The lost A List

As A List Hol­ly­wood stars come out to tell their Har­vey Wein­stein couch harass­ment sto­ries, I have to won­der about those who didn’t make it through after say­ing no — actress­es who saw their roles evap­o­rate and left act­ing. The New York Times head­lines pro­fil­ing Wein­stein accusers touts Gwyneth Pal­trow and Angeli­na Jolie but also intro­duces us a woman who is now a psy­chol­o­gy pro­fes­sor in Col­orado. How many bet­ter actress­es and strong-minded women would there be in Hol­ly­wood if so many hadn’t been forced out?

I thought of this after read­ing by a tweet from the actress Rose Marie. She’s best known as one of the jovial side­kicks from the 1960s’ Dick Van Dyke Show. Not to dimin­ish the rest of the cast, but Rose Marie is one of the best rea­sons to watch the show, espe­cial­ly dur­ing those rare moments she’s allowed to step out from her character’s wise­crack­ing spin­ster per­sona and sing or act. On Twit­ter, she shared that she lost a music con­tract in the 1950s because she wouldn’t sleep with a producer.

What if a tal­ent­ed actress like Rose Marie had been giv­en more oppor­tu­ni­ties and wasn’t just known for a sup­port­ing part in a old sit­com? What if the psy­chol­o­gy pro­fes­sor had got­ten the Shake­speare in Love lead? (Imag­ine a world where Pal­trow was only known to 800 or so Face­book friends for too-perfect fam­i­ly pics and memes from dubi­ous health sites.)

Dis­claimer: This is a minor point com­pared with any actress­es who weren’t able to deal with the harass­ment and the indus­try silenc­ing machin­ery. I’m sure there are tragedies that are more than just career pivots.

Edward Tufte and classical intellectual inquiry

Near the begin­ning of Edward Tufte’s Beau­ti­ful Evi­dence, he writes “My books are self-exemplifying: the objects them­selves embody the ideas writ­ten about.” The same could be true of his presentations.

On a recent Tues­day, Friends Jour­nal spon­sored me to attend one of Tufte’s one-day work­shops. He’s most well-known for his beau­ti­ful books on data visu­al­iza­tions but his work­shop touched on a num­ber of fas­ci­nat­ing top­ics. “The world is way too inter­est­ing to have dis­ci­pli­nary bound­aries,” he said at one point as he took us from music to maps to space shut­tles to magi­cians. The range was pur­pose­ful. He was teach­ing us how to think.

I esti­mat­ed a crowd of maybe 450. A large per­cent­age were low-level cor­po­rate types (I over­heard one say “I was not expect­ing that he’d bash Pow­er­Point so much”; this slack­er obvi­ous­ly hadn’t even tak­en five min­utes to skim Tufte’s Wikipedia page). There were small­er mix­es of techie, cre­atives, and design pro­fes­sion­als, some of whom were there after fawn­ing over his books for years. Bonus if you go: part of the work­shop reg­is­tra­tion fee is gratis copies of his books!

I have 13 pages of notes. Some high­lights for me:

  • The heart of much of the work­shop was crit­i­cal think­ing. Tufte dis­sect­ed var­i­ous news web­sites to take us through the ways they gave attri­bu­tion and pre­sent­ed data. He also went through stud­ies and gave var­i­ous point­ers to sniff out when ver­i­fy­ing data was being withheld.
  • “Pro­duc­ing a good pre­sen­ta­tion is a moral and eth­i­cal act.” (dit­to for being an good audi­ence mem­ber). There is a form of civic respon­si­bil­i­ty to inquiry.
  • Tufte is a big believ­er in meet­ings that begin with read­ing. The highest-resolution device most of us have is paper. Peo­ple can read 2 – 3 times faster than a pre­sen­ter can talk. By let­ting peo­ple go at their own pace they can tai­lor the pre­sen­ta­tion to their own needs.
  • Data pre­sen­ta­tion: A theme through­out the work­shop was “doc­u­ments not decks,” an empha­sis on flat, web-like pre­sen­ta­tions that allow read­ers to con­trol scrolling. He con­tin­u­al­ly called out “flat sur­faces” and mate­r­i­al that is “adja­cent in space” to give an almost the­o­log­i­cal argu­ment for their supe­ri­or­i­ty over deck-like pre­sen­ta­tions (think Pow­er­Point) that can obscure impor­tant data.
  • He urged us not to pan­der to our audi­ence: Con­sumer sites show that data can be pop­u­lar: the New York Times’s web­site has 450 links; ESPN’s has tables atop tables and yet peo­ple read these sites every day. Why can’t we have the same lev­el of data-rich acces­si­bil­i­ty in our work lives? “Have we sud­den­ly becomes stu­pid just because we’ve comes to work?” He urged the mid-level execs in the audi­ence to demand good pre­sen­ta­tions. We should push back against the low-expectations of their boss­es to ask “Why can’t we live up to ESPN?”
  • Data as beau­ty. From gor­geous maps to graph­i­cal music nota­tion (below), Tufte loves design and data that come togeth­er in beau­ty. It is amazing.

