Wednesday, November 20, 2019

David Roberts: ‘With Impeachment, America’s Epistemic Crisis Has Arrived’

From Vox:

...[U]nder tribal morality, principles are subsumed under tribal membership....

Tribal epistemology happens when tribal interests subsume transpartisan epistemological principles, like standards of evidence, internal coherence, and defeasibility. “Good for our tribe” becomes the primary determinant of what is true; “part of our tribe” becomes the primary determinant of who to trust. 

A circular logic, which has become quite familiar in the impeachment affair, emerges: Anyone who says anything contrary to the tribe marks themselves as an enemy of the tribe....; enemies of the tribe cannot be trusted, so their testimony or evidence can be ignored. Thus, by definition, nothing that questions the tribal narrative can be trusted. 

A decades-long effort on the right has resulted in a parallel set of institutions meant to encourage tribal epistemology. They mimic the form of mainstream media, think tanks, and the academy, but without the restraint of transpartisan principles. They are designed to advance the interests of the right, to tell stories and produce facts that support the tribe. That is the ultimate goal; the rhetoric and formalisms of critical thinking are retrofit around it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Friday, November 15, 2019

Shaking down a foreign government to interfere with the U.S. elections doesn’t rise to the same level of impeachable offense as having an extramarital affair with a consenting adult. 

Good to know.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Happy Halloween!

The Halloween party asked all of us to come as our favorite fictional character.

So I’m going as a tax cut that lowered the deficit.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Warner Oland: No Known Asian Ancestry

This posting is more about the exchange of ideas (such as it is) on the Internet than about anything else.  As readers might know, the character of Charlie Chan, created by Earl Derr Biggers in 1925, is controversial.  Although Biggers devised him as an antidote to the sinister “yellow peril” stereotypes of the era, the character hasn’t aged well, especially for Asian Americans.


While Charlie Chan may have appeared as a fully positive hero to the audiences of the day, contemporary audiences are more critical.  Chan was based on the real-life Honolulu police detective Chang Apana, but the fictional character bears little resemblance to his inspiration.  Apana was said to be a tough customer who carried a whip with him on his assignments in case he got into a fight — in a word, Apana was a badass.  Some Asian American critics now say that Biggers removed Apana’s badassery to come up with the less aggressive, more humble Chan.  In his films, Chan is also made to talk in a heavy Asian accent while speaking in artificial-sounding “Chinese” aphorisms, which are other traits that put off contemporary Asian American audiences.  And in those films that portray Charlie Chan as the lead character (all but three), the Chinese Hawaiian detective has always been played by non-Asian actors, of whom Warner Oland is perhaps the best remembered.  As Wikipedia sums up the controversy:
Critic Michael Brodhead argues that “Biggers's sympathetic treatment of the Charlie Chan novels convinces the reader that the author consciously and forthrightly spoke out for the Chinese — a people to be not only accepted but admired. Biggers’s sympathetic treatment of the Chinese reflected and contributed to the greater acceptance of Chinese-Americans in the first third of [the twentieth] century.” S. T. Karnick writes in the National Review that Chan is “a brilliant detective with understandably limited facility in the English language [whose] powers of observation, logic, and personal rectitude and humility made him an exemplary, entirely honorable character.”  Ellery Queen called Biggers’s characterization of Charlie Chan “a service to humanity and to inter-racial relations.”  Dave Kehr of The New York Times said Chan “might have been a stereotype, but he was a stereotype on the side of the angels.”  Keye Luke, an actor who played Chan's son in a number of films, agreed; when asked if he thought that the character was demeaning to the race, he responded, “Demeaning to the race? My God! You've got a Chinese hero!” and “[W]e were making the best damn murder mysteries in Hollywood.”

Other critics, such as Yen Le Espiritu and Huang Guiyou, argue that Chan, while portrayed positively in some ways, is not on a par with white characters, but a “benevolent Other” who is “one-dimensional.”  The films’ use of white actors to portray East Asian characters indicates the character’s “absolute Oriental Otherness”; the films were only successful as “the domain of white actors who impersonated heavily-accented masters of murder mysteries as well as purveyors of cryptic proverbs.” Chan's character “embodies the stereotypes of Chinese Americans, particularly of males: smart, subservient, effeminate.”  Chan is representative of a model minority, the good stereotype that counters a bad stereotype: “Each stereotypical image is filled with contradictions: the bloodthirsty Indian is tempered with the image of the noble savage; the bandido exists along with the loyal sidekick; and Fu Manchu is offset by Charlie Chan.”  However, Fu Manchu’s evil qualities are presented as inherently Chinese, while Charlie Chan’s good qualities are exceptional: “Fu represents his race; his counterpart stands away from the other Asian Hawaiians.”

