A Playboy’s Passing

Hugh Hefner died yesterday of natural causes at age 91.  The founder of Playboy, Hefner was a lightning rod for criticism in the ’50s and ’60s for publishing a magazine that featured nude photos of women.

playboy-mansion-for-sale-comes-with-hugh-hefner-socialHefner’s life and career had a definite arc to it.  He founded Playboy in 1953, with an inaugural issue that featured photos of Marilyn Monroe, and built a media and nightclub empire that saw Playboy‘s circulation peak in the 1970s at more than 7 million.  When I was a kid in the late ’60s and early ’70s, just about every American boy had heard about Playboy and hoped to get a chance to thumb through the magazine one day.  But the number of competitors grew, Playboy clubs closed, and the circulation of the magazine declined, falling to about 800,000 in 2015.  At one point, Playboy even decided briefly to stop publishing photographs of naked women, then later reversed that decision.  In any case, Playboy‘s claim to have a grip on the national zeitgeist has long since vanished.

Hefner also was an interesting cultural figure, because he consciously set out to “brand” himself as the smiling sexual libertine with his ever-present pipe and his smoking jacket, constantly surrounded by pretty young women.  He was successful in creating a well-defined public persona, and in many ways, he was a forerunner of modern media techniques that have since been adopted by many other American cultural figures.  As time passed, however, the aging Hefner and his retinue became increasingly out of step with modern attitudes toward gender, and his branding also seemed to morph.  By the end, Hefner and his silk pajamas and captain’s hat and tiger skin rugs were a kind of curious anachronism, like a vestige of the Mad Men era that somehow still existed 50 years later.

 

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Sentencing Sexting

On Monday former Congressman Anthony Weiner was sentenced to spend 21 months in federal prison for sexting with a minor.  He broke down and cried when the sentence was delivered.  Weiner, who had pleaded guilty to the offense, also was fined $10,000, will have to register as a sex offender, and will be subject to three years of supervised release after his prison term ends.

anthony-weiner-e4a324c0-fc5d-49b2-ac42-0b7f99f8b6e5Weiner’s lawyers had argued that he should receive only probation, contending that the case involved unusual facts and circumstances and that Weiner had made “remarkable progress” through participation in a treatment program for the past year.  After the sentence was announced, the lawyers contended that the punishment was more severe than it had to be.

The federal judge explained her sentence by noting that sexting with a minor is “a serious crime that deserves serious punishment.”  She added that Weiner’s notoriety was an significant part of the sentence — because people have paid attention to his conduct and his case, the sentence provided an opportunity to send a message that could change lives.  And Weiner could have received even more prison time.  The offense to which he pleaded guilty carries a maximum prison term of 10 years, and the sentence imposed by the judge was at the low end of the range suggested by federal prosecutors.

I think the judge got this one exactly right.  Weiner’s record of repetitive misbehavior shows an escalating pattern, and his conduct with the 15-year-old girl was reprehensible.  And it is important to use the sentence to send a message, on several levels — it not only notifies people that sexting with a minor will be sternly punished, but also shows that the politically powerful are subject to justice to the same extent as the rest of us.  In a time when politicians seem increasingly to live in their own secure little bubbles, distant and disconnected from the real world, the message that they will be held accountable for their illegal actions is an especially important one.

Order Of Importance

To look at the news coverage, you’d think that the decisions of NFL players to take a knee, or sit, or stand at attention, during the playing of the National Anthem is the biggest news story in the world right now.  President Trump had to weigh in on it — of course! — and Facebook and other forms of social media are on fire with discussion of various perspectives on the protests.

jerry-jones-nfl-protestThe reaction to the NFL protests shows the uniquely powerful role of symbols like flags and the National Anthem — which is why they provide a very effective platform for the exercise of First Amendment rights, and have served in that capacity at least since the ’60s, when students protesting the Vietnam War burned the flag and American sprinters raised their fists while the National Anthem played during a medal ceremony in the 1968 Olympics.  If you want to provoke strong reactions and draw attention to your cause, you can hardly do better than taking action that can be interpreted as showing some form of disrespect when the American flag is being displayed or the National Anthem is played.

