Monday, June 18, 2018

SUFFER THE CHILDREN


Not only have the neo-Nazis of the Donald Dunce Administration decided to use kidnapping children from their parents if those parents have the temerity to flee violence and disaster in their home countries and appear at our southern border, but they have gone further. They have ordered the staff at the detention centres to which these kidnapped children are taken not to pick up or hold or reassure or comfort the children in any way.

Donald Dunce insists that he's not responsible for these kidnappings but rather it's the fault of Congressional Democrats who won't kow-tow to him and his evil policies. Donald Dunce is a liar. That's well established but not the least so when he propagandizes that his policy is someone else's fault. To add to the obscenity of Donald Dunce's policy the detention and separation of these parents and children is a boondoggle shunting taxpayer money to Dunce's corporate friends who operate private prisons.

But let's look more closely at the policy of not having physical contact with these children. To look at it from an historical perspective allow me to take you back nearly eight centuries to the Sicilian Court of Frederick the Great Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor, King od Germany, Italy, Burgundy and Sicily and titular King of Jerusalem. Frederick was known as a scholar and something of a scientist in his time. He conducted a number of experiments all of which were inspired by the religious beliefs of his day. One involved sealing a man inside a cask in which only one small hole had been drilled. The object of condemning this man to death by starvation in the cask was to see if observers could perceive the soul as it escaped through the hole.

However, the experiment that Donald Dunce's horrendous policy toward migrant children brings to mind is Frederick's attempt to discover which language god gave us first. To do this Frederick collected infants from their mothers immediately after birth. I doubt that it's recorded but the "collecting" certainly wasn't done from the nobles of his court or voluntarily from mothers. Emperors can order things with impunity, something that I'm sure Donald "I could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and get away with it" Dunces most fervently wishes for himself. These infants were given to a convent of trusted nuns. The nuns were allowed to change and bathe and feed the children but they were strictly forbidden to speak to the children or even coo over them. The nuns had to maintain total silence while with the babies and their contact with the infants was limited to those necessary functions already mentioned. What Frederick discovered was not the "natural, first language given by god" but he discovered that without the vocalizations that parents make with their babies and with the minimal contact require by necessity all of the babies died.

I doubt the Donald Dunce has ever heard of Frederick the Great Hohenstaufen. I suspect that he has a few advisors about him who would like to duplicate Frederick's experiments. He has an Attorney General who claims that he's following the Biblical teachings of St. Paul when the only authority in this nation is our Constitution as amended and interpreted by our courts. Frederick at the very least had the religiose ignorance of his time in the early 13th Century as an excuse for his barbaric behavior. Donald Dunce's ignorance is certainly a factor in his barbaric behavior but even more is his craven appeal to the fear, the xenophobia, racism and venality of his supporters. He whips up fear of poor people fleeing gang violence or murderous husbands who are no different in their desire for safety than any of us.

When Jesus says, in 16th Century translation, "suffer the little children to come unto me" he is telling his apostles to let the children come to him despite their unwillingness and reservations. In the dark, blinkered, malfunctioning minds of Donald Dunce, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions and Kirstjen Nielsen "suffer" has the more modern meaning which they are pursuing to the nth degree. Not only is their heartlessness unAmerican, it is inhumane and inhuman. It is they who need to suffer in the modern sense something that, hopefully will be true once a new Congress is seated.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A STUDY ON CONTRASTS


So His Orangeness, our Prevaricator in Chief, Donald Dunce, has met with Kim Jong-un and everyone is puzzled by what Kim thought he would get out of this meeting. Being a pessimist I think I know and if in a few years this scenario comes to pass, remember that you heard it here first.

Kim Jong-un has had many conversations with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin either in person or by phone and he knows that the United States and Western Alliance (NATO) will not confront a nuclear armed adversary who swoops in and invades an adjoining nation. There's ample evidence in Putin's annexation of Crimea and his on-going war in Ukraine. As another example there's China's pre-nuclear annexation of Tibet. Kim also has been clued in to the fact that Trump is a moron who has no sense of history.

Given these facts Kim can go into this Singapore Summit meeting smiling and deferential to Trump who loves nothing more than having his ego massaged. Kim makes a nebulous promise to denuclearize. The Dunce, with visions of a Nobel Peace Prize clouding his vision, hears and sees whatever he wants to hear and see. With this unverifiable and unverified, imprecise crumb from Kim, Mr. Dunce asserts that he's gotten a whole loaf and decides that he can dispense with joint war games with the Republic of South Korea. Donald Dunce now also has an excuse to remove U. S. troops from Korea.

Kim is aware that Donald Dunce will not be around on the world stage much longer. We all hope that he'll be shuffled off by January 20, 2021 if he's not impeached and jailed before. Kim, if his cholesterol and blood pressure hold, will be North Korean dictator for a lot longer.

So the maneuvers that Donald Dunce considers "a provocation" end immediately. Troop withdrawals commence and continue. In the meantime Kim conducts no further missile tests. He explodes no more nuclear weapons. He smiles a lot and issues promises that he's working on disarming. The minefields in the Demilitarized Zone are uprooted, more by the departing Americans than by the North Koreans. Then one November 11th or, perhaps Christmas Day when all the American troops are out of South Korea and those in Japan are on holiday leave, the North Korean Army comes rolling into South Korea, captures Seoul and pushes south in a blitz kreig to capture Gwangju, Daegu and Pusan. Because Kim has a grip on history significant forces capture and hold the port of Inchon. Mobile missile batteries in Pusan are a short distance from the Japanese main island.

Donald Dunce or a successor decides to send troops to Japan and scramble bombers from Guam. However, the North Korean government issues an ultimatum that if so much as a Cessna takes off from Guam in the direction of Korea, a nuclear missile will obliterate Guam. Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand feel that they cannot take action against North Korea in the face of nuclear destruction and the hope that Kim's ambitions are limited to reunifying the Korean Peninsula. Despite a major influx of American troops, Japan, the former colonial power, hunkers down in fear of an invasion and the nuking of Tokyo. China offers to intercede with Kim in return for Japan's dropping of all claims to disputed islands between the two countries and Russia permanently asserts control of the northern Ryukyu Islands that it's held since 1945.

The end result is that the United States loses all influence in all of East Asia and extends its influence over India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and all of the mainland of Southeast Asia. Yet further, the United States is seen as a paper tiger. The East European NATO members leave that alliance and snuggle up to Russia as their protector. Germany, Austria and Italy once again find themselves the front line in Europe. The uneasy truces in the Balkan states breaks down and Russia intervenes as protector of the Slavic peoples of that fractious area.

The trade ties that China has established in what Donald Dunce has identified as the "shithole" countries of Africa make their relations with the United States more tenuous. Similarly the nations on the western shores of South America and Brazil find more interests in common with Kim's Chinese godfathers than with the United States. A world-wide alliance of pragmatism, fear and trade ties isolates the United States.

Into this dire situation will unquestionably step some narcissistic demagogue in the mold of Donald Dunce - a Ted Cruz, a Sean Hannity, an Oliver North, some televangelist, there are too many to list - offers to save the nation as long as Congress and the Courts grant him extraordinary powers. He will, of course, be truly in the mold of Donald Dunce, a Manchurain Candidate controlled by Moscow and/or Beijing. The new world order won't be United Nations black helicopters as the loonies of the far right fear. No. It will come from the loonie far right whose corrupt business deals, like Donald Dunce's, have placed him under the thumb of Russian and /or Chinese masters.