Still, Charlie Chan also has his very outspoken defenders.  A number of critics (most of them Caucasian) seem resentful of contemporary criticism regarding the character.  Back in 2003, cable’s Fox Movie Channel announced a TV festival of newly restored Charlie Chan films, but when the cable channel was criticized by Asian Americans, it cancelled the festival.  As a compromise, Fox Movie Channel screened four of the films bookended by a discussion of Asian American critics moderated by George Takei.  In response to this, author Max Allan Collins angrily denounced the channel’s decision:

Takei does an excellent, dignified job [as moderator] in this effort, but his panelist are mostly a bunch of ill-informed, blinkered “experts,” all Asian (isn’t that racist?), various academics and a few actors.  One film scholar tries to defend the films, mildly, as of their times; the others seem not to have seen the films that they dislike so and talk of heavy-handed make-up (neither Warner Oland nor Sidney Toler used much, if any, make-up) and “shuffling” (Chan is polite, you see … making him an instant Uncle Tom).  (Max Allan Collins, “Foreign Crimes,” Asian Cult Cinema #41, p. 13, emphasis and ellipsis in original)

Reading Collins, one might think that Asian Americans didn’t have the right to speak out against Asian portrayals that they found objectionable, and one might think that Asian Americans have always enjoyed the same kind of equal access to their portrayals in mainstream entertainment that whites have had.  But Collins isn’t a solitary voice, as a number of Charlie Chan fans in print and on the Internet declare their support for the character in the same hostile, indignant tones against Asian Americans for their reappraisal of the fictional detective. 


As mentioned by Collins, one element of the controversy is the use of make-up to allow Chan’s white portrayers to look more Asian, a practice denounced by Asian Americans as “yellowface.”  Some of Chan’s defenders say that since the white actors wore very little make-up, yellowface was not employed, but as I have said elsewhere, others regard yellowface to be practiced whenever a white performer plays an Asian character — whether appearance-altering cosmetics are used or not. 

Perhaps to remove this last argument against Charlie Chan, a Facebook member recently posted a relatively lengthy contribution to his timeline saying that Warner Oland, perhaps the best-loved actor to essay the character, was of partial Asian ancestry and therefore never wore yellowface.  Besides playing Chan, Oland played several other Asian characters — as well as non-Asian ones — throughout his long career in Hollywood, including Fu Manchu.  The Facebook member reported that Oland, a native of Sweden raised in the United States, claimed that his mother was Asian to explain his vaguely Asian appearance.  The writer went on to mention other Asian and Asian American contributions to the Charlie Chan series.  But the main point of his post seemed to be that Oland was of part-Asian descent, and that this information should lessen any charge of racism clouding the character of Charlie Chan. 

I replied to the Facebook member’s post, saying although Oland sometimes claimed to be of partial Asian ancestry, this had never been confirmed, and according to Wikipedia, Oland’s biographers have found no Asian relatives in his family tree.  Oland’s claim that his mother — whose maiden name, according to the Internet Movie Database, was Maria Johanna Forsberg, not the most Asian-sounding of names — was Asian may have just been a fanciful story he told to those inquiring about his background.  Other on-line sources also said that Oland was not of any known Asian descent.

A Sámi man of northern Scandinavia
I went on to speculate that Oland’s somewhat Asian appearance may have been the result of a possible relation to the Sámi people (a.k.a. Laplanders) of northern Scandinavia, who are Caucasian but sometimes have features somewhat similar to East Asians.  I haven’t read much about the facial characteristics of the Sámi, but in some pictures that I’ve seen, a few of them have what might be called “hooded” eyelids, which may not be incomparable to the epicanthic fold of most East Asian peoples.  While I can’t find any literature detailing the frequency of their “hooded” eyelids, at least one on-line article (of indeterminate reliability) says that Sámi eyes are sometimes “slanted.”  I concluded my reply by saying that given his Swedish birthplace and Scandinavian lineage, Oland being of Sámi ancestry seemed more likely than his being of Asian ancestry. 

My reply wasn’t lecturing or combative — indeed, I thought I sounded downright friendly and hoping to connect with a fellow film enthusiast.  I posted my reply last night, and I woke to see that the Facebook member had now blocked me from his page.  I don’t have access to what he wrote anymore.  I can no longer view his post to make sure that my recollection of it is completely correct. 

