Dr. Seuss is Racist

I don’t think anyone expected this, but the woke have decided that something as innocuous as Dr. Seuss’s books are racist and must disappear into the memory hole, Unfortunately, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company that oversees the publication of the late author’s works rather than standing up for freedom of expression and literary contest, has decided to yield to the small minority of extremists who see racism everywhere and end the publication of six books that are considered to be particularly racist.

Dr. Seuss became the latest target of “cancel culture” Tuesday when six of his children’s books were yanked from publication  because of their alleged racism.

The company that oversees the publishing of Dr. Seuss’s works said  it scrapped the six books — “If I Ran the Zoo,” “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!” and “The Cat’s Quizzer’’ — because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

“We believed that it was time to take action,” DSE told The Post in a statement.

“We listened and took feedback from our audiences including teachers, academics and specialists in the field, too, as part of the review process.”

The move came on what would have been the 117th birthday of the late author — who has traditionally been feted by schools across the country March 2 as part of “Read Across America Day.”

President Biden even avoided mentioning Dr. Seuss in the traditional annual presidential proclamation Monday marking “Read Across America Day.”

While Dr. Seuss — whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel — remains one of the world’s most popular children’s authors three decades after his death, his books have come under fire in recent years for how they portray black people, Asian people and other groups.

If I Ran the Zoo,” for instance, has been panned for depicting Africans as “potbellied” and “thick-lipped,” as one biography of Seuss put it.

It also describes Asian characters as “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant” from “countries no one can spell,” notes a 2019 paper on Geisel’s work published in the journal Research on Diversity in Youth Literature.

And “Mulberry Street,” the first children’s book Geisel published under his pen name, contains a controversial illustration of an Asian man holding chopsticks and a bowl of rice whom the text called “A Chinese man Who eats with sticks.”

“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” said DSE, which works with Penguin Random House  on their publication, in an official statement.

The company — asked by The Post if there were other titles under review to be nixed —  suggested there could be.

“Dr. Seuss Enterprises is committed to identifying how they can make meaningful and lasting change in their catalog and entire portfolio,’’ the group said.’

A racist book

They should probably just get ahead of the curve and stop selling Dr. Suess’s books altogether since there is sure to be something some oversensitive wokescold is going to find in each one. Maybe they should hire some new author, someone chosen to check off as many diversity boxes as possible, never mind if he, she, or xe can actually write, to create new, politically correct books to teach children to read. Of course, children probably won’t be as interested in reading the new politically correct Suess, but learning to read is probably a racist means of enforcing white supremacy anyway.

It occurs to me that if we keep canceling everything that could possibly be considered objectionable or that must be considered in a historical context, we are not going to have much left to read or watch or listen to. Certainly, the great classics of Western literature, theater, music, and cinema will have to be jettisoned. Even if a particular piece is not problematic, its creator has surely expressed a (forbidden) opinion at some point. Besides, any aspect of Western Civilization must be considered racist and white supremacist by default. Probably the classics from other traditions will have to go too. We can’t risk exposing the snowflakes to cultures with very different values and societal norms, at least not without a trigger warning.

All that will be left, if the cancellers have their way will be bland, politically correct works with every word and expression carefully sifted and parsed to avoid any possibility of offending any member of a “marginalized” group, heterosexual White males are fair game. These woke works may not be very entertaining or informative and no one will really want to read or watch them, but at least they’ll show off the producers’ virtue, such as it is in our brave, new world of wokeness.

I think I’ll stick with Dr. Seuss and the old books.

The Nativity According to Luke

Linus tells us what Christmas is all about

Linus is quoting from the Gospel according to Luke.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. (Luke 2:1-21)

Luke is a historian of the Hellenistic school, like Herodotus or Thucydides. Although he tries to establish times and places, he is less interested in being precise than in understanding the meaning of the events he records. In fact, it wasn’t so easy to give exact dates in those times, given that every city and region had its own calendar and way of numbering or naming the years.

There is a considerable amount of skepticism about the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact, that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably, there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably, Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census; obviously, Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small-time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that at this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much. On the other hand, she was also of the line of David and perhaps her presence in Bethlehem might have been desirable. Again you must not imagine that Mary was on the point of giving birth as they traveled. They could have spent several weeks in Bethlehem.

