Saturday, May 31, 2014

"Ha Ha Ha" with Betty Boop and Ko Ko the Clown (1934)

It’s hard to believe that this cartoon was once banned for drug use, but it was. In this hysterical classic, Max Fleischer is shown drawing Betty on the board, finishing just in time to quit, and leaving her alone on a blank canvas. Just as you begin to feel sad for her, out pops Koko from the ink bottle, where he was due to arrive at any time, but he just can’t wait to get out! 

When he tries a bite of Max Fleischer's half eaten candy bar, he quickly learns that life is sometimes not as sweet as it first tastes. But, Betty is there to rescue him. Jumping from the canvas out into the real world of Max Fleischer’s desk, she quickly uses the cartoonist’s own tools in a very clever bid to help her friend Koko. When the whole scheme falls apart it has some unintended consequences for the whole world!

This is one of those old cartoons which still make me laugh out loud. No gas required...

Friday, May 30, 2014

Floss - A Contemporary History

There is a common version of how dental floss came to be a part of our everyday lives which is factually correct, yet still leaves out the biggest part of the story. The accepted version is one that can be found on the website for Oral B, and I will include those facts here; even give you a link to it at the end; but not before I make my case.

It is true, as stated in the Oral B account, that ancient peoples used some sort of string to floss with. But what is left out is that the Chinese were the first ones to use silk instead of pointy wooden sticks; the precursors of toothpicks; to dislodge things from in between their teeth. The Oral B article gives credit to a dentist in New Orleans around 1815 for the discovery of silk as a material to floss with. But, where did he get the idea?

I mean silk wasn’t exactly a local product that could be had cheaply. As a matter of fact, at the time only the very wealthy could afford to see a dentist. The first dental college wasn’t even open yet. That would happen in Baltimore around 1830. The School is still there today. So where did he come up with this idea? Ships.

New Orleans was and always will be home to a thriving merchant trade. Sailors coming from China most likely had been introduced to floss while making port calls during the early years of the tea and opium trade. That the dentist just happened to know one as a patient is the most likely scenario.

The Oral B site goes on to explain the “evolution” of dental floss between 1882 and 1896. This was the period in which dental floss began to be manufactured. It was silk and unwaxed at first. Codman and Shurtleft is the company credited with this. Johnson and Johnson came along in 1896 with a higher quality surgical silk. Still no wax; which is odd, because by this time, sailors were using waxed sail twine for their dental needs.

The article goes on to say that in the 1940’s nylon was used for the first time along with the first commercial waxed floss becoming available. And that’s about all they have to say. The rest is just hype about flossing. But how and why did flossing not catch on with ordinary Americans until about the 1970’s? This is when most Americans will recall starting to see it in stores; or even mentioned by their dentists.

There are two big reasons. The first is economic. Until the 1950’s most Americans didn’t get to a dentist on a regular basis. Many of the veterans from World War Two had never seen a dentist until they were in the service. When the war ended they continued to go for checkups etc. on a regular basis. Dentistry was taking off! This is a good thing. Remember when we were kids and everybody had “morning breath?” It was the staple of advertisements for mouth wash. But the real culprit was still the fact that most people did not even know floss existed; waxed or unwaxed. Morning breath was more about what was stuck between your teeth than about mouthwash. It’s just that no one had told us.

Here’s where the United Sates Navy comes in. Actually it was in the 1920’s and 30’s, the time of the China River Patrols depicted in the film “The Sand Pebbles” starring Steve McQueen. In real life these guys came home with a serious habit; and it wasn’t opium. They had learned to floss with silk while serving overseas, and as anyone who flosses can attest, once you get started it ain’t easy to stop.

These were the first of the men who served in the military and then came home, forming part of the new middle class created by Roosevelt’s New Deal, who were using floss. Then, by the time our guys were serving in Vietnam, the Navy was engaged in a tremendous dental program with the emphasis on prevention. This included floss, which the Navy was very familiar with from its time in China.

Now; with millions of men being processed in and out of the service; floss began to appear on the radar screen of the ADA. They had been aware of it, to be sure, but now came the big push to get everybody on board with this preventive method of dental care. Think back on it and let me know when you first were introduced to floss. I was initiated in boot camp at Great Lakes in the Navy. While I was in it seems to have suddenly appeared everywhere. It was brand new; it was the hype; the thing; it was about 6,000 years old.

Here is the link to the Oral B site, as promised. After all, if you have read this far then you deserve some sort of reward.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"I Rise" By Maya Angelou (RIP)

No poem is more emblematic to me of Maya Angelou than her own composition “I Rise.” With a simple rhyme scheme; which was not always the rule with her work; she paints a portrait of fierce determination in the face of overwhelming odds. The poem could well serve as her epitaph. How many of us ever get to write our own? 

RIP Maya Angelou. You took Marguerite Johnson from St. Louis, Missouri to every corner of the globe.

“I Rise” by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
  I rise. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Homosexuality Is a Choice and Yearbook Photos in Utah

I guess by now everyone on the planet has heard Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s claim that homosexuality is a choice, and I don't completely disagree with that. While I believe that some homosexuals are genetically predisposed to being homosexual, I also feel that many people choose to live the homosexual lifestyle by choice. Now, before all you self-proclaimed “free thinkers” bite my head off for straying from the "party line", or threaten to firebomb my home in a show of your own tolerance, read on.

I would say to the Governor that if he is of the opinion that homosexuality is a choice, then he has established his position that sexual orientation is a choice in general. So, somewhere along the line, while maturing; well getting older anyway; he had to have made a choice to be heterosexual.

Now that we have established that sexuality is a choice for everyone; I would ask the Governor why his choice is right and the other choice is wrong. Don’t give me the biblical arguments; this is a Secular Republic. The Middle East is full of radical theocracies, all too willing to tell us what to believe. They are called terrorists. Or doesn't the good Governor believe in the War on Terror?

It is 2014; homosexuality has been around since the beginning of time. And, it will be with us for the duration. In the meantime I would suggest that the Governor get to work on the real problems which plague his state. Utah currently ranks 38th among the 50 states in education. In Utah a child dies before their first birthday every day. The birth weight of babies born in Utah is among the lowest in the nation. Another child is abused every 41 minutes.

Instead of me listing them all, just hit the following link from the Children’s Defense Fund to get a real picture of life in the great state of Utah. I would tell the Governor to get busy working on these problems before he makes any further attempts at social engineering. How about starting with some food for those babies, and Child Protection Services for the abused ones? Oh, and maybe a few books for those students? After all, these are the children of the Governor’s “choice”; the products of heterosexual unions. Who knows, with a little help from the state, someday they may grow up to be smarter than their parents and elect a Governor who really understands the job.

Note: As of 2 days later, high schools in Utah are altering students photos to "show less skin." You can't make this stuff up, which again calls to mind the similarities between the state of Utah and some of the terrorist nations we are supposed to be fighting. In that part of the world they have religious law; also known as "Sharia." And, in those countries it is mandatory for women to cover themselves.

Someone needs to remind the Governor that this is America. Keep in mind that he is one of  the same Conservatives who tell you they want to keep government out of your lives. Right....