Having spun out this nightmare scenario, a nightmare that could far too easily come true, it is appropriate to note that Donald Dunce has abrogated the Iran nuclear agreement because it only stops Iran from developing a nuclear weapon for ten years. During those years Iran agreed to submit to the most stringent inspection regime ever imposed on any nation. For Donald Dunce a multi-nationally enforced agreement made by his predecessor was insufficient but an ill defined promise in a document that he and Chairman Kim signed after brief discussions is an iron clad reason to clear our military out of South Korea. Can we agree  that calling this fraud Donald Dunce is not pejorative? It is simply fact.

P. S. Donald Dunce came home and, as he is wont to do, sent out the tweet that "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea." Thus Prime Minister Chamberlain...I mean Donald Dunce...has met with Chancellor Hitl...sorry, Chairman Kim...and declared "Peace in our time"...with a probably similar result

Our great observer of humanity, Mark Twain, gets credit for a line he might well  have written but didn't that, "History doesn't repeat itself but it rhymes." The philosopher George Santayana did observe, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It seems that both observations apply in this case.

Friday, May 18, 2018

LITTLE BOYS AND THEIR HEROIC FANTASIES


[Note: This is an effort to both replace a lost post and bring that up to date with new information. I hope that it pleases you, my reader.]

Following the October 1, 2017 Las Vegas Mass Shooting (note that we have to have multiple modifiers just to focus on the particular mass shooting given the number of mass shootings before and since) Trump buddy and Michael Cohen client, Fox News' Sean Hannity opined that he had firearms permits in a number of states and had instruction in firearms safety then from those facts went on to the illogical next step saying of the Las Vegas shooter, "This guy had a machine gun. How they gonna take him on without a weapon? Or if it's happening within a crowd...if they were in San Bernardino, do you want Sean Hannity who's trained in the safety and use of a firearm in that room so when they drop the clip and they start to reload you've got a shot; you've got a chance?"

In a similar vein the similarly brave, tactical protector of Americans, Mr. Donald J. Trump opined following the February 14, 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, "You don't know until you test it but I really believe I'd run in there even if I didn't have a weapon."

I think that both Sean Hannity and Donald Trump have unintentionally revealed the origins of the myth of "a good guy with a gun" being the antidote to a bad guy with a gun. These little boys are still playing cops and robbers or cowboys and indians. In their fantasy lives they are heroes who will risk their lives to save others in danger, something that's very easy to say when you're unlikely to be in a position to act as they claim especially for someone surrounded by a multi-man detail of Secret Service Agents.

We all have fantasies of heroism. When I was a boy in the late 1950s I could be Bat Masterson facing down invisible bad guys with only my cap-firing cane. The fact is, however, that I outgrew those fantasies and reached a hard won adulthood in which I was, for a time, a gun owner. Yet even while I was a gun owner I never thought that I would be that mythical "good guy with a gun". I knew I would be afraid but, at best, I felt that I could face down an invader in my home. Even that I feared wouldn't be possible unless circumstances were exceptionally favorable.

The fact is that Sean Hannity with a gun would be standing well behind police lines with his television crew and Donald J. Trump would be hustled off by his various security details to safety in an active shooter situation exactly as happened at one of his rallies when someone called out a gun in the audience. They both know it but they both haven't grown sufficiently to adulthood to admit it.

Let's think about this a little bit. These armchair heroes locked in pre-adolescence whether it's Hannity, Trump or the little boys who open carry if they were really so heroic could apply to their local police force. They then would be certified and vetted officers employed to be the first line of heroes in dangerous situations. Why might these little boys (and there's an occasional girl too) not be part of their police forces?
  1.  The police forces aren't hiring. Certainly possible. Still, in most urban areas some police force may well have programs for training and vetting potential officers. I wonder how many of these little boys and girls have even applied? Of those who have applied how many are like "Good guy with a gun" Robert Charles Bates currently serving time for the murder of Eric Harris in Tulsa, Oklahoma?
  2. The little boys and girls have "better things to do". Certainly if you're a highly paid television and radio talking blockhead or a real estate developer running the United States on behalf of whoever is paying him handsomely the pay cut for being a police officer might be unattractive. Yet isn't there a certain "put up or shut up"situation here? If you want to open carry isn'r being a police officer the ultimate realization of your position? If joining the police force is the best expression of your "right to keep and bear arms" isn't the claim that you have better things to do or another career simply an excuse for not committing to what you claim to be committed to?
  3.  The little boys and girls can't pass the police physical. O.k. So does that mean that this self-styled protector of his or her community instead of running toward danger may be jogging or limping toward danger and being out of breath and energy when he or she gets there? How useful is it if our self-styled hero confronts an active shooter and has to say, "Hold on a minute, man, while I catch my breath." Somehow I think that may not be the optimal protection those little boys and girls claim they would be.
  4. The little boys and girls can't qualify psychologically for the police force. Hmmmm! So the "good guy with a gun" is going to be someone psychologically unfit for police service yet this is the person on whom we're going to rely to protect the community? Pardon me for asking but what separates someone who is psychologically unfit for the police force from the mentally deranged person shooting up a school or a night club, a movie theatre or a Christmas party? How many correctly firing brain cells separate the "good guy with a gun" from the "bad guy with a gun"? How eager are we to test for those brain cells in real world situations? I'm personally not very eager at all and I have been a gun owner so maybe that's a test to which we'd best not administer without close supervision and control.
  5. What community are the little boys and little girls protecting? We have the tragic example of Philando Castile that a black "good guy with a gun" even who does everything correctly is likely to be seen as a "bad guy with a gun". I'm not even going to go into Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice. Therefore, we can reasonably say that the "good guy with a gun" doesn't have black or brown skin. If the "good guy with a gun" is exclusively Caucasian are we not simply looking at one more expression of the racism pervasive in our society?
The little boys and little girls who insist on acting out their heroic fantasies are actually more likely to be a danger to their communities than they are to be the heroes they so childishly desire to be. Sadly this and other attempts to shoot down their fantasies are doomed to be ineffective despite so many direct hits.

(P. S. That last sentence full of shooting metaphors is meant to be ironic, just so there's no misunderstanding.)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

PARANOIA OR MAYBE THERE IS SOMETHING TO WORRY ABOUT


His Orangeness, our Prevaricator-in-Chief wants a parade. His excuse is that he'd like to "honor our troops". Of course in more than a year in office he has not honored any of our troops on the front lines with a visit to boost their morale...well...perhaps this president had better go golfing and keep the troops' morale high by staying at Mar-a-Lago. The fact is that the little boy who likes to pretend to drive big rigs and fire trucks wants a parade in his honor because he thinks it makes him look powerful and momentarily fills that dark, endless void in him that demands constant attention.

While I am fairly certain the Autocrat st the Cheeseburger Wrapper is simply fulfilling a juvenile fantasy, I can't help but think that there may be a darker and more dangerous purpose in the minds of some of those who whisper Donald's thoughts into Donald's ear.

Let us say for a moment that the parade is scheduled for some date like May 19th (Armed Forces Day), July 4th or November 11th. Further let us say that the specific units assigned to this parade are commanded by officers of the ilk of Col. Oliver North, Admiral John Poindexter, Gen. John K. Singlaub or Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Let's also say that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had indicted a number of close aids to His Orangeness including Don Jr., Jared Kushner and named the Prevaricator-in-Chief himself as an unindicted co-conspirator. In the guise of the traditional parade fly-overs air wings commanded by some of those Air Force officers who have pledged themselves to Jesus Christ as their savior land at Reagan National, Dulles Airport and Andrews Air Force Base and assume command on orders from the president. The tanks and other armor units take up positions on the main highways into and out of Washington, D. C. after their review by His Orangeness. Another military unit shuts down Union Station and His Orangeness sends loyal commanders to arrest Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Mueller as well as many of the Democrat "traitors" who failed to stand or applaud for His Orangeness' State of the Union speech. Meanwhile FCC Chairman Ajit Pai invoking a state of national emergency that His Orangeness has declared to justify his coup takes over the broadcast and cable networks which begin sending out government sponsored messages requesting that people remain calm and assuring everyone that this state of emergency will last only a few days until the government is once again set to rights...far rights.

