Kent Presents report: Day 1

I’ll put up a few reports about the KentPresents conference I attended, held from last Thursday through Saturday at the Kent School, a four-year (and very expensive) private “prep school” in Kent, Connecticut. Most of the students live on campus as boarders. It’s about two hours to the nearest airport (Hartford) and so is isolated, but in extremely beautiful country. Here’s a view of the school taken from its website. A perfect place for a conference.

There were a series of both discussions and lectures (more of the former), held simultaneously in two venues: a large auditorium and a smaller recital hall. I went to as many as I could given that I needed an occasional break, but had to miss some events since at most you could go to half of them. (I spoke the last day.) I’m told, however, that the discussions and talks will be put up on the conference’s website, since everything was filmed. (The lineup is here, the schedule here.)

Let me say first that this was one of the best meetings I’ve gone to, and the best “diverse” meeting not dedicated to a single theme (the “theme” meetings would be the first Imagine No Religion meeting I went to, as well as the Atheist Alliance International Meeting in 2009, which was the first big secular meeting at which I spoke). KentPresents is a melange of politics, science, sociology, art, and, well, everything you could think of. The organizers, Ben and Donna Rosen, went to an enormous amount of trouble to arrange it, and it went off without a glitch. The talks were good, the food was fantastic, and the logistics impeccable. There’s only one paid employee, too: everyone else, including speakers, volunteers their time and presence. The money ($2500 per ticket, but still sold out) goes to local charities.

Ben and Donna:

The diversity of local charities to which the money goes:

Just a few words and photos on the first day’s events I attended (photos are mine):

TRUMP VS. HIS OWN JUSTICE DEPARTMENT Preet Bharara, Jeh Johnson, Trevor Morrison. From left to right: Bharara (former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York), Johnson (former Homeland Security Secretary under Obama), and Morrison (Professor of Law and Dean of New York University Law School). These guys knew their onions, and speculated on what Mueller was going to do as well as dissecting the legal ins and outs of the case. Consensus: Trump would not be indicted, but Mueller would issue a “just the facts” report at the end of his investigation. It would then be up to the House of Representatives to decide, based on the facts, whether to impeach. (Of course they wouldn’t!). It was a pleasure to listen to these eloquent guys.

WHERE IS THE SUPREME COURT HEADED? with Kristen Clarke, Samuel Issacharoff, and Jim Zirin. Left to right: Issacharoff (Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law), Clarke (president & executive director of the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under La), and Zirin (former Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and author).

This was again a really great panel.There was some disagreement between Issacharoff and Clarke, as the former thought that Trump’s new Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, was not an unusual appointment for any Republican president, while Clarke, who works on civil rights, thought that this was a deeply offensive appointment and reflected a far more Rightist perspective than normal. She was particularly upset that the documents requested for the period when Kavanaugh worked in the White House (he was Staff Secretary under George W. Bush) were not fully turned over: only about a third of them have been; and Clarke thought that the remainder might show incriminating stuff.

Everyone thought that the new more conservative court would try to dismantle Roe v. Wade, but Issacharoff thought the court would do it via “death by a thousand cuts” method, just letting increasing state restrictions on abortion stand, which is what it’s doing now. As for the court being highly politicized, Issacharoff said, in effect, “that’s just the way things work”, and that every President picks a nominee that reflects his values, “freezing in amber” the political ideology held at the moment. In general, the panel’s prognostication was gloomy.

“YOU NEVER KNOW”: THE WORK OF DIANE ARBUS with Jeffrey Fraenkel, Wardell Milan, and Elizabeth Sussman.  Fraenkel is founder of the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco and probably America’s premier marketer of photographs and author about photography, Milan is a prolific artist and photographer, and Sussman is an author and curator of photography at the Whitney Museum of American Art. (I don’t have a picture of this one.)

I went to this small but crowded venue as I love Diane (pronounced, as I learned, “DEE-anne”) Arbus‘s photography. The format was great: each of the three presenters started out their 15-minute segment describing how they became acquainted with Arbus’s work, and then chose and discussed three of their favorite Arbus photos. As far as I can recall, here are Sussman’s three choices (she curated the biggest exhibit of Arbus’s work to date):

Is she looking at you or through you?

