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Sperling '75 of Chicago over whether "Hangover Part II" violated a tattoo artist's copyright in using a face tattoo originally made for ex-boxer Mike Tyson.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.
A CFPB investigation concluded that Transunion and Equifax deceived Americans about the reports they provided and the fees they charged.
In personal finance, practically everything can turn on one’s credit score. It’s both an indicator of one’s financial past, and the key to accessing necessities—without insane costs—in the future. But on Tuesday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that two of the three major credit-reporting agencies responsible for doling out those scores—Equifax and Transunion—have been deceiving and taking advantage of Americans. The Bureau ordered the agencies to pay more than $23 million in fines and restitution.
In their investigation, the Bureau found that the two agencies had been misrepresenting the scores provided to consumers, telling them that the score reports they received were the same reports that lenders and businesses received, when, in fact, they were not. The investigation also found problems with the way the agencies advertised their products, using promotions that suggested that their credit reports were either free or cost only $1. According to the CFPB the agencies did not properly disclose that after a trial of seven to 30 days, individuals would be enrolled in a full-price subscription, which could total $16 or more per month. The Bureau also found Equifax to be in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which states that the agencies must provide one free report every 12 months made available at a central site. Before viewing their free report, consumers were forced to view advertisements for Equifax, which is prohibited by law.
The MIT economist Peter Temin argues that economic inequality results in two distinct classes. And only one of them has any power.
A lot of factors have contributed to American inequality: slavery, economic policy, technological change, the power of lobbying, globalization, and so on. In their wake, what’s left?
That’s the question at the heart of a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by Peter Temin, an economist from MIT. Temin argues that, following decades of growing inequality, America is now left with what is more or less a two-class system: One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy (but still mostly white) lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.
American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth.
As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. IQ wasn’t a big factor in whom you married, where you lived, or what others thought of you. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along—bosses didn’t routinely expect college degrees, much less ask to see SAT scores. As one account of the era put it, hiring decisions were “based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics.”
The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s‑bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.
In 1985, Neil Postman observed an America imprisoned by its own need for amusement. He was, it turns out, extremely prescient.
Earlier this month, thousands of protesters gathered at Washington’s National Mall to advocate for an assortment of causes: action against global climate change, federal funding for scientific research, a generally empirical approach to the world and its mysteries. The protesters at the March for Science, as scientists are wont to do, followed what has become one of the established formulas for such an event, holding clever signs, wearing cheeky outfits, and attempting, overall, to carnivalize their anger. “Make the Barrier Reef Great Again,” read one sign at the March. “This is my sine,” read another. “I KNEW TO WEAR THIS,” one woman had written on the poncho she wore that soggy Saturday, “BECAUSE SCIENCE PREDICTED THE RAIN.” Three protesters, sporting sensible footwear and matching Tyrannosaurus rex costumes, waved poster boards bearing messages like “Jurassick of this shit.”
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
Twenty-three years after Listening to Prozac, Peter Kramer comes to the drug’s defense.
Several years ago, in the middle of reading volume five of The Princess Diaries to our elder daughter, my wife came to a passage about a dog who is so anxious when left alone that he licks himself until his hair falls out. The royal veterinarian has prescribed Prozac, but the young princess thinks the dog’s real problem is that it lives with her grandmother: “If I had to live with Grandmère, I would totally lick off all my hair.” Our daughter was curious about the medication, which she had never heard of. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” she said, “if there was something like that for people?”
There is, of course, something like that for people. It is prescribed by sober clinicians, dismissed by critics who wouldn’t give it to a dog, and puzzled over by a public unsure whether it is a life-changing medication or a fairy-tale invention. The confusion is understandable. In 1993, the writer-psychiatrist Peter D. Kramer published Listening to Prozac, his best-selling examination of a pill that promised to revolutionize the treatment of anxiety and depression. In 2010, the Harvard researcher and psychologist Irving Kirsch published The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth, a data-fueled argument that was lauded in a New York Review of Books essay called “The Illusions of Psychiatry” and featured on 60 Minutes, as well as in a Newsweek cover story. “Studies suggest,” the article reported, “that the popular drugs are no more effective than a placebo.”