One of my favorite parts of the work­shop was an after­noon digres­sion from strict data that he intro­duced by say­ing, “It’s time for a heart to heart.” It began with a ser­mon­ette on cred­i­bil­i­ty: how to make your­self account­able and just other’s arguments.

Then he talked about how to respond when some­one chal­lenges your work. I could tell there must be a long list of per­son­al sto­ries inform­ing this part of the work­shop – lessons learned, yes, but sure­ly oppor­tu­ni­ties lost too. Tufte told us it was only nat­ur­al to respond in defen­sive­ness and anger and coun­seled us to not be too quick to dis­miss cri­tique. You’ve got to do the hard work to see whether your chal­lenger might be correct.

He remind­ed us that when we’re in a room full of peers, every­one present has been fil­tered and select­ed over the years. You should assume the room will be just as smart as you are. “How dare you think your motives are bet­ter than those of your col­leagues!” he thun­dered at an emo­tion­al crescen­do. He admit­ted that this self-doubt is a hard pos­ture to adopt. He’s polled pub­lic fig­ures he respects and even the thickest-skinned are stung by challenge.

He said he had learned to back off, go slow, and con­tem­plate when he’s chal­lenged. Just when I thought he had found some super-human abil­i­ty to ratio­nal­ly con­sid­er things, he told us it could took him three to five years to real­ly accept the valid­i­ty of dis­sent­ing views.

This was a much-needed ser­mon for me and I nod­ded along along. As some­one who pro­fes­sion­al­ly ampli­fies opin­ion, I’m often in the mid­dle of peo­ple in debate (I’ve been an actor in these con­flicts in the past, though these days I gen­er­al­ly play a role some­where between an agent and medi­a­tor). It’s good to see intel­lec­tu­al debate as a process and to remem­ber that it can take years. “This con­cludes the ther­a­peu­tic por­tion of today’s course”, he con­clud­ed, before going back to visualizations.

He end­ed by show­ing us time­less first-editions of beau­ti­ful sci­en­tif­ic works by Galileo and Euclid. He felt a gen­uine appre­ci­a­tion of being part of an intel­lec­tu­al tra­di­tion. He was a mas­ter and for this day we in the audi­ence were his appren­tices. “In life we need tools that last for­ev­er and give us clear lever­age in clear thinking.”

 

Update: appar­ent­ly some num­ber of data visu­al­iza­tion peo­ple have dis­liked his work­shops. What I found fas­ci­nat­ing­ly wide-ranging they found ram­bling. Per­haps Tufte has tight­ened his pre­sen­ta­tion or I caught him on a good day. More like­ly, I think they came look­ing for a more tech­ni­cal dis­cus­sion of data visu­al­iza­tion and was sur­prised that Tufte focused so much on crit­i­cal think­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. I have a par­tic­u­lar soft spot for quirky and opin­ion­at­ed peo­ple who don’t fol­low scripts and Tufte’s detours all made a cer­tain sense to me. But then I’m a phi­los­o­phy major turned do-gooder writer/publisher. Your mileage may vary.

Carolina Friends School in Durham confronts reports of decades-old sexual abuse


A Friends School talks open­ly about past school abuse:

The alum­nus said he’s upset the prin­ci­pal [Harold Jerni­gan] has not acknowl­edged the accu­sa­tions. But he said he doesn’t regret send­ing his orig­i­nal mes­sage. ‘If you read Quak­er lit­er­a­ture, they spell ‘Truth’ in the upper­case – the impli­ca­tion of divin­i­ty,’ he said, ‘that it is a holy thing to con­tin­ue that search for truth.’