NSFW: “La Dolce Viva”, showing the Andy Warhol movie star Viva, is shown from an article in The Cut called “The Diane Arbus photo that nearly killed New York Magazine.” It did, too, for advertisers fled from what looked like a photo of a drugged-out sex maniac. (Read the article; the story is more complicated.) Sussman liked this because it displayed Arbus’s talent for taking pictures of subjects who were seemingly unaware of the photographer (even though Arbus was close up with her big camera) but deep in their own thoughts.

This photo, which is untitled, was a take from Arbus’s only multi-photo project: documentation of the residents at two institutions for the mentally ill (see here for more information). The photographs are haunting, and this is the most famous: the residents dressed up for some fete. It looks, said Sussman, out of time, as if the photo could have been taken from a medieval painting (her example is below the photo). This is a deeply disturbing and yet mesmerizing photo; one of the greatest by Arbus.

Sussman said the photo reminded her of this Breugel painting:

Parable of the Blind, Detail of Three Blind Men, 1568, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

PSYCHEDELICS: HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MIND, with Corby Kummer and Michael Pollan. In this talk, author Michael Pollan described his new book on psychedelics, titled as per the seminar. Pollan was extremely eloquent and well drawn out by Kummer, a senior editor at the Atlantic. Pollan’s talk covered some new research on psychedelics, especially that dealing with the effect of psilocybin on terminal cancer patients. It turns out that in a large portion of these patients, ingesting the drug  just once largely removes their anxiety and fear of death, apparently by making them see that they’re part of the Universe and taking them outside of themselves. (There was also an active placebo trial.)

Pollan also describes his six “trips” taken on drugs ranging from LSD to ayahuasca (all illegal trips, he confessed), and what effect they had on him. His experience rang true, jibing with my own psychedelic experiences in college, and he and I both are sad that it’s so hard (and illegal) for people to undergo such a profound and mind-altering experience. Based on his talk, I’m definitely going to read Pollan’s new book.

The accommodations and food afforded the speakers (and the lunches and dinners given the attendees) were superb. I stayed at the Old Drovers Inn, a colonial era B&B (built 1750) in New York—about 15 minutes drive from Kent (they gave us limos!) Here’s the Inn, my room, the sitting room, the breakfast menu, and my oatmeal breakfast:

I had the oatmeal with pecans, apricots, and maple syrup with cream, accompanied by a bowl of fresh fruit. I had the omelet, the yogurt, and a Belgian waffle on the three other days; all were fantastic. (The Inn is known for its food.)

There was a speakers’ dinner the first night, held at the Kent Firehouse. We chose a colored card from a basket at the beginning and sat at the table where the balloons of that color were arrayed. We were also greeted by a line of staff proferring drinks:

A welcome sight after a long day of talks!

The dials on a nearby pumper engine:

How lucky was I? I got to sit at a table with Lesley Stahl, Jeh Johnson, the art critics for both the New York Times and New York Magazine, and a famous food writer. Stahl is one of my news heroes, for I always watch 60 Minutes, the CBS show for which she’s a correspondent. (It’s the only non-news show I watch.) It turns out that she and her husband were staying at my B&B, and we rode back to the inn together that night. I got to ask Leslie what she was planning for her interview with Henry Kissinger the following morning, but what she said I’ll keep off the record. Here she is at dinner sitting next to Jeh Johnson. (Dinner consisted of salad, chicken, a superb shrimp jambalaya, and a panoply of small desserts.)

At at the next table sat the subject of Leslie’s interview: Henry Kissinger, still fairly spry and mentally keen at 95.

 

 

42 Comments

  1. jaxkayaker
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Very interesting! Looking forward to your subsequent reports, Jerry.

  2. BobTerrace
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Wow! I can’t wait to hear about the rest of the conference. I am 120 miles from Kent, CT but worlds away.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    … a four-year (and very expensive) private “prep school” in Kent, Connecticut.

    Nice to see how the other half lives once in a while, huh, boss?

    They’re different from you and me.

  4. Filippo
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    “At at the next table sat the subject of Leslie’s interview: Henry Kissinger, still fairly spry and mentally keen at 95.”

    She’s a significantly assertive interviewer. I wonder if she will ask him about the arrangement he made with the U.S. government regarding the disposition of his papers from his government service days.