The shouters like Sean Hannity at the Völkische Beobachter (i.e. Fox News) have already defined the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election as an attempt at a coup. Even more such fevered nonsense comes from Alex Jones and his ilk. The neo-Fascist fundamentalist movement is busy informing its sheep that His Orangeness is the harbinger of the Second Coming selected by their bizarre take in the Christian god. Military units regularly get right-wing materials and are encouraged to believe in fundamentalist and ultra-rightist ravings. Our nation thinks of itself as a democracy but what "democracy" means to its citizens is not always anything like what it meant to our founders or Abraham Lincoln or even a majority of our current members of Congress. Militant Fascism supported by a military of questionable loyalty to our nation's principles and an imbecile president given to autocracy is not foreign to the United States. Whether our democracy can survive the next 3 or perhaps 7 years is not a given. The fact that ultra-right-wing groups and individuals have massive stockpiles of weapons while those of the Left and Centre have voluntarily disarmed does not bode well for any defense of our democracy either.

Wild paranoia? Perhaps. Something that His Orangeness and the neo-Fascists who surround him could not get away with? Perhaps. Might military units loyal to the Constitution mobilize to counter the coup? Probably but they might not be successful. Even if anti-Fascist military units succeeded in overthrowing the coup plotters including the president, vice-president and leaders of both the House and Senate who would then be the head of state? Who would have the legitimacy to assume the presidency? Might it not be another military leader whose taste of power might overwhelm his commitment to democracy? And what of plot sympathizers who hold the reigns of government in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas or the Dakotas, Wyoming and Idaho? Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania could form a wedge in the east and mid-west that would make a counter-coup difficult if not impossible. I'm sure that during the rending apart of the United States Russian hackers would be gleefully supporting Putin's man in the White House and spreading misinformation if not helping to coordinate the defense of the neo-Fascist coup.

His Orangeness' desire for a parade is probably just at one with playing in the fire truck and Peterbilt but an unnecassary expense is the least of the reasons why it should never take place.

A NOTE TO READERS

On Wednesday, February 7th, I was trying to delete a draft post that was no longer relevant when I inadvertently deleted all the posts after December 8, 2012. I have inquired at Google if theree is any way of retrieving those posts but have as yet heard nothing. I fear the worst. In any case I am going to continue for the present. I apologize for my ineptitude in managing this blog. If any of you may have copied or saved one or more of the more recent posts from the last 6 years, please contact me so that I may restore what was lost.

Some of what was lost can be found at this link

Saturday, December 8, 2012

AT THIS FESTIVE SEASON – 2012



"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.  Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?"  demanded Scrooge.  "Are they still in operation?"

"They are.  Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh!  I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge.  "I'm very glad to hear it."

"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth.  We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.  What shall I put you down for?"

"Nothing!" Scrooge replied.

"You wish to be anonymous?"

"I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge.  "Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer.  I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry.  I help to support the establishments I have mentioned -- they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there."

"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."

"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.  Besides -- excuse me -- I don't know that."

"But you might know it," observed the gentleman.

"It's not my business," Scrooge returned.  "It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's.  Mine occupies me constantly.  Good afternoon, gentlemen!"

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew.  Scrooge returned his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.

                                   ~ A Christmas Carol, Stave the First, Charles Dickens

There were many in the England of the 1840s who cursed Charles Dickens. He was popular and he wrote discomforting things about the status quo, things that threatened the quo of those with status. How dare he? But time passes. We’re elevated the lessons of Dickens’ novella to canon taught us in many forms. Yet here we find ourselves 169 years later and the Scrooge of Scrooge and Marley is still alive and well, unreformed, unreconsiled with his nephew, uncaring that Tiny Tim will die, forging further links on that weighty chain of ledgers and cash boxes.

Let us consider, please the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This treaty states that the signatories will respect and promote equal human rights for people with disabilities. It was modeled on the U. S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. This Convention the United States signed during the administration of George W. Bush. However, as an international treaty our Constitution requires that it must be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the United States Senate. Thus it was that the Senate held a vote on Tuesday, December 4, 2012.

The treaty had the solid support of Senate Democrats as well as some notable Republicans including John McCain of Arizona, Richard Lugar of Indiana and even Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Former senator and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, himself a disabled World War II veteran, came to the Senate floor in a wheelchair from his hospital bed at Walter Reed Hospital to support the treaty.

There was a time in our history when that support would have meant certain passage for the treaty but we live in greatly devolved times. Since the 1960s and particularly since the Reagan Administration the Republican Party has increasingly fallen under the thrall of the racists, bigots, John Birchers, NRA fanatics, “Objectivists”, “Libertarians”, religious fundamentalists and the lunatic subscribers to Human Events all of whom came out to oppose equal rights for people with physical or mental disabilities but who, unlike themselves, have a current diagnosis.

Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma led the opposition and brought in that paragon of logic and decency, former Senator Rick Santorum to argue both that because we already have the ADA the treaty is superfluous and that it would open the United States to interference with our “sovereignty” should other nations intervene to impose on us laws we already have. With the typical lunacy of this group of right-wing extremists they saw no contradiction in their arguments. They did, however, collect 36 other senators on the side of wrong and injustice to vote with Lee and Inhofe to kill the treaty. Passage required at least 66 votes but managed to garner only 61.

And lest we think of this as an aberration caused by 38 men whose tinfoil hats are protecting them from the controlling messages from those U. N. Black Helicopters that they are certain hover somewhere nearby I would offer the further embarrassment of the Republican lunatic fringe in the Senate. Where the defeat of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was patently insane this next act is so thoroughly craven that it beggars all comparison.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky thought he had a surefire way to embarrass his Democratic colleagues. On Thursday, December 6th he called up a vote on a bill which would have given President Obama authority to bypass Congress in raising the Federal debt ceiling. The vote would require a simple majority of senators. Most probably McConnell figured that the bill would quickly fail a Senate vote after which Republicans could taunt that even Democrats refuse to support the President’s proposals.

Majority Leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, took the matter to his Democratic caucus and returned to the Senate floor to say that he thanked Sen. McConnell for calling up the measure and that he was happy to vote.

Suddenly Sen. McConnell found himself painted into the same inescapable corner in which he’d thought to strand the Democrats. So what was his reaction? He mounted a filibuster of the vote on the bill he himself had called to the floor.

People are dissatisfied with Congress. The remarkable thing is that more people don’t understand that it is the Republican minority, especially in the person of Mitch McConnell, that has denigrated Congress thoroughly since 2009. We cannot have a Congress, House or Senate, that does the work of the nation as a whole while we have the craven partisanship of Mitch McConnell and the lunatic paranoia of Lee, Inhofe, Rand Paul, Eric Cantor and the rest of the escapees from the right-wing asylum. Luckily, if the Republicans continue bringing forward candidates like the crop in 2012 there’s some reason to believe that a House majority and a 66 Democrat Senate may be in our future and a period in which Congress can redeem its reputation should not be far behind.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

HAGGARD AND DRAWN (and Quartered) HYP! HYP! HYPOCRISY!