Since I can’t communicate with the Facebook member anymore, I can only assume that he was very zealous in his efforts to rehabilitate the character of Charlie Chan, and when someone questioned part of his argument for doing so, he brooked no contradiction and shut down the exchange. 
I’m guessing that this is mostly about the contentiousness of the character of Charlie Chan.  Some people absolutely love the fictional detective and are in high dudgeon that anyone would object to him.  Charlie Chan is one of the 20th century’s few regular media representations of an underrepresented racial minority who felt that this character misrepresented them.  But many hard-core fans (again, virtually all of them seemingly non-Asian) dismiss this view of the character — and they dismiss his critics as artificially aggrieved. 

Just because marginalized communities have found a voice in this society, don’t expect the dominant culture to listen to it. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Adam Serwer: ‘The Press Has Adopted Trump’s Reality-Show Standards’

From The Atlantic:

Trump ... is constantly working to undermine public trust in mainstream news outlets. But he needn’t worry too much. If nothing else, the coverage of the Mueller hearing illustrates the extent to which much of the mainstream press has internalized Trump’s own reality-show standards for what counts as a significant political development. All the world is trashy television, and the president and his opposition are merely producers. After three seasons, Russiagate just got old, and the critics got bored with it. 

Read the full article.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

If she couldn’t make it onto the $20 bill this year, at least she made it onto the silver screen.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Cartoon by Theo Moudakis for The (Toronto) Star

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Greg Sargent: ‘Trump’s Hijacking of the Fourth of July Just Got a Lot Uglier’

 From the Washington Post:

The authoritarian nationalist leader typically rewrites the story of the nation in his own image, in a very particular way.  Our own homegrown authoritarian nationalist has proved particularly devoted to this fusion of national mythmaking and self-hagiography, often delivered in his own unique language of crass, gaudy spectacle.

The historians tell us that this is what authoritarian nationalists do.  As Harvard’s Jill Lepore puts it, they replace history with tried-and-true fictions — false tales of national decline at the hands of invented threats, melded to fictitious stories of renewed national greatness, engineered by the leader himself, who is both author of the fiction and its mythic hero.

This is what we will be seeing in one form or another on the Fourth of July, no matter what Trump says in his planned Independence Day speech from the Lincoln Memorial. The very act of taking over the proceedings in the manner he has cooked up itself accomplishes this feat.

Read the full article

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Friday, June 28, 2019

Zack Beauchamp: ‘The Supreme Court, Gerrymandering, and the Republican Turn Against Democracy’

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts

 From Vox:

The Supreme Court’s Thursday morning [June 27, 2019] ruling in Rucho v. Common Cause amounts to a blank check for partisan gerrymandering. Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion holds that federal courts should not have the power to declare particular maps unconstitutional, as doing so would be “unprecedented expansion of judicial power ... into one of the most intensely partisan aspects of American political life.” 

What this means, in practice, is that local authorities get to decide on the shape of House and state legislative districts. Parties that control statehouses will be freer to not only cement their own hold on power but ensure that their party sends more representatives to Washington as well.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

‘The War Widow’: U.S. TV’s First Lesbian Love Story

Frances Lee McCain (left) and Pamela Bellwood in ‘The War Widow’ (1976)

As long as we’re celebrating Gay Pride Month...

Quite a few LGBT+ characters populate prime-time network television these days.  Where gay and lesbian characters were virtually banished from the small screen in previous decades, sitcoms like Ellen and Will and Grace in the 1990s gradually established room for a gay presence in TV comedy.  By today, TV audiences now have a few prime-time network dramas with openly LGBT+ leads and supporting characters shown in relatable romantic situations.  This marks a great sea change from when the female buddy-cop show Cagney & Lacey (1981-88) replaced one of its lead cast members because the network executives thought the actress, Meg Foster, was giving off too much of a lesbian vibe.  Prime-time network television — the kind you can see without a cable subscription — stands as a modest microcosm of how we see ourselves as a society.  And the fact that microcosm now includes LGBT+ lead characters confirms that it has grown to be more inclusive. 

Still, given this relatively newfound presence of romantic LGBT+ lead characters on our living-room screens, not much acknowledgement is made of the first network broadcast to push that particular envelope; not much acknowledgement is made of the teleplay that Wikipedia calls the “first lesbian love story on mainstream American television,” which initially appeared all the way back in 1976.  I’m referring to the shot-on-video drama The War Widow, which was first presented as part of PBS’s dramatic anthology series Visions (1976-80).  Directed by Paul Bogart and written by playwright Harvey Perr, The War Widow appeared in a TV environment that made clear its hostility to non-heterosexual expressions of desire.  As the New York Times TV critic said in the paper’s review of The War Widow:

There probably isn’t a group in the nation that, at one time or another, couldn’t complain about being portrayed offensively, but the award for most battered must belong to lesbians.  On [the TV series] Policewoman [1974-78], they have been seen ripping off and murdering the helpless residents of an old-age home.  In [the TV movie] Born Innocent [1974], they brutally raped hapless Linda Blair in a shower room.  They puff cigars.  They snarl.  They are outrageously distorted. 

