Correcting the Stratfordian Caterwaulers

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I may have spoken too soon when I said that the movie Anonymous is pretty good. When I put up the link, it had an 80% “fresh” rating at RottenTomatoes.com. As of this writing, that number has dipped down to 40%, making it certified “rotten.” I’m reading all the reviews with delight, as it’s exciting to see a topic in which I’ve been interested for decades finally get a broad audience. What’s remarkable to me, however, is that the reviews spend less time criticizing the actual film and more time lambasting the theory behind it.

The New York Times calls it “a vulgar prank on the English literary tradition, a travesty of British history and a brutal insult to the human imagination,” and then adds: “Apart from that, it’s not bad.”

I have yet to see the film, which won’t reach Utah for another week, but it’s fun to watch film reviewers become newly-conscripted Shakespeare defenders. As they take issue with some of the central tenets of the Oxfordian theory, it’s clear that most of them are parroting conventional wisdom about which they know next to nothing.

Case in point: Oxfordians are simply snobs.

“The argument against the man from Stratford comes down to that tiresome English obsession: class snobbery,” writes USA Today. “There [is] something repellent at the heart of the theory, and that something is the toad, snobbery,” writes Stratfordian snob Simon Schama in Newsweek. The headline in the UK Telegraph reads “Only foolish snobs don’t believe in William Shakespeare.”

And on and on it goes.

It might help the case if some of these writers could consult a thesaurus and come up with a different word now and again. Synonyms for “snob” include “braggart, highbrow, name-dropper, parvenu, pretender, smarty pants, stiff neck,” and “upstart.” Pick one, guys. Pick several. When you read the word “snob” a dozen times, it loses all meaning and sounds vaguely ridiculous, like some kind of sea mutant.

It’s telling that the first refuge for those who defend the man from Stratford is ad hominem attacks. Maybe I am a snob. Perhaps I’m also a parvenu. Maybe I wear a monocle, a top hat, and call my wife “Lovey.” Even if all that were true, that doesn’t answer the question, which is not “Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare” – yes, he did – but, rather, “who was Shakespeare?”

The reason why we Oxfordians are branded snobs is that we claim that the man from Stratford was not Shakespeare, because his circumstances would have made that impossible. Defenders of the traditional theory, dubbed “Stratfordians,” insist that means Oxfordians don’t believe people of humble circumstances can have talent and achieve anything great. In fact, it means nothing of the sort.

Let us suppose, just for the sake of argument, that the man from Stratford was the most brilliant, talented, supernal genius the world has ever seen. He still couldn’t have been Shakespeare, because there is a distinct difference between “talent” and “opportunity.” The case for Oxford rests not on Oxford’s superior birth, but rather his superior access.

Shakespeare’s works are based on source materials that had not yet been translated into English, materials to which the man from Stratford would have had neither ability to read nor access to read them. The plays reference geographical details that perfectly coincide with Oxford’s experience and would have been completely unknown to the son of an illiterate glover who likely never traveled outside of southern England. There are elements of legal theory, falconry, courtly history, and other specific facts that Shakespeare clearly knew and the man from Stratford couldn’t possibly have known. Even if Mr. Shaksper of Stratford were ridiculously, obscenely talented, he would have been incapable of conjuring facts he had no opportunity to learn out of the ether.

There are other facts, too. Shakespeare’s Sonnets are the biographical work of an old nobleman writing gay love poems to a young nobleman with whom he had clearly been intimately involved. That fits perfectly with Oxford and makes absolutely no sense when applied to the man from Stratford, who would likely have been arrested for writing such presumptuous nonsense to a member of the royal family. Consequently, Stratfordians are forced to dismiss the Sonnets as mere “literary exercises” with no biographical information, even though the facts strongly suggest otherwise.

The fallback position, then, is for reviewers to state unequivocally that Oxford couldn’t possibly have written these plays, because he died in 1604, “before 10 or so of Shakespeare’s plays were written,” as sudden Shakespeare celeb James Shapiro points out in the New York Times. (Shapiro, incidentally, is the author of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, which I found to be the most persuasive defense of the Stratford man’s claims to authorship ever written, although I remain unconvinced.)