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Busted" by Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker (2014)

There are no good guys in this book; save for the authors, Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker, 2 reporters who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for their searing expose of corruption on the Philadelphia Police Force. After that, everyone else is; how shall I say it; tainted. Even the victims aren’t quite squeaky clean. Of course, the worst offenders are the cops, who are paid to “protect and serve”, but in the end only served themselves.

You’ve seen this whole story before, in every major city across the country; vice cops on a crime spree of their own, similar to the antics of Vic Mackey on the TV show “The Shield.” The police charged with protecting us all have gone astray in the misguided war against drugs. This is a war which they will never win; and don’t really want to. There’s too much “loose change” at the bottom of the ladder to be “harvested.”As I said, there are no good guys here. 

There are the bodega owners, who make money selling everything from “loosies”; single cigarettes at about 50 cents each, making a pack cost $10; to the little plastic baggies for packaging weed and crack cocaine. The bodega owners claim that they are used for valuable coins and jewelry, but they know better than that. In a neighborhood where you sell “loosies” there are no valuable coins or jewelry. And the discarded empty baggies end up in the street right by the bodegas, where the owners can see the litter. Nope, no good guy there.

Then there are the people in the neighborhood; who are in need of work that just isn’t available. I can almost justify their claim to “just be making ends meet in the only way that we can”, except when “making ends meet” comes to include $200 Air Jordan’s for your kids; among other luxury items which are not a legitimate expense in the struggle to survive. These are the people who live a life of comparative wealth while feeding off the “sickness” of their neighbors. Nope; no good guys there.

The politicians who campaign for office on the promises that they will clean it all up; then take office and don’t even show their faces on that side of town until the next election; are no exception. They live a life of privilege and know full well that they will never, ever really do anything for the poorest of the poor. These are the ones who give false hope to the truly disenfranchised, with no intent to do anything but take the taxpayers money. I know you weren't expecting a good guy there.

Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman have written a very terse and to the point book. It’s based on their experiences in covering what became known as the “Tainted Justice” series in the Philadelphia Daily News. They each went; individually in most cases; to the worst parts of the drug zones in search of the veracity of the story they were told by a police informant, Benny; as in Benny Blanco from the Bronx.

Benny claims that he was used by a corrupt police officer; who, along with his fellow officers and at least one relative; had created a cottage industry by using a Confidential Informant to point out different drug houses. He would then make the buy, the officers would document it, and then they would raid the house. It sounds pretty straightforward.

But what if the cops began to use the raids to rob the dealers instead of arresting them for all of the drugs? What if they were raiding houses on the pretext that the Informant had pointed them out when he hadn’t? What if one of the officers involved was using the raids as an excuse to sexually assault some of the wives and mothers of the accused? Would you call the police?

These are the tough questions faced by not only Benny and the other victims, but also by a whole bunch of local store owners who were the victims of police raids in which their security cameras were destroyed by police officers, who then stuffed their pockets with cash from the register and carried off cases of cigarettes and other merchandise. The owners of these stores were largely immigrants who would never trust the police back in their homeland. And when faced by this type of behavior here, they just assume it is business as normal.

Ms. Ruderman and Ms. Laker both have tough rows to hoe as they try to track down the culprits; even fearing for their lives at times.  The hours spent on the story even take a significant toll on Ms. Ruderman’s marriage. This is a book which will take you from the newsroom of the Daily News to the file room of the police department, and then into the seedy streets of the very worst areas of Philadelphia.  

The two fearless reporters develop one lead after another, eventually building a case which rocks the police department and catapults them to a Pulitzer Prize. But; in the end; nearly 4 years after the facts were laid bare and the Pulitzer won, not a single officer has been disciplined beyond being assigned to desk duty. I say it again; there are no heroes here. This is a good, gritty account of the absurdity of the war on drugs.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bobby Darin - "Long Line Rider" (1968)

Bobby Darin lived like a man on fire. With so much talent and so little time to nurture it, he had to do it all as quickly as he could. And he succeeded brilliantly, entertaining us all for too short a time, as he went from night club performer, to dancer, folk singer and composer.

This song really caught my attention when I was about 13 or so. It seems that there was a prison farm in Arkansas where the inmates were disappearing at an alarming rate. When all was said and done I believe there were over 100 bodies found beneath the grounds of the prison farm.

The movie “Cool Hand Luke” had just come out the year before, in 1967, just before Mr. Darin went into seclusion in a trailer in Big Sur after RFK's assassination (he was present that night) to write songs and re-invent himself yet again.

The subject matter in this song may seem more suited to Bob Dylan than the usually shark skin suited Bobby Darin, but watch and listen. Check out those dance moves. And notice that in introducing Mr. Darin, the usually flippant Dean Martin doesn’t have a whole lot to say…

To hear the original studio recording of this record, hit this link; and be sure to follow the bass line.

“Long Line Rider” by Bobby Darin

Wettin' it down, boss
Wet it down
Wipin' it off, boss
Wipe it off

Doin' ten to twenty hard
Swingin' twelve pounds in the yard
Every day
Every day

I came in with a group of twenty
There ain't left but half as many
In the clay
In the clay

Long line rider, turn away

There's a farm in Arkansas
Got some secrets in its floor
In decay
In decay

You can tell where they're at
Nothin' grows, the ground is flat
Where they lay
Where they lay

Long line rider, turn away

All the records show so clear
Not a single man was here

That's the tale the warden tells
As he counts his empty shells
By the day
By the day

Hey, long line rider, turn away

Someone screams investigate
Excuse me sir, it's a little late
Let us pray
Let us pray

This kinda thing can't happen here
'Specially not in an election year
Outta my way
Outta my way

Hey, long line rider, turn away

There's a funny taste in the air
Big bulldozers everywhere
Diggin' clay
Turnin' clay

And the ground coughs up some roots
Wearin' denim shirts and boots
Haul 'em away
Haul 'em away

Hey, long line rider, turn away

Well, I heard a brother moan
"Why they plowin' up my home?"
In this way
In this way

I said, "Buddy, shake your gloom
They're just here to make more room
In the clay"

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"I Yam What I Yam" - Popeye the Sailor (1933)

This cartoon is in very good shape! If Seymour Kneitel and William Henning were still with us today they would be amazed. They worked under the direction of Dave Fleischer on this one for Paramount. It’s filled with all of the stuff you’d expect in a Popeye cartoon; sight gags abound; and Olive gets to cry for help as she beats the crap out of some Indians.

Wimpy is on board for this adventure, looking for a hamburger, and as usual, causing some problems for Popeye, who always seems to be looking out for him. There is no real plot to this cartoon other than Popeye and Olive Oyl, along with Wimpy, are both in a lifeboat rowing; that is Olive and Wimpy are rowing; Popeye is busy singing about himself.

If you are a fan of the theme song; which was composed by composed by Sammy Lerner in 1933; then the opening lyrics will be of interest to you. It is slightly different than the usual version. And when the credits stop rolling it’s Popeye who does some of the singing. I still haven’t figured out why they used Bluto’s voice for the opening; he’s not even in this cartoon! One of the best versions of the song was recorded by Hoagy Carmichael. For years I thought he wrote it. As a matter of fact I think I even credited him with writing it incorrectly in a post a couple of years ago! Sorry, Sammy!