I’m glad this is get­ting out now, but I did a double-take as the accused prin­ci­ple is still alive and liv­ing a few dozen miles from me. He was a lightning-rod fig­ure as prin­ci­pal of at least two oth­er schools after Car­oli­na. I imag­ine the behav­ior con­tin­ued. Updates below:

  • An peri­od arti­cle on his tenure at a Friends Sem­i­nary, a Man­hat­tan Friends school, talked about the unrest of his two-year tenure there. It sounds like he came in and sum­mar­i­ly fired the heads of the low­er, mid­dle, and upper schools. This is the kind of thing one would do if they want­ed to cur­tail accountability.
  • A mem­oir by Quak­er edu­ca­tor Leonard Ken­wor­thy talks about this peri­od at Friends Sem­i­nary: “He moved much too rapid­ly in bring­ing about changes, ask­ing for the res­ig­na­tions of the heads of the ele­men­tary and mid­dle school, plus sev­er­al oth­er shifts, with­in a very short peri­od, even before he took over as prin­ci­pal. Over and over I urged him not to move too fast but he said there were two ways of han­dling such a sit­u­a­tion. One was to move slow­ly over a peri­od of years. The oth­er was to bring about quick changes and then to begin rapid­ly to ini­ti­ate new pro­grams and new per­son­nel. He was deter­mined to use the lat­ter approach.”
  • A 1986 New York Times pro­file of Friends Sem­i­nary had this to say of its for­mer head: “After a shake-up of the staff that led to the res­ig­na­tion or dis­missal of sev­er­al teach­ers, a teacher’s union was formed, and stu­dents went on strike. Even­tu­al­ly, the prin­ci­pal, Harold Jerni­gan, resigned and the school ”reject­ed mus­cu­lar Quak­erism and returned to its mys­ti­cal faith,” in the words of the offi­cial history.”
  • A com­menter on one news arti­cle writes: “Please also know that Harold Jernigan’s behav­ior con­tin­ued on at Atlantic City Friends School, where he was Head­mas­ter. As an Alum of ACFS, I thought that should be made clear.”
  • Car­oli­na Friends School wrote an open let­ter to the com­mu­ni­ty in June.

Update Decem­ber 2014. I have received emails from a for­mer stu­dent who wished to remain anony­mous at this time. I have no way to fact check this but it is con­sis­tent with the his­to­ry and I have no rea­son to think it’s inac­cu­rate. With that caveat, here are some excerpts:

As an Alum­ni of Atlantic City Friends School I am not sur­prised at all to hear about Harold Jerni­gan sex­u­al abuse in the least . Please note this abuse along with more forms of abuse went on at ACFS into the ear­ly 80’s

Sex­u­al abuse was not the only abuse. Abuse of the school sys­tem in gen­er­al includ­ing drugs , abuse of pow­er , mon­ey , teach­ing so bad­ly that curves were used to grade so curved that the high­est grade in a math class Harold Jerni­gan taught was a 42 yet all were passed . Harold Jerni­gan also would lis­ten to class­rooms and lock­er rooms with a speak­er sys­tem in his office even after he promised Teach­ers he would not . Please note if Harold Jerni­gan did not want a stu­dent to pass he would call a meet­ing with all Teach­ers to make sure cer­tain stu­dents would not pass no mat­ter what .

I was a vic­tim of his non sex­u­al abuse but still abuse all the same .

I am only telling you this so some­one puts a stop to this abuse. Back in the late 70’s ear­ly 80’s who would believe a teenag­er . To see this Final­ly come out makes me know there is Karma .

As teenagers in school we would talk amongst our­selves . No one would come for­ward because we knew Harold would hold back our Diplo­mas or not for­ward a let­ter to a college .

You must remem­ber ACFS was attend­ed by either high IQ stu­dents , rich kids that were kick out of their oth­er schools or stu­dents that want­ed to attend a pri­vate school . This made the stu­dent body Easy Prey .

Dur­ing my time at ACFS I made friends with some of the Teach­ers . These Teach­ers are some of my sources ! They knew but need­ed their job

Normcore and the new-old Quaker plain

In the last few weeks, the fashion segment of the Internet has gone all a-buzz over new term "Normcore." Normal, everyday, clothing is apparently showing up in downtown Manhattan—gasp! Like many trendy terms, it's not really so new: back in the nineties and early oughts, Gap ruled the retail world with posters showing celebrities and artists wearing t-shirts and jeans available at the local mall store. "Normcore" is just the leading edge of the utterly-predicable 20-year fashion industry pendulum swing.

It also perhaps signals a cultural shift away from snobbery and into embracing roots. One of the most popular posts on the New York Times's website last year celebrated regional accents (apparently Philadelphians are allowed to talk like Philadelphians again).

An analogue to this fashion trend has been occuring among Friends for a little while now. The "New Plain" discussion have revolved around reclaiming an attitude, not a uniform.