    • Posted August 20, 2018 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Stay tuned; I’ll report tomorrow. Also, remember that these presentations were all taped and will be put on the Internet.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 20, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Hell, ask him about Nixon deploying Anna Chennault to snake LBJ’s Vietnam peace deal in the run-up to the ’68 election, or about the bombing murder of Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC, in ’76, or about the numerous other dirty deals Kissinger had a hand in. Like to see the perfidious old fraud have to answer those questions under oath.

  5. Merilee
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Sub

  6. GBJames
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    sub

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    It would then be up to the House of Representatives to decide, based on the facts, whether to impeach. (Of course they wouldn’t!)

    Excepting if there’s a change in management come next January.

    • bugfolder
      Posted August 20, 2018 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      They also made the point that even if the Democrats take the House and successfully vote to impeach, the actual trial takes place in the Senate and requires 2/3 to convict. And they thought that (no matter what the report says) getting enough Republican senators to get to a 2/3 majority would be unlikely.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 20, 2018 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        I dunno. Of the 51 Republicans now in the US senate (a number that may change after this Fall’s midterms), I doubt you could find one of ’em who (in their heart-of-hearts) would piss on Trump if he were on fire. None of them endorsed Trump during the 2016 Republican primaries (and most of them were lukewarm to him in the general, or withdrew their support outright after release of the “Access Hollywood” tape). These are not stupid people; they know Trump is an embarrassment to the nation and a threat to our national security. And they have to be sick and tired of lining up next to him in the Rose Garden or Cabinet Room to abase themselves by singing his praises like he’s King fuckin’ Lear.

        They stay in line solely because they’re in mortal fear of his rabid, white-nationalist base. If they should determine (either from the results of this year’s midterms or from polls regarding the soon-to-start 2020 election cycle) that they have more to fear from the American general electorate than they do from a possible Far-Right backlash, Donald Trump may discover just how few friends he actually has in the United States senate.

        • GBJames
          Posted August 20, 2018 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          They are not stupid but they are craven. I do not believe that the Republican base will become less extreme after November. And therefore Republican senators will remain craven and cowardly in the face of the Orange Fool.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted August 20, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

            Oh, I don’t expect congressional Republicans to become any less craven; I’m simply hopeful that their cravenness will come to work against Trump, once they see they have more to fear from the responsible American electorate than from their rabid right-wing base.

            Once they come to see that standing behind him could cost them their reelections, they’ll drop Trump like a hot brick. Not one Republican senator has any personal or institutional loyalty to Trump (and precious little party loyalty, either, since Trump barely even qualifies as an arriviste Republican) — and they know better than ever to expect any loyalty in return from him.

            • bugfolder
              Posted August 20, 2018 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

              A problem is, before they have to deal with the general electorate, they have to deal with their primary; and the folks who vote in Republican primaries are still strongly pro-Trump.

              • Mark R.
                Posted August 20, 2018 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

                Agreed. Especially since Trump among Republicans is the most popular President since W. after 9/11. Of course, this reflects an exodus from the GOP due to Trump; his deluded base will probably always be present, but they’re not gaining steam. And the Republicans up for re-election know it. They’re in a pickle, having now to out-Trump one another, and thus act like loons. The pro-Trumpster candidates are going to win the primary in many cases, but they won’t do well in a general election (at least that’s the general impression ‘out there’).

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted August 20, 2018 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

                What doth it profit a Republican to win a primary, only to suffer the loss of a seat in congress? What shall a congressman give in exchange for his (metaphorical) soul?

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    She was particularly upset that the documents requested for the period when Kavanaugh worked in the White House … were not fully turned over …

    The Republican theory on this is first we do the confirmin’, then we do the vettin’.

    • Posted August 20, 2018 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Like doing laundry (washing, drying), some tasks cannot be reordered.