Politically correct types are herewith forewarned. This cartoon may be offensive to you, as it invokes the stereotypical American Indian of the 1930’s. But then again, everybody in this cartoon is a caricature of something. For instance, Olive Oyl is the man hungry woman representative of the “weaker sex.” Keep that in mind when you watch her beat the carp out of those Indians while calling for help.

For one of the best histories on the Popeye cartoons; and the original comic strip from which they derived; go to Wikipedia at the following link;

Friday, May 23, 2014

The First Bloom and the First Frog

Spring is a time of renewal, and I love to watch for the “first” each year in several categories. First on my list is watching the first cactus bloom. The cacti that I have are all either gifts from my wife and daughter, or ones that I have bought on my own. Funny thing is, the ones that I buy for myself never make it, while the ones I receive as gifts seem to thrive.

The first one is from Sarah, my daughter. She got it from the sand dunes on the outer banks of NC in a town called Duck. That was 15 years ago and it has been moved 3 times to 3 different houses where it continues to thrive.

The one pictured at the top is the latest addition. Sue picked it up from a woman named Mona, who has sold us some very beautiful plants and even some cacti and palm trees over the past few years. Her prices are outrageously fair. That planter, with the pot, was only $8. And it will give me years of enjoyment. As a matter of fact, Sue and I are planning on stopping by to show Mona how quicly and beautifully this new cactus has bloomed.

The second thing I wait for is the arrival of the first frog. Now, this isn’t the greatest photo, but it does capture the spirit of the frog’s yearly return to our house in Concord. Each year it’s like a pilgrimage. Scores of these little toads descend on my front porch to visit the great Green Shrine of the Frog, which is visible in the background. We like frogs.

Sue swears that she saw the first frog last week, but without the photographic evidence I am a bit skeptical. When I spot the first frog I usually wrap it up in a handkerchief or towel and bring it in to show Sue. At the very least I take a photograph. So, I have to wonder why she didn’t call me out to look. Hogging the frogs!

Actually we have a small group of these frogs which live somewhere on the property, or in the nearby creek, during the winter. I’d swear I recognize this guy from last year, although he has put on some weight. I wonder what they eat all winter, as I haven’t seen a fly since early October!

No matter, the frogs are back, which is reason enough to celebrate. I can never greet the return of the frogs with enough joy. After the frogs and cacti have arrived the turtles come; my favorites. Along with the lizards; who like to hide in the siding during the cold weather; the whole neighborhood seems to come alive again. There’s something very comforting in watching the world come back to life each year. May it ever be thus…

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"Crossroads" - Cream (Live - 1968)

Few groups have ever achieved the stature of Cream, the forerunner of all hard rock music as we know it today. Although founding member Eric Clapton never has never “kissed the sky” in quite the same way as Jimi Hendrix, he did kick music in the ass a bit when he left The Yardbirds to form a new sound of his own.

And what a sound! Along with virtuoso bass player Jack Bruce and the maniacal drummer Ginger Baker, Cream went on to mesmerize the entire world of rock and roll in the last half of the 1960’s. By the time 1970 rolled around Clapton was already in Blind Faith and on his way to creating some of the best music of the time with 1970’s double album “Layla.”

Of course, today he is known as the Ambassador of the Blues, and is sort of in charge of keeping classic blues alive. His goal seems to be to pass the music on in as pure a form as possible.  But every now and then I hear some of the old Cream records on the radio; “Badge” has weathered time particularly well; and then I start to look around on You Tube for something I haven’t heard in a while.

This clip is of Cream at their “farewell” concert at Royal Albert Hall on November 26, 1968. It was broadcast on BBC the following January, but never released in the United States until 1977. The group Yes opened the show; along with Rory Gallagher, who was in a band called Taste at the time.

There are many problems with the film; the most notable being that the cameramen seemed to have no real experience filming music;  most of the footage is focused on the faces; rather than the hands; of the musicians. Guitar players everywhere are disappointed when watching this film. We already know what they look like. We just want to see their hands.

Also, if you do watch the entire concert you will notice that Clapton and Baker seem to change clothes in the middle of some songs; and Clapton even has a different guitar for part of some numbers. This is because the film was cobbled together carelessly, with footage from the first show as well as the second show. Still a good video, in spite of the annoying camerawork. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Charlotte Observer - Out of Control Delivery

This is what home delivery of the Charlotte Observer looks like after a 6 month battle with the newspaper concerning the lack of customer satisfaction. It’s confusing; on the one hand the newspapers bemoan their demise; on the other they treat their customers badly, furthering eroding an already declining readership.

This 6 month saga began on Thanksgiving. After a prolonged period of having my paper either missing, or thrown in a rain puddle instead of placed in the paper box, I made a call to the carrier and was called a “mother-f’ing asshole” by the thug who answered and then hung up. After several more calls over a period of days I finally called Taylor Batten, the editor of the Observer, who told me that the problem would be resolved. It was, for about a week.

Then, after I got past all of the merry go rounds on the different phone numbers I was supposed to call, I got the woman in charge of the route. She assured me that the guy doing my route was leaving at the end of December and that he was probably just being nasty. Oh, pardon me; I didn't know your carrier was just being “nasty.” That explains it all. And so things have continued on in this way in spite of my repeated calls to the carrier and the paper.

And that’s just the story as far as home delivery goes.

It’s worth noting two things about home delivery of the Observer. The newspaper always champions the working poor; while shifting lower paying customer service jobs overseas. I can now find out the weather in the Philippines by just asking the person who answers my call. It should be noted that not once have these people hung up on me or even cursed at me.

Also of note is that whenever you see the job advertised for delivery of the paper, it requires a drug test. And, also a clean criminal background check. So, the newspaper thrown in the street was presumably placed there by a non-drug user who has no criminal record. There are mornings when I actually see the delivery being made, since I’m always awake and in pain by 4 AM. The delivery person barrels through at about 40 miles per hour, window down, music up loud, and a newspaper hurtling through the air, where it lands no one cares.

The owner of the route which encompasses my home is Sharon Dawson and her phone number is 704-258-2924.  I’d list the Observer’s number but nobody there really cares.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Mecklenburg Declaration - May 20, 1775

Today is somewhat of a holiday in Charlotte, North Carolina. We don’t take the day off, but we do recall, with ceremony and remembrance, the events of May 20, 1775 and the document affectionately called the “Meck Dec.” It seems that on that long ago day, over a year before the Declaration of Independence was released in Philadelphia, the residents of Charlotte declared themselves to be free of British rule.

They did it right where the heart of downtown Charlotte sits today; at the courthouse which was then located at Tryon and Trade Streets. What was once an old Indian trading post and trail is now home to Bank of America and several other major banks.
The Mecklenburg Declaration was the product of a local citizen’s committee, which; having taken the measure of the people in the area; then decided to declare their Independence from Britain. This decision was reached after news of the Battle at Lexington and Concord; over 1 month earlier; reached Charlotte in late May. Some people still dispute the claim, and the first mention of it cannot be found in newspapers or broadsides until about 1819. There is however, a document known as the Mecklenburg Resolves, which was released to the public on May 31, 1775.

The resolves were a rather radical set of proposals set forth by the citizens as an approach to the problems the colonies were having with King George III, but did not go so far as to call for breaking away from the “mother country.” The text was published in the newspapers of the time, but the original was misplaced; or hidden; until 1838.

