Archive for the ‘Movies, Television and Entertainment’ Category

The Nativity According to Luke

December 19, 2018

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.

 

 

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Star Wars

December 12, 2018

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.

The Nativity According to Luke

December 19, 2017

Here is what Christmas is all about

 

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke. There are two accounts of Jesus’s birth in the New Testament, the account that Luke gives and the account that Matthew gives. Mark ignores the question of Jesus’s birth entirely, preferring to begin with Jesus’s public ministry while John actually begins his account before the nativity and moves from there to Jesus’s career. Here is Luke’s account.

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)

There is a considerable amount of skepticism regarding 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. There would have been no need for her to travel. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much.

 

Going With the Wind

September 23, 2017

It looks like the classic movie Gone With the WInd will be the next victim of the ongoing cultural revolution., as I read in this article from Deadline Hollywood.

One of Hollywood’s iconic films is under some serious scrutiny in Memphis, Tennessee. The city’s historic Orpheum Theatre is pulling showings of Gone with the Wind after the 1939 classic was deemed as “insensitive.”

Victor Fleming’s film was part of their summer series programming. After the first screening on August 11, the Orpheum received numerous comments about the film which prompted them to drop it from their 2018 series. Based on the book by Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind starred Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh and was set in on Southern plantation during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. Although a landmark in cinema, the film and its subject matter has seen criticism for its portrayal of people of color and its overall perspective of the South during that divisive time in history.

Admittedly, the portrayal of African-Americans in the film is not altogether positive and it does tend to glamorize the Old South, reflecting the Lost Cause or Dunning School of Confederate historiography, but Gone With the Wind is still one of the best movies ever made, from an era in which they actually knew how to  make great movies. If we are to purge the culture of every work of art, literature, or entertainment that could possibly be construed as being offensive, we are not going to have many such works left to enjoy. If every new work of art, literature or entertainment must be produced according to the most exacting standards of political correctness, very few such works will be worthwhile. Certainly none will stand the test of time to become classics.

What is the point of this cultural revolution in which statues of Confederate statues are overturned and anything related to the Old South prohibited? If it is to fight racism, then we ought to declare victory and leave the statues alone. Racism as a political and social force is dead in America. Yes, I know that there are still many prejudiced people out there. That will always be the case, as long as there are human beings. Prejudice against people who don’t look or act like us is, to some extent, hardwired into our programming. Yet, the United States in the twenty-first century is probably one of the least racist countries in history. I doubt if any other nation has done so much to reverse past injustices as we have. We are not perfect, but if perfection is the standard, we will always fall short. The people who claim that contemporary America is an oppressive regime of systemic racism are simply too ignorant of history to know what they are talking about. If you want to see true systemic racism, you only need to hop into the Wayback Machine and travel back about sixty or seventy years.

Liberals often claim that Republican politicians promote racism by speaking in coded “dog whistles” that only liberals can hear. There was a time when Democratic politicians openly supported depriving African-Americans of their civil rights. The record for the longest Senate filibuster was set 1957 when Strom Thurmond spoke for twenty-four hours against the Civil Rights Act. Black Lives Matter claims that police officers routinely shoot unarmed Black youths for other reason than racism. Upon closer examination, these innocent youths invariably turn out to be criminals who attacked the officer in question. Yet, there was a time when police officers could indeed harass and even murder Blacks with impunity. There was a time when mobs of Whites could murder Blacks with impunity. There was a time when proposals for federal laws to prevent lynching were controversial.

Read that last sentence again and let it sink in. There was a time, less than a century ago, when laws designed to stop Americans from murdering their fellow human beings who had the wrong colored skin were so controversial that they could not be passed.

In my own home town, Madison Indiana, Blacks were required to sit up in the balcony at the local theater. If they got ice cream from the local drug store, they had to eat it outside. They were not allowed to swim at the public pool. They could not attend the same schools as the White children.

Speaking of schools, there was a time when President Eisenhower had to deploy federal troops to ensure that teenagers in Little Rock Arkansas could attend a school in compliance with a Supreme Court decision. Take a look at the infamous picture taken at that time and just try to imagine the hatred those young people had to face.