Onto this unwelcoming terrain ambled The War Widow, the story of an upper-middle-class American woman, in the closing months of World War One, stagnating in her stultifying life in a large house with her mother and daughter, while her absent husband is in Europe.  On an errand, the woman meets a free-spirited female photographer, and they gradually fall in love.  Given the production’s setting — and anticipating TV clichés to come — one might expect The War Widow to have a tragic ending, but while bittersweet, the two women finish the story alive and together, a progressive narrative ending that other network shows would be slow to emulate.  However, after its broadcast on PBS, the teleplay has only been revived once (as far as I know) at a gay film festival a couple decades later and has never had an official video release.  The War Widow remains fondly remembered by the lesbian viewers who saw the broadcast, but one is hard-pressed to find much mention of the drama in writings about the history of LGBT+ films and TV.

Bellwood and McCain in ‘The War Widow’

To some degree, the teleplay’s paucity of acknowledgement is understandable: today’s LGBT+ audiences want to see gay characters who openly display affection for their partners, visible proof that these characters are indeed attracted to the same gender.  But The War Widow is very much a product of its time: the lesbian leads barely touch each other, and their “romantic” scenes together come across as rather chaste, reflecting PBS’s apparent fear of alienating an audience unused to seeing unreviled same-sex attraction on TV (or virtually anywhere else, for that matter).  One can easily imagine a present-day lesbian audience losing patience with The War Widow’s reticence in showing two women in love with each other.  

However, The War Widow’s story is set in a repressive environment — the American upper-middle-class during World War One — where most of the characters are hesitant about expressing any kind of emotion, so the absence of more ardent romantic scenes between the two women encourages the viewer to question what other expressions of passion are being veiled by the conventions of polite society.  In short, I think The War Widow is due for reappraisal as both a trailblazing depiction of alternative sexuality on TV, and as an affirmative but understated view of lesbian romance, especially in contrast to TV’s more recent and more frank portrayals.

Fortunately, all one hour and eighteen minutes of The War Widow have been posted on YouTube, so viewers can see for themselves if
the teleplay’s oblique view of same-sex romance antiquates the drama beyond all use, or survives as a coy but compelling narrative strategy that can still engage LGBT+ audiences. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Shakespeare Authorship: Elizabeth Winkler’s Combative Reply

Elizabeth Winkler

Elizabeth Winkler has replied to the critics who severely — and correctly — panned her Atlantic  piece putting forward the idea that the Elizabethan poet Emilia Bassano Lanier was the true author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare.  It’s a reply that doubles-down on the defensibility of the Shakespeare authorship “question” and challenges the integrity of those Shakespeare specialists who took issue with the premise of her article: namely, that there’s legitimate uncertainty about the identity of the author of the plays and poems credited to Shakespeare.  (Spoiler alert: There isn’t.)  The people who hold this historical-denialist view are known collectively as anti-Stratfordians, after Shakespeare’s native town of Stratford-upon-Avon.

Winkler’s original article restates several anti-Stratfordian arguments, barely acknowledging the long-standing rebuttals to them by credentialed Shakespeare scholars.  By doing so, Winkler argues for her belief in an anti-Stratfordian alternative to Shakespeare’s authorship, her belief that Emilia Bassano Lanier may have been the actual writer of Shakespeare’s works but had to hide her identity because of her gender.  Winkler’s article is not a clearly imaginary reverie on the status of women in Renaissance England, in the spirit of Virginia Woolf’s meditation on a hypothetical sister of Shakespeare.  Nor does Winkler expound on mainstream scholarship that speculates — and acknowledges itself as mere speculation — that perhaps Lanier (of Jewish Venetian ancestry) was the “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets or was involved in helping to create the Jewish Venetian characters in The Merchant of Venice

Instead, Winkler posits a problem regarding the authorship of the works credited to Shakespeare, and while she doesn’t conclude that Lanier absolutely must have been the writer, Winkler at least offers the female Renaissance poet as a supposedly realistic contender to fill the purported vacuum that Shakespeare’s elimination as the author has created.  In her reply to her critics, Winkler describes and defends the premise of her article as a “provocative inquiry,” but it’s more than that because her article is premised on a tendentious idea: that mainstream Shakespeare scholars have got it all wrong — and are struggling to keep it that way.