Some people believe that the myth of the Mecklenburg Declaration began as an attempt to recreate the Resolves. Since this was done by memory, perhaps the authors remembered the document as having called for independence, but the rediscovery of the original Resolves proved that to be a false assumption. And still another group argues that both documents were real.

The Resolves were taken to the Continental Congress via Captain James Jack who rode to Philadelphia with them on horseback. The Congressional Delegation from North Carolina; Richard Caswell, William Hooper, and Joseph Hewes; made the decision that it was too early to call for a separation between the colonies and the mother country. Captain Jack returned home and then the document disappeared for several decades.

No matter what the truth is, it is apparent that Charlotte; which was named in honor of King George’s wife; proved to be the “hornet’s nest” that the British dubbed it to be.

Here are the original Resolves;

1. Resolved, That whosoever directly or indirectly abetted, or in any way, form, or manner, countenanced the uncharted and dangerous invasion of our rights, as claimed by Great Britain, is an enemy to this County, to America, and to the inherent and inalienable rights of man.

2. Resolved, That we the citizens of Mecklenburg County, do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us to the Mother Country, and hereby absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British Crown, and abjure all political connection, contract, or association, with that Nation, who have wantonly trampled on our rights and liberties and inhumanly shed the innocent blood of American patriots at Lexington.

3. Resolved, That we do hereby declare ourselves a free and independent people, are, and of right ought to be, a sovereign and self-governing Association, under the control of no power other than that of our God and the General Government of the Congress; to the maintenance of which independence, we solemnly pledge to each other, our mutual cooperation, our lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred honor.

4. Resolved, That as we now acknowledge the existence and control of no law or legal officer, civil or military, within this County, we do hereby ordain and adopt, as a rule of life, all, each and every of our former laws - where, nevertheless, the Crown of Great Britain never can be considered as holding rights, privileges, immunities, or authority therein.

5. Resolved, That it is also further decreed, that all, each and every military officer in this County, is hereby reinstated to his former command and authority, he acting conformably to these regulations, and that every member present of this delegation shall henceforth be a civil officer, viz. a Justice of the Peace, in the character of a 'Committee-man,' to issue process, hear and determine all matters of controversy, according to said adopted laws, and to preserve peace, and union, and harmony, in said County, and to use every exertion to spread the love of country and fire of freedom throughout America, until a more general and organized government be established in this province.

Here is a list of the signers as recalled in 1819;

1. Abraham Alexander
2. Adam Alexander
3. Charles Alexander
4. Ezra Alexander
5. Hezekiah Alexander
6. John McKnitt Alexander
7. Waightstill Avery
8. Rev. Hezekiah J. Balch
9. Richard Barry
10. Dr. Ephraim Brevard
11. Maj. John Davidson
12. Henry Downs
13. John Flenneken
14. John Foard
15. William Graham
16. James Harris
17. Robert Harris
18. Robert Irwin
19. William Kennon
20. Matthew McClure
21. Neil Morrison
22. Duncan Ochiltree
23. Benjamin Patton
24. John Phifer
25. Col. Thomas Polk
26. John Queary
27. David Reese
28. Zacheus Wilson, Sr.

Monday, May 19, 2014

"Taking the Stand" by Alan Dershowitz (2013)

If you have enjoyed any of Alan Dershowitz’ previous books, then you’ll love this one. While the other books were concerned with specific aspects of his life, this book is a real literary accomplishment; it’s his autobiography. But, get ready to be challenged; and even a bit angered; as you read it. Some of his views are extreme; even by my own standards. If you are not prepared to “agree to disagree”; then this book may not be for you.

For instance; I am somewhat of an absolutist on free speech; with the exception of speech which leads to violence. Mr. Dershowitz draws no such distinction; choosing instead to focus on the difference between an action and speech. That is a distinction I can understand, although disagree with in some cases. To me, when speech is designed to incite violence; and succeeds in doing so; it has crossed the line of protection. It can be argued, though, that our own Revolution was founded upon such rhetoric. See what I mean about this being a complex book?

I am for capital punishment in extreme cases and with all protections; as far as science and evidence are concerned; so I cannot really understand his absolutist stand against it; and which I also found a bit confusing. For instance, he would let a person go free when involved in a killing which they themselves did not do, but provided the guns for. This is not the same as buying a gun at the gun store. To me, that is completely different and not something for which I can really hold the merchant responsible. But when you provide the weapons to a known violent offender to commit a crime in which you yourself participate, that is entirely different; in my opinion.

But this was the case; in Tison vs. Arizona; when  3 brothers were convicted of bringing weapons to the prison where their father was being held for another violent crime; and breaking him out using those weapons. They then accompanied him in his escape towards Mexico, transferring the weapons to their father and his friend en route. Those men, in turn, used these weapons to kill a family who had stopped to help them with a flat tire.

Mr. Dershowitz claims that they are innocent of the actual murder since they did not do the killing. I agree that they are not responsible to the degree that the actual trigger man is; in the sense of firing the shot. But, they did supply the weapons; which were actually wielded on the guards during the initial breakout. Had anything gone wrong at that point, their intent was obviously to use those weapons. Then, by giving their father the weapons with which to kill; knowing of his past propensity for violence; I believe that they bear some responsibility for the ensuing events.

By leaving the death penalty on the table, the prosecution has a tool with which to divide the suspects; offering clemency to the non-trigger men. Having removed the death penalty from the table for all removes that tool, making the prosecutor's job more difficult and at the same time lowering the standard for what we expect in a civilized society. It is also interesting that Mr. Dershowitz rarely refers to his clients as murderers; choosing instead to refer to the actual crime of murder. This has the effect of distancing the killers from the crime in the minds of the casual listener/reader. Of course, it could be argued that his clients are all innocent, and therefore not killers to begin with. See what I mean about this book? It will make you mad; but it will make you think.

In the Tison case he also makes an analogy in which he states that this case is different from the ones involving cold blooded killers like Ted Bundy and Charles Manson. I agree about Bundy, but who did Manson kill? As a matter of fact; by Mr. Dershowitz’ sometimes elusive thinking in connection with freedom of speech; Charles Manson may have merely been exercising a right to free speech. He was, after all, convicted of Conspiracy; a charge which Mr. Dershowitz detests as a "catch all" charge levied when the prosecution has no real evidence. As for me, I believe Manson to be guilty; albeit by telepathy. After all, the only real evidence that the prosecution had was that the girls all claimed that “Charlie told me to.” Yet there was no hard evidence beyond the word of the professed killers used to convict him. I am playing devils advocate her, a role with Mr. Dershowitz would be familiar.

Beyond points such as these, this is a delightful look at Mr. Dershowitz’ early years in Brooklyn, as well as his education at Brooklyn College during the late 1950’s. His budding law career began with clerking for various justices which led him to clerk for the legendary Supreme Court Justice Goldberg. His accounts of the Justices differences will have you wondering how things ever get decided; and then have you marveling at the system which works that way. Mr. Dershowitz' pride in America and its roots in democracy and freedom are evident throughout.

His work; on the MacDonald case, the O.J. Simpson trial, and many others; is legendary. His wit and wisdom; combined with Talmudic reasoning; know no boundaries. Like him; or not; the man is an intellectual acrobat. And in the looming struggle against politically correct speech, he may yet prove to be an asset as he continues his life long fight for freedom of speech. (I'm being facetious- Mr. Dershowitz needs prove nothing.)