That is what systemic racism is really like. We are no longer that country. Attitudes about race have changed drastically for the better in a little more than a generation, to the extent that a lot of this behavior is incomprehensible to the people who didn’t experience it. I simply cannot imagine refusing to allow someone to use a public facility because of their race. I don’t really understand why normal, decent people behaved in a manner that even a hardcore racist of today might be ashamed of. We worry about microaggressions today. Blacks of a previous generation worried about real aggressions.

Of course, there is still racism and prejudice. There will always be prejudice as long as there are human beings. It seems to me, however, that if we want to continue to make progress against prejudice, or just maintain what progress we have made, conducting a purge of everything in our culture and heritage that might be considered racist might not be a good way to go about it. I would think that if reducing racism is the goal, than we should be trying to make race less important. We ought to be striving for a world in which the color of a person’s skin is just as inconsequential as the color of their hair or eyes. Instead, the people who profess to be the most against racism seem to be trying to inject race into everything. They seem to be trying to deliberately turn people against one another by stirring up racial tensions. I wonder if the goal is not fight racism but to encourage it. Maybe they need to believe that no progress towards racial equality has been made, or that the country they are living in is hateful and evil. Maybe they want Americans to be divided rather than united. Whatever the reason, this business of driving us apart has to go with the wind.

The Timely, Relevant Handmaid’s Tale

June 4, 2017

Hulu has begun airing a series based on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the critics are falling all over themselves in proclaiming how timely and relevant the program is in Trump’s America.

The Handmaid’s Tale, for those fortunate enough not to have encountered it, is a dystopian novel set in the “Republic of Gilead”, a future North American nation in which Christian fundamentalists have seized power. Naturally women are horribly oppressed in Gilead, since that is what Christian fundamentalists most like to do. Women are chattel who are forbidden to work outside the home or to have bank accounts. There is an epidemic of infertility caused by environmental pollution and those women who are still fertile are pressed into service as “handmaids” compelled to give birth to women incapable of having their own children. As you can see, The Handmaid’s Tale is timely and relevant, for women living in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan. Since Trump hardly ran on a platform of disenfranchising women, the novel is probably not particularly relevant to the experiences of American women, whatever Atwood and her fans might believe.

An everyday sight in Trump’s America

The purpose of dystopian literature, and science fiction in general, is not to predict the future but to highlight circumstances and emerging trends in the present. If it had been Margaret Atwood’s intention to highlight the oppression of women in the Middle East by portraying a similar situation in a more familiar context, much as George Orwell highlighted Stalinist tyranny by placing it in the more familiar context of England, than her effort would be laudable. That is not what she was trying to do. By her own account, she was trying to show what the “religious right” intended to do to women when they gained power. The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985, at a time when the Moral Majority seemed to be on the ascendant, so it might have been timely and relevant then; except that not a single prominent figure on the “religious right” was proposing anything at all like the subjugation of women in the book. If treating women like chattel had been on the agenda of the Christian Coalition, I doubt very much if it would have had any influence on politics at all. And again, Trump is hardly a fundamentalist Christian, nor did he campaign on reducing women to brood stock as part of his program to Make America Great Again.

This is where The Handmaid’s Tale falls short as a dystopia. A dystopia works by pointing out the most extreme consequences of existing trends. The resulting vision need not be especially realistic. This is science fiction after all. However it ought to ring true. The setting of a dystopian work ought to at least seem possible, based on things already happening

As a man of the left, George Orwell knew from personal experience the totalitarian tendencies of most left wing movements. He knew what he was writing about when he wrote 1984. He was able to make the setting of his novel match the real life circumstances of totalitarian governments like the Soviet Union under Stalin and Nazi Germany. He believed, with good reason, that Britain was heading towards a totalitarian socialist state. We may not currently be living in Big Brother’s Oceania, but in an age of mass surveillance and bigger, unaccountable bureaucracies, we should certainly be aware of the possibilities.