Shapiro’s statement is nonsense.

In the first place, we essentially have no idea when these plays were written. All we have is references to when they were performed, which have created a convoluted chronology that has been retrofitted to coincide with the man from Stratford’s life.

For example, there is a reference to the play Hamlet that appears as early as 1587, when the man from Stratford was only 23 years old. (Oxford was 37.) Since most scholars maintain that Hamlet was one of Shakespeare’s later works, they can’t reconcile the early date with the conventional dating, so they conclude that this reference was to what is called the “Ur-Hamlet,” a play “likely written by Thomas Kyd” that Shakespeare used as a source for his later play of the same name. There is no evidence of any other Hamlet other than Shakespeare’s, and the facts suggest that Hamlet was written by 1587. But since that flies in the face of the Stratfordian theory, new facts are invented to account for the discrepancy.

Author Paul Anderson has pointed out that, while we can’t pinpoint the precise genesis of any of these plays, we can determine the date their source materials were written. None of his plays make any conclusive reference to any sources that were written after the year 1604, which, not coincidentally, is the year the Earl of Oxford died. (It was fully twelve years before the death of the man from Stratford.) Is it a snobbish question to ask why Shakespeare stopped reading new books after 1604? (Answer to that question: he was dead.)

I write this not to defend Anonymous, which clearly plays fast and loose with history on a number of fronts. But that doesn’t give the movie’s critics to ignore history themselves, nor does it allow them to get away with pretending that accusations of snobbery constitute a credible argument.

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They

Saw the following quote on a friend’s Facebook page today:

“Forget the politicians. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice . . . you don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own, and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought, and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the state houses, the city halls, they got the judges in their back pockets and they own all the big media companies, so they control just about all of the news and information you get to hear. They got you by the balls… and nobody seems to notice. Nobody seems to care. That’s what the owners count on. The fact that Americans will probably remain willfully ignorant of the big red, white and blue d-ck that’s being jammed up their a–holes everyday, because the owners of this country know the truth. It’s called the American Dream cause you have to be asleep to believe it.”
– George Carlin*

So, bottom line: they own me. They are doing spurious, indiscreet things to me. The idea that I have any choice, any freedom, any ability to better myself – that’s all crap. They own me. So when I wake up and realize my life is crap, I have no one to blame but myself them. THEM! THEY did this!

So who are “they?”

Membership in the Club of They seems to require a whole lot of money. The Occupy Wall Street crowd insists that they are “the 99%,” meaning that those in the top 1% of income or wealth are “They.” So if 99% of Americans are poorer than me, I’m “They.”

But that begs the question – wasn’t George Carlin one of “They?”

Certainly he was in the top 1% of wage earners in the United States before his untimely death. Certainly he had far more cash than was necessary to fulfill his basic needs. Certainly he was not one of the bourgeois plebeians that “They” take such delight in exploiting. Indeed, so many who decry what “They” do are “They” themselves. But Carlin can say all of that with a straight face, and nobody calls him on it.

Or take Roseanne Barr. She has called for the return of the guillotine to behead “They.” She defines “They” as anyone with more than $100 million of personal wealth. The problem is that you only need a tiny fraction of that total to put yourself in the “They” echelon in which Barr herself undeniably resides. So enjoy your 99.7 mil, Rosie. Another few hundred thousand and your head comes off.

Here’s another problem. Over the course of my life, I’ve met more than my fair share of “They.” I’ve met rich dudes; I’ve met political dudes; I’ve even met presidents and former presidents. I’ve never encountered a single person in that echelon who was aware that they were metaphorically violating me on a daily basis. Indeed, most of them were preoccupied with how they could use their wealth and power to build a better world. If they have a failing, it is that too many of them see their efforts as being thwarted by the mysterious “They” who, unlike the beneficent, George Carlin and Roseanne Barr-like Rich, live every minute to find new ways to screw you over.

And, in every case, “They” are slightly different.