For a good example of Talmudic Reasoning; which is the basis for the codification of Jewish Law; read the story “Two Men Come Down the Same Chimney.” It is a perfect example of the complex way in which legal arguments are sometimes conducted, and also why the results can often seem so confusing, or even muddled. I know that; without a doubt; Mr. Dershowitz knows and understands the meaning of this story.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Einstein and Spinozza

Einstein's religious beliefs were a direct result of his love of Spinoza'a ethics in dealing with the dual questions concerning God and Free Will. Baruch Spinoza, like Einstein, was Jewish. He was a philosopher in 17th Century Amsterdam, where he was ex-communicated for his belief in Causal Determinism. (I did not know that the Jewish faith did ex-communications, having only heard previously of the practice in conjunction with the Catholic Church.) Causal Determinism is the belief that the existence of a superior being reveals itself in the harmony of nature and the natural order of all things. Einstein was interested in Spinoza as a way of reconciling science with his own religious beliefs.

I think that Einstein would be in agreement with the words of the late Pope John Paul II when he said, "Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes." I think he would have accepted that. I know that I do. It assumes the worst of both religion and science, while at the same time recognizing the strengths that each of the two bring to the human condition. In other words, it is a position of moderation.

In November of 1920, Einstein traveled to Spinoza's home in Leiden, Amsterdam for a visit. He even signed the guest book. The signature beneath his is that of Harm Kamerlingh Onnes, the nephew of the famed physicist, who accompanied him on the trip to Leiden. The visit so moved Einstein that he later wrote a poem about Spinoza, titled, "On Spinoza's Ethics."

I have reprinted the poem here, first in German, and then followed by the English translation. I have credited both translations to their sources at the end of each translation. The two lines in italics are ones which Einstein wrote and then put a line through, replacing them with the lines immediately following.

I have included them here simply because anything Einstein thought, or wrote, must be important in some way, even if I didn't fully understand it. The Latin phrase in the third line of the second verse translates as "For God's sake." Einstein uses the phrase here to call out Spinoza's aversion to faith alone, noting that the philosophy of amor dei "leaves him cold."

Zu Spinozas Ethik

Wie lieb ich diesen edlen Mann
Mehr als ich mit Worten sagen kann.
Doch fürcht' ich, dass er bleibt allein
Mit seinem strahlenen Heiligenschein.

So einen armen kleinen Wicht
Den führst du zu der Freiheit nicht
Der amor dei lässt ihn kalt
Das Leben zieht ihn mit Gewalt

Die Höhe bringt ihm nichts als Frost
Vernunft ist für ihn schale Kost
Besitz und Weib und Ehr' und Haus
Das füllt ihn von oben bis unten aus

Du musst schon gütig mir verzeih'n
Wenn hier mir fällt Münchhausen ein
Dem als Einzigem das Kunststück gedieh'n
Sich am eigenem Zopf aus dem Sumpf zu zieh'n

Du denkst sein Beispiel zeiget uns eben
Was diese Lehre dem Menschen kann geben
Mein lieber Sohn, was fällt dir ein?
Zur Nachtigall muss man geboren sein
Vertraue nicht dem tröstlichen Schein:
Zum Erhabenen muss man geboren sein.

Written circa 1920.
Transcribed from ms. facsimile, Albert Einstein Archive, 31-018

On Spinoza's Ethics

How I love this noble man
More than I can say with words.
Still, I fear he remains alone
With his shining halo.

Such a poor small lad
Whom you'll not lead to freedom
The amor dei leaves him cold
Mightily does this life attract him

Loftiness offers him nothing but frost
Reason for him is poor fare
Property and wife and honor and house
That fills him from top to bottom

You'll kindly forgive me
If Münchhausen here comes to mind
Who alone mastered the trick
Of pulling himself out of a swamp by his own pigtail

You think his example would show us
What this doctrine can give humankind
My dear son, what ever were you thinking?
One must be born a nightingale
Trust not the comforting façade
One must be born sublime

©2007-2008 English translation by Jonathan Ely

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"Cartoons Ain't Human" with Popeye (1943)

In this 1943 release Popeye tries his hand at drawing a cartoon for his nephews. But, first he needs an idea. Quickly looking about him he comes up with a few, only to have one of his better ideas “censored” by a human hand. This cartoon was made during the war, and there are a few references in it that may puzzle the viewer who is not acquainted with the history of World War Two on the home front here in the United States.

All in all, we had it pretty good; at least that’s what I have been told. I was born in 1954, when the war had been over for several years. Aside from the “censored” part in this cartoon, there are references to “rationing”, such as when Popeye pulls out his trusty can of spinach; the label on it reads “Spinach – 17 points”.

Another unusual approach to this cartoon; which was not produced or directed by Max or Dave Fleischer; is that Popeye draws himself, and the other cast members of his cartoon, as stick figures. Not much imagination required for that when looking at Olive Oyl. .

While showing the cartoon to his nephews, Popeye acts as a one man band, playing everything imaginable, creating a soundtrack as wild as the cartoon he has drawn. In it, he plays himself, working for Newt’s Zoot Suits, carrying a sandwich board style sign to advertise Newt’s Suits.  Meantime, back at home, Olive is being accosted by the evil landlord, complete with mustache, who wants the rent, or Olive. When Olive literally calls Popeye for help, the usual high jinx occurs.

The only difference is that this time it’s just a cartoon inside a cartoon; so you don’t have to worry about how it all works out. Directed by Seymour Kneitel, and animated by Orestes Calpini and Otto Feuer, this may be one of the most unusual Popeye cartoons ever.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Garden

Having been raised in an apartment in Brooklyn I never had a backyard. The closest I could come to one was visiting my friend Donald Solomon, who lived on East 15th Street in a house. I even buried one of my turtles in his yard, or maybe it was a fish. 

So, I never expected to ever even have a house, let alone a yard. I have also always wanted a bench. This one sits by the rear landscaped island, and its beauty lies in its physical placement. I can sit there and watch the birds at the bird bath, or just look at the house from a different angle.

The first few houses Sue and I bought were older ones, and so the yards were pretty much laid out. We just followed the existing plan by mowing and planting a few extra trees. It wasn't until we bought a new home some years later that Sue; she's the gardener; began to actually put things in our yard by design. This has been a real treat for me, as I get to use the yard way more than she does. 

This is the birdbath, which although it leaks, provides entertainment for me as I watch the birds dive down for a drink. The fig tree on the right died as a result of the late frost. We will be replacing it. There's nothing like eating fresh figs from the tree in your own garden.

Of course, this patio area; which was our anniversary gift to one another a few years ago; is where I end up spending most of my time in the yard. Sue keeps it filled with all sorts of plants; flowering as well as shrubs. I have some cacti, which amaze me when they bloom almost every year. 

My favorite is the one which Sarah brought home from the Outer Banks about 15 years ago. I planted it by the mailbox at our old house. Everyone said it would die, but it made it. The worst part was digging it up when we moved. It now sits in a large pot. 