Aldrous Huxley had considered very carefully the possible changes that advancing technology might bring to society. His Brave New World is a study of how advances in contraception, cloning (though the word hadn’t been coined at the time) might change family life. If we can design each person according to plan would we design different people for different jobs? What would the concept of equality mean if some people are designed before birth to be the leaders while others to be workers? Huxley also explored the implications of freedom of thought in a world in which thoughts are conditioned by persuasion techniques far more advanced than the crude advertising and propaganda of our time. You might not need the Thought Police if every thought in every head is put there by years of conditioning. It is possible that something like Brave New World might really be in our future, perhaps closer than we might imagine.

In contrast, Margaret Atwood knew nothing about the goals and aspirations of conservative Christians when she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale and there is no sign that she has bothered to learn anything about them in all the years since. Her vision is one that simply does not match the reality. No prominent Christian leader of any sect or denomination has come out in favor of disenfranchising women. Christianity is not the religion that teaches that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. Historically, women have generally had a higher status in the Christian West than in any other civilization. It is true that women have often been discriminated against and patronized in the West, but women have rarely been treated as chattel or worse to the extent they have in East Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, and especially the Islamic world. It is in the Christian West that the idea that women ought to be treated as actual human beings, and even protected arose. Only in the West could anything like feminism come to be.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a fantasy. I think it is poorly written, but that is just my opinion. Perhaps others may think it a classic. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about the literary quality of the work, but please don’t insult my intelligence by saying it is in any way timely or relevant to contemporary America.

Scott Adams and Berkeley 

February 18, 2017

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, reacts to the recent unrest at his alma mater, Berkeley.

Speaking of Hitler, I’m ending my support of UC Berkeley, where I got my MBA years ago. I have been a big supporter lately, with both my time and money, but that ends today. I wish them well, but I wouldn’t feel safe or welcome on the campus. A Berkeley professor made that clear to me recently. He seems smart, so I’ll take his word for it.

I’ve decided to side with the Jewish gay immigrant who has an African-American boyfriend, not the hypnotized zombie-boys in black masks who were clubbing people who hold different points of view. I feel that’s reasonable, but I know many will disagree, and possibly try to club me to death if I walk on campus.

Adams goes on:

Yesterday I asked my most liberal, Trump-hating friend if he ever figured out why Republicans have most of the Governorships, a majority in Congress, the White House, and soon the Supreme Court. He said, “There are no easy answers.”

I submit that there are easy answers. But for many Americans, cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias hide those easy answers behind Hitler hallucinations.

I don’t know much about Scott Adams’s political views. He predicted that Donald Trump would win the election and wrote several blog posts praising Trump as a “master persuader”, but that is not the same as supporting Trump or his policies. I gather that Adams is vaguely libertarian. He is likely pro-capitalist in his economic views since he is an entrepreneur, yet he is often critical of big business in his comic strip and elsewhere. His religious views are somewhat New Agish and I do not think he considers himself a Christian, and I imagine he is culturally and socially liberal but I really don’t know and its doesn’t matter much.

What does matter is that as long as Democrats excuse the rioting at Berkeley and intolerance elsewhere, it seems likely that Scott Adams will not be voting for any Democrats, if he votes at all. I think there are quite a few people like Scott Adams who are not exactly conservative and who might not be traditional Republican voters or supporters of Donald Trump who are likely to be repulsed by such antics as the Berkeley riots and the increasing intolerant bullying and general hysteria of the left. If the Democrats and the people protesting against Trump do not calm down and explicitly denounce the use of violence by their supporters, it may cost them dearly in the next elections.

The Circus is not Coming to Town

January 28, 2017

Well, this is sad.

After 146 years, the curtain is coming down on “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told The Associated Press that the show will close forever in May.

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

“There isn’t any one thing,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. “This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”

The company broke the news to circus employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.

Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.

To be honest, it is surprising Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus has lasted this long. There are so many entertainment options that are cheaper or more accessible and the circus really seems to be a  relic of a past time, when people were perhaps more easily entertained, or at least had longer attention spans. I gather Ringling Bros. had been in decline for some time, but the final blow seems to be the decision to end the elephant acts prompted by ongoing litigation from animal rights activists.

Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, who is the company’s chief operating officer, acknowledged another reality that led to the closing, and it was the one thing that initially drew millions to the show: the animals. Ringling has been targeted by activists who say forcing animals to perform is cruel and unnecessary.

PETA is celebrating.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a longtime opponent of the circus, wasted no time in claiming victory.

“After 36 years of PETA protests, which have awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity, PETA heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times,” Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote in a statement.

I cannot see any reason why the circus couldn’t have continued their elephant acts in a humane fashion or why there could not be some compromise made in which the wild animals could perform under carefully supervised conditions, allowing audiences to have the chance to see these magnificent creatures perform. I also wonder that the animal rights activists cannot see that in many cases performing animals are cared for better than they would be in the wild where they would be subject to disease and predators. The owners of an animal act have a financial incentive to keep their animals healthy. But PETA is not interested in compromise, the jobs lost, the missing chance for future generations to see the show, or even really about the welfare of the animals. They have their own agenda and are not about to let any such considerations to get in the way.

Thanks a lot PETA. You made the clowns sad.

Thanks a lot PETA. You made the clowns sad.

It seems to me that more and more in American politics and culture, people are less interested in any sort of compromise and more interested in forcing their viewpoints and demands on others. No one seems willing to meet the other side halfway and compromise is seen as giving in to the enemy or a tactic to weaken the opponent’s resolve. Maybe this is the result of a growing tendency towards Manichean thinking in our discourse. Differences in opinions  are not simply a reflection of different values and experiences between people of good will but as part of a cosmic battle between light and darkness. If you are on the side of the angels, than it stands to reason that your opponents must be on the side of the devils. If your candidate is a lightworker than anyone who opposes him must be on the side of darkness and his candidate must be Hitler. Naturally one does not compromise when fighting the Devil. One can only oppose him.

In the meantime, if you want to see the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus, you had better get the tickets right now.

 

The Nativity According to Luke

December 20, 2016

Here is what Christmas is all about

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke. There are two accounts of Jesus’s birth in the New Testament, the account that Luke gives and the account that Matthew gives. Mark ignores the question of Jesus’s birth entirely, preferring to begin with Jesus’s public ministry while John actually begins his account before the nativity and moves from there to Jesus’ career. Here is Luke’s account.

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)

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. There would have been no need for her to travel. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much.

 

Women’s Chess

December 4, 2016

I am a bit confused by this article I read from PJMedia.

Sports competitors are often asked to conform to the rules of the countries they visit.

That might mean eating local cuisine or simply driving on the opposite side of the road.

For one elite chess player, embracing one country’s religious customs isn’t an option. And she may not be alone

U.S. women’s chess champion Nazi Paikidze-Barnes won’t appear at February’s world championships to be held in Tehran. Female players will be expected to wear a hijab, which is mandatory by Iranian law.

That isn’t acceptable to her:

If the venue of the championship is not changed, I will not be participating. I am deeply upset by this. I feel privileged to have qualified to represent the US at the Women’s World Chess Championship and to not be able to due to religious, sexist, and political issues is very disappointing.

Paikidze-Barnes may have company soon enough. Former Pan American champion Carla Heredia wants the 64 female players slated to participate in the event to protest the mandatory hijab garb as well.

“Sports should be free of this type of discrimination,” Heredia explained.

Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, chair of Fide’s Commission for Women’s Chess, said the hijab ruling shouldn’t be an issue. It’s a matter of respecting local culture, Polgar says, adding the dress code will apply to all players.

It’s not the question of whether or not female chess players should be required to wear the hijab when playing in Iran that confuses me, but rather why should there be such a thing as Women’s Chess, as opposed to Men’s Chess.

womensworldchamp1981

Sports and competitions involving physical prowess usual segregate between men and women. There are men’s and woman’s tennis, soccer, track and field, and so on. This segregation exists because men are generally stronger and more physically powerful than women. There are exceptions and a degree of overlap to this generalization; weaker men and stronger women, but the generalization is true enough that in any physical contest between a man and a women, the man will almost always have a decisive, and in sports an unfair, advantage. In most cases, a competition between a male athlete and a female athlete might not be interesting to watch. In mixed gender team, the female players might often be sidelined in favor of the male players who would be more able to make the goals, etc. Thus, we have men and women’s sports, to make the competitions fairer and more fun to watch.