China has profited immensely from the open global trading system. But whether it remains open depends on the actions of the West’s increasingly reactive democracies.
In January 2017 the global economy changed guard. The venue was Davos, the annual gathering of the world’s wealthiest recyclers of conventional wisdom—and consistently one of the last places to anticipate what is going to happen next. This time was different. The assembled hedge-fund tycoons, Silicon Valley data executives, management gurus, and government officials were treated to a preview of how rapidly the world is about to change. Xi Jinping, the president of China, had come to the Swiss Alpine resort to defend the global trade system against the attacks of the U.S. president-elect, Donald Trump. With minimal fanfare, the leader of the world’s largest developing economy took over the role of defending the global trading system in the teeth of protectionist war cries from the world’s most developed nation. It portended a new era in which China would apparently play the role of the responsible global citizen. The bad guys were swapping places with the good. “Some people blame economic globalization for the chaos in our world,” Xi told Davos. “We should not retreat into the harbor whenever we encounter a storm or we will never reach the other shore. … No one will emerge as a winner from a trade war.”
A child psychologist argues punishment is a waste of time when trying to eliminate problem behavior. Try this instead.
Say you have a problem child. If it’s a toddler, maybe he smacks his siblings. Or she refuses to put on her shoes as the clock ticks down to your morning meeting at work. If it’s a teenager, maybe he peppers you with obscenities during your all-too-frequent arguments. The answer is to punish them, right?
Not so, says Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center. Punishment might make you feel better, but it won’t change the kid’s behavior. Instead, he advocates for a radical technique in which parents positively reinforce the behavior they do want to see until the negative behavior eventually goes away.
As I was reporting my recent series about child abuse, I came to realize that parents fall roughly into three categories. There’s a small number who seem intuitively to do everything perfectly: Moms and dads with chore charts that actually work and snack-sized bags of organic baby carrots at the ready. There’s an even smaller number who are horrifically abusive to their kids. But the biggest chunk by far are parents in the middle. They’re far from abusive, but they aren’t super-parents, either. They’re busy and stressed, so they’re too lenient one day and too harsh the next. They have outdated or no knowledge of child psychology, and they’re scrambling to figure it all out.
The party appears to be struggling to convince the public it represents a better alternative to President Trump and the GOP.
If Democrats want to regain the power they’ve lost at the state and federal level in recent years, they will have to convince more voters they can offer solutions to their problems.
That may be especially difficult, however, if voters think the party and its representatives in government don’t understand or care about them. And according to a recently released poll, many voters may, in fact, feel that way. The Washington Post-ABC News survey, released this week, found that a majority of the public thinks the Democratic Party is out of touch with the concerns of average Americans in the United States. More Americans think Democrats are out of touch than believe the same of the Republican Party or President Trump.
It’s a shame that the standard way of learning how to cook is by following recipes. To be sure, they are a wonderfully effective way to approximate a dish as it appeared in a test kitchen, at a star chef’s restaurant, or on TV. And they can be an excellent inspiration for even the least ambitious home cooks to liven up a weeknight dinner. But recipes, for all their precision and completeness, are poor teachers. They tell you what to do, but they rarely tell you why to do it.
This means that for most novice cooks, kitchen wisdom—a unified understanding of how cooking works, as distinct from the notes grandma lovingly scrawled on index-card recipes passed down through the generations—comes piecemeal. Take, for instance, the basic skill of thickening a sauce. Maybe one recipe for marinara advises reserving some of the starchy pasta water, for adding later in case the sauce is looking a little thin. Another might recommend rescuing a too-watery sauce with some flour, and still another might suggest a handful of parmesan. Any one of these recipes offers a fix under specific conditions, but after cooking through enough of them, those isolated recommendations can congeal into a realization: There are many clever ways to thicken a sauce, and picking an appropriate one depends on whether there’s some leeway for the flavor to change and how much time there is until dinner needs to be on the table.