  9. Bat
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    There is a nice set of videos for 2015 and 2016 under the archive button on the kent presents website, but not 2017. The videos are very nice. Hopefully they will put up the 2018 program videos also.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Everyone thought that the new more conservative court would try to dismantle Roe v. Wade, but Issacharoff thought the court would do it via “death by a thousand cuts” method …

    I think that’s right, unless Trump and the Republicans were to get another appointment this term (beyond the current Kavanaugh opening). I think Chief Justice Roberts has institutional concerns that would preclude him from joining a 5-4 full frontal assault on Roe. The justices whose names an era of Court history bears tend to be sensitive about the Court appearing overtly political, as it would were a long-standing precedent to be overruled outright as a result of a single change in Court personnel.

    • Jon Gallant
      Posted August 20, 2018 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      After Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed, President Trump may have still another opportunity to name a member of the Supreme Court, for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at 85 years, is not getting any younger. The candidate Mr. Trump should nominate to take her place is almost blindingly obvious.

      It is Ната́лья Влади́мировна Весельни́цкая (or, in English, Natalia Vladimirovna Veselnitskaya), a Russian lawyer who was well known to the leaders of the President’s 2016 election campaign. Paul Manafort, at the time chairman of the campaign committee, the candidate’s son Donald Trump Jr., and the candidate’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, met with her in a celebrated Trump Tower confab on June 9, 2016. The campaign committee explained that it was held only to discuss the adoption of Russian urchins, apparently a hobby of Donald Trump Jr., and Ms. Весельни́цкая’s legal specialty. In any case, President Trump asserts that he knew nothing about the urchin adoption meeting, has never heard of Paul Manafort, and is barely acquainted with Donald Trump Jr..

      Ms. Весельни́цкая’s appointment to the Supreme Court offers many obvious advantages. The Court could certainly be enriched by her expertise on the subject of urchin adoption, a key area of jurisprudence in which none of the present Supreme Court justices are expert. Her nomination to the highest US court will undoubtedly improve relations with Russia, a particular focus of the Trump administration. Mr. Trump will emphasize this advantage of the nomination, adding “Никакого сговора” (“No collusion”). Jill Stein of the Green Party and Professor Stephen F. Cohen of The Nation magazine will applaud Mr. Trump for taking this step away from “the cold war anti-Russian mentality” of the Democrats.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 20, 2018 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        “The candidate Mr. Trump should nominate … is Ната́лья Влади́мировна Весельни́цкая (or, in English, Natalia Vladimirovna Veselnitskaya), a Russian lawyer who was well known to the leaders of the President’s 2016 election campaign.”

        I love it, especially later in the summer.

  11. yazikus
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Would have loved to see the Pollan talk, but will look forward to his book!

    • Posted August 20, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Pollan’s book is superb. I read it a few weeks ago. One of his best, if not the best.

  12. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Rubbing elbows with the upper class here. I tend to confuse Leslie Stahl and Andrea Mitchell sometimes. They are both first class journalist. Kind of surprised to hear them talk as if this Kavanaugh were a sure thing. I still think there is a chance he may not get there. The dismantling of Roe v Wade is pretty much being done at the state level with the supreme court simple allowing it to happen.

    Interesting comments concerning the Mueller investigation. Still, much of it speculation as they do not know what Mueller knows. After the republicans lose the house things can change and who knows. We still don’t know if Cohen will be flipped and what all he knows. Trump is becoming so unhinged he may attempt to fire everyone and then we will see what happens.

  13. Posted August 20, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    How out of place that flatscreen looks in your antique room.

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Pollan also describes his six “trips” taken on drugs ranging from LSD to ayahuasca (all illegal trips, he confessed), and what effect they had on him. His experience rang true, jibing with my own psychedelic experiences in college …

    Someone Who Isn’t Me also had a handful (or two) of experiences with psychedelics in and around his college years, ranging from windowpane and orange barrel to mescaline, psilocybin, and peyote. Yours and Pollan’s experiences jibe with those of SWIM. Like you, SWIM is also disappointed that such mind-altering experiences remain legally unavailable to those in this country who wish to partake.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted August 20, 2018 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      If we are on the same page, windowpane is LSD and the other LSDs I am familiar with, can’t remember the names. Some more powerful than others. This was many years ago for me and I did very few trips. I would always recommend doing this with a few others, never on your own and plan to be inside and away from the public for the duration. In other words, do a little planning. As I recall these trips can take 8 to 12 hours depending and you do not even think about going to sleep until it is over. The actual intense part is about two hours in, last an hour or two and then it is all down hill.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 20, 2018 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, acid is no party drug (in SWIM’s experience anyway). It ought be taken (if it is to be taken it at all) only with some preparation aforethought and the expectation of serious introspection.