[Another old post from the soon to disappear Lion and Pen web site is this originally posted November 3, 2006]


I now offer for your delectation one Pastor Ted Haggard. Kind, smiling, Pastor Ted of the New Life Church adjacent to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Pastor Ted who is a graduate of (where else?) Oral Roberts University founded by a man who made his fortune as a televangelist and tent show huckster pulling chicken livers from suffering rubes and claiming that god had just allowed him to draw out their cancers. Pastor Ted who believes, "The Holy Bible, and only the Bible, is the authoritative Word of God. It alone is the final authority for determining all doctrinal truths. In its original writing, the Bible is inspired, infallible and inerrant." He also believes that, "we don't have to debate about what we should think about homosexual activity, it's written in the Bible." Pastor Ted who was, until today, President of the National Association of Evangelicals and claims to have an identity of views with our Fearless Leader, Dubya, as well as having a long association with that pillar of traditional values, James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Yes, kind, smiling Pastor Ted, quick to condemn same-sex marriage and homosexuality seems to have been living in a world with a slight disconnect from our own...I mean apart from the half-assed fundamentalist world (forgive the tautology).

You see that one of the things that kept Pastor Ted smiling was his 3-year affair with a male prostitute from whom he also bought crystal meth. Now, we have to allow that Pastor Ted claims not to have used the crystal meth (only his teeth and brain cells know for sure!) but then he surely must still have it, mustn't he? Isn't that a lot like not inhaling? Or was he just doing an errand for his buddy, Dubya?

I do want to be clear here. If kind, smiling Pastor Ted is gay, I wish him well. It may have some ill effects on his wife and 5 children, but accepting his own sexual identity is generally a good thing. But pardon me while I roll on the floor and hold my sides that are about to split with laughter. Kind, smiling Pastor Ted hasn't much to dispute with his fellow fundamentalist hatemonger, Fred Phelps, when it comes to homosexuality. That he's been getting "massages" from a male "masseur" for the past 3 years just goes off the scale on the hypocrisy meter. This one is even more fun that watching Fox News make Mark Foley a Democrat! And, I'm sure that the fun is only starting as there are bound to be rousing statements from other icons of the cynical exploitation of religion and its unquestioning followers like Dobson, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, Chuck Colson and the rest of the "Jesus is a Nazi too" crowd.
The gag may be waving the flag
That began with a mystical hand
Hip hooray!
The American way
The world is a stage,
The stage is a world of entertainment
- Howard Dietz (Arthur Schwartz - composer)

Oh, how I love it!

UNBIDDEN MEMORIES


[Another venue in which I have posted some other writing is about to disappear if anything on the Internet can truly be said to disappear. i found a few pieces that seemed worth saving by reposting here.

The following I originally posted on June 1, 2005.]

Memory is a strange and wonderful thing, a thing that has been central for me for most of my life. I always had a great capacity for memory of facts, of texts, of poetry of lines for a play but of places and their sights and sounds and smells. Memory can play tricks on us, but one of its most delightful and yet most cruel tricks is recalling in perfect, exquisite detail places, things and people lost along the way.

On
Sunday, March 13, 2005, Anna and I and our friend Rick Gager, went to the Mt. Baker Theatre here in Bellingham, Washington to see some movies. Mt. Baker is a movie palace decorated in the Moorish style popular in the early 1920's. It has just undergone a full restoration and is much as it would have been if I'd been alive and going to the movies to see Erich von Stroheim's The Merry Widow or Chaplain's The Tramp as new releases. So the theatre itself is something of a time capsule. One walks off a street in February, 2005 and into a lobby that actually once hosted Clark Gable, Loretta Young and Jack Oakie while they were filming The Call of the Wild nearby.

We had come to see a program of silent movies that were to be accompanied by members of the Theatre Organ Society on the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ which is on an hydraulic lift beneath a trap in the stage floor, downstage centre.

When we arrived we found that we were going to get an opening act that we hadn't counted on. The Bellingham High School Showstoppers mixed choral group was going to perform. We were a bit wary, but decided to stay. Anna and I were glad we did.

The kids in the Showstoppers were disciplined and excellent singers. Their teacher clearly selected most of the music. Her selections were far more problematic than the students' singing.

There was a delightful bit of Renaissance harmony. All Ye Who Music Love by Baldassare Donato, executed flawlessly and a fine rendition of the lovely ballad, My Funny Valentine (I think that Richard Rodgers mostly went down hill after Lorenz Hart died). But they opened with Happy Together, a 1960's song that you can't forget no matter how desperately you try. Rather than building on the beautiful success of the Donato piece, we got a rendition of One Tin Soldier, the title song from the gawdawful movie Billy Jack. My Funny Valentine which, with Bewitched (Bothered and Bewildered), is one of the greatest love songs not written by Cole Porter or the Gershwins, we got an credible version of You Are the Song followed by a minor key, bluesy version of If I Only Had a Brain that didn't work and was never going to no matter who sang it.

The girls left the stage as I whispered to Anna that we know that their music teacher is certainly our age. The guys did a song called The Handsome Butcher that I'd never heard before and wouldn't care if I never heard again and then launched into The Auctioneer. Suddenly, I was no longer in the Mt. Baker Theatre. I was sitting in front of an oval TV screen in a living room that hasn't existed for over forty years watching the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show. This was a bit of Time Travel that I hadn't counted on. I literally hadn't heard that song in forty-five years.

That, of course, made me realize that music teachers, particularly, carry a part of the past, their musical taste fixed when they were the age of their students, forward into the future. How else can I explain why my Elementary School graduating class in 1963, under the direction of a music teacher old enough to have studied with Pythagoras, did a medley of Victor Herbert songs. I still have unpleasant flashbacks to...

Slumber on, my Little Gypsy Sweetheart,
Dream of the fields and the groves.
Can you hear me, hear me in that Dreamland,
Where your fancies rove?

Despite the fact that Victor Herbert would have had to have been composing operettas when dinosaurs roamed the earth to have been popular in our music teacher's girlhood, that's obviously what happened, just as it had happened with this music teacher in Bellingham, Washington in 2005. My elementary music teacher grew up when Victor Herbert was the hot composer of "proper" music as opposed to that bawdy jazz that
Negros and Jews were composing and playing. She (I have forgotten her name) wanted to pass down to me and my classmates an appreciation for Herbert's "proper" music.

She was too late. Cartoons from the late 1920's and early 1930's with soundtracks by Cab Calloway and others had already insinuated themselves as happy, bouncy music by the time I was in first grade let alone graduating from eighth. Singers on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town and other variety shows had already put Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart and Harry Warren tunes in my head.

So there I was remembering the elementary music teacher whose name was long gone from my memory inspired by memories of Tennessee Ernie Ford singing The Auctioneer and surveying a living room - clock, pictures, wallpaper, bric-a-brac on the mantlepiece - gone before my eleventh birthday. That song sent me off into Memories of a Lost Time just as surely as that madelaine dipped in tea had sent Marcel Proust ambling down the corridors of memory.

Layered in there too was being in a movie palace from a lost time and the original purpose of the afternoon outing, to see some silent movies.

The guys next did a somewhat overwrought version of the Neil Sedaka chestnut, Calendar Girl, and we were ready for the girls to return. After a finish with the whole choral group that included I Believe, a song that always makes me feel that I need an insulin shot to get excess sugar out of my system, the Showstoppers stopped the show. They were wonderful kids who gave a wonderful performance. Their performance resonated with me in more ways, on more levels than most of them will ever realize.

We saw Laurel and Hardy's Soup to Nuts, Harold Lloyd in The City Slicker and a Little Rascals two-reeler called Hide and Shriek with an absolutely brilliant organ accompaniment that put all three of us, indeed the whole audience, into a time that none but a few of us ever knew. Still it was a time at which all of us could laugh.