Winkler goes on:

Following the traditions of The Atlantic, I questioned uncritically held assumptions instead of treating pronouncements by authorities as truth. Consistent with journalistic duty, I distinguished academic opinion and received wisdom from fact as I explored terrain on which evidence has proved open to varying interpretation.

So, she presents the views of mainstream Shakespeare scholars as mere “pronouncements,” “academic opinion,” and “received wisdom,” as though these mainstream views had no evidence to back them up.  But the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays (official title: Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies) is universally recognized and accepted as a powerful piece of proof.  In this sizable book, six of his contemporaries — people who, outside documents strongly show, knew him in life — specifically identify “Mr. William Shakespeare,” the “sweet swan of Avon” with a “Stratford monument,” as the author of the dramatic works that bear his name. 

None of the anti-Stratfordian claimants — the other personalities proposed by the Shakespeare deniers as the “real” authors of the works — have anything by their contemporaries so explicitly linking them to the Shakespeare canon.  However, Winkler’s earlier article dismisses the First Folio as evidence.  In this passage from that article, Winkler references the Folio’s introductory poems by playwright and Shakespeare friend Ben Jonson:

The Folio’s introductory effusions, [anti-Stratfordians] argue, contain double meanings. Jonson tells readers, for example, to find Shakespeare not in his portrait “but his Booke,” seeming to undercut the relation between the man and the work. And near the start of his over-the-top tribute, Jonson riffs on the unreliability of extravagant praise, “which doth ne’er advance/The truth.”

Winkler goes on to repeat anti-Stratfordian writer Diana Price’s oft-refuted canard that William Shakespeare of Stratford is missing the kind of literary paper trail that all of his contemporary poets can boast.  Price says that there’s no evidence in the Stratford man’s lifetime of him being a writer, but this isn’t true.  William Camden, one of the foremost antiquarians of the time, defended in private correspondence in 1602 the coat of arms for
John Shakespeare (William’s father), the same coat of arms that the poet would inherit, noting that the elder Shakespeare was “a magistrate in Stratford-upon-Avon”; and later, in his book Remaines Concerning Britain (1605), Camden referred to “William Shakespeare” as a “poet” and as one of the “most pregnant wits of these our times.”  Logically, Camden knew Shakespeare both as a writer and as a denizen of Stratford.  

The passage in William Camden’s book ‘Remaines Concerning Britain’ (1605) mentioning William Shakespeare as a poet.  Camden had elsewhere defended the coat of arms for Shakespeare’s Stratford-dwelling father.

There is also documentation of payment for an impresa “to Mr. Shakespeare.”  James Shapiro describes an impresa as “a painted and ceremonial pasteboard shield on which an enigmatic saying, usually in Latin, was written” (Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, pp. 230-31).   Further payment was made to Richard Burbage, the actor and associate of William Shakespeare, for the same impresa’s visual design.  Anti-Stratfordians dismiss this evidence as referring to another “Mr. Shakespeare,” but they haven’t proven the existence of such a person or why he too would be associated with William Shakespeare’s star actor.

In her reply, Winkler quarrelsomely continues:

In their often vitriolic zeal to condemn me for non­adherence to their position, some critics have misconstrued my careful formulations and denounced my endeavor as “conspiracism.” More troubling still, they’ve missed my very point of departure — that a woman writing under another’s name isn’t conspiracism; it’s a literary practice that we know has gone on for much of history.

She locates the Shakespeare scholars’ charge of “conspiracism” in her article’s premise regarding women writers of eras past.  This is an argument made in bad faith.  The charge of conspiracism comes elsewhere: in her dismissal of the evidence supporting Shakespeare.  If the First Folio, for example, is not to be trusted as proof of Shakespeare’s authorship, then its introductory writings ostensibly attributing the plays to William of Stratford must not be telling the truth.  Why would these writings not tell the truth?  Winkler doesn’t explicitly say, but her strong implication is that Folio’s first pages are a cover-up of Lanier’s (or some other anti-Stratfordian claimant’s) authorship.  But hardly any mainstream Shakespearean scholar would agree with Winkler’s interpretation of the Folio’s texts as deceptive.  In Jonson’s personal documents, unpublished during his lifetime, he wrote: “I loved the man [i.e., William Shakespeare] and do honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any.”  Why Jonson would want to continue the cover-up in his private, personal writings has never been convincingly explained by any anti-Stratfordians. 

