A (satirical) letter to the Amherst class of '74, which just saw one of its alums dislodged from the highest political office in Greece by a classmate
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou talks with conservative opposition leader Antonis Samaras after meeting on new austerity measures / AP
To: Amherst College Class of 1974
From: Your Class Secretary
In Re: Events in Greece
Friends, I assumed that our most notable contribution to public affairs this year was lawyer Mike Kahn '74 of St. Louis sparring in federal court with lawyer Fred Sperling '75 of Chicago over whether "Hangover Part II" violated a tattoo artist's copyright in using a face tattoo originally made for ex-boxer Mike Tyson.
But now comes the near collapse of the Greek economy and the fall of its government. We have impacted world events.
We thank classmate Antonis Samaras and his roommate, George Papandreou, who entered with us but graduated with the class of '75. It is, after all, a frequent challenge extracting much for the newsletter, given our generally solid but uneventful middle-class lives, replete with the kids, the grandkids, the vacation in India, or the recent Irish golfing trek with fraternity brothers.
Andonis, as we knew him and as he's still listed in college records, just helped topple George as prime minister. Many of you apparently forgot that he was in Greek politics, too, as leader of a New Democracy Party dead set against all those austerity measures being jammed down George's throat.
Theirs is a most curious political rivalry-cum-friendship between children of the Greek elite. It's got a few psycho-emotional tinges of Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich back in the day here. But, of course, Gingrich messed up, never knocked Clinton off his perch, as has Andonis with George, and now is a secondary player in the Herman Cain presidential soap opera.
Our brush with both came at what was still a small, all-male college in the bucolic enfolds of western Massachusetts. Debates over going co-ed competed with rather homogenous opposition to the Vietnam War and protests at an Air Force base which got a few of us arrested.
Indeed, we could place Hanoi on a map easier than Athens, and didn't really care much about a topic of true concern to Andonis and George, namely the U.S.-backed military junta ruling their country. But they did stick out, even if co-joined to us in their self-confident, care-free, and entitled ways.
It wasn't just that George was a pretty fair guitar player who tended toward the blue jeans that were a de facto liberal arts uniform, or that Andonis was always so debonair and seemed to sleep in that crisp blue blazer.
"I remember them as impossibly handsome, mythical characters who lived on another planet, with the most gorgeous girls in the Pioneer Valley in their clique of aristocratic jet-setting friends," says Michael Rogawski, class of '74 and chair of the department of neurology at the University of California at Davis. "They would be sighted with unapproachable beauties, beaming as if posing in a Brooks Brothers catalogue shoot."
They were dutiful students, like most of us, and in freshman year Philosophy 11, Andonis preferred reading Plato's Republic in the original ancient Greek as others plodded through the English translation. He and the professor often discussed the inadequacy of the translation and, recalls classmate Tom Quinn, a cardiologist in Northampton, Massachusetts, made the sessions a real "welcome to Amherst and maybe you don't belong here experience for me."
After freshman year, Cully Wilcoxon, who is a cellist and former academic who lives in Devizes, Wiltshire, visited Andonis in Athens for a month and remembers both his magnanimity and a distinct political discretion.
Wilcoxon was a "naïve Southern boy" struck by the generosity and kindness of the Samaras family, which was led by Andonis' prominent doctor father. In fact, he essentially used the family manse and servants as home base while he traveled the Peloponnesus. But there were reminders of larger realities that impacted Andonis and George in primal ways we couldn't fully appreciate.
"It was the era of the Colonels and I was walking once with Andonis below the Acropolis when soldiers strolled towards us. He told me to speak loudly in English, to deflect attention," recalls Wilcoxon in a note from England.
Gordon Wiltsie, a freshman year hallmate of mine in James Hall and a renowned adventure photographer who lives in Bozeman, Montana, was Andonis' sophomore roommate after each was initially jammed into a room with folks they didn't like. They had complained about their housing situation and the dean of students arbitrarily tossed them together into a suddenly open suite for three, though the two had never previously met.
The room became the de facto meeting place for the college's Greek community, including Andonis' older brother, Alexandros. Papandreou was part of the crew, his father having been deposed as prime minister in the coup. "Periodically he would disappear to what we thought were secret meetings with the government in exile," recalls Wiltsie.
He partied hard, he concedes, with George, "who was very hip to the times. "Andonis, on the other hand, toed the line more carefully about most things but women."
The coup d'état came to an end in 1974, just as we were graduating and scattered to the winds to start our real lives. George and Andonis would begin climbing the political ladder a bit later but always remained accessible to old Amherst chums.
Indeed, your class secretary was traveling with President Bill Clinton once and had press pool duty at a state dinner in Athens. Andonis saw me on a riser outside the room, beckoned me in and soon waved over George. We trafficked in nostalgia until security buttonholed me just as Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton were entering, prompting Mrs. Clinton to raise her eyebrows and wonder, "Jim, what are you doing in here?"
Well, it's those ties that bind, and that are manifested in other ways, apparently even in Boston parking lots.
Rob Skovgard, a divorce lawyer in Stamford, Connecticut, was a chum of Andonis and learned pithy Greek phrases from him. He used several recently during a sharp disagreement in a Boston parking lot with the apparent Greek owner. "They guy was impressed, surprised, and backed off," said Rob.
For sure, there is a certain cognitive dissonance, as so many of us lead our comparatively tranquil lives and view the deadly serious events in Greece with their continent-wide ramifications. The dorm room joshing of yesteryear seems so far away, even quaint.
Like your class secretary, Rogawski is taken with how George looks pretty bald, pretty gray, and distinctly beleaguered. "But, then, I guess most of us had hair that was in better shape in those days," he says.
And most of us don't quite know that sort of pressure or need submit to international scrutiny, including outright ridicule and caricature.
