Updating Thanksgiving

Jimmy Kimmel’s Thanksgiving Pageant is updated for modern sensitivities.

E pluribus Trump

Celebrating our various racial, ethnic, gender and sexual identities has prevented liberalism from “becoming a unifying force capable of governing,” writes Mark Lilla, a Columbia humanities professor, in the New York Times. “Identity liberalism” put Donald Trump in the White House, he argues.

On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton “called out to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop,” Lilla writes. Those left out felt excluded.

Schools encourage children to “talk about their individual identities, even before they have them,” he writes.

High school history curriculums “anachronistically project the identity politics of today back onto the past, creating a distorted picture of the major forces and individuals that shaped our country.”

When young people arrive at college they are encouraged to keep this focus on themselves by student groups, faculty members and also administrators whose full-time job is to deal with — and heighten the significance of — “diversity issues.”

Lilla concludes: Teachers should “refocus attention on their main political responsibility in a democracy: to form committed citizens aware of their system of government and the major forces and events in our history.”

Lilla’s op-ed is “making white supremacy respectable,” writes Katherine Franke, a law professor who directs Columbia’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. She compares her colleague to Klansman David Duke.

Halloween is too scary for college kids

Is your Halloween costume racist? Does it “appropriate” the culture of another group (Native Americans, Latinos, zombies)?

At U-Mass Amherst, students can check the “threat level” of their costume idea on the “Simple Costume Racism Evaluation and Assessment Meter” (S.C.R.E.A.M.) poster.

“If one intends to represent a person on Halloween, the only way to get a ‘green’ threat rating is for the person to be of one’s own race,” reports Campus Reform. “If one represents a person of another race, the ‘threat level’ increases roughly in conjunction with the amount of makeup that one intends to use.”

The flyer also warns about “thing/idea” costumes that reflect “controversial current events or historically accepted cliches,” particularly if “these events or cliches relate to a person or people not of your race.”

One of the displays does give another point of view, reports Campus Reform.

“It’s not fair to ask any culture to freeze itself in time and live as though they were a museum diorama,” one poster quotes author Susan Scafidi. “Cultural appropriation can sometimes be the savior of a cultural product that has faded away.”

Novelist Lionel Shriver defended cultural appropriation at a Melbourne writers’ conference. “I am hopeful that the concept of ‘cultural appropriation’ is a passing fad,” she said. “People with different backgrounds rubbing up against each other and exchanging ideas and practices is self-evidently one of the most productive, fascinating aspects of modern urban life.”

I wonder if students will turn to creepy clowns as a safe costume choice this year. On the other hand, there’s a “moral panic” about the threat of clowns on campus, writes Anne Hendershott. Everything’s scary this year.

Fierce feminists — or Indian-identity thieves?

nativeA girls’ high school basketball team in Iowa is under fire for a poster honoring the school’s Indian mascot, writes Robby Soave on Reason‘s Hit & Run. The Clarke High basketball team stands accused of appropriating Native American culture by dressing up as Indians. (They dance at the bottom of the poster, above the basketball schedule.)

“Several people pointed out on Facebook that the headdress is sacred in Native American tradition, and only men were allowed to wear it,” writes Soave. “But in that case, aren’t the girls actually striking a blow against the patriarchy?”

“Kudos to the Arbiters of Femininity for cyberbullying these girls,” writes The College Fix‘s Greg Piper.

“The girls look fierce as hell,” writes Soave

Clarke High asked photographer Ben Shirk to shoot a poster incorporating the mascot, writes Nick Martin. He calls the result “high-quality racism.”

When I started at Stanford, we were the “Indians.” Home football games started with a dance by “Prince Lightfoot.” My roommate, who was Native American, didn’t mind the Indian name, but hated the dance, which she said was pure Hollywood hoke. By sophomore, we were the Stanford Cardinal — a color, not a bird. I wonder what she’d think of the poster.

Patriotism: Are we in this together?

Most Woodrow Wilson High football players in Camden, N.J., knelt during the national anthem last Saturday. Photo:Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer, via Associated Press

High school football players across the country are refusing to stand for the national anthem to protest racial injustice. Rejecting the rituals of patriotism is a mistake, writes New York Times columnist David Brooks.