As I said before, Winkler in her earlier Atlantic article presented herself as a open-minded journalist, but she has now been discovered to be a categorical anti-Stratfordian who has spoken at anti-Stratfordian events.  As if to confirm this, Winkler’s reply to the criticisms of her article show the hallmarks of Shakespeare denialism: a distrust of mainstream Shakespeare scholarship, a belief that mainstream Shakespeare scholars (her first article accused them of having “a dogmatism of their own”) have nothing to support their views, and a belief (however tacitly expressed) that the documents supporting Shakespeare’s authorship are fraudulent.  The fact that her article sees the First Folio primarily as evidence against William of Stratford’s authorship, rather than as a confirmation of it, tips her hand. 

If Winkler were truly an open-minded journalist, she would have asked an obvious question: Exactly how were the works of a ghost writer passed off as Shakespeare’s, and what is the hard evidence for this?  All anti-Stratfordian scenarios hinge on a clandestine conspiracy to substitute the Stratford man for the claimant, but few anti-Stratfordians seem intent on proving the subterfuge’s existence.  To quote James Shapiro again:

There’s little agreement and less detail about this conspiracy, despite how much depends on it, so it’s not an easy argument to challenge.  Some suppose that only Shakespeare and the author were in the know.  At the other extreme are those who believe it was an open secret, so widely shared that it wasn’t worth mentioning.  (Contested Will, p. 225, emphasis added)

A true journalist would have risen to the challenge and set about examining the evidence for the conspiracy — if any — before adding the name of another anti-Stratfordian claimant to join the 86 others.  The fact that Winkler just assumed the conspiracy’s existence, rather than questioning the problematic concept, is another dead giveaway of her anti-Stratfordian leanings.

To their credit, the editors of The Atlantic have published five articles in response to Winkler’s, including one by Shapiro who plainly and accurately says that Winkler was indulging in a conspiracy theory.  The editors also link to an especially severe critique by Times of London critic Oliver Kamm, who writes: “Winkler’s article…is a farrago that should never have been conceived, pitched, commissioned or published.”  (Winkler’s reply, portraying herself as the scrappy underdog, takes none of Kamm’s valid criticisms into account.) 

However, the editors’ response to the blowback has additionally been to semi-defend Winkler’s article as merely part of a “discussion” that needs “broadening”; they say that “her goal was to highlight rich new perspectives on the plays and the female voices within them.”  This is a praiseworthy objective, but she could have done that without raising the discredited Shakespeare authorship question and spuriously portraying it as a well-founded field of study.  I wonder if The Atlantic’s editors are anti-Stratfordians themselves. 

Winkler speaking at an anti-Stratfordian event in 2018 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A Prestigious Magazine Dignifies the Shakespeare Conspiracy Theory

William Shakespeare and Emilia Bassano Lanier

Not long ago, the venerable publication The Atlantic, whose founders include Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, lent its imprimatur to an article questioning William Shakespeare’s authorship of the works attributed to him, a view known as anti- (or non-) Stratfordianism.  Its adherents say that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wasn’t educated enough (he dropped out of grammar school and never attended university) and didn’t have the life experiences necessary to write the inspired plays and poems that bear his name. Anti-Stratfordians claim that someone of a noble background or university education must have written the works instead. This outlier view insists that the better educated and experienced writer needed to hide his identity, so he used Shakespeare as a front man. Proposed alternate authors have included Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Edward de Vere

Anti-Stratfordianism is a fringe conspiracy theory that has been debunked time and time again, but its adherents keep reviving it, while presenting no compelling new evidence for credentialed scholars to reconsider the proposition.  Why?  In part, because many anti-Stratfordians believe that the “orthodox” (i.e., mainstream) Shakespeare experts have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and are deaf to any new proposals.  So, anti-Stratfordians constantly tell each other to be very skeptical of what mainstream scholars say — but what they say takes into account a vast amount of historical evidence confirming that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the works attributed to him.

The Atlantic article, “Was Shakespeare Really a Woman?” by Elizabeth Winkler, puts forward a relatively new anti-Stratfordian candidate as the one who really wrote the Bard’s words: Emilia Bassano Lanier.  Born to a Venetian immigrant of Jewish background, Lanier (her married name) had earlier been the subject of some Shakespearian speculation as the possible “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets — or the even more conjectural idea that she, drawing upon her possible knowledge of Venice and Judaism, advised him on the Venetian Jewish characters of The Merchant of Venice.  But while her plausible association with Shakespeare is
speculative, it’s an agreed-upon historical fact that she, as Wikipedia puts it, “was the first Englishwoman to assert herself as a professional poet, through a single volume of poems, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611).”  As others have pointed out, Lanier’s published poetry bears very little resemblance to Shakespeare’s. 