For the Democrats, “They” are Republicans who hate the little guy. For the Republicans, “They” are the Democrats who hate America. Those slightly less non-ideological still see a nebulous “They” out there that gives them an excuse to pretend that their lives are beyond their control and therefore beyond their responsibility. There’s a warped sense of security in that, I think, but it comes at way too high a cost.

This is the primary problem that comes with seeing the world through the narrow prism of politics. Politics is adversarial by nature, and someone has to lose in order for someone else to win. That provides intellectual justification for “They-ism,” and becomes a quick route to demonization. If I’m virtuous, then it follows that They must be evil. And, in both cases, the virtue and the evil are both vastly overstated.

I am making a concerted effort to stop looking at the world in purely political terms. In most endeavors in life, my success is not predicated on someone else’s failure. Conversely, if someone else wins – and wins big! – that doesn’t mean I’ve lost anything. And the minute I cede responsibility for my life to the vile machinations of some nameless, faceless They, I banish myself to an intellectual cul-de-sac that justifies a life of continual failure.

I refuse to do that.

I have a family that I love that They can’t take from me. I have a relationship with God that They can’t touch. And I have a faith in the divine that makes everything that They try to do to me ultimately and utterly irrelevant.

And there ain’t nothing They can do about it.

* I saw George Carlin live in concert at the Universal Amphitheatre in 1987. I tried to heckle him. It didn’t go well.

Galactica or GINO?

Interesting follow-ups to my last post:

1. Apparently, Anonymous is pretty good. I don’t know if that means it’s good history, but it seems to be good entertainment. I hope people can recognize the difference between the two.

2. Anonymous is being pulled from wide release. Apparently, market research shows that there’s not a whole lot of interest on whether or not Edward de Vere use the name William Shakespeare as a pseudonym. Five minutes on this blog could’ve told you that.

3. The writer of Anonymous is moving on to his next gig: a big-screen adaptation of Battlestar Galactica.

Initially, when I heard this, I was rather excited. Bryan Singer, the guy who dropped Battlestar like a hot potato about a decade ago when he was in the middle of staging a faithful revival thereof, is slated to direct, and all indications were that this was going to be based on the original series, not GINO (Galactica In Name Only.) I’m a RINO, yes, but not a GINO fan.

The first comments I saw from John Orloff, the writer in question, had me very excited.

“I have wanted to write this movie since I was 12 years old, and built a Galactica model from scratch out of balsa wood, cardboard, old model parts and LEDs… I love BSG, and I would pass on the job rather than frak it up.”

That’s not quite as impressive as my own story, which involves baking a cake replica of a Colonial Viper for a Cub Scout cake cookoff. But it seems sufficient. This guy seemed to get it. Maybe we’ll see a faithful revival of Battlestar Galactica after all.

Then again, maybe not.

This quote was brought to my attention. Same guy, different take:

“I’m a huge fan of the original series and of the second show, too. But I always thought the first show was a little too heavily reliant on ‘Star Wars,’ you know? Whereas I think the second show was really original and really cool. And I think I’ve come up with a way to write this movie that won’t f–k any of that up. I’m not sure how much they want me to talk about it. Let’s just say it’s not what you expect. It will all work in the universe that exists. It will not conflict with anything Ron Moore has done. I don’t think you can compete with what he’s done.”

Once again, we have all of the same tired elitist tropes on display. In order to show appreciation of Battlestar Galactica, the enlightened soul has to praise GINO and bash the original series. It’s hard to imagine this guy having so much affection for the original show if he’s naive enough to believe that all Galactican brilliance lies in Ron Moore’s heavily bastardized version. It makes you wonder what it was he was building in balsa wood.

Still, for those of you glass-is–half-full original series fans out there, these statements do offer some glimmers of hope.

My guess is that the entire premise will hinge on Moore’s tired cliche that “all this has happened before, and all this will happen again.” In other words, oblique references will be made to Moore’s universe, albeit shrouded in myth and legend. Under that premise, the original series could have taken place in Moore’s universe, too, either thousands of years before or thousands of years after. (Or millions, depending on your timeframe.) Consequently, we could get a version that is still true to the original series that doesn’t undo Moore’s dreck.