The idea of America is that we’re supposed to “create a good and just society,” he writes. And that we’re always “screwing it up.”

“This fusion of radical hope and radical self-criticism” is America’s “civic religion,” he writes. It’s “fired a fervent desire for change.”

When we sing the national anthem, we’re not commenting on the state of America. . . . We’re expressing commitment to the nation’s ideals, which we have not yet fulfilled. If we don’t transmit that creed through shared displays of reverence we will have lost the idea system that has always motivated reform. We will lose the sense that we’re all in this together. We’ll lose the sense of shared loyalty to ideas bigger and more transcendent than our own short lives. If these common rituals are insulted, other people won’t be motivated to right your injustices because they’ll be less likely to feel that you are part of their story.

In short, it’s “we the people” or every man, woman and being for him-, her- or zir- self.

At many schools, “a globalist mentality teaches students they are citizens of the world rather than citizens of America,” Brooks complains. “The multiculturalist mind-set values racial, gender and ethnic identities and regards national identities as reactionary and exclusive.”

Since the post-911 peak in patriotism, Americans are less likely to say they’re “extremely proud” of their country, reports Gallup. The decline is sharpest for those 18 to 29 years old. However, only 1 percent say they’re not proud at all.

Trend: How proud are you to be an American -- extremely proud, very proud, moderately proud, only a little proud or not at all proud?

Satan in school: Will kids stay late for devilment?

In response to after-school Christian Good News Clubs at public schools, a group called Satanic Temple hopes to set up After School Satan Clubs at elementary schools, reports the Washington Post.

“It’s critical that children understand that there are multiple perspectives on all issues, and that they have a choice in how they think,” said Doug Mesner, the Satanic Temple’s co-founder.

Advocates are petitioning public school officials across the country to authorize clubs, reports the Post. “The promotional video, which feels like a mash-up of a horror movie trailer and a ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch, will serve to promote the new club along with its website — Afterschoolsatan.com.”

I don’t think organized Satan worship will catch on. Most kids prefer to go to the devil in their own way.

Pokémon Go: Is it more than a fad? 

Pokémon Go, which uses GPS  to send players in search of digital characters, has become wildly and popular.  My niece, who’s 17, showed me a photo she’d taken on her phone of a character she’d “found” in the park.

Cyrus Phan, 29, right, and Anthony Puah, are gamers that run a driving service Pika Speed, are photographed driving customer as he plays the game in down-town San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. Pika Speed, which offers to drive Pokemon Go players around as they play the game Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)

Cyrus Phan, 29, right, and Anthony Puah, started Pika Speed to drive Pokemon Go players around San Jose. Photo: Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group

It’s encouraging gamers to get outside and do a lot of walking, though a San Jose start-up will chauffeur players and the especially lazy can entrepreneurs will hire someone to play for them. (What’s the point? I don’t know.)

Educators dream of using the game to teach local history, mapping, math and literacy, writes Leo Doran in Education Week. “Commentators are weighing in on potential educational applications.”

The game is a “way to enchant the environment,” said James Gee, an Arizona State professor who’s studied gaming. “Every human would love to think that there are fairies running around and the environment is full of magic — that’s been a theme of literature and many cultures actually believe it. Now Pokémon comes out and actually does those things.”

Pikachu, the most popular character, has the power of static: It releases a burst of energy.

Pikachu, the most popular character, has the power of static: It releases a burst of energy.

Greg Toppo, author of The Game Believes in You, also looks at Pokémon  as an educational tool. “Teachers have been blogging about how they might use the game once school begins,” he writes in USA Today.

Matthew Farber, a Denville, N.J., middle school social studies teacher and author of Gamify Your Classroom, predicts teachers will use the game to get students to “explore and research important historic Poké Stops near their home or school,” writes Toppo.

Pokémon creatures lurk in “art museums and churches and historical places and parks,” game designer Kellian Adams-Pletcher told Toppo. Museums are “thrilled” by the prospect of drawing in new visitors.

Game designer Jane McGonigal noted that scientists are already taking advantage of the game’s millions of users, urging them to take photos of species of bugs, fish and animals that don’t look familiar.

“It’s a slippery slope from video games to citizen science,” she said.