But why add yet another anti-Stratfordian candidate when there are dozens of others, none of whom boasts any compelling evidence to be credibly credited as the pen behind Shakespeare’s words?  That is a subject that’s been on my mind because I’m not convinced that the question “Who really wrote Shakespeare?” is a worthwhile pondering in the first place.  In order to pull off a successful subterfuge (i.e., conspiracy) to hide the purportedly “true” author’s identity and elevate an alleged front man (
supposedly Shakespeare) in the role, and to have the deception last for centuries, it would require a fortuitous convergence of events that would be unlikely in the extreme.  For this reason, I think that anti-Stratfordians ought to prove the probability of this kind of plot before they start adding potential candidates to the long list — or, for that matter, before they continue questioning Shakespeare’s legitimacy.

Most Shakespeare denialism is built on the fallacy of the argument from personal incredulity: I personally don’t believe that the author of the canon would have done such-and-such; therefore, the author of the canon must not have done such-and-such.  One example is: The author of the plays and poems wouldn’t have allowed his daughters to be illiterate.  First of all, there’s no consensus that Shakespeare’s daughters were literate or not.  But even if they were illiterate, that wouldn’t prove that Shakespeare wasn’t the author.  It took extra effort to educate daughters in Elizabethan times, and Shakespeare being away from his Stratford family, apparently spending most of his hours in relatively distant (at the time) London, may very well not have been in a position to expend the additional energy to teach his daughters to read and write.  So, the literacy or illiteracy of the Stratford man’s daughters has no bearing on whether he wrote the works or not.  The Marlovians out there, namely the ones who believe that playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) wrote the works, have the triple burden of not only (1) proving that the conspiracy actually happened, but also — in accordance with the usual Marlovian narrative — (2) proving that his death was faked and (3) proving that he was able to spirit his plays from Italy to London without being detected.  So far, Marlovians have proven none of these extraordinary events. 

In her article, Winkler presented herself as an open-minded journalist, but since it received such a negative reaction among Shakespeare scholars and aficionados better versed in history, she has revealed herself to be a full-fledged anti-Stratfordian, giving more weight to debunked contrarian writings than to peer-reviewed Shakespeare studies.  Indeed, it’s been revealed that some of her in-depth interviews with mainstream Shakespeare scholars didn’t make it into her article, while more dubious assertions did (e.g., that the authorship question is as old as the plays themselves, when in fact, it only fully emerged in the mid-19th century).  Furthermore, Snopes back in 2015 looked into the question of whether Lanier wrote Shakespeare, in an article easily found on an Internet search, and concluded that she didn’t.  Winkler doesn’t take this Snopes piece into account.  In fact, rather than engage fully with her article’s critics, Winkler has merely linked some historically dubious anti-Stratfordian materials to her Twitter profile.  The unrepentant Winkler appears uninterested in what the “orthodox” historians say in response to her article — like a good little conspiracy theorist. 

Winkler’s article has already been debunked many times over by Shakespearians more knowledgeable that I am, so I won’t add to the pile-on.  But I will say that I’m sorry to see such a well-respected magazine as The Atlantic publish an ostensibly poorly researched, propagandistic article under the pretense of objective journalism.  And I think that associating Emilia Bassano Lanier with a conspiracy theory diminishes her very real accomplishment as a pioneering poet in Renaissance England. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Friday, April 26, 2019

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Sappho fragment 111

(Make the room bigger!)

Workmen, lift high the roof’s wooden beams!

All praise the God of Weddings!

Here comes the bridegroom with wood of his own!

All praise the God of Weddings!

It’s bigger than a man!  It’s as big as the God of War!

(Can the groom fit it through the doorway?  We may need to make that bigger, too!)

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Sappho fragment 102

Dear mother, I cannot work my loom.
Dulcet Aphrodite weakens my body
With longing for a girl.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

“Rescue Mission” by Luka Bloom

Saturday, March 16, 2019

But Hillary would have been worse.  Right, Susan Sarandon? 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The 2016 Democratic Primary Was Not Rigged Against Bernie Sanders

As co-host of her television show The View, Meghan McCain was quoted this past week as saying:
“The thing I will say about [Bernie Sanders] is don’t underestimate him,” the View co-host said Tuesday, citing his 2016 sweep of New Hampshire and his success in taking nearly half of Iowa — the first two primary states, which will be important targets for candidates.

“This time there are no superdelegates to come against him at the convention like what happened before,” McCain added, referring to the Democratic National Committee’s rule change last year that stripped superdelegates of much of their power in deciding the party’s nominee.

