A great piece on why institutions have all gone woke – it’s from Richard Hanania’s newsletter. (I have at least one sibling who insists to me that the left have not won the culture wars – honestly, I don’t know what planet this otherwise observant person is on!) FYI, the article is from last year but still on the ball. One of the joys of interrupted sleep is that I find cool things while scrolling in the wee small hours.
A good piece here about Ken Burns’ series on the Holocaust. It’s an engrossing, compelling and thorough (and thoroughly depressing, given the subject matter) series in many ways, and of a high quality that we expect from Burns. But it is oh, so, political. Which trivializes its topic, in a very real and unnecessary manner:
Just as important, The U.S. and the Holocaust concludes by noting the passage of more liberal immigration laws in the 1960s and then showing a montage, including protests about the collapse of security at America’s southern border; former President Donald Trump’s demand that a border wall be built; the 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia; the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting; and finally, the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot. We hear warnings from talking heads that America’s thin veneer of civilization could, like Germany’s, collapse more quickly than we think—a not-so-subtle nod in the direction of the contemporary Democratic Party’s pose as the defenders of democracy against their Republican opponents.
So ham-handed. I have no objection on pointing out how few Jews the United States allowed in – Canada was even worse. We should all know this and be ashamed. It’s the partisanship and the attempt to link what happened then with current headlines that bothers me. Bari Weiss very firmly – and diplomatically – challenges Burns at her podcast/interview here. I like the way she is making him uncomfortable about his misuse of history. But she is too gentle when he insists he is not being political in his selected montage of American bigotry and antisemitism (all Republicans). What she could have asked was, “Ok, if that is the case, then why not include, in your montage, one of Ilhan Omar’s many antisemitic comments?” Regardless, her interview with him is excellent and not only for the moments in which she lets him know she is not impressed.
I understand that – just as one can live through something that seems traumatic and later see it was not a big deal – one can look back on an experience that seemed benign at the time and realize it was quite the opposite and that it had long-lasting and negative effects. (I have had both epiphanies about past experiences.) I wondered about this when I read of the lawsuit filed by Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting against Paramount Pictures in regards their Romeo and Juliet nude scene. The movie was made over 50 years ago, but California temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for some child sex abuse cases. Hussey, as recently as 2019, said the scene was no big deal and she also worked with Franco Zeffirelli again, in his television mini-series Jesus of Nazareth (a thoroughly gorgeous production). The actors are asking for $500 million to make up for emotional damage and lost revenue – they say they were duped and coerced into the scene. I imagine whatever outcome there is will depend on what contracts were signed and whether their parents agreed to what was seen on screen, as Hussey and Whiting were under-aged. (Zeffirelli’s son has responded.) But if indeed their concern is protecting young people from exploitation (a noble goal), one might think the suit wouldn’t be about such a huge sum of money, but rather a chance to discuss their experiences as teenagers in the movie industry. One might think a lawsuit would not be necessary at all – a speaking tour might suffice, or a book. For what it is worth, I adore the film in question and remember seeing it for the first time as a teen and then again in a university English class. There was nothing titillating about it.
Paul Johnson died and I wanted to pay tribute to him and his work, in particular this book, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties. I read it as a young woman and really felt I had found a response – or maybe a counterbalance – to so much of the complacency and received wisdom I was seeing around me. He was a species that we need and lack – a self-taught popular historian, and also an object lesson in an intellectual who understood that intellectuals are bad. Perhaps Andrew Roberts is the closest person we have to that now.
David Crosby died. Now, I’m of the belief that the 1960s have a lot for which to answer, and I do so tire of Boomers and their incessant romanticizing of anti-war protests and dancing naked in the rain at Woodstock and blah blah blah. Seriously, who cares? So I was pleasantly surprised when I watched this documentary about Crosby a couple of years ago and saw what an interesting, honest and oddly delightful – though by all accounts difficult – person he seemed to be. I quite liked his ageing hippie wife, too. And I’ve always loved so much of his music, in particular when performed by Crosby, Stills and Nash. Those harmonies! I get goosebumps from the following two songs. (I’ve long thought people like Bob Dylan and Crosby ought to stick to love songs. The political stuff is annoying.) Thank you for the music.
Sometimes, when I can’t sleep through the night (which is often), I do what you are not supposed to do in that situation and scroll on my phone or tablet. Recently, in the wee small hours one night/morning, I discovered this interview (I think it is more than one interview edited together) with journalist Togo Tanaka. Fascinating. I learned a lot and also enjoyed Tanaka’s calming voice.
“Who knocks tonight so late?”
the weary porter said.
Three kings stood at the gate,
each with a crown on head.
The serving man bowed down,
the Inn was full, he knew.
Said he, “In all this town
is no fit place for you.”
A light in the manger lit;
there lay the Mother meek.
This place is fit.
Here is the rest we seek.
Come, come. They loosed their latchet strings,
so stood they all unshod
“Come in, come in, ye kings,
and kiss the feet of God.”
- Laurence Housman