Al Jolson

I remember going through an old record collection, when I was a child, and seeing an album cover with the picture of a man with what appeared to be a very dirty face. His face was black, except around the eyes and mouth, as if he had just emerged from a coal mine or had rubbed his face with black mud. I had never heard of entertainers performing in blackface and since the man has caucasian features and his makeup did not resemble any natural skin tone, I did not know what this was all about until I turned the album over and read the description on the back. The man was Al Jolson, the entertainer who was famous in the early twentieth century for performing in blackface.

What are we to do with Al Jolson today? His performances are undoubtedly offensive to today’s more racially aware audiences. Perhaps his present-day obscurity is deserved. Maybe Al Jolson ought to disappear down the memory hole along with so much of our shameful past. Then again, maybe not. I am not a fan of airbrushing away historical figures just because they offend contemporary sensibilities. I think the past ought to be remembered.  Al Jolson was the most famous entertainer of his time. He definitely had talent. Moreover, his relationship with the African-American community was not as straightforward as we might expect.

Al Jolson

Who was Al Jolson anyway? Al Jolson was born to a Jewish family as Asa Yeolson, on June 8, 1886, in the village of Srednike in Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire. Yeolson’s father, Moses Rubin Yeoson, was a rabbi and cantor or Hazzan who immigrated to New York in 1891. In 1894 he was able to bring his family to the United States and they settled in Washington DC, where the elder Yeolson found work as a cantor. Young Asa seemed to have inherited his father’s singing voice, and he and his brother Hirsch begin singing on street corners for money in 1897, using the names, Al and Harry. Asa Jeolson began working in show business in 1902, with his name anglicized to Al Jolson. After a somewhat fitful start. Jolson’s career in vaudeville and musicals took off, particularly after he started performing in blackface in 1904. By the 1920s, Al Jolson was one of the most successful entertainers in the United States.

Al Jolson in blackface

In 1927, Al Jolson began acting in movies, starring in The Jazz Singer, generally regarded as the first talkie. Jolson went on to star in a number of successful movies. His career and personal life went into something of a slump in the late 1930s but after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Jolson was the first star to entertain for the troops, before the USO had even been organized. He was praised for the service he provided for American soldiers fighting overseas, but Jolson also contracted malaria and had to have a lung removed. Jolson was also the first entertainer to perform for the soldiers fighting in the Korean War. Al Jolson’s service in Korea proved to be exhausting for him and he died of a heart attack in San Francisco on October 23, 1950

This biographical sketch might give the impression that Al Jolson was the worst sort of racist who made his fortune exploiting the most degrading negative Black stereotypes. What else are we to think of a man who was most famous for performing in blackface? Should Al Jolson be relegated to obscurity as a forgotten relic of America’s racist past? Not quite. As is often the case, the truth is not what it seems at first glance. The fact is that Al Jolson used his position as America’s highest-paid entertainer to fight against discrimination against Blacks. He insisted on equal treatment for his Black co-stars and consistently stood up for the rights of Blacks at a time when this was, by no means, a popular position to take.

So, how do we resolve this paradox? Al Jolson was an entertainer who made millions by wearing blackface and demeaning African Americans, yet was an undoubted benefactor of the Black race. How do we reconcile these two very different sides of this man?

I would suggest that Al Jolson did not put on blackface to insult or demean Blacks. Al Jolson had many Black friends in his youth and later and it is hard to imagine that we would have knowingly done something that they might have found insulting. Blackface was an accepted genre of entertainment at the time, and not necessarily seen as degrading to Blacks. I suspect that Al Jolson might have believed that his blackface performances were a sort of tribute to his Black colleagues. He might have found something in African-American culture that was lacking in his own Jewish-Russian heritage and putting on blackface might have been his way of celebrating the culture of his Black friends. In fact, if you think about it, the practice of White performers blackening their faces and pretending to be Black was a sort of backhanded compliment to Blacks. Yes, these performers disseminated demeaning stereotypes about Blacks, yet they had to believe something was appealing about African American culture for them to pretend to emulate it. We ought to look on Al Jolson’s performances, and perhaps those of other entertainers in blackface as celebrations of African American culture rather than deliberate insults.

Now the reason I am writing this, aside from the fact that  I find Al Jolson’s life and career to be interesting, is that I have found it helpful to try to impute the best possible motives for the actions of the people I run into. That is to say, rather than assuming they are acting from rudeness or malice, I try to think of good reasons for why people do what they do. I cannot say that I am very accomplished in this way of thinking. It seems to run against human nature. It is natural for us to make excuses for our own actions while judging others more harshly. I am trying to reverse this natural tendency by trying to make excuses for others while judging myself more harshly, or at any rate more honestly. Some might say that if I succeed in this endeavor I might become something of a Pollyanna, but I think that it would be worth risking becoming more naive to become more tolerant and charitable in my thinking. I might manage to make myself a genuinely good person.