McCain echoes an opinion that by now, I suppose, has become conventional wisdom: that Hillary Clinton nabbed the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination dishonestly; that if the primary vote had been allowed to play out in a scrupulous manner, Sanders would have been the Democratic nominee (and, some add, would have beaten Donald Trump in a head-to-head contest — which professional observers say would have been unlikely).  In other words, McCain believes that Clinton depended on the superdelegates pledged in advance to her in order to prevail over Sanders, who would have won the nomination otherwise.  

I dunno.  Maybe the fact that Trump won?
And as I said, McCain isn’t the only one to believe that Clinton’s nomination was not on the up-and-up.  I’m guessing that this conspiracy theory permeates the aether because there is still some lingering bitterness over how the 2016 presidential election unfolded and how it was ultimately decided.  The revisionist perspective seems to be that if a seasoned politician like Hillary Clinton could lose the election to an obviously unqualified non-politician like Trump, she must have been a deeply flawed candidate and Sanders ought to have been the standard-bearer instead.  The results of the 2016 election were determined by several elements, not the least was interference by Russia in the electoral process.  But the way I see it, two other egregious factors in the election’s outcome were (1) the media nitpicking Clinton’s insubstantial e-mail story to death while giving Trump billions of dollars worth of free airtime and (2) the driving-down of the Democratic vote by anti-Hillary liberals (the most conspicuous of whom was Susan Sarandon), for whom Clinton was insufficiently progressive and “looked worse” in comparison to Trump.  Anyone who still believes that Clinton looks worse in relation to the norm-breaking and authoritarian-leaning Trump must be a die-hard follower.

But Kurt Eichenwald in his Newsweek article has thoroughly debunked the misapprehension that the Democratic primary was somehow rigged against Sanders.  Clinton won the Democratic nomination because she won the clear majority of votes in the primary, and there is no evidence that she came by those votes unethically.  Furthermore, her margin of victory was comfortable and did not require the superdelegates to clinch the nomination.  The Democratic National Committee e-mails, that were apparently stolen by anti-Hillary forces and dumped to counter the emergence of the embarrassing Access Hollywood tape of Trump boasting about assaulting women, contained some tasteless phrasing by DNC subordinates about Sanders and evinced a clear preference for Clinton (the actual Democrat) in the contest, but they did not reveal a primary process that intentionally disadvantaged Sanders.

A legitimate criticism of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is how it began.  The party’s major donors and the Democratic Party leadership virtually anointed Clinton as the Democratic standard-bearer, financially and institutionally discouraging any other major candidates, such as Vice President Joe Biden, from running against her.  So, the genesis of the Clinton campaign suggests some collusion on the part of the Democratic Party’s major players to clear a path for her so that she could run in the primaries all but unopposed, and this betrays a Democratic primary that was not as democratic as it ought to have been.  To this day, Clinton critics take this anointing a step further and say the Democratic Party’s favoring of her at the primary’s early stages involved coercion to compel other major candidates not to run, but there is no credible evidence of this.  Furthermore, as Ezra Klein points out, Clinton’s cleared path provided an opening for Sanders to run as the most conspicuous alternative to her, an opening that he dexterously seized.  So, any Democratic Party collusion at the start of Clinton’s campaign worked in Sanders’ favor, not against it.  However, once the initial voting got underway, “the overall 2016 primary process was fair,” in the words of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who once agreed that the primary had been rigged but then backtracked (see the Klein article).

Still, given the acrimony over the results of the 2016 presidential election and the severe dislike of Hillary Clinton in some quarters of the liberal left, I suspect that the misapprehension of how the vote went down will harden into doctrine.  The idea that the 2016 Democratic primary was rigged against Sanders might become one more “fact” that never really happened.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Friday, January 4, 2019

Jessica Plummer: ‘Shang-Chi, Fu Manchu, and Marvel’s Asian Problem’

From Bookriot:

What’s more important than Fu Manchu’s omnipresence, though, is his effect. [Sax] Rohmer was writing while completely ignorant about Chinese people and culture, for an audience equally ignorant, and played on xenophobic fears to create his villain. He depicted the tiny Chinese section of London’s Limehouse district as a nest of vice when those two blocks were in fact some of the most law-abiding in the city during the World War I and interwar periods. Anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment had been prevalent in the West since the late 19th century (see, for example, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers to the U.S., and the earlier Page Act of 1875, which prohibited “undesirable” immigrants but in practice mostly barred entry to Chinese women in order to prevent Chinese population growth), but Rohmer’s creation shamelessly stoked the fires of those fears, portraying the East as sinister, unknowable, and ever-encroaching.

Read the full article.