top of page
  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 2/5/21

Greetings and happy International Uncle Dennis Day, NAMES HAVE MEANING During all the fol-de-rol associated with the inauguration, I learned something I might have missed if I hadn’t paid careful attention. It is the names of Kamala Harris’s step-children, John and Ella. It turns out they were named by Doug Emhoff and his first wife after John Coltraine and Ella Fitzgerald. It is touching the way the Emhoffs chose to honor two jazz greats, providing aspirational names that these young adults to emulate. We name children after their ancestors for a reason—we want these names and these lives to live on. Some people adopt more unique naming conventions (like Leaf and River Phoenix) and some move well outside the norm. I’ve often wondered what Frank Zappa’s kids, Moon Unit and Dweezle, must think about the names they’ve been blessed/burdened with. Names are important. I recall that my elementary and secondary schools were named for someone. One named for an early educator in Anaheim, another for the writer of the national anthem, and another for John C. Fremont, the great pathfinder. One of the local high schools was “Katella,” a portmanteau of Kate and Ella, the daughters’ names of one of the City’s early settlers. My high school, Loara, is a name of questionable provenance, subject to analysis by John Dahlem, legendary history teacher and principal of that school and fixture in the California CIF wrestling world. It appears that the school was named after Miles Standish’s daughter. Now that’s pretty obscure! STRIPPING NAMES FROM PLACES OF HONOR As I’ve written about previously, I am all in favor of removing the names of slaveholders, traitors, racists and eugenicists from our colleges and public buildings and removing statues erected in their honor. This is an ongoing process of national self-reflection and recalibration that we all should welcome. But last week, Andrea pointed me to a story about the San Francisco School Board voting to rename 44 schools. Among the names slated for removal are those of President Herbert Hoover, naturalist John Muir, Revolutionary War figure Paul Revere and author Robert Louis Stevenson. Former Presidents George Washington and James Monroe also are on the list. Diane Feinstein has to go because in 1984 she approved replacing a vandalized Confederate flag that was part of a flag exhibit in front of City Hall. Most curious is that Abraham Lincoln’s name has to go, apparently because of actions taken against Native Americans or perhaps because (incorrectly) he is deemed “not abolitionist enough.” It is hard for me to think of a name that borne by an institution of learning that is any more aspirational than that of the Great Emancipator. It seems we are entering an era of “binary” historical interpretation. Like seemingly everything else in our society these days, battle lines are being drawn. Either you are in favor of honoring the those who contributed to our history or you are perpetuating the patriarchy and white supremacy. But why can’t one honor both narratives? It is unsatisfactory for us to abandon those who are the builders of this remarkable, if flawed, American democracy, the envy of so many. Similarly, it is unsatisfactory not to acknowledge the plight of the downtrodden, the native Americans, and the marginalized in our society. One need not ignore or diminish one in order to elevate the other. We must remember we are honoring human beings—with all their flaws and indiscretions. They should be measured by the totality of their being and in the context of their times. If we adopt the standards by which some would want to judge people from the 19th century, we probably should also eliminate the names of Martin Luther King, Jr., FDR, LBJ, and others, whose contributions were meaningful but whose acts in public or private life are subject to harsh judgment. I confess an inadequate knowledge of the New Testament, but wasn’t it Jesus who suggested that he who is without sin should cast the first stone? Perhaps these words, together with the wisdom of perspective in measuring the contributions of those who came before us, should govern how we choose to turn our backs on our history and the great leaders who brought us to where we are. IT’S NOT NEWS We need to start thinking about rules for the Internet. First of all, we all should stop calling “news” sites like Breitbart and NewsMax “news” at all. Seriously. They’re not. They’re propaganda machines and should be labeled as such. All other media outlets should draw this distinction consistently and often. A MODEST PROPOSAL TO LABEL CONTENT ON LINE We need a “fairness doctrine” that dictates the rules of the road to the platforms on the Internet. Those who do not ascribe to the rules must be sanctioned in some way. Social media platforms finally are limiting the ability to post certain hate speech and inciting violence, and that’s a start. But more needs to be done. Algorithms must henceforth be tied to a rational purpose other than increasing “clicks.” News feeds need to reflect news and not curated nonsense from the echo chamber of the user’s perceived biases. These multi-billion dollar corporations claim they aren’t really news organizations. They claim they are not publishers of news and, therefore, are not subject to laws on slander, nor have any responsibility to edit. They claim they can’t monitor everything and are doing their best to identify untruths and hate speech on their sites. But taking things off the site or restricting those that can post or the content of their posts is contrary to their purpose of increasing traffic. They seek to increase sensationalism and discord because it increases time on their sites and numbers of clicks. At one point, a clearly manufactured video of Nancy Pelosi, in which she appeared drunk and slurring her words, made the rounds. The lords of Silicon Valley tried to explain to us why it was merely parody and, as such, couldn’t be deleted. Somehow, they concluded they have no responsibility to delete clearly manipulated visual images. This will become a greater problem as this technology improves. What if we simply call the bluff of Facebook and Twitter. Let’s make their jobs simpler and shift the primary responsibility for designating the nature of a post to the person actually posting. The Pelosi video was claimed to be satire, although it was viewed as real. What if the person posting had to identify it as such? Why not require anyone who posts anything to actually identify the nature of their post? Just as CBS News labels itself as news, Saturday Night Live identifies itself as satire and the New York Times editorial page identifies itself as opinion, why not requiring such categorization on line? That way, the burden shifts to the person posting and the media platform can respond as appropriate depending upon how the post was categorized. These might be:

  1. News

  2. Science/polling/data

  3. Analysis and opinion

  4. Satire/parody/comedy

  5. Political advertisement

  6. Crackpot “journalist” moron down the street

Okay, so no one is likely to self-identify as #6, but perhaps posters will become more visible through this type of rubric. In this way, Facebook would have been duty-bound to delete the Pelosi video if it was brought to its attention and wasn’t clearly labeled as parody. While I welcome the media moguls’ recent efforts to stem the hate speech, we can’t rely on the good graces of profit-making corporations to determine the content of the speech in our public square. It must be a national priority to establish these rules. And it will be difficult. Onward, Glenn

1 view0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Good morning friends, You may note that the name is changed and the “clock” has been set back. 401 days after the publication of the original Musing from the Bunker. It seems appropriate that the days

Happy weekend! It’s a wrap! This is the 400th Musing from the Bunker—and the last. Tomorrow is the beginning of the next chapter. It seems that, with nearly 40% of Americans now vaccinated, projected

Good morning! DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES ON ANTHROPOLOGY From Bob Badal: “If you are interested in evolution, take a look at Richard Dawkins' book, The Ancestor's Tale. Combining traditional fossil

bottom of page