The problem with that, of course, is that Moore’s series has a definite timeline. His GINOids arrived on Earth in the distant past and formed the basis of modern humanity. Given GINO’s final shots in modern Times Square, it would be hard to create any anticipation around a search for an earth that has clearly already been found. One of the tantalizing aspects of the original series was that you never knew when it was taking place. Was it the future? The past? Or Galactica 1980’s puerile present? In order to do a show that will “not conflict with anything Ron Moore has done,” it has to take place in a timeframe unrelated to ours, and their search for Earth won’t have anything to do with us.

I just hope Dirk Benedict’s Starbuck is in it, and that Richard Hatch isn’t.

De Vere Goes Hollywood

Everytime I try to say anything about the Shakespeare Authorship Question, as it is called among us artsy types who give a rip, I can feel all of your collective eyes rolling out in cyberspace. I get it. You don’t care. I should move on.

Hollywood, however, has come calling, and the first big budget cinematic treatment of the issue comes in the form of Roland Emmerich’s magnum opus Anonymous, which posits that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the true author of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. Several of my Shakespearean-minded Facebook friends posted a link to this article in the New York Times, which takes issue with the aggressive propoganda campaign accompanying the movie. Apparently, the producers are sending “study guides” to high school classrooms to present the evidence for de Vere, and orthodox Shakespeare scholars aren’t particularly happy about it.

Well, neither am I, if truth by told.

Why? As a believer in the Oxfordian theory – i.e. Oxford was Shakespeare – shouldn’t I be cheering the attempt to bring the Authorship Question out into the open? People who have collectively rolled their eyes may now be compelled to address these issues once and for all! Isn’t that great?

Again, no.

Anonymous, in my estimation, will prove to be no friend of the Oxfordian cause. As the New York Times article states, “Supporters of de Vere’s candidacy who have awaited this film with excitement may come to regret it, for ‘Anonymous’ shows, quite devastatingly, how high a price they must pay to unseat Shakespeare.”

That sentence is based on many false assumptions, all of which will likely be reinforced by Emmerich’s movie.

In the first place, I have no desire to “unseat Shakespeare.” William Shakespeare wrote William Shakespeare’s plays. The question should not be, “Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare?” but, rather, “Who was Shakespeare?”

The answer is that William Shakespeare was the pseudonym of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Mark Twain [Samuel Clemens] wrote Mark Twain; George Orwell [Eric Blair] wrote George Orwell, and William Shakespeare [Edward DeVere] wrote William Shakespeare. It wasn’t until years after his death, and the death of the similarly-named William Shaksper of Stratford-on-Avon, that the plays began to be attributed to the second man instead of the first. There are credible and simple explanations for that which don’t require the intellectually “high price” that the New York Times talks about, but those explanations aren’t nearly as exciting as the nonsense that forms the dramatic backdrop for Emmerich’s flick.

Anonymous is not content to claim that de Vere was the Bard; they also insist he was the true King of England, too.

According to the movie’s theory, de Vere was both the son and the lover(!) of Queen Elizabeth I, the so-called “Virgin Queen” who, in their estimation, was anything but. Elizabeth then conceived Oxford’s son/half-brother, Henry Wriothsley, the Earl of Southhampton, who grew up to be Oxford’s gay lover and the subject of his homosexually-tinged Sonnets. It’s all very incestuous and sleazy, which may make for a guiltily pleasurable foray to the movie theatre, but as history, it’s complete hooey. There are shorter, more direct intellectual routes to Oxfordianism than this soap opera morass, and one does not have to believe that if Oxford was Shakespeare, it automatically follows that he impregnated his mother and diddled his son.

The Oxfordian Theory is controversial enough without this added baggage, and my fear is that this movie will forever link the plausible with the wildly implausible and bury the credible elements of the Oxfordian argument under this extra, unnecessary weight.