I think that our country as a whole might be better off, especially in racial matters, if we applied this method to each other. What if, instead of seeking out evidence of racism everywhere, we focus on the real progress in racial relations we have made over the last decades? What if instead of canceling people for a bad joke or unfortunate remark made years ago, we accept that they made a mistake and have moved on? What if, in other words, instead of believing the worst of our fellow Americans, that we are a people seething with systemic racism, we assume the best, that we are human beings and like all human beings we make mistakes but we are trying to do better? We might actually make this country a better place.

Lead by Example

Earlier this month around two hundred celebrities signed on to an editorial in the French newspaper Le Monde calling for a radical transformation of the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. I read about it in James Barret’s article in the Daily Wire.

A collection of over 200 Hollywood stars and scientists have signed an editorial this week calling on world leaders and citizens to embrace “radical transformation” of our economies and values post-coronavirus crisis in order to avoid what they say will be “the massive extinction of life on Earth.”

Among the signatories of the alarmist message are several high-profile actors, including Robert De Niro, Madonna, Cate Blanchett, Barbra Streisand, Jane Fonda, Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes, Eva Green, Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Willem Defoe and Joaquin Phoenix.

The usual gang of celebrity idiots.

The editorial, published in the French paper Le Monde on Wednesday, presents the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to “examine what is essential” and to recognize that “the massive extinction of life on Earth is no longer in doubt, and all indicators point to a direct existential threat.”

I am glad that Mr. Barrett provides a translation of the editorial since my French skills are limited to Je m’appelle David and J’aime parler francais.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a tragedy. This crisis is, however, inviting us to examine what is essential. And what we see is simple: “adjustments” are not enough. The problem is systemic.

The ongoing ecological catastrophe is a meta-crisis: the massive extinction of life on Earth is no longer in doubt, and all indicators point to a direct existential threat. Unlike a pandemic, however severe, a global ecological collapse will have immeasurable consequences.

We therefore solemnly call upon leaders — and all of us as citizens – to leave behind the unsustainable logic that still prevails and to undertake a profound overhaul of our goals, values, and economies.

What precise steps should we be taking?

The pursuit of consumerism and an obsession with productivity have led us to deny the value of life itself: that of plants, that of animals, and that of a great number of human beings. Pollution, climate change, and the destruction of our remaining natural zones has brought the world to a breaking point.

For these reasons, along with increasing social inequalities, we believe it is unthinkable to “go back to normal.”

The radical transformation we need – at all levels – demands boldness and courage. It will not happen without a massive and determined commitment. We must act now. It is as much a matter of survival as one of dignity and coherence.

For these reasons, along with increasing social inequalities, we believe it is unthinkable to “go back to normal.”

The radical transformation we need – at all levels – demands boldness and courage. It will not happen without a massive and determined commitment. We must act now. It is as much a matter of survival as one of dignity and coherence.

I have a suggestion. If these people are so concerned about the fate of the Earth and are willing to make a radical transformation, there is a simple thing they can do that might make life better for all of us. They can retire from show business. Actors can stop making movies. Musicians can stop going on tour. I don’t think there is any industry other than the entertainment industry that consumes so much of the world’s resources and has so large a carbon footprint while being completely nonessential.

What’s more, the lavish lifestyles of these celebrities affect the environment far more than the lives of the ordinary people they keep scolding. Why don’t these entertainers give up their huge mansions, their private planes, and whatever other luxuries they spend their money on and live the life of an ordinary middle-class American? In fact, if they are really so concerned about social inequality, why not give up their multi-million dollar salaries and work for the American median income? After all, as a wise man said, “At a certain point you’ve made enough money”. If the world is really in so much danger from ecological collapse, why not give all their money away and decrease their environmental footprint to a bare minimum by adopting the lifestyle of a third world peasant. Let them lead by example.

They won’t of course. These people are actors playing another role, speaking lines written for them, which is why we shouldn’t pay too much attention to entertainers. If they want us to believe that there is some great crisis necessitating a radical transformation of our society and economy, they should act like it and take the first step. I won’t be holding my breath waiting.

The Nativity According to Luke

The Gospel of Luke tells us what Christmas is all about

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.(Luke 2:1-21)

Luke is a historian of the Hellenistic school, like Herodotus or Thucydides. Although he tries to establish times and places, he is actually less interested in being precise than in understanding the meaning of the events he records. In fact, it wasn’t so easy to give exact dates in those times, given that every city and region had its own calendar and way of numbering or naming the years.