And this is the classic view of what I call my "summer office". I can listen to music, read, nod off; even play guitar back here. The neighbors are usually at work so I can even sing if I want to. Look for a photo of this same spot in a few months when everything will be in full bloom. It's my own little piece of paradise.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Geodetic Survey Markers

Most people; myself included; get these markers confused with being the responsibility of the United States Coast Guard; and there is good reason for that. The initials USCGS, which stands for U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, are awfully similar to USCG, which stands for the United States Coast Guard. They are probably plagued by calls about these survey markers.

The USCGS became the National Geodetic Survey (NGS), and in 1970 was transferred to the control of NOAA, which stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I guess that now would be a good time to tell you who they are and what they do. And also; why it’s important.

NGS; I’m going to stick with that acronym; is the agency that creates and then maintains the records for the grid system upon which all surveying in the United States is based. They have, since the 1800’s, provided a series of “bench marks”, or known coordinates, along with the height above sea level, upon which all other surveys; public and private, are based. That’s quite a challenge, and an even greater responsibility.

One of the nearest markers which I know of is about 15 minutes from my house. It sits in the brick wall of the old Davis Forge Company Building store off of Route 115 in Huntersville. The building has been there for many years. It’s kind of a local landmark which people come to look at. The marker is located on the wall on the right side of the front of the building, about waist high.

The system of coordinates which NOAA; formerly the NCGS; maintains is described as "a consistent coordinate system that defines latitude, longitude, height, scale, gravity, and orientation throughout the United States." Not only do private developers use these coordinates to build things, but the resultant Emergency response imagery rapidly provides aerial imagery for emergency relief in times of flood and other natural disasters.

The original USCG was established in 1807 by Congress during President Jefferson’s time in office. Under the original accomplishments of the agency was to map and chart our coast in the interest of expanding international trade. It was 4 more years before the agencies first representative, F.R. Hassler, even set sail for Europe in order to obtain all of the instruments necessary for that endeavor. And once there, he was stuck for the entire duration of the War of 1812. So, effectively, the work didn't begin until 1815.It would be another 20 years before that first undertaking was satisfactorily completed.

Hassler planned to use simple triangulation in order to accomplish his task. He began in New York, with his first baseline verified in 1817. In 1818 Congress placed the Navy and the Army in charge of Hassler’s work. This virtually stopped the program dead in its tracks until 1832. The reason was simple enough; there was no longer anybody clearly in charge of the work.

In 1832 Hassler was reappointed as head of the project and work began to move forward once again. The work was resumed in 1833. Although the Navy was officially in charge of the project, this time Hassler was able to turn things around slightly and had the Navy assisting him. The project was then turned over to the Treasury Department in 1836.

Ocean soundings were a part of this program as well as land surveys. Ocean soundings had long been measured by hand held “lead lines’ which were knotted at intervals in much the manner of the “sea log”, which was used to gauge the speed of a ship at sea. It wasn't until the invention of Sigsbee Sounding Machine in the latter half of the 19th Century that things really took off.

Lieutenant Commander Charles Dwight Sigsbee, USN, served as an Assistant in the Coast Survey. He developed his sounding machine and commanded the ship Blake during the first “sound” surveys in the Gulf of Mexico. The ships were commanded by the Navy but manned with civilians and even one of the most famous scientists of the time, Alexander Agassiz, for assistance. NGS would not get their own ships; which were the precursors to today’s NOAA weather ships; until 1900.

The history behind these markers is long and sometimes complicated, as agencies and budgets changed over the years. By 1965 the agency was part of the Environmental Science Services Administration, but that only lasted for 5 years until NGS was transferred once again, this time to NOAA, where it remains today.

You may not have ever heard of these little markers, but the part they play in your daily lives cannot be disputed. For that reason these markers are federally protected, and require great effort to be removed, if they are allowed to be removed at all.

In the second picture I am taking a picture of a woman who came to visit the “old store.” Sue took the photo of me taking the photo of her. You can be sure that she didn't get her camera back until after I had told her about the Geodetic Survey.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"Oranges and Sunshine" with Emily Watson and David Wenham (2010)

Emily Watson stars as Margaret Humphreys, a social worker in Nottingham, England who becomes involved in solving the disappearance of thousands of boys and girls who were illegally deported to Australia. This is a true story.

Most of the children were removed from their homes due to the inability of the parents to either provide adequately for them, or for any number of other reasons deemed appropriate by the social workers. There was no offer of counseling to help these people learn how to better care for their kids. There was no offer of financial assistance. There was just the arbitrary removal of the children from their parents. In many cases siblings were separated, never to see one another again.

Some of the children went to other abusive families in Australia, meaning that the child’s world did not change at all. There were just the lingering, faded memories of a past that would never fully go away. These children had been promised a life of “oranges and sunshine”. Instead they got abused, worked half to death and starved. The lucky ones went to state sponsored institutions where they were abused in a more regimental fashion.

As Margaret Humphreys digs deeper into this case, she comes to realize the full extent of this misguided and evil program. And then she sets out to make it right. Assembling all of the children that she can find who were deported, she begins to reunite them with the siblings they have almost forgotten, and restore their memories of the parents from whom they were so cruelly wrenched.

This is a very moving, and disturbing film. It highlights the problems of government sponsored social engineering; a process by which people who presumably “know better” get to launch whatever harebrained scheme they come up with. This is not a problem isolated to Great Britain.

Expertly directed and acted by all the players; and with an exceptional performance by Emily Watson; this film will affect you long after the credits have rolled off the screen.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Rooftop Reviews - Top Ten for April

Every blogger has something, like Google Analytics, which enables the blogger to track what people are reading. Some are just counters which list every “hit”, including spammers. Others are pinpoint accurate and display the actual physical location of who is looking at your site and when. That’s scary. Why would you even care?

I use a very simple version of Google Analytics; which simply means that I have forgone the “bells and whistles” which give all of that useless information. I simply want to know what the people who read this are actually reading. My site is “destination based”, which is a fancy way of saying only 21% of my “hits” are repeat offenders. That’s not bad considering the other 79% bump into my site when looking for information about a specific topic. That’s what is meant by “destination based”. I’m amazed that Rooftop comes up that often in searches. And; I have to admit; a bit proud.

I’m also happy that the “Top Ten" posts are split among so many different categories. There are 2 pieces about photos; one of which is mine. 2 pieces about politics; which I used to try and avoid. There is 1 travel piece; 3 posts about music; one about a movie; and of course I’m really happy that “It’s Only me” holds the number 3 spot this month.

So, in the tradition of the old AM radio stations which I still love so well, here are the Top Ten for April;

  1. “Candy Cigarette” by Sally Mann

  2. Obamas Secret Tax- Give Me a Break

  3. “It’s Only me” by Robert Williams

  4. The Vance Hotel – Statesville, N.C.

  5. “Foul Owl on the Prowl” – Quincy Jones  (1968)

  6. Disposal of the Quran

  7. Joe Seneca - Bluesman

  8. “The Seven Foys” with Bob Hope and James Cagney

  9. “Old Barns and Pianos” – R. Williams

10. “One Meat Ball” and other Depression Era Songs

Monday, May 12, 2014

"Teaching Shylock" by Harry Golden (1961)

In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling concerning Sectarian Prayer in Public Forums, the Justices would do well to read the following, which first appeared in the Carolina Israelite in 1961. 