In the end, still laughing over Stan and Ollie's slapstick, we walked out into the late afternoon light of 2005. But I can still see my Aunt Helen's living room before the fire in 1960, the lamps with their crystal pendants on each end of that mantlepiece, the other bric-a-brac reflected in the huge mirror over the fireplace and a Dickensian scene of a coach pulling into an inn yard on the wallpaper. I still wonder at my own time capsules of days and places and people gone. I wonder at those many rooms off the corridors of memory, at the few that will not open because I no longer have the key and the many doors that spring open unbidden and the few forgotten ones accidentally unlocked by the accident of a sight or smell or taste or a song like The Auctioneer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

THE SHAME OF COLLEGE SPORTS...THE REAL STORY


Oh! Poor Penn State! Poor Joe Paterno! What a blot on the game! Bullshit! Big-time sports constitute a disease that thrives on cheating, dishonesty and abuse of children. It has been that for more than a century. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s football, hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer, cricket or cycling. The fans pretend that they support a pure contest of athletics in which the most extraordinary win. Bullshit! The winners are the crooks who don’t get caught. In fact, about the only sport that has a modest amount of honesty to it is professional wrestling because we all know it’s a theatrical fraud.

The latest in a long string of scandals that stretch back to the immemorial past comes to us from Penn State where the football program hauls in huge amounts of money for the school and coaches whose salaries beggar those of anyone in the academic departments. So let us consider the time line here courtesy of the Huffington Post and whatever the source from which they stole it.

In 1969 – that is 42 years ago – Jerry Sandusky, the central figure in this matter, was hired by Penn State to assist head coach, Joe Paterno.

In 1977 – 34 years ago – Mr. Sandusky founded a youth program called The Second Mile. It was initially a group home for “troubled” boys. It eventually grew to become a charity for children with absent and dysfunctional families and, apparently, Sandusky’s personal, perverse flesh market and candy store.

In 1994 – 17 years ago – Mr. Sandusky begins sexually abusing a 10-year old boy from The Second Mile Program, the earliest child abused who has so far come forward.

In 1998 – 13 years ago – the Penn State Campus Police receive the first report of Sandusky showering with a boy who was then 11-years old. After some crocodile tears and promises from Sandusky, the Campus Police, local police and county prosecutor deep-six the issue. Interestingly and possibly irrelevantly the prosecutor at that time was declared dead this past summer after being missing for more than 7 years. I am not a conspiracy theorist but coincidences make me very uneasy.

In 1999 – 12 years ago – Sandusky retires as assistant coach emeritus retaining his privileges to use Penn State facilities.

In the autumn of 2000 – 11 years ago – a Penn State janitor came upon Sandusky in the showers at Penn State fellating a boy who was somewhere between 11 and 13-years old at the time. The janitor reported the incident to his supervisor but didn’t not carry it further because he was only a temporary employee and feared for his job should he accuse a coach under the protection of Joe Paterno.

On March 1, 2002 – 9 and a half years ago - a graduate student finds Sandusky sodomizing a 10-year old boy in the showers at Penn State’s football centre. This student told his father of the incident and the next day personally went to Head Coach Joe Paterno’s home to report it to Paterno.

On March 3, 2002, the day following his meeting with the graduate student, Joe Paterno calls his nominal superior, Penn State Athletic Director, Tim Curley, to his home and reports the graduate student’s story to Curley. The report to Curley leads to a meeting between Curley and, please note this official’s title, Senior Vice-President for Finance and Business, Gary Schultz, with the graduate student who reported to Paterno. The two senior officials of Penn State assure the graduate student that they will look into the matter.

On or about March 27, 2002 Curley contacts the graduate student and assures him that Sandusky’s keys to the Lasch Football Building have been taken away and that they have reported the incident to The Second Mile, the charity that owes its existence to Jerry Sandusky. At or about this same time The General Counsel for Penn State who knew about the abuse allegations and who’d heard Sandusky confess to the abuse during a telephone conversation became General Counsel to The Second Mile Charity. This is significant given the alleged referral to The Second Mile. No further reports are made and no further investigation takes place until December, 2009. Oh, and by the way, this attorney retained his position with The Second Mile until the story broke in the newspapers.

Over the next 7 years following the incident the graduate student reported Sandusky remains involved with The Second Mile and continues to abuse at least two boys who, when the abuse began, were 11-years old or younger.

The first actual action against Sandusky occurs in the spring of 2008 when the mother of one of the boys, now in a Clinton County high school, reports Sandusky’s sexual abuse of her son and the school system forbids Sandusky from engaging with its students. It takes the Pennsylvania Attorney General nearly another year to mount an investigation of Sandusky and a further year to begin action against him and the people who protected him at Penn State.

So here we are more than 3 and a half years after someone finally credited a report of abuse and more than 13 years after the first report that was should have been investigated. The matter is finally in the public view. Head Football Coach, Joe Paterno, and the University President have been summarily fired and what happens? A great outpouring of outrage and sympathy for…wait for it!...Joe Paterno. Why? Not because the allegations against Sandusky are untrue. Not because he bore no responsibility for reporting the abuse when he learned of it 7 years ago. And not because the students and fans wanted to express their support for the child victims. No. The outrage and sympathy comes because he has the all-time record for wins as a football coach.

Nine years after we can confirm that Paterno knew of Sandusky’s abuse and failed to stop it a bunch of jocks and fans are still singing his praises as if he were not part of the problem. Let’s stick to the facts but is it truly credible that Paterno hadn’t any knowledge of Sandusky’s behavior at any time during the 33 years they were working together before the graduate student’s report in 2002? Clearly the Penn State Trustees didn’t think so. It’s also clear that the Trustees, in an effort to evade their own responsibilities in this mess, were clear that the University’s President was more interested in protecting the school’s income from the football program than a potentially unlimited number of young children. However, thousands of Penn State students and fans turned out on the night on November 9th to protest Paterno’s firing rather than the cover up by the University.

Penn State has formed a committee to investigate and suggest a system that will insure that such things will never, ever, not-in-a-million-years, not-on-our-watch, you-should-live-so-long happen again. In short, a committee to paper over the whole stinking cesspool until it gets out of the news and they can go back to protecting what’s important to Penn State, its football program.

The media is describing this as a scandal, which it is in one view but more properly it’s an eruption. The disease has been there all along but this is just the latest eruption of the disease that is sports. The eruptions usually relate to individuals O. J. Simpson, Rae Carruth, Michael Vick come to mind. In these cases they are talented athletes who have been coddled, feted, showered with praise and money often since they were teenagers. At every turn they have been protected by individuals who valued their athletic performance above honesty, decency, social norms or law. Because we have nominal academic standards for our sports figures the also had the benefit of a culture of cheating that allowed them to continue their sports careers long after they should have been dropped from their programs. Similar corruption pertains in athletic programs across the nation where well-heeled boosters, coaches, athletic directors and college officials conspire to cheat while raking in the dollars from alumni and, in many cases, television contracts.

In the midst of this fetid and pervasive swamp there are advocates for paying college athletes, most notably, Historian Taylor Branch. Mr. Branch makes the case that schools are raking in huge piles of cash while treating their players, notably minority players, like plantation field hands. While I understand his point of view, Mr. Branch’s argument is utterly specious. First, the players he claims are treated like slaves are getting scholarships, tutors, cooperative professors, gifts from boosters and frequently people who complete their course work for them lest the school lose a game for want of a key player. The players and sports programs generally are hardly treated like slaves. In fact, Mr. Branch would be hard put to find a campus where the jocks of all colors do not rule. The actual “Shame of College Sports” is the corruption of the winning-is-everything attitude that pervades campuses big and small regardless of rating.

If colleges and universities actually had a scintilla of honesty about them the NCAA or whatever governing body would institute some actual sanctions. For example, players should have to maintain a full academic course load and pass an examination in each course. The examinations should be monitored by outside people qualified in that discipline and who have no connection to any sports program to insure that they genuinely meet the academic standards for continued participation in their sport.  If the athlete does not pass, he can’t play, period, until he actually passes without assistance. If a college has boosters who illegally support the sports program, those boosters should be banned from games and even campuses for a period of time and required to contribute equal amounts of cash or the value of gifts to non-sports academic programs before the bans are lifted. If a college or university violates the rules for conduct set down by its own organization, then the coaching staff involved should be fired summarily and the participating coaches, the school administrators who suborned the cheating and the school itself banned from participation in that sport for a minimum of 5 years, no exceptions.