There is a considerable amount of skepticism about the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census; obviously Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much. In the other hand, she was also of the line of David and perhaps her presence in Bethlehem might have been desirable. Again you must not imagine that Mary was on the point of giving birth as they traveled. They could have spent several weeks in Bethlehem.

Julia Roberts as Harriet Tubman

The next time someone from Hollywould starts lecturing us on politics or our carbon footprint, just remember this story from Entertainment Weekly.

f you were to think of the most out-of-left-field actress to play Harriet Tubman in a movie, you still wouldn’t stumble upon the person one executive allegedly suggested.

Harrietthe historical drama based on Tubman’s life released earlier this month, stars Cynthia Erivo. But the film’s screenwriter and producer, Gregory Allen Howard, says when he first started working on the movie in 1994 that one studio executive suggested Julia Roberts to portray the legendary slave turned abolitionist. Yes, that Julia Roberts.

In a Q&A with Allen published earlier this month by Harriet studio Focus Features (and reiterated in an L.A. Times essay published Tuesday), Allen recalled how “the climate in Hollywood … was very different” some 25 years ago.

“I was told how one studio head said in a meeting, ‘This script is fantastic. Let’s get Julia Roberts to play Harriet Tubman,’” Allen explained. “When someone pointed out that Roberts couldn’t be Harriet, the executive responded, ‘It was so long ago. No one is going to know the difference.’”

I can hardly tell them apart.

The people who work in the entertainment industry are some of the most ignorant and hypocritical people in the whole world. Their job is is the same as that monkey that old fashioned organ-grinders used to have to entertain passersby. No one cared what the monkey thought on any subject. We shouldn’t care what any of these people think.

The average resident of Hollywood

Jerry Springer, Trump and Civility

When I saw the headline “Jerry Springer Blames Trump for Society’s Lack of Civility“, I thought it must be from the Babylon Bee. Surely only a satire website would post an article with a title like that. I was wrong. It was the Huffington Post, and they were serious.

It’s no secret that Jerry Springer has seen more examples of the decline of civility in society than probably anyone.

So when he blames Donald Trump for the current rise in rudeness, maybe he’s onto something?

He thinks so anyway, as he told MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle during a segment on Friday.

“I used to joke and say that my anger at the president is that he took my show and brought it to the White House,” Springer said.

He then talked about civility in a manner familiar to anyone who has seen one of his “final thoughts” that used to end his talk show.

“Civility is critical in terms of our norms, and we can’t function as a society unless we have norms of how to behave,” said Springer, the former mayor of Cincinnati. “You can’t pass enough laws to take care of every human interaction.”

I have to wonder if Jerry Springer has ever actually watched his own show. No president, not even Donald Trump has behaved in any way even remotely comparable to the sad wretches that Jerry Springer has had as guests. Perhaps Springer is somewhat aware of the irony of his complaining about a lack of civility as he went on to defend his show.

He’s one to talk about civility

“First of all, our show was about dysfunctional behavior, so obviously everyone who’s going to appear on the show is acting dysfunctionally,” Springer said. “That was the point of the show. But no one ever suggested, never did I do a final thought, and say, ‘This is the way you ought to behave.’”.

Springer then pointed out the folly of saying that because there’s “a crazy television show where you’ve got people that admittedly are dysfunctional” on the air, that “therefore, it’s OK to have an administration that’s dysfunctional.”

He then pointed out how “The Jerry Springer Show” was a step above the current administration in terms of class.

“When you have the president of the United States using language that even on our crazy show we’d bleep out, then society’s in trouble.”

The fact is that the standards of civility have been declining for decades before Donald Trump got into politics and Jerry Springer’s show has played no small in lowering those standards. For years, the Jerry Springer Show showcased people exhibiting deviant, dysfunctional, and just plain weird behavior for the amusement of his viewers. Jerry Springer is deluding himself if he thinks that a short final thought can mitigate the impact of forty-five minutes of degenerates fighting and throwing chairs at each other.

Donald Trump is not the cause of our nation’s increasing incivility, he is a symptom or more accurately the result. Donald Trump is what happens when the people who have been all too often the targets of this incivility decide to fight back. For too long, the normal people of this country, the humble people in flyover country who make the country work have been the targets of disdain and the incivility from an increasingly insular and out of touch elite. It has been perfectly acceptable to attack these people as ignorant, racist deplorables who are too stupid to know what’s good for them. It is only when the Deplorables begin to fight back that there is this sudden concern about civility.