And yet, I can’t help but think that the coverage of the NFL protests is ridiculously disproportionate. Whether athletes who are being paid millions of dollars to play sports are standing, sitting, or kneeling during the National Anthem doesn’t really measure up on the importance scale with, say, the increasingly aggressive tone of communications about North Korea and the possibility of some kind of confrontation about it.  Nor does it compare to the utter misery and loss that thousands of people are suffering in hurricane-ravaged areas, or for that matter whether the United States is ever going to actually tackle critical big-picture issues, like the ever-present deficit spending that threatens to cast us over the fiscal cliff.

I think the real reason people are paying so much attention to the NFL protests is precisely that it’s small stuff, relatively speaking.  It’s easy to stake out a position on the protests, pro or con, on the social media engine of your choice, and there are lots of juicy side issues to explore — like whether the protests will hurt already declining NFL TV ratings, whether sports in America has become overly politicized, whether athletes will lose lucrative endorsement deals, and whether the focus of the protests has become hopelessly blurred when billionaire owners like Jerry Jones are joining in and taking a knee.  It’s easy to discuss all of those topics — a lot easier than making sense out of the North Korean situation or discussing how America should respond to it.

Live At The Spotted Cat

We can’t get enough of the live music in New Orleans.  Last night we hit multiple venues on Frenchman Street, which has just about the best collection of live music venues within a small geographical area that you’ll find anywhere.  We started at one of our favorites, the Spotted Cat Music Club, where this band deftly covered some classic selections from the Great American Songbook.

As always on Frenchman Street, the music options are diverse — from torch songs at the Spotted Cat to roots blues music at the Apple Barrel to a kick out the jams, move your feet horn band at Cafe Negril.  We enjoyed every one of them, and tonight we’ll be back for more.

Oysters At The Acme

We’re in New Orleans for a family gathering, and last night we hit the Acme Oyster House — a Big Easy institution.  Astonishingly, our group of seven was seated immediately, and we promptly ordered some pitchers of Abita beer, two dozen raw oysters, and the house specialty:  char-grilled oysters.

It’s not easy to describe how good the char-grilled oysters were, and how spectacularly they kick-started our weekend.  They’re topped with Parmesan cheese and are melts and crusty, all at the same time.  They were so good we ate four dozen of them, and probably could have polished off 100 more.

For dinner, Richard and I split the seafood platter, which was a mound of crunchy fish, crab, shrimp, French fries, and hush puppies.  It was the perfect food to consume before heading out for a little live music crawl.  Thus fortified, and with the lip-smacking goodness of the char-grilled oysters still freshly in mind, our hardy band ventured forth into the New Orleans night.

Flippy’s Takeover

Out in California there’s a “fast casual” restaurant called Caliburger.  As the name suggests, hamburgers are one of the staples on its menu.

448b016b00000578-4905576-image-a-2_1505977728222Caliburger’s Pasadena location has a new worker called Flippy.  Flippy is a quiet, methodical, highly reliable worker who doesn’t take up a lot of space, because Flippy is actually a robot.  Made by Miso Robotics, Flippy’s design is simple — it’s a robot arm, bolted to the floor in the restaurant’s kitchen next to the grille.  Flippy has a spatula where his hand should be, and he’s programmed to flip burgers and then put the cooked burgers onto buns.  A human assistant puts the meat down, Flippy does his burger-flipping thing, and then the human worker finishes dressing the burgers to fit the incoming orders.  The fact that Flippy has only a spatula hand make it easy to clean and maintain.

Flippy sells for $60,000.  Caliburger was one of the investors in the company that manufactures Flippy, and it got one of the first devices.  It has pre-ordered others, and it plans to install them in a number of its restaurants.  And, of course, Miso Robotics will look to sell Flippy to other burger-oriented restaurants.

Each burger-flipping robot will be performing a job that used to be done by a human being.  At about $60,000 a pop, Flippy seems expensive — until you figure that, with many states and cities raising the minimum wage, it wouldn’t take many months of operation before Flippy starts to pay for itself.  And Flippy is never going to miss work, or show up late, or complain about its hours, or become distracted by talking to a co-worker.  And Flippy is not going to need health insurance, or file a claim against his restaurant employer for violating a federal or state statute, or advocate for wage increases, either.  Until legislators start legislating about treatment of robots, Flippy is a lot easier for employers to deal with.

Welcome to the future.  And good luck finding that entry-level job that pays the ever-increasing minimum wage that is supposed to be an economic panacea and allow a fast food restaurant worker to support a family of four!