Unfortunately money, the corrupter of everything around it, is involved and corrupts the players, coaches and educational institutions alike. The cry is that the school will lose funding, prestige, funding, the loyalty of key alumni and funding. The answer is that for the first 1, 2 or 3 schools those consequences will, in fact, accrue. And suffering the consequences will entail those problems for the the first 1, 2 or 3 schools after which players, schools and coaches will understand that the days of the We-have-rules-(wink, wink, nudge, nudge!) will end and seriousness has set in. Student athletes who can’t meet academic standards will be gone. Corrupt coaches will be unemployed and unemployable. Corrupt boosters will understand that they need to make legal contributions to their schools rather than illegal contributions to players and the schools themselves will understand that corrupt practices in sports are finished. And one more thing. State schools that have excellent sports teams that bring in television revenues…the television money needs to go to a general higher education state fund to be distributed based on some criteria such as student enrollment to all publicly funded higher education institutions in the state from the lowliest community college to the most prestigious state school. The incentive to excel remains but the incentive for corruption is largely gone. We could similarly require private institutions to implement a similar system by declaring television revenues by definition, a for profit activity and taxing those revenues at all levels of government up through the Federal level unless those revenues are distributed amongst academic as well as sports programs. In fact, the solution to much of the corruption in college sports may be to declare sports programs above the intramural level as for profit industries not subject to any tax exemptions. Then exemptions could be given to that share or revenues distributed to the actual academic programs of the school as charitable contributions so long as those contributions did not provide covert or collateral assistance to the sports program.

Some, perhaps among them Taylor Branch, will suggest that strict academic requirements will disproportionately affect minority students. I would suggest that strict academic standards should disproportionately affect minorities. We are not helping minority students by using up their athletic talents and then spitting them out when their sports careers end with no other skills on which to rely. Colleges and universities need to know that they must actually educate the gifted athlete, that they must protect him or her from injuries that affect both the athletes mental as well as physical abilities. If that means that the most gifted football player of his generation plays for the East Overshoe Community College rather than Penn State so be it.

However, I’m getting away from my point a bit. Jerry Sandusky clearly should have been fired from his coaching job some 17 years ago. He should not have been allowed to quietly retire as coach emeritus 12 years ago to evade prosecution. Penn State Administrators should have had both the clout and will to fire Joe Paterno in 2004 rather than allow him to protect Sandusky further. The fact that at least 2 decades of Sandusky’s known abuse went not only unpunished but rewarded is not just a “Penn State scandal”. That scandal is just the most recent eruption of the corruption that pervades sports programs in and out of academic circles. The scandal is another example of the corruption in our society that stems from the winning-is-everything mentality at colleges, universities, particularly at business schools and in our financial institutions. I have no doubt that this mess at Penn State will drop from the headlines, from the memories of all but a few and that the corruption in and of sports programs will continue apace. I also have no doubt that other scandals will erupt and similarly fade away until someone with the intelligence and the courage to stand up to the fools who demonstrated against Paterno’s firing appear and institute real reforms with real consequences.

And one last thought, if the crop of con artists who call themselves “Libertarians” insist that the free market always yields the correct solution without regulation and government interference, may I suggest the almost completely unregulated market we see here in college sports is the primary refutation of that bald-faced lie.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

ANONYMOUS IDIOCY


We are to be treated to a movie about the latest nonsense in the “Who wrote Shakespeare?” lunacy that has been percolating particularly in the fevered brains of academics who haven’t any original thoughts to offer but do have a consuming desire to be thought of as geniuses. These Elizabethan Literature doctoral candidates in search of a thesis but without the originality one finds in elevator musac trumpet a discovery now and again and sometimes even convert some who should know better.

I first encountered the Oxfordian theory of “Who wrote Shakespeare?” when I played Prospero as a guest actor in a college production of The Tempest some years ago. The director taught Shakespeare at the college and did so badly and from little knowledge and less learning. Her primary function was to accumulate a group of young women acolytes to feed her ego. To this end she manipulated some of the least secure and most wounded women who crossed her path only to cast them aside without conscience should they have the temerity to question her authority. She had a veneer of education without any depth and thus was the perfect promoter of the Oxfordian literary quackery. I was clear that if Annie believed the theory it was probably dishonest but I did my own investigation in case I was judging her and not the theory.

In Shakespeare’s lifetime there seems to have been no doubt in any minds that William Shakespeare, formerly of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, wrote the plays attributed to him. There were, as any of us have, alliances and rivalries in the London theatre of the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods one of which was between Shakespeare and his acting company and his nearest rival, Ben Jonson, and the troupe for which he wrote.

The Elizabethan stage had a great plenty of writers who could pen a line in iambic pentameter though none quite as memorable as those from Shakespeare. The giants of the era were Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare and Jonson. Occupying a near second tier were Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher, Francis Beaumont, John Webster, John Ford, Philip Massinger, William Rowley, George Chapman, Thomas Dekker and Thomas Heywood among others. The reason for this list of Elizabethan playwrights will become clear a bit later. None of these writers had any apparent issue with the idea that William Shakespeare was one of their contemporaries and the height of success in their profession. In fact, in the 1590s playwright Robert Greene wrote at some angry length about Shakespeare attacking him for being what we would now call a play doctor, one who improved others’ plays. Greene had no doubt that there was a William Shakespeare whom he despised. I will let the great actor, Sir Henry Irving, say more of Greene later.

One reason that Shakespeare reached the heights in his time was his sensibility. Ultimately in Shakespeare’s plays the great theme is forgiveness and reconciliation. The comedies end in reconciliation of the characters and, often, in a wedding. The tragedies end in a death or a funeral but the deaths result from a failure of reconciliation and forgiveness. To take the most prominent example, Hamlet, the prince whom Laurence Olivier incorrectly thought could not make up his mind, returns from his aborted voyage to England a man, still contemplative, but comfortable in his own skin. I’ll pass on a more detailed analysis of the play as irrelevant to this discussion. Upon his return from the interrupted voyage to England Hamlet would readily be reconciled to Laertes and even to Claudius. The tragedy reaches its bloody end because Claudius in his greed and guilt cannot allow any reconciliation.

One of the reasons that Jonson has not fared quite so well as Shakespeare is that he is unremittingly jealous, angry and unforgiving of human foibles. Jonson was a tough guy who’d been in the military. He had little use for and was often quarrelsome with his contemporaries. He was also famously and vocally proud of his learning. In plays like Volpone, The Alchemist and Bartholomew Fair the fools and villains get their comeuppance but no Jonson character ever reaches the insight that forgiveness and reconciliation is the real answer. No Jonson character ever arrives at the understanding that Prospero achieves in The Tempest when he sees that even the meticulously planned revenge in which Prospero is currently engaged, is fleeting and, ultimately, an illusion, "like this insubstantial pageant faded".

No one has suggested that Jonson wrote Shakespeare but this contrast is relevant in the context of the comment that has been the root cause of all the “Who wrote Shakespeare?” speculation.

When William Shakespeare died in 1616 a selection of his plays existed in print, often in corrupted quarto copies. In 1623 a group of people, probably lovers of the plays, actor-colleagues and the leaders of Shakespeare’s former acting company undertook to publish an “authoritative” version of the plays in a folio. We now call this The First Folio. For the verse introduction to the folio Isaac and William Jaggard acquired the services of the dean of the playwriting community, Shakespeare’s old rival, Ben Jonson. Jonson produced the laudatory poem that the Jaggards and their syndicate paid for but, as was his nature, could no more resist slipping in a few barbs than he could resist breathing. The most obvious of these being the line,

                And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,….