It was first introduced to me by Leonard Herman; the father of a friend; when I was about 15 years old.

The painting above is "Shylock After Trial" by John Gilbert.

"Teaching Shylock" by Harry Golden 

I know that if anyone suggested the censorship of the Merchant Of Venice either as a book or a play I would fight the attempt with everything I have. But having said that, I will also say that, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t teach The Merchant of Venice in secondary schools.

I would use Julius Caesar and Mid-Summer Nights Dream, Macbeth and As You Like It. When the student enters college, The Merchant of Venice, of course, must be read and studied. My view of the secondary schools comes from experience. On several occasions an English teacher in one of the local high schools has asked me to lecture her pupils on the historical background of the Merchant of Venice. This, of course, is wonderful. But the mere fact that a humanitarian schoolteacher felt the need for some background “explanation” is evidence enough that the play should be left to colleges. On each of these occasions I said to myself, how can I stand up before 50 or 60 boys and girls- Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists- and tell them that the Shylock play is a satire on the Gentile Middle Class of Venice? If I even attempted such a course there would be a danger that my words might be interpreted as a lack of respect for the Christian Faiths.

So all I could really do with the background was recite a bit of history of the Middle Ages, and explain the legal processes by which the Jews were forcibly urbanized and driven to dealing with money. I also traced the development of Shylock; how almost from the beginning the English actors recognized Shakespeare’s purpose and as early as the year 1741 Shylock was portrayed on the English stage as the sympathetic figure in the play. On one of these occasions a boy in the class asked me a question: “Mr. Golden, why the Jews? Why have the Jews been picked out for all these terrible things?”

It was a good question, a pertinent question. I looked at the clock and saw that I had two minutes to go. I told the boy I’d sit down and answer his question in my paper and send him a copy. And I’ll do it soon, of course.

Shylock and William Shakespeare

The presentation of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice at Stratford, Ontario has resulted in a wave of comment in the English-Jewish press. There are Jews who dread to see the play produced and protest its presentation. Others feel that Shylock has been drawn with great imaginative penetration and have no objection to its production. Still others are not interested in either way but are against censorship of any kind under any circumstances. This is natural and during each of my lectures on Shakespeare I could always count on the controversy  when we came to the lecture on Shylock.

The German Nazis understood Shakespeare very well, and they did not use Shakespeare’s Shylock in all their gigantic propaganda campaigns. They spent plenty of money in distributing Bud Schulberg’s “What Makes Sammy Run?” but not a single copy  of the Merchant of Venice reached those shores as part of the defamation campaign. The Germans knew. They knew their Shakespeare. German was the first language into which Shakespeare was translated. Now let us go back a little.

You must remember that the Jews had been expelled from England in the year 1290 and they were not readmitted until Oliver Cromwell’s time in1655. Legally that is. Actually the authorities did not enforce the law too rigidly after the ascension of Elizabeth I, a century earlier. Elizabeth sensed that her reign would usher in the age of Gloriana. Trade was the thing. She wanted peace, exploration and trade and commerce. That meant, let up on the discrimination against the guys who knew all about peace, trade and commerce. But Elizabeth had a Jewish doctor, Roderigo Lopez, and this Dr. Lopez was arrested and convicted on the charge of attempting to poison Elizabeth. Let us not get into that at the moment. We have enough to worry about. Let us leave Lopez hanging outside the East gate of London in the winter of 1594. Very likely it was a plot to reactivate the laws against the Jews, which Elizabeth was trying to minimize at the moment. We are not sure. If it was plot, it worked. A wave of Anti-Semitism spread over England. The people who love to have their prejudices confirmed were again reminded of the stereotype of the Jew which had persisted in literature and folklore all through the Middle Ages. Now, to ride the crest of the wave, the balladeers, poets, playwrights and journalists jumped into the act to cash in on the revived Anti-Semitism. Even the two greatest dramatists of the day, already legends in their own time, could not resist this audience interest. Christopher Marlowe wrote The Jew of Malta and on July 22, 1598 , James Roberts entered into the Stationer’s Register “ The Merchant of Venice, or otherwise called The Jewe of Venyce”, by William Shakespeare.

Now, let us start all over again.

All through the Middle Ages thousands of Anti Jew plays were produced all over Europe. These plays are lost to us. They were really nothing. No art. No Value at all. In the main they were poorly improvised or poorly written. “Passion” Plays. They were the standard drama form of the Middle Ages. Their hostility to Jews was based on a simple formula: “this is evil because it is evil.” And no questions asked. All of these cut and dried Anti-Jew plays continued for four hundred years, culminating in the work of a literary giant-

Geoffrey Chaucer – in The Prioress’s Tale. Chaucer was a genius, and he was read and how! From the year 1385 right down to this day in every college you must know Chaucer. Well. Chaucer did us more harm with his few lines about Ritual Murder than all the four hundred years of junk “Passion” plays put together. The myth of the Wandering Jew also flourished through these centuries; a myth of hate, libel and murder. But Chaucer was not the only immortal to have accepted the stereotype of “evil because it is evil.” Christopher Marlowe, one of the giants, also played it straight without a single editorial comment, and Marlowe’s hostility could not have been “Wandering jew” stuff;

He was an outspoken Atheist. And let us not brood too much over the Middle Ages. Let us come right down to Modern Times, and we find Edward Gibbon, the greatest of all historians, in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, speak of ritual murder like he was reporting an automobile accident, also without any editorial comment, and even Winwood Reade, in his Martyrdom of Man, who checked every detail of his writings (he even made a special trip to the African Coast just to double check his chapter on Negro slavery). Yet this wonderful man tells how the Jews stole all the Pharaoh’s silverware when they left Egypt . This, he knew. He had footnotes for everything, but for this he didn’t need any footnotes. He was sure. An outspoken Atheist, Mr. Reade held up to scorn and ridicule everything in the Bible except those passages which he could interpret as being unfavorable to the Jews. How can you figure it?

Now let us get started on William Shakespeare and The Merchant of Venice. Mr. Shakespeare was first and foremost Mr. Theatre. He was a craftsman interested in filling his theater; earning dividends for his colleagues and partner-producers and providing a livelihood for his fellow actors. He also wrote a “Jew” Play. But this was Shakespeare! This was not Marlowe, nor Chaucer, nor Gibbon, nor Reade. We are dealing here with the jewel of mankind, the greatest brain ever encased in a human skull.

Shakespeare gave his audience a play in which they could confirm their prejudices- but he did much more. Shakespeare was the first writer in seven hundred years who gave the Jew a “motive”. Why did he need to give the Jew a motive? Certainly his audience did not expect it. For centuries they had been brought up on the stereotype, “this is evil because it’s evil”, and here Shakespeare comes along and goes to so much “unnecessary”

Trouble giving   Shylock a motive.  At last- a motive!

Fair sir, you spit on me Wednesday last;

You spurned me such a day; another time

You called me dog.

Fighting words. Many a Southerner of Anti Bellum days did not bother about getting a “pound of flesh”. He finished his transducer on the spot. But Shakespeare gives us no rest. He is actually writing a satire on the Gentile Middle Class and the Psuedo-Christians, and he wastes no time. What does Antonio, this paragon of Christian virtue, say to this charge of Shylock’s? Does he turn the other cheek? Does he follow the teaching of Jesus to “love thine enemies?” Not by a long shot. This “noble” man replies to Shylock’s charge:

I am as like to call thee so again,

To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.