The Deplorables tried to be civil when we formed the Tea Party and humbly asked that the governing elites actually follow the constitution and try to keep the country from going bankrupt. Tea Party protestors behaved peacefully and civilly. They did not smash windows and attack people. They even cleaned up after themselves. For their trouble, the media called them political terrorists, while praising violent, anarchist thugs. We have asked that the government do its job and protect our borders only to be called racists and compared to Nazis.

We tried being civil

We tried being civil and it didn’t work. So, we elected an uncivil man to the presidency. For all his faults, Donald Trump has been the only major political figure to really understand what the people in middle America really feel. He has been one of the few politicians who has actually tried to keep his campaign promises and has generally managed to do a good job. For his troubles, Trump has been attacked as few presidents have ever been attacked. He is on the verge of being impeached for no other reason than he won an election he was supposed to lose. Our own federal government, the people who are supposed to be working for us, has been conspiring against him. If Donald Trump falls, I think we are all about to become a whole lot less concerned with civility. People like Jerry Springer will be longing for the more civil time when Trump was president.

Jerry Springer ought not to blame Trump for a situation that was years in the making. If he must blame someone, he should look in a mirror.

Erasing Michael Jackson

In the wake of the release of the Leaving Neverland documentary, which tells the story of two victims of sexual abuse by Michael Jackson, there has been an effort to erase the singer from history, making him into an unperson. The latest attempt has been a decision by the producers of The Simpsons to take an episode featuring Jackson’s voice permanently out of circulation.

The Simpsons is pulling an episode featuring Michael Jackson’s voice, co-creator James L. Brooks told the Wall Street Journal yesterday. “Stark Raving Dad,” which featured Jackson as the voice of a mental patient who believes that he is actually Michael Jackson, is, or has been, one of the show’s most beloved installments, coming in 10th in the Ringer’s 2017 ranking of its best episodes. But after the broadcast of Leaving Neverland, in which two men describe in detail how Jackson allegedly molested them when they were children, Brooks said that taking the episode out of circulation was “clearly the only choice to make.”

Brooks told the Journal that “Stark Raving Dad,” in which Homer is committed to a mental institution, was “a treasured episode” for him, but it’s already been removed from Simpsons World, the online portal that offers access to every—now every other— episode of The Simpsons, and Brooks said that “the process has been started” to remove it from syndication and future physical media editions. “I’m against book burning of any kind,” Brooks said, “but this is our book, and we’re allowed to take out a chapter.”

I don’t know about this. It’s true that they have every right to pull any episode they want. They don’t have to broadcast, stream, or sell DVDs of any episode of the Simpsons at all, if they don’t want to, and yet this sort of airbrushing  the past bothers me. It feels somehow Stalinist.

This is why I oppose toppling statues of Confederate generals, covering up pictures that display the Ku Klux Klan, renaming cities that were named for slave holders, consigning old movies to oblivion because they don’t meet contemporary standards of race relations. How are we supposed to learn from the past, if we don’t know anything about the past?

Considering that the child abuse allegations against Michael Jackson are decades old, why is Michael Jackson being erased and boycotted now, ten years after his death.  That documentary didn’t really reveal anything about Jackson that wasn’t already known. Yes, a jury acquitted him of child molestation back in 2005, but I don’t think anyone who wasn’t a diehard Jackson fan seriously believed that Michael Jackson was innocent, considering his odd lifestyle in which he surrounded himself with children. Jackson all but publicly announced he was a pedophile.  So why now? Why didn’t these people sever all business relations with Jackson when he was still alive. Is it safer now that he is gone? Is there no more money to be made from his name?

This also brings up the question of how do we separate the artist from his art. I was never a Michael Jackson fan, but he did make good music. I love the music of Richard Wagner, but he wasn’t an especially nice person. Wagner was an anti-Semite who borrowed money from his friends with no intention of ever repaying them, while he was seducing their wives. Beethoven was extremely hard to get along with and was an alcoholic. Mozart was not quite the obnoxious man-child depicted in the movie Amadeus, but the portrayal was not entirely inaccurate. John Lennon abused his first wife, before abandoning her and their son. These artists made sublime music while being despicable human beings. How do their human failings affect our appreciation of their art? Can we listen to the music of a man who abused children without feeling somehow defiled? Does the art transcend the man?

I think this is a question that we each have to answer for ourselves. I would rather make that decision for myself, however, rather than have it answered for me.

