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Sperling '75 of Chicago over whether "Hangover Part II" violated a tattoo artist's copyright in using a face tattoo originally made for ex-boxer Mike Tyson.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.
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
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.
Wine snobs, string quartets, and the limits of intuition
Several months ago, this author sat at a classical music concert, trying to convince himself that wine is not bullshit.
That may seem like a strange thought to have while listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major. But Priceonomics had recently posted an article investigating The Price of Wine, part of which reviewed research that cast doubt on both consumers’ and wine experts’ ability to distinguish between quality wine and table wine or identify different wines and their flavors. It seemed a slippery slope to the conclusion that wine culture is nothing more than actors performing a snobbish play.
Listening to an accomplished musician while lacking any musical experience resulted in a feeling familiar to casual wine drinkers imbibing an expensive bottle: Feeling somewhat ambivalent and wondering whether you are convincing yourself that you enjoy it so as not to appear uncultured.
The new drama series, which follows the Colombian kingpin’s rise to power, feels more like a well-researched documentary than the gripping saga it wants to be.
Netflix’s new series Narcos is possibly arriving at the wrong time: The doldrums of summer aren’t really the ideal moment for a narratively dense, documentary-like look at the rise and fall of the Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Narrated in voiceover by DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), the early hours of Narcos feel like a history lesson, though an visually sumptuous one.
As Netflix continues to expand its streaming empire, it’s making a concerted effort to appeal to worldwide audiences, and Narcos fits neatly into that plan, alongside last year’s expensive critical flop Marco Polo. Narcos was shot on location in Colombia and stars the acclaimed Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as Escobar. It takes full advantage of its setting, loaded with sweeping helicopter shots of the Colombian jungle where Escobar founded his cocaine empire, filling a power vacuum left by various political upheavals in late-’70s South America.
Dealing with misinformation, feeling powerless, and slowly getting better together
I thought the article would validate my husband’s experience. That’s why I emailed him the link to the decade-old New York magazine article about his alma mater, the American Boychoir School for vocal prodigies, where alumni from as late as the 1990s estimate that one in five boys were molested. Boys like Travis.
“It used to feel like an isolated incident that affected just me," Trav said.
It was the end of my workday on an October afternoon; I had just set my keys on the kitchen table. My coat was still buttoned.
“Now I know I spent nearly three years of my childhood at a boarding school not just with random pedophiles, but in a culture that allowed it.”
As his wife, how do I respond? That he survived? That he’s brave? That he’s a hero for letting me talk about it? That I will stand beside him with a personal mission and public vow that nobody will ever hurt him, physically or emotionally, again, the way they did during his 30 months as a choirboy from 1988 to 1990?.
On the desperation behind the migrant tragedy in Austria
On Thursday, as Krishnadev Calamur has been tracking in The Atlantic’s new Notes section, Austrian authorities made a ghastly discovery: a truck abandoned in the emergency lane of a highway near the Hungarian border, packed with the decomposing bodies of 59 men, eight women, and four children. They are thoughtto be the corpses of migrants who suffocated to death, perhaps two days earlier, in the bowels of a vehicle whose back door was locked shut and refrigeration and ventilation systems weren’t functional. Stray identity documents suggest that at least some of the victims were Syrian—refugees from that country’s brutal civil war. The truck featured an image of a chicken and a slogan from the Slovakian poultry company that the lorry once belonged to: “I taste so good because they feed me so well.”
Nervous Democrats are looking for alternatives as Hillary Clinton falters. But is the VP the right person for the job?
“I think panic is the operative mode for the Democratic Party,” David Axelrod, who has been on the receiving end of panic mode many times over the years, told me this week. I had asked Obama’s political guru how bad the current panic was for Hillary Clinton—bad enough for the party to seek an alternative? Bad enough, perhaps, to create an opening for Joe Biden?
Axelrod didn’t think so. “I think it’s indisputable she’s had a rocky few months,” he said. “But if you look at her support among Democrats, and the resources she brings, she’s still very strong—I think she’s going to be the nominee.”
Not everyone is so sure. Public opinion has turned starkly negative on Clinton in recent months, as she has struggled to put the scandal over her use of email as secretary of state to rest. In a poll released this week, the word most commonly summoned when people were asked about her was “liar.”
Meet the first human-related species to be identified with more than fossil records.
We don’t know what the Denisovan looked like. We don’t know how it lived, what tools it used, how tall it was, what it ate, or if it buried its dead.
But from only two teeth and a piece of finger bone smaller than a penny, we’ve been able to extract the rich history of a species that split off from Homo sapiensapproximately 600,000 years ago. We know they’re more closely related to Neanderthals than humans—though still distantly. We know they made their way to Southeast Asian islands, interbreeding with indigenous modern human groups in New Guinea and Australia. We know their interspecies mingling with modern humans in mainland Asia was brief, but enough to impart a few genes. And we know Denisovan genes reveal evidence of interbreeding with Neanderthals and an even more archaic hominin species.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
What the Iran “debate” has taught us about our ability to discuss world affairs
Over the past month I’ve run a series of messages from readers in North America, the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere about the JCPOA Iran-nuclear deal that the Congress will soon formally consider. You can see the latest item here, and the whole collection here. That most recent installment, from Samuel J. Cohen in Israel, emphasized the contrast between the fury over the deal in the United States and Israel, and its taken-for-granted treatment everywhere else.
Here is another reaction worth considering. It is about the way the debate has evolved inside the United States. This comes from a young American who works for a well-known international organization and who himself has experience overseas. He writes: