  There are just so many electronic devices for boys to not call you on.  I don’t need someone breaking up with me on X-Box Live.  I don’t need that.

After high school, I went to study Drama at the University of Virginia.  I studied playwriting there.  The University of Virginia….where I never drank and remained a virgin.  One of those things was a choice.  But I do think that they both turned out to be good things for me.  Because I had a lot of time to study.  Alone.

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On a sultry night last July, the celebrated Brooklyn author, Jonathan Ames fought three rounds in a ring at Gleason’s gym against Craig Davidson. Here it is, the long awaited audio-collage of last summer’s epic boxing match between Jonathan Ames and Craig Davidson.

Ok. Ok. It turns out that I am not the original Cyber Shepherd, that honor goes to actual Shepherds in Africa who are using new technology to improve their farming and shepherding traditions:

The Real Cyber Shepherd at work

Here is a quote from Science-In-Africa :

“How can one help rural communities [in Senegal, for example] to adopt more efficient livestock management practices and to protect pastures that are threatened, in the long term, by overexploitation?  (…)

Several of these herders have also been equipped with cell phones to speed up the exchange of information and provide them with an “early warning system” against pending disasters. As well, some herders have received IT training so that they can access information available on the Web. All the equipment needed for Internet connection has been installed in each pastoral unit, where real-time information can be accessed through a site that was built for them in July 2003.

Nicknamed “cyber shepherd,” the site (whose name in the local Peule language is “Gallé Aynabé” or “herders’ house”) offers maps showing which sites are occupied and which have green vegetation, together with an estimated “carrying capacity,” indicating the number of animals that can be pastured there without risk to the environment and its resources. “Gallé Aynabé” also devotes pages to ways of recognizing and dealing with animal diseases.”

This struck me as a rare instance of technology bolstering rather than breaking a pre-existing agrarian, and in some cases nomadic tradition.

Many private schools and universities (and public ones too) buy new computers every few years because their hardware warranties expire and the schools’ IT departments don’t want to deal with out-of-warranty machines. Different schools deal with their old computers in different ways. Some throw them away after wiping the hard drivers and other schools give them away to faculty and staff (who usually already own a computer or two). Not many schools re-purpose the machines: wiping the hard drives, cleaning up the machines, and then distributing them to folks who have no computer.
This Finnish News piece highlights the efforts of a wonderful group in Africa, called “Computers for Schools Kenya” that distributes used but upgraded and overhauled computers to those on the bottom half of the digital divide. They even show a technician who converts an old computer monitor into a working television which gives the unit 7 more years of use.
We need more programs like this right here in New York City. Kudos to Rocket Boom for showing this.
~the Cyber Shepherd

Here is a nifty trick to access Apple’s alternate media viewer, Front Row, without purchasing or using the Apple Remote:

Simply press and hold down this key combo for a few seconds:

Command + Escape

On any Mac running Leopard, the screen will fade to black and then display the Front Row application full screen. Navigate with the arrow keys, drilling down into categories with the Return key and back up with the Escape key. To return to your normal Mac screen, just press Escape from the main Front Row screen.

BTW, here are the Mac Keyboard Symbols for reference (courtesy of the good folks at O’Reilly):

Mac Keyboard Symbols

Joke: Man invented civilization to impress his girlfriend.

Now you can impress your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse/captor/boss, etc….

~Cyber Shepherd