A RINO Manifesto

From 2004 until 2010, I essentially made my living as a paid Republican hack. So it’s really remarkable to me that I discover that I am, according to the Tea Party, a RINO.

RINO, in case you been living under a rock for the past decade, is an acronym that stands for Republican In Name Only. In order to be a true Republican, one must swear eternal allegiance to every last Republican tenet or risk being shunned by those More Republican Than Thou.

The problem, however, is that it becomes harder and harder to pinpoint exactly what those tenets are. It’s not easy to identify the ideological underpinnings of a movement driven by anger rather than reason.

Take, for example, Herman Cain.

I know I said plenty about that guy yesterday, but it’s worth noting that if the Republican Party stands for anything, it’s lower taxes. So how to explain the fact that the Tea Party’s latest darling is someone who wants to jack taxes up sky high for well over half of Americans? Then people like me come along and say that’s a bad idea, and somehow we’re the RINOs.

Something is very wrong with this picture.

It’s remarkable to me that the Republican Party has been able to maintain a high level of Ronald Reagan worship amid all of the Tea Party nastiness, when it’s painfully clear that on two of the most pressing issues facing our nation, namely entitlements and immigration, Ronald Reagan was the epitome of RINOism. Reagan was guilty of doubling the payroll tax to shore up Social Security and offering real amnesty to illegal aliens, not the pretend amnesty that President Bush proposed and caused conniption fits among rhinoceros haters.

Indeed, watching the immigration issue play out here in the state of Utah is particularly fascinating. The Tea Party in Utah somehow manages to outcrazy the Tea Partiers nationally by adopting the policy positions of one W. Cleon Skousen, a dead John Birch Society relic who made a living by mixing rancid interpretations of Mormon prophecy into hard right politics. (Glenn Beck is Mr. Skousen’s intellectual stepchild.) The smug self-righteousness of the Skousenites is truly staggering, but that doesn’t trouble them at all, because they’re going to heaven and you’re not. In their mind, religion and Republicanism are the same thing.

But then a strange thing happened. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints came out with a very tolerant and inclusive call for immigration laws that are reasonable and workable and don’t involve rounding up a dozen million people and tossing them over the border to Tijuana. The LDS Church does not make it a habit to inject itself into political discussions on a regular basis, so on the rare instances when they do so, members of the church ought to stand up and take notice.

Utah’s Tea Party did exactly that. At the Utah Republican State Convention this past year, they passed resolutions to say why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was dead wrong on this issue.

Apparently, it’s more important to these Super Mormons to be Republican than it is to be Mormon.

Ronald Reagan once said he didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left him. I believe the same things I have always believed, and yet now I am not a real Republican, and, according to Utah Republicans, I’m probably not a real Mormon, either.

This needs to stop.

Mainstream conservatives – and mainstream Mormons, for that matter – need to stand up and reassert themselves. There are still more of us in Utah than there are of them. If we let them continue to define what constitutes being a Republican, then we have no one to blame but ourselves when there isn’t a single political party that represents what mainstream conservatives believe.

RINOs and MINOs, unite! You have nothing to lose but your green Jell-O salad!

The Case Against Cain

If you read the Drudge Report, then you’ll become convinced very quickly the Herman Cain is going to be the Republican nominee. He’s surging in the polls, and the latest general election matchup shows him beating President Obama. Now, I would like to say with certainty that Herman Cain will not be the Republican nominee. In previous election cycles, when the world made a little more sense, I actually could say that with certainty. But with the Tea Party frothing at the mouth, anything goes.

The fact that anybody is taking this man seriously is a sure sign that our electoral process is collapsing around our ears. Understand that this is a man with absolutely no governmental experience at all, which seems to be a resume enhancement to the Tea Party. The problem with having absolutely no governmental experience is that when you’re in government, you have to deal with governmental things. That includes more than implementing single-digit flat taxes.

Herman Cain, at one point, was asked about the Palestinian right of return. He made it very clear very quickly that he had no idea what the Pali-whojiwatsit right of refund was.

Now, granted, not everybody needs to understand the intricacies of the Middle East peace process. But a potential presidential candidate does, and I’m not convinced that Herman Cain even knows where the Middle East is.