 

 

The Nativity According to Luke

The Gospel of Luke tells us what Christmas is all about

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.(Luke 2:1-21)

Luke is a historian of the Hellenistic school, like Herodotus or Thucydides. Although he tries to establish times and places, he is actually less interested in being precise than in understanding the meaning of the events he records. In fact, it wasn’t so easy to give exact dates in those times, given that every city and region had its own calendar and way of numbering or naming the years.

There is a considerable amount of skepticism about the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census; obviously Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much. In the other hand, she was also of the line of David and perhaps her presence in Bethlehem might have been desirable. Again you must not imagine that Mary was on the point of giving birth as they traveled. They could have spent several weeks in Bethlehem.

 

 

Star Wars

Not long ago, I saw the original Star Wars for the first time in many years. What I found most interesting about this movie is how well it stands up after all these years. The plot is a little silly with holes you can drive an X-Wing Fighter through, but so what? Star Wars is still a lot of fun to watch. The special effects still look impressive, not even a little dated or cheesy, as one might expect after forty years. George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic was truly a master of producing special effects in that primitive pre-computer generated effects era. For this reason, I really wish that George Lucas had not decided to enhance the original Star Wars trilogy with digital effects.

The digital additions didn’t really advance the plot and weren’t much of an improvement on the original. It was interesting to watch the scene with the confrontation between Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt, which was cut from the original. The scene did help to establish Han Solo’s mercenary character and his motive for taking Ben and Luke’s commission to transport them to Alderaan, but it wasn’t essential. The computer generated Jabba the Hutt somehow didn’t look very realistic. Jabba didn’t seem to fit in the scene.

Changing the confrontation between Han and Greedo so that Greedo shot first ruined the scene. Han Solo was supposed to be somewhat amoral, in the beginning, growing more altruistic as the trilogy progressed. Changing the scene changed the arc of Solo’s character development.

However, even if the changes and additions had been an improvement, I still would have preferred that George Lucas had not made them. The special effects of the original Star Wars movies were truly ground breaking. Before Star Wars, science fiction movies had always looked rather cheap, no matter how much money was spent on the special effects, they never really looked good. 2001: A Space Odyssey was an exception, but it had Stanley Kubrick as director. It didn’t help that science fiction was not taken very seriously as either literature or as cinema. Science fiction movies were all too often relegated to a low budget ghetto to be enjoyed by children and nerds. Star Wars changed that. Yes, the plot was thin and it was kind of a kids’ movie, but the awesome special effects showed what could be done. Star Wars made science fiction a mainstream genre. When George Lucas went back and added in the digital enhancements, it was as if he was denigrating his accomplishments. It is as if D. W. Griffith had gone back and put a sound track in Birth of a Nation.

Watching Star Wars as an adult for the nth time can never be the same as the first time I saw it as a child, particularly after seeing the sequels and prequels. It is harder to fear Darth Vader as an evil villain when you know that behind the mask is a weary old man who hates what he has become. Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi seems to be less of a noble mentor and more of a cunning manipulator when you know he lied to Luke Skywalker about his father. (Yes Ben, that was a lie, not a truth from a certain point of view.) Even the whole premise of the movie can be called into question. Was the destruction of the Jedi by Darth Vader and the Emperor really such a bad thing? The prequels show the Jedi as being more than a little arrogant and narrow-minded. Maybe it is not such a good idea to rely on a small elite of people who happen to be blessed with a high midi-chlorian count. Is the rule of Emperor Palpatine really a bad thing? The Republic that preceded his rule was shown to be corrupt and ineffective. Maybe, from a certain point of view, the Empire stands for law and order and the Rebellion is a terrorist organization. After all, George Lucas said the Ewoks were inspired by the Viet-Cong, meaning perhaps that they were genocidal fanatics just as the real life Viet Cong were. That would make the Stormtroopers the Americans, the good guys.

Then there is the similarity between the award scene at the end and the Nazi rally depicted in Triumph of the Will

But now, I am overthinking it. Star Wars has never born close examination, either of its politics or its science, and George Lucas is not as profound a thinker as he would like to pretend. Star Wars is flashy, mindless fun. This is, by no means, a criticism. There is certainly a place for flashy, mindless entertainment. In fact, I think one of the problems with Hollywood these days is that they are taking themselves too seriously. They are more intent on preaching left-wing politics than with making movies people actually want to see. Even the Star Wars franchise has fallen victim to this plague of political correctness. We need more of the original Star Wars.

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