When collecting Pokémon cards was a fad in the late 1990s, Gee called the game a brilliant literacy curriculum, writes Toppo. A generation learned to read “specialized, technical, cross-referenced text” and “analyze and classify more than 700 different types of creatures,” the professor pointed out.

Toppo writes: “Gee predicted, a bit cynically, that if we were to turn Pokémon into a school subject, ‘certain children, many of them poor, would all of a sudden have trouble learning Pokémon’.”

Losing Dory: Chaos is not all that great

Finding Dory, which features Nemo’s absent-minded friend in a search for her family, will open up a new conversation about disabilities, predicts USA Today. The blue tang fish’s back story reveal she was born that way.

Dory is “about the acceptance of chaos,” according to A.O. Scott’s review in the New York Times. “Dory’s inability to make or stick to plans is shown, in the long run, to be an advantage.”

“The point of civilization is to make order out of chaos,” responds James Lileks in a Bleat. “The inability to make a plan or stick to a plan is not an advantage, and people who live this way do so because they live in a society that makes plans and sticks to them so there’s food in the store and juice in the sockets.”

Dory’s memory issues and Nemo’s deformed flipper are impairments better “understood as strengths,” Scott writes.

Lileks thinks that’s silly.

Now, an impairment might produce a strength of character, or strengthen bonds within a family or social group, or encourage a person to develop alternative skills that are impressive for the amount of determination required to overcome a handicap, but an impairment does not automatically bestow strength, and it is not in itself a strength. If something appears to be an impairment but it’s actually a strength, it’s probably not, you know, an impairment.

The fetish for identifying and celebrating differences creates “a superficial read of human complexity,” writes Lileks.

Look, everyone’s different. That’s a given. The challenge is finding similarities, which is healthier for a polity in the long run. Fixation on your differences leads to solipsistic tantrums like this, where someone interrupted an Orlando memorial service because no one was talking about her particular set of tremendously illustrative differences.

The atomization of the culture into a set of competing differences, some exalted and some derided according to fashion, does not lead to social cohesion. It puts people in boxes and puts the boxes on the shelf and then hoorah for us, because look how neat these boxes are lined up.

Some messages are “timeless and necessary,” he concludes. Tell kids to “be kind and accepting to good-hearted people who, like everyone else, have their flaws.”

The grandkids are visiting next week: We’re babysitting for two days while their parents go wine tasting. So, I’ll probably have a chance to see Dory.

From Somalia to St. Cloud

Students in St. Cloud, Minn.
Somali students study together at a St. Cloud school.

How does a small city in Minnesota cope with an influx of Somali immigrants? Tonight, PBS NewsHour looks at St. Cloud, Minnesota schools, which are trying help Somali students learn English and adapt to a new culture (and climate) while creating a welcoming and tolerant school climate.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a federal civil rights complaint against the St. Cloud school district in 2011, alleging widespread and frequent harassment of Somali Muslim students, reports Education Week.

How ‘Friends’ led to the fall of civilization

Friends and its “tragic hero, Ross Geller,” triggered the downfall of Western Civilization, writes David Hopkins on Medium.

Ross Geller was a professor of paleontology on Friends.

Ross Geller was a nerdy paleontology professor on Friends.

“Ross was the intellectual and the romantic,” he writes. His so-called “friends” groaned with boredom whenever he talked “his interests, his studies, his ideas.” Eventually, Ross went crazy.

The show ended in 2004, the year that “reality television became a dominant force in pop culture,” writes Hopkins. Paris Hilton released an autobiography.  Joey Tribbiani, Friends‘ dimwit actor, got a spin-off TV show.

Hopkins was a teacher that year. As coach of the chess club, he saw his students picked on and bullied, he writes. “My students were smart, huge nerds, and they were in hostile, unfriendly territory.”

Astronaut Mark Watney was smart and studly in The Martian.

Martian astronaut Mark Watney was a smart, studly scientist.

I just saw The Martian on DVD. Matt Damon plays the hero astronaut, who uses his knowledge, strength and courage to survive. “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this,” he pledges.

The Martian glorifies a specifically male nerdery, one whose values sync up with those of traditional masculinity: physical endurance, survival in a hostile landscape, honor, adulation,” writes Katy Waldman in Slate. She complains because the brave and brainy female astronauts are also beautiful.

Is that so bad?