Chess is not a contest of physical prowess but of mental ability. The difference in physical strength between men and women is entirely irrelevant in games like chess. Why should there be such a thing as Women’s Chess? It may be that there are differences between male and female cognition. There may be some element of truth in the stereotype that boys are better at math while girls have superior language skills. Even so, the mental differences between men and women are surely more subtle with a far greater degree of overlap than the physical differences. Such mental differences as may exist also do not favor one gender as much as the obvious physical differences. I do not believe that anyone would contend that one sex is generally more intelligent than the other. Even if the specific skills needed to be successful at playing chess were more common in men than in women, the disparity would surely not be so great as to require separate leagues for men and women. I don’t understand it.

 

Hamilton and Pence

November 30, 2016

I don’t need to go into a lot of detail on this bit of non-news that has somehow captured headlines. Here are the basics as reported by NPR.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was presumably seeking a quiet night out at the theater, enjoying one of Broadway’s hottest tickets with a Friday night performance of Hamilton: An American Musical.

What he got instead was a welcome of boos and cheers from the crowd and a pointed plea from the diverse cast and crew afterwards about what they believe really makes America great.

At the curtain call, actor Brandon Victor Dixon — who plays former Vice President Aaron Burr, who infamously shot and killed Hamilton in a duel — read a statement from the cast, which is made up of largely black and Latino actors who play the white Founding Fathers.

“There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen, nothing to boo,” Dixon said, quieting the crowd who had met Pence with a mix of jeers and cheers when he entered the theater before the show. Pence was on his way out, but Dixon urged him to pause and hear their thoughts. Dixon thanked Pence for attending and said he was welcome there.

“We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir,” Dixon said. “But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf all of us.”

The one trait that I admire about Donald Trump is that he always fights back, even when it might be more advisable to remain silent. I find this a refreshing change from Republicans who never fight when attacked. Maybe it takes someone who isn’t really a Republican to show Republicans how to hit back. Trump did overreact to this incident.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/799972624713420804

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/800298286204723200

I agree with Trump. A theater performance was not the place for this display. The audience had paid to see a musical, not listen to a political lecture. It was rude and more than a little presumptuous of the cast of Hamilton to lecture Mike Pence and the rest of us. Who do they think they are? They are entertainers. We pay them to sing and dance for us. We do not pay for them to think for us. They can think on their own time, assuming you can call what goes on in their muddled heads thinking.

The reason these advocates of tolerance felt the need to lecture Mike Pence was probably because while governor of Indiana he signed legislation designed to prevent people who have sincere religious convictions opposing same-sex “marriage” from being taken into court and losing their businesses for not wishing to participate in these sham marriages. This is simply too much for the tolerant left to bear. The apostles of tolerance and diversity couldn’t be bothered to try to understand why anyone would be reluctant to transgress their religious beliefs nor did they ever try to assuage these peoples’ reservations or come to any sort of reasonable compromise. They were bigots to be brought into line by the power of the state.

These people of the left who constantly feel the need to berate the rest of us on the basis of their moral superiority to the rest of us cretins. The truth is that they are not, in fact, morally superior to the rest of us. When you take into account their bullying, their intolerance of dissenting views along with their support of censorship against hate speech, their fawning over the worst murdering dictators, their double standards, their totalitarian propensity to politicize everything and anything and their plain nastiness, it seems to me that they are actually morally inferior to most Americans. They have very little to teach the rest of us about tolerance and diversity. They could learn a lot from the everyday decency of average Americans, if they could be trouble to learn from us instead of looking down on us.

In the meantime, while Mike Pence’s calm, dignified response was more appropriate, Trump’s overreaction was more correct. These people are not fazed by calm, dignified responses. They need to be pushed back every time they push us. Maybe some day they’ll start treating people with differing viewpoints with more respect.


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