        • Randy Bessinger
          Posted August 20, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

          They (trips) are great until one isn’t. At least that is what they tell me…wink, wink, nod, nod.

          • Mark R.
            Posted August 20, 2018 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

            I always preferred shrooms because the trip lasts half as long as LSD. I’ve never had a bad acid trip (though after a while I would sometimes think- ok, I’d like to come down now). But I have had a couple bad shroom trips (because I didn’t do what Randall suggested and was in public). But I eventually calmed down; it helped knowing I only had a few hours to endure. I couldn’t imagine having a bad acid trip that lasted 10+ hours. I know people who have, and as far as I know, they never dropped again.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted August 20, 2018 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

              Someone of my acquaintance had two trips on LSD. They were almost magical. One was at the beach; he remembers how much more vivid the colours were. It’s almost like seeing a new bit of countryside for the first time. After a while, your brain gets used to the sights and sets up, as it were, filters that tone down the sensory impressions. And what LSD does, is it removes those filters so everything hits you with full vividness. That’s the best way [my acquaintance] can describe it. [He] found that he could momentarily reproduce the sensation by looking at a familiar scene upside down.

              My acquaintance didn’t necessarily want to make the trip again, but he was profoundly thankful for having had the experience and it made him realise just how beautiful some parts of the natural world can be if we override our blasé ‘done that’ mental filters.

              cr

              • Mark R.
                Posted August 21, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

                I agree that the best way to experience psychedelics is in nature. I too had a trip at the beach (mushrooms, not LSD)- at Big Sur, California walking among the tide pools. One of the best days of my life.

  15. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I got to sit at a table with Lesley Stahl, Jeh Johnson, the art critics for both the New York Times and New York Magazine, and a famous food writer.

    You runnin’ with the big dawgs now, boss.

  16. Posted August 20, 2018 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Pollan’s book is superb. I read it a few weeks ago. One of his best, if not the best.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 20, 2018 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      I’ve read Pollan’s The Botany of Desire and many of his magazine pieces; he’s nuthin’ if not a lyrical prose stylist.

  17. Mark R.
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Looks like an amazing and thought-provoking 3 days; thanks for this first installment.

    FYI: Preet Bharara was on Bill Maher last Friday (his schedule must have been nuts). His was the opening interview (so one-on-one) and Bill allowed him to speak. It was largely about his previous job as former US Attorney, defending US institutions, and, of course, the Mueller investigation. He had some interesting insights about Giuliani, who had also held Bharara’s position as New York’s Southern US Attorney.

    https:// http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4AkeklMQ9k

  18. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I had not realized that the dissection of Trumpism would start so early; I started in on Stephen Colbert’s yesterday [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xx51IrK8mnM

    he and I both are sad that it’s so hard (and illegal) for people to undergo such a profound and mind-altering experience.

    Is it not illegal since the risks overshadows the putative benefits? Or is a moral prejudice implied here?

    Besides possible chemical risks there could be psychological, I am reminded of “primal scream” theory that caused instead of lowering aggression. It is hard enough to navigate the psychedelic “post-truth” world of conspiracy theorists and fake accounts. (When they removed the fake media accounts of political parties, our own populist party had its media basis drop 25 %. The rest of the parties had a 1-2 % drop … Oy.)

  19. Curt Nelson
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Preet Bharara has an excellent podcast called Stay Tuned with Preet. Two exceptional recent episodes were: Putin Enemy #1 (with Bill Browder), and Why I Quit the GOP (with Steve Schmidt).

    • Randy Bessinger
      Posted August 20, 2018 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      Interesting. I don’t know quite what to make of Browder. I read his book and then the recent New Yorker article. It troubles me a little that he renounced his US citizenship because of taxes. The New Yorker article was not totally flattering. In reading his book, I was a little troubled by some aspects of his story. The bigger picture though was of Putin being ruthless which I don’t doubt.

  20. Posted August 20, 2018 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting post, jerry. Thanks. I’ll enjoy going through the recordings of this event once they’re available.


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