This comment is more an expression of Jonson’s ego and pride in his own learning than it is a knock on Shakespeare. Their contemporaries seem to have understood as much. William Shakespeare had a solid classical education for the Elizabethan period which included being able to read and write both Latin and Greek. He may not have been as fluent as Jonson but we know from internal evidence in, as examples, A Winter’s Tale and Antony and Cleopatra, that Shakespeare could manage a reading of classical languages. His preference for the premiere translations of his day is not evidence of a lack of learning. Rather it is evidence that Shakespeare was sensitive to the popular knowledge of his time. Even so, most of the mad speculation about other authors can trace its heritage back to Jonson’s insult to a dead contemporary.

The jumping off point for most of the “scholars” who advance the various fancies of alternate authorship is Jonson’s barb. The reasoning runs much as follows:

Shakespeare didn’t have much of an education. Therefore, he was a dunce. He wasn’t even petty nobility. He was the son of a provincial glover. Therefore, he could not have written the greatest poetry in the English language. Someone else wrote using Shakespeare’s name and/or a front man who was a hack actor.

To call that reasoning logic is nonsense. Let me explain why.

We actually don’t know how much education William Shakespeare had or, indeed, didn’t have. Still we have no reason whatever to take Ben Jonson at his word. In fact, we have plenty of evidence of Jonson’s nasty disposition and holding of grudges to discount Jonson’s remark in the introduction to the First Folio entirely.

Even if Shakespeare were not a dedicated and diligent student characterizing him as incapable of writing the works attributed to him for over 400 years is an unwarranted leap of illogic. That argument is the equivalent of saying that Bill Gates could not have created Microsoft because he never finished his degree at Harvard. I should also point out at this juncture that Thomas Alva Edison had three months of formal schooling and was considered “addled”, a 19th Century shorthand for stupid and unteachable with a hint of insanity, by his teacher. The point I’m making is not a defense of a dunce being capable of writing great poetry but rather that average people often mistake genius for something inferior largely because that estimation is more soothing to their egos than any alternative.

William Shakespeare’s father, John, was, indeed a glover in provincial Stratford-upon-Avon. He was also and alderman and successful in a number of businesses. John Shakespeare clearly had both the position and means to provide a solid education for his oldest surviving son.

I am making the ultimate point that the Shakespeare we know from his plays was a genius who largely established the English language that we know today and that denying the existence of extraordinary geniuses who appear from time to time in our midst is nonsense. To insist that William Shakespeare must have been an upper class or noble scholar flies in the face of the irrefutable existence of, to name but a few, Jonathan Swift, Thomas Paine, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Edison as already noted, Samuel Clemens, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

With the scurrilous and patently false arguments of humble origins and inadequate learning out of the way let me now turn to the outrageously false arguments for two of the prime candidates. But first a bit of literary and stage history.

William Shakespeare wrote for the popular entertainment of his time, the stage. Like television today, shows appear. They remain popular for a time. Eventually they become “old hat”, lose their audience and fade from the medium. No one, probably not even Shakespeare himself, thought that his plays would get more than a limited run and an occasional revival. Certainly no one contemplated that they would still be in production more than four hundred years later. We have ample evidence that many early scripts, including those in print, came from,  either actors who’d imperfectly memorized their own and others’ lines or, perhaps, pirate scribes, like the people who sneak camcorders into theatres running new movies today, who were paid to transcribe plays during performances. Those bastardizations were one of the problems that the syndicate creating the First Folio sought to correct.

But, though there was a growing sense that these plays contained sublime and extraordinary writing, they still hadn’t the air of holy writ that they have for us today. Many poets, both fine and hack, in later ages put their pens to “improving” the plays. Indeed Laurence Olivier’s famous film of Richard III from 1955 uses Colley Cibber’s 1699 revision. Perhaps most famously King Lear suffered exceptionally. During the Restoration Nahum Tate gutted the play, removed the character of the Fool entirely and cobbled up a happy ending in which both Lear and Cordelia leave the stage looking toward a bright future. It wasn’t until 1823 that Edmund Kean revived the tragic ending and even then he had to revert to Tate’s emasculated version after three performances because of audience objections. Finally, in 1838, George Macready restored the tragedy to the original text which ending has held the stage since.

Kean’s and Macready’s restorations of original text are particularly relevant here because genuine Shakespeare scholarship began in the last half of the 18th Century and began to seep into the popular performances in the second quarter of the 19th. At the same point that restoring Shakespeare’s original texts becomes a popular fashion we get the influx of quack academics and foolish sophistry that becomes the “Who wrote Shakespeare?” farrago.

Also, lest I seem too harsh on Ben Jonson, he did have great respect for William Shakespeare even as he chafed at being only second to him. Jonson tells us that Shakespeare wrote without blotting out a line, high praise even if it may be as hyperbolic as the attack on Shakespeare’s learning. Jonson had an unmitigated mean streak but he also had to acknowledge superior writing when he saw it.

The first choice for most of the Shakespeare deniers was Sir Francis Bacon on the slim evidence that Bacon and Shakespeare shared some verbiage and because of Bacon’s great learning. On its face the primary reason for even looking at Bacon as a possible alternate author is that he wasn’t the glover’s son who had “small Latin and less Greek.” Bacon remained the primary candidate at the turn of the 19th Century when Sir Henry Irving was the premiere Shakespearean actor. I am lucky enough to have a volume of the collected plays that my grandfather owned. The introduction contains Irving’s essay, Shakespeare and Bacon. Let me quote a bit here.

Has any attempt been made to give even the semblance of reason to the assumption that Bacon induced the whole world of players and playwrights, and all his contemporaries who had relations with the theatre – men like Southampton and Herbert, and officials of the Court, who were brought into constant and close contact with the players – to bolster up the fiction that Shakespeare wrote the masterpieces for which he had the credit and the profit, and then keep the secret so close that nobody breathed a word of it, nobody kept any memorandum of it, and everybody carried it to the grave? Shakespeare was a man whose rapid advancement excited bitter jealousies. He was stigmatized by Robert Greene as the “Johannes Factotum” who was monopolizing the playwright’s business. He was “the upstart crow, beautified with our feathers;” that is to say, the jealous Greene saw him handling, rewriting, and vastly improving plays which, according to the theatrical custom of the time, were wholly at the disposal of the manager who had bought them. Young Shakespeare was called in to revise these works, and Greene cried aloud to all the supplanted that such presumption could not be borne; and why was it not proclaimed then, that Shakespeare could not write, that he was virtually illiterate, and that the plays that he presumed to turn from commonplace to genius were conveyed to him by Bacon, who laid the magic spell on them?

It doesn’t matter much which alternate one chooses, Bacon, Oxford or some other, Irving’s point that the promoters of this farrago have to peddle the improbable nonsense that all the playwrights I’ve mentioned earlier conspired together to promote a fiction that Shakespeare wrote what they knew he could not write. The Bacon/Oxford/somebody/anybody but Shakespeare crowd must maintain that fiction in the face of the ample evidence that some worked with Shakespeare, others competed with him and a few hated him though none had any reason to participate in such a fraud. In short, there needs to be a conspiracy so seamless and thorough that even those with a clear interest in exposing the fraud perpetuate it unto their dying breaths. Not only is that improbable, it utterly beggars belief.

Some object that there’s no or little record of William Shakespeare outside of his plays. We do have a few scant documents but nothing like the broad complex of data that we expect for notables. This argument seems to have given one of my heroes, Samuel Clemens, pause and moved him in his day toward the Bacon camp. I have to point out that, as much as I admire Mark Twain, Mr. Clemens was forever getting conned into schemes that impoverished him even late in life. Here I think he got conned once again.