If you read the old Quaker guide books (called "Books of Discipline" then, now more often called "Faith and Practice"), you'll see that unlike other plain-dressing American groups like the Amish, Quakers didn't intend their clothes to be a uniform showing group conformity. Instead, plainness is framed in terms of interior motivations. Avoiding fashion trends helped Friends remember that they were all equal before God. It also spoke to our continuing testimony of integrity, in that Friends were to dress the same way in different contexts and so vouchsafe for a single identity.

When I began feeling the tug of a leading toward plainness it was for what I began calling "Sears Plain," indicating that I wore clothes that I could find in any box store or mall. I developed a low-maintenance approach to fashion that freed up my time from shopping and the morning dressing ritual. Modern plainness can lesson the temptation to show off in in clothes and it can reduce the overall wardrobe size and thus reduce our impact on the environment and with exploited labor. But all this is nothing new and it never really disappeared. If you looked around a room of modern Quakers you'll often see a trend of sartorial boringness; I was simply naming this and putting it in the context of our tradition.

image

Over time I found that these motivations were more prevalent in the wider culture, especially in the minimalist techie scene. Steve Jobs famously sported a uniform of black turtleneck, jeans, and New Balance sneakers (explained in 2011). In a 2012 profile, Barack Obama talked about limiting his clothes to two colors of suits so that he could free up his decision-making energies on more important issues (I wrote about his fashion in "Plain like Barack").

Non-celebrities also seem interested in working out their relationship with fashion. My articles on modern plainness have always been a big draw on my blog. While my fellow Quakers are sometimes mildly embarrassed by our historic peculiarities, outsiders often eat this stuff up. They're looking for what the techies would call "life hacks" that can help them prioritize life essentials. If we can communicate our values in a real way that isn't propped by appeals to the authority of tradition, then we can reach these seekers.

So now that "Normcore" is appearing in places like Huffington Post , the New York Times and fashion magazines, will Friends be able to talk more about it? Do we still have a collective witness in regards to the materialism and ego-centricity of fashion marketing?

Forsaking Diplomacy

In the New York Times, a “glimpse behind the scenes of the Bush Administration’s sup­port for war in Lebanon”:www.nytimes.com/2006/08/10/washington/10rice.html:
bq.. Washington’s resis­tance to an imme­di­ate cease-fire and its staunch sup­port of Israel have made it more dif­fi­cult for [US “Sec­re­tary of State”:www.nonviolence.org/tag/secretary%20of%20state] Rice to work with oth­er nations, includ­ing some Amer­i­can allies, as they search for a for­mu­la that will end the vio­lence and pro­duce a durable cease-fire.…
Sev­er­al State Depart­ment offi­cials have pri­vate­ly object­ed to the administration’s empha­sis on Israel and have said that Wash­ing­ton is not talk­ing to Syr­ia to try to resolve the cri­sis. Dam­as­cus has long been a sup­port­er of “Hezbollah”:www.nonviolence.org/tag/hezbollah, and pre­vi­ous con­flicts between the group and Israel have been resolved through shut­tle diplo­ma­cy with Syria.
p. The wars in “Lebanon”:www.nonviolence.org/tag/lebanon and “Iraq”:www.nonviolence.org/tag/iraq are caus­ing irrepara­ble harm to the U.S. image in the Mid­dle East. High-sounding words about democ­ra­cy ring hol­low when we for­sake diplomacy.

Plain Quaker Nurse-In

I recent­ly read a New York Times arti­cle on the resurg­ing phe­nom­e­non of nurse-ins, designed to high­light the lack of laws giv­ing moth­ers the right to nurse in pub­lic. Lit­tle did I real­ize a plain dress­ing Quak­er near Grand Rapids Michi­gan was at the cen­ter of its nurse-in! From the local (link-unfriendly) newspaper:

As a Quak­er woman, Jen­nifer Seif lives a mod­est and sim­ple life. Breast­feed­ing is nat­ur­al to her, and she has nursed her chil­dren while in the gro­cery store, the doctor’s office and dur­ing Quak­er meet­ings with­out a prob­lem. So the Grand Rapids woman was shocked and embar­rassed in April when Kent Coun­ty Clerk Mary Beth Hollinrake approached her while she was breast­feed­ing her infant son, Micah…“It’s shock­ing to me that any­one would be offend­ed.” The moth­er of three said she was wear­ing a cape dress — a gar­ment designed for dis­creet nursing…

I learned about this through the blog of Jenn and her hus­band Scott. Here’s Jenn’s post on the inci­dent. For those won­der­ing about their local pro­tec­tion, the La Leche League has a fab­u­lous state-by-state list­ing of the nurs­ing laws.