But Shakespeare has hardly begun. Mr. Poet Philosopher is playing a little game with Mr Theater. Shylock loans Antonio three thousand ducats for three months and demands a pound of flesh as security. This is good. This right up Middle Ages alley, according to the seven hundred year old pattern- “evil because it’s evil”, that’s all.  But Shakespeare does not let his audience off so easily.  He makes them reach for it. In the first place, Shylock loans the money to Antonio without interest. But that’s only the beginning. Since Anti-Semitism is the renunciation of all logic, Shakespeare says if that’s what you want to believe, I’ll not make it easy for you. You must renounce all logic. You must also believe that Shylock loaned the money to the richest man in Venice and that somehow he knew that this rich man would lose all his money in ninety days and couldn’t pay off a debt which was really peanuts to him. How could he possibly know that? A pound of flesh, yes, but how could Shylock  figure that within ninety days a storm in the Persian Gulf and in the Mediterranean , and in the Indian Ocean would suddenly destroy all of Antonio’s ships, all within the same ninety days.

And look here, why does this noble Antonio, the Christian merchant, want the three thousand ducats to begin with? Why did Shakespeare go out of his way to show that Antonio’s request for a loan was based on cheapness and chicanery? He did not have to do that. Certainly not for an Anti-Semetic audience of 1598. He could have contrived a million more noble causes. Patriotism. Antonio needed the money for widows and orphans. Or to defend Venice against an Invader. How the audience would have eaten that up. But Shakespeare refuses to make it that simple. Let us discuss the play from the viewpoint of the audience, like when your children go to the movies. The “good guys” and the “bad guys”.  Antonio and his friends are the “good guys”; Shylock, the Jew, is the “bad guy”. Now what do we have here? Antonio’s friend, Bassanio, one of the “good guys”, is in debt to Antonio. He wants to pay back and he has a scheme.  Portia just inherited a wad of money. If  he can get Portia and her dough all his troubles would be over. But Bassanio says the project needs some front money.  You need money to woo a rich girl like Portia. So he says to Antonio, lend me just a little. He says that when he was a youth and when he lost one arrow, he shot another in the same direction and often retrieved both. So now. Lend me some dough so I can make love to a rich lady who has just inherited a vast fortune, and with good luck I’ll not only pay you back what you advanced me but I’ll give you all back debts I owe you.

This is the dal the two “noble” guys in Shakespeare’s play made.  Antonio says, “It’s a deal, only all my ready cash is tied up in my ships, and I’ll not be able to lay my hands on ready cash for ninety days or so.”

And so they go to Shylock to borrow the money.

How could we help but sense that Shakespeare was writing an indictment of the hypocrites who vitiated every precept taught them by Christianity? Shylock is a widower. He has only one daughter, Jessica, who falls in love with Lorenzo, a Gentile. The “good” guys induce her not only to desert her widowed father but to rob him, and dressed in boy’s clothing ( a third crime in Jewish law).  Jessica steals away in the night to elope with Lorenzo.

I will make fast the doors, and gild myself

With some more ducats, and be with you straight.

Based on Western law Jessica has committed the crime of theft. She has also committed the moral crime of stealing out of her father’s house during the night and deserting him, and as the young thief comes away with her father’s money, what do the “good” guys say? Gratiano exclaims;

Now, by my hood, a Gentile and no Jew!

Can you imagine how the audience howled with glee as Jessica was leaving Shylock’s house with his caskets of money? Shakespeare probably figured that during this howling the audience would miss the follow up line. You have deserted your father, stolen out of his house  during the night dressed in boy’s clothing, and robbed him of his money, and NOW you are a Gentile, and , by my hood, no Jew. The playwright set his 1598 audience to howling. The poet-philosopher wrote for all future generations.

Later on, the “bad” guys, Shylock and his friend Tubal, are discussing Jessica’s theft and desertion. Tubal tells Shylock that Jessica had exchanged one of the rings she had stolen for a monkey.  Says Shylock, “I wish she hadn’t pawned that ring. That was Leah’s turquoise. That was my wife’s ring; she gave it to me before we were married. I wish she hadn’t pawned that ring for a monkey.” This from a Jew money lender in the Anti- Semetic atmosphere of the sixteenth century.  For the first time in seven hundred years of “Jew” literature in Europe, a writer had given a Jew a motive. Then he put the cloak of “human being” around him.  “I wouldn’t have taken a whole wilderness of monkeys for Leah’s ring,” says Shylock.

Bassanio invites Shylock to supper and the Jew replies;

Yes, to smell pork; to eat of the habitation which your prophet the Nazarite conjured the devil into.

The Italics are mine and I say that no Christian writer, before or since Shakespeare, has dared to put such “blasphemy” in the mouth of a “heretic.” Nor has a Christian writer shown such cynicism about the hypocritical  setup, as when Shakespeare has Launcelot, one of the “good” guys, say that we had better be careful about converting so many Jews to Christianity; all we’ll be doing is raising the price of pork.

But it is in one of the subplots of the play, with the three caskets and Portia’s suitors, that Shakespeare gives us the key to his purpose. One of the suitors is Morocco, a black man, and in the year 1598 Shakespeare has him speak these amazing lines;

Mislike me not for my complexion,

The shadowed livery of the burnished sun,

To whom I am neighbor and near bred.

 “Bring me the fairest blond from your northern forests, make the incisions and you’ll find my blood as red as his,” says Morocco .  Thus Morocco’s brief part in the play unlocks the door to the whole business.  Shylock asks, “When you prick us, do we not bleed?” Morocco, Shylock, Antonio- under the skin all men are brothers.

Shakespeare leads us up to the clincher. The audience and the players are now waiting for the big moment before the court where Shylock is bringing his suit against Antonio, the merchant, for his pound of flesh. Portia enters disguised as a lawyer and what does she say? What are her first words at this final showdown between the “good” guys and the “bad” guys?  Portia asks a most natural question:

Which is the Merchant here, and which the Jew?

Both the Plaintiff and the Defendant are standing before the court. Portia has never seen either one of them before, but as an educated gentlewoman she has behind her the culture of many centuries of the stereotyped Jew. If not actually with horns, you certainly can recognize the “devil” a mile away. And there he is ten feet away- she has a fifty fifty chance at making a guess between the “good” guy and the “bad” guy but she won’t risk it.

Which is the Merchant here, and which the Jew?

And when it all goes against Shylock, Shakespeare seems to go out of his way to give us a frightening picture of the “victors.”  He has them standing together pouring out a stream of vengeance. We’re not through with you yet Jew, and the money we have left you after you have paid all these fines, you must leave that to Jessica and your son in law who robbed you. Shakespeare keeps them hissing their hate.  Tarry yet a while, Jew, we’re still not through with you. You must also become a Christian. The final irony.  The gift offered in an atmosphere which is blue with hatred. And as all of this is going on, Shakespeare leaves only Shylock with a shred of dignity!

I pray you, give me leave to go from hence.


Written by Harry Golden in The Carolina Israelite- 1961
Also published in “Only In America ” by Harry Golden