I will admit that there is not a huge record of William Shakespeare but there is some. Legal documents exist as well as the birth and death records we expect. The Shakespeare deniers object that there isn’t more but that objection shows their ignorance of history. Here followeth the history lesson.

Shakespeare lived in a period of religious strife that would not end in England for another 150 years. Elizabeth I’s assent to the throne was not the final victory of Protestantism in England as Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot in 1604-05 illustrates. Still the primary religious conflict in England had shifted from Roman Catholic versus Protestant to Protestant versus Protestant. The Protestant fundamentalists were on a crusade to “purify” the English church of all “papist” influences. The English Civil Wars were aborning in this period which, to coin a redundant phrase, lead to dunderheaded censorship and the closing of the theatres in 1643. When the theatres were closed there was a significant loss of documentation covering the preceding 50 years.

But there was an older and more violent force working to destroy records that reared its ugly head higher and more often than even religious fundamentalism: fire. The Globe Theatre, Shakespeare’s own burned to the ground in 1613. There were other more localized fires that engulfed theatres, churches and other repositories of public records leading up to the Great Fire of London in 1666 which destroyed a large part of the city along with masses of books and records.

The fact is that we are extremely lucky that the thin record we have has survived at all. We don’t know that great reams of documentation of Shakespeare’s adult life disappeared in various fires but it is hardly unreasonable to assume that some documents disappeared in flames.

In addition there were visitations of plague in London during the 17th Century. In a society that hadn’t yet figured out the relationship between rats, fleas and plague, one way of dealing with infection was leaving an “infected” house and burning it down. Again we don’t know that any such thing happened to places that housed records of William Shakespeare’s life but I offer it as a possible explanation for why so few records survived. The short of it is that because we have a scant record now does not mean that there never was more than a scant record. Plenty of events intervened that may have destroyed a richer record. Again, the Shakespeare deniers offer an argument that takes no account of the facts except when they appear to reinforce their harebrained theory.

In any case, Sir Francis Bacon, worthy of respect in his own right, fell away as a favorite in the 1920s and the Shakespeare deniers flailed about. There was a brief attempt to develop theories that gave authorship to Christopher Marlowe though many topical references in the plays required Marlowe to have known them well after he was dead. Finally the dolts, conspiracy theorists and their dupes hit on Edward deVere, the 17th Earl of Oxford as their candidate for the wholly wrong and superfluous position of the actual writer of Shakespeare’s plays.

Again the Oxford Con starts with the premise that if there ever was a William Shakespeare, he was incapable of writing the great poetry of the plays and sonnets. Next they make the leap that only one of superior education and breeding could have written such works. But they have to start positing a number of things for which there is no or scant evidence. They posit a world in which it is impossible for a nobleman of deVere’s rank to be engaged with the theatre. That is, on its face, nonsense. The Elizabethan and Jacobean Courts were closely allied to the theatres. As but one example we have the unquestioned tradition that Queen Elizabeth herself so loved the character of Sir John Falstaff that she insisted on a new play that included him resulting in The Merry Wives of Windsor. The fact is that the Elizabethan theatres were popular entertainment but always considered high poetry and writing poetry was a noble pastime. It certainly did not adversely affect the careers of Sir Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sydney, or John Donne who became canon of St. Paul’s. In short, the argument that the nobility could not engage with the theatre ignores plentiful historical fact.

The Oxfordians also pull out of their…er…”bag of tricks”, a pretense that Shakespeare “knew” Italy well. DeVere traveled to Italy and did know it from personal experience. Both sides are clear that William Shakespeare never traveled widely and certainly not to Italy. The pretense that Shakespeare knew Italy rests largely on specifics of late medieval and Renaissance towns which were very similar between England and Italy. That he gets the neighborhood of Verona correct comes from his source material but when Shakespeare is inventing from whole cloth he makes Milan a seaport not to mention giving Bohemia a coastline. William Shakespeare knew Italy less well than I, who have never been there, do.

They also note that, at the end of the same embassy that brought Edmund deVere to Italy, an incident occurred that echoes in Hamlet. DeVere was embarked on a ship for England when it was taken by pirates. He was later released, without his shirt in England. DeVere’s capture by pirates is historical fact. That the only way a story of a nobleman captured by pirates and later released unharmed might find its way into a popular play is if deVere wrote it himself is prima facie nonsense.

DeVere actually tried his hand at poetry some of which has survived. He received some heady praise from contemporaries who would have been only too happy to receive his patronage. However, the actual deVere poetry is not “deathless” at all. In fact, it’s rather plodding. The praise for it amounts to no more than sucking up to an important noble.

But the hardest problem for the Oxfordians is the historical fact that their deVere died in 1604, some twelve years before William Shakespeare and well before existing records show that William Shakespeare bought property and gave evidence in a law suit. To cover these apparent inconsistencies Oxfordians claim that there was a William Shakespeare but that he was just the front man for deVere. All well and good, you may say. Except that deVere, as I’ve already pointed out, didn’t really need a front man. Yet there is a still more important bit of evidence that excludes deVere as the purported who “Who wrote Shakespeare?”

Audiences have always enjoyed topical references in their plays. The references are usually oblique citations of famous scandals or events that have seized the popular mind. They are, above all, current and "topical". Read the notes to any good academic edition of Shakespeare and you'll find lengthy notes explaining to us today those long-ago obscured references. Because “everyone” knows them “everyone” in the audience is in on the joke and, by extension, the players are bonding directly with the audience. Several references in several plays, unfortunately for the Oxfordians, took place years after deVere was dead. That’s a pretty good trick and one that ought to mean that deVere could see the future making him was legendary in gambling circles for never losing a bet. He was not clairvoyant. He does not appear to have been known as a man who never lost a bet and, in fact, obviously didn’t know the pirates were going to capture his ship.

Committed Oxfordians have combed the literature and worked mightily to find incidents on record before 1604 that might fit the topical references. They have done so regardless of how obscure or old those incidents may have been and even regardless of whether Shakespeare or deVere might have known of them but in this they miss the whole point.

Yes, there may be incidents from earlier in the 16th Century recorded in books and that Shakespeare or deVere might have encountered them but they were clearly not topical. References to the Gabor sisters just puzzle any current audience that knows the Kardashians. The topical reference must be current for it to work with the audience. Thus, once more the Oxfordian remedy for Shakespeare’s ill turns out to be snake oil that, to people with reason intact and unblinded by the hawkers, is inevitably explosive at one end or another.

So on thin, mostly fictional evidence some credulous people with imperfect or no knowledge of the period want to take a scurrilous insult to Shakespeare and the fact that he left a scant surviving record and torture it into alternate authorship. Just the number of contortions into which Oxfordians must twist themselves should indicate that the whole deVere theory is a worthless lie. I respect Derek Jacobi for his wonderful work on stage and screen. I’ve adored him as an actor ever since I saw him as Prince Mishkin in a dramatization of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot at the Old Vic 40 years ago. I also love Vanessa Redgrave’s work and respect her politics even in those few areas where we don’t fully agree. Still, wonderful as they are, neither the adherence of Jacobi nor Redgrave and still less the film from Roland Emmerich, can magically transmute the Oxfordian theory into gold from the stinking pile of crap it is.

Let me bring another Englishman into this argument and suggest, in the spirit of William of Occam, that the simplest explanation is the best. William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote at least thirty-seven plays, 154 Sonnets. Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece and other poetry that, more than four centuries later are still the greatest in the English language. Let’s call this movie the high water mark of the “Who wrote Shakespeare?” silliness and end the idiocy here.