Well, we truly wish George, Andonis, and their families best wishes in trying times. And let's hope that, when it comes to what Sports Illustrated calls the Biggest Little Football Game in America, they'll be on the same page Saturday; rooting for our Lord Jeffs against arch-rival Williams.
Oh, deadline for the next edition of the class notes is November 23. If you can top Andonis and George as far as news, I'd be grateful! Cheers, Jim.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The drug modafinil was recently found to enhance cognition in healthy people. Should you take it to get a raise?
If you could take a pill that will make you better at your job, with few or no negative consequences, would you do it?
In a meta-analysis recently published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School concluded that a drug called modafinil, which is typically used to treat sleep disorders, is a cognitive enhancer. Essentially, it can help normal people think better.
Out of all cognitive processes, modafinil was found to improve decision-making and planning the most in the 24 studies the authors reviewed. Some of the studies also showed gains in flexible thinking, combining information, or coping with novelty. The drug didn’t seem to influence creativity either way.
Four and a half years of violent conflict have destroyed entire regions of Syria. Caught in the middle of all this horror are the children of Syria, relying on parents who have lost control of their own lives and are now being forced to make difficult choices in desperate circumstances.
Four and a half years of violent conflict have destroyed entire regions of Syria. Neighborhoods have been smashed by shelling and government barrel bombs, and towns have been seized by rebels and ISIS militants, then retaken by government troops, killing hundreds of thousands and injuring even more. The United Nations now estimates that more than 4 million Syrians have become refugees, forced to flee to neighboring countries or Europe. Caught in the middle of all this horror are the children of Syria, relying on parents who have lost control of their own lives and are now being forced to make difficult choices in desperate circumstances. Though many families remain in Syria’s war zones, thousands of others are taking dangerous measures to escape, evading militias, government forces, border guards, predatory traffickers, and more, as they struggle to reach safety far from home.
A new study finds an algorithmic word analysis is flawless at determining whether a person will have a psychotic episode.
Although the language of thinking is deliberate—let me think, I have to do some thinking—the actual experience of having thoughts is often passive. Ideas pop up like dandelions; thoughts occur suddenly and escape without warning. People swim in and out of pools of thought in a way that can feel, paradoxically, mindless.
Most of the time, people don’t actively track the way one thought flows into the next. But in psychiatry, much attention is paid to such intricacies of thinking. For instance, disorganized thought, evidenced by disjointed patterns in speech, is considered a hallmark characteristic of schizophrenia. Several studies of at-risk youths have found that doctors are able to guess with impressive accuracy—the best predictive models hover around 79 percent—whether a person will develop psychosis based on tracking that person’s speech patterns in interviews.
All of the downsides of being a subordinate, combined with all of the downsides of having to tell people to do things they don't want to do.
When researchers try to determine the types of workers who are most prone to depression, the focus is usually on the misery of those at the bottomof a company’s hierarchy—the presumed stressors being the menial duties they're tasked with and their lack of say in defining the scope of their jobs.
But it turns out that middle managers have it worse. In a new study from researchers at Columbia University, of nearly 22,000 full-time workers (from a dataset from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions), they saw that 18 percent of supervisors and managers reported symptoms of depression. For blue-collar workers, that figure was 12 percent, and for owners and executives, it was only 11 percent.
But no tale of posthumous success is quite as spectacular as that of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the “cosmic horror” writer who died in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1937 at the age of 46. The circumstances of Lovecraft’s final years were as bleak as anyone’s. He ate expired canned food and wrote to a friend, “I was never closer to the bread-line.” He never saw his stories collectively published in book form, and, before succumbing to intestinal cancer, he wrote, “I have no illusions concerning the precarious status of my tales, and do not expect to become a serious competitor of my favorite weird authors.” Among the last words the author uttered were, “Sometimes the pain is unbearable.” His obituary in the Providence Evening Bulletin was “full of errors large and small,” according to his biographer.
In the United States and Israel, a heated debate about whether to accept the nuclear deal with Iran continues. In the rest of the world, Iran’s reintegration is already underway.
The survival of the Iran deal seems more likely by the day; for past assessments of what that might mean for the Middle East, the United States, and beyond, please see the items grouped here.
Two weeks ago, as part of a collection of notes from readers in Israel, I quoted Samuel J. Cohen, who is originally American but has lived and worked in Israel since the 1970s, on the possibility that “Obama and Netanyahu are both right.” That is: President Obama is right that ending Iran’s pariah status will overall be good for the United States, and Prime Minister Netanyahu is right that the same change may be overall bad for Israel, even if Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. Thus the interests of the two nations genuinely diverge.
Every time you shrug, you don’t need to Google, then copy, then paste.
Updated, 2:20 p.m.
All hail ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
In its 11 strokes, the symbol encapsulates what it’s like to be an individual on the Internet. With raised arms and a half-turned smile, it exudes the melancholia, the malaise, the acceptance, and (finally) the embrace of knowing that something’s wrong on the Internet and you can’t do anything about it.
As Kyle Chayka writes in a new history of the symbol at The Awl, the meaning of the “the shruggie” is always two, if not three- or four-, fold. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ represents nihilism, “bemused resignation,” and “a Zen-like tool to accept the chaos of universe.” It is Sisyphus in unicode. I use it at least 10 times a day.
For a long time, however, I used it with some difficulty. Unlike better-known emoticons like :) or ;), ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ borrows characters from the Japanese syllabary called katakana. That makes it a kaomoji, a Japanese emoticon; it also makes it, on Western alphabetical keyboards at least, very hard to type. But then I found a solution, and it saves me having to google “smiley sideways shrug” every time I want to quickly rail at the world’s inherent lack of meaning.