I grant that there is much about Herman Cain that is attractive and appealing. First of all, his name is Herman, which is really cool in a retro kind of way. Then there’s the fact that he’s charismatic; he’s no-nonsense, and, yes, he’s African-American. All those who think the Tea Party is racist can’t explain why it’s the Tea Party that is bolstering this clearly-unqualified man’s candidacy. In the abstract, it should be heartening to people of goodwill of any ideological stripe to consider the possibility that our general election candidates might both be black. It shows just how far we’ve come as a nation in terms of ignoring race as anything but a cosmetic factor. But, unfortunately, the devil is in the details. A qualified black Republican would be a great thing. That’s not Herman Cain, who only proves that African-Americans can be loony Republicans, too.

Consider his signature issue: the “9-9-9″ tax plan.

To begin with, it doesn’t have a holy chance in Hades of ever even being considered by the United States Congress. And, in the absurdly unlikely event that it does come up for a vote, Democrats will filibuster the living snot out of it; Republicans won’t want to touch it, and it will die a miserable and well-deserved death.

The poison pill in the thing is the 9% national sales tax.

Currently, almost every state in the nation relies on a sales tax as its primary source of revenue generation. Having the feds come in and slap an additional 9% on everything will make the cost of goods and services for the average American whole lot more expensive than they’re willing to pay, so state governments will see pressure to see them slash taxes and revenues in ways that they will not be able to afford, particularly during this economic downturn.

Remember, 48% of All-Americans don’t pay any income taxes at all. The 9% income tax that Cain is proposing will supposedly replace the payroll tax, so Mr. Kane claims that’s a tax cut for those currently paying about 14% in payroll taxes. The problem is that, currently, half of that is born by employers, so it’s only the self-employed will see that as a tax cut. Slap a 9% sales tax on top of a new 9% income tax, and you’re going to see a massive revolt among the people who currently think it’s only the so- called Rich’s responsibility to pay for government.

Dont misunderstand. Tax cuts are always nice, and slashing the corporate tax would go along way toward creating scads of new jobs, but this is not a tax cut for the vast majority of Americans; it is, rather, a colossal, regressive tax increase for the middle class, and no matter how much the Tea Party loves it, the American electorate is not going to stand for it.

So, to sum up: Herman Cain is impractical, inexperienced, and ignorant.

That makes him the perfect Tea Party candidate.

Heaven help us all.

Dramatically Speaking

So I’m writing this blog update on my iPhone 4S. I’m doing it while I’m driving, but it’s not nearly as dangerous as that sounds. The voice recognition software for this iPhone is truly remarkable, and it’s really the best feature of all of the upgraded stuff from the previous version.

Of course, I wouldn’t really know anything about that, because my last phone was an iPhone 3G, which has been obsolete for about a year and a half. I shouldn’t complain, because it’s a real “First World” problem, as they say, but I’ve been wanting a new phone for ages, and when I became eligible for my latest upgrade, I waited for the iPhone 5 before I took action.

Of course, the iPhone 5 never came, but the iPhone 4S is the next best thing. I’m not sure what people expect the iPhone 5 to be, because there was a wave of disappointment when the four ass [Editor’s note: this is the first speech recognition error thus far, and it’s a doozy] didn’t include that magic five number. I was one of those who was disappointed, but now that I have the four ass [i.e. 4s], I’m so thrilled with how much faster the thing is that I have no complaints.

The newest feature that gets the most attention is Siri, a voice activated personal assistant. I found Siri to be remarkable, but for reasons that have nothing to do with voice recognition. On my iPhone 3G, it took about five minutes for the map application to work. Now, all I have to do was ask Siri to find something for me, and presto, they’re idiots. [I actually said “presto, there it is,” but I like the mistaken version better.]

That isn’t the reason my children you Siri, however. They ask any question they can think of, hoping that the folks in Cupertino to come up with some clever answer. We found some fun ones, including the meaning of life and Klaatu barada nikto. It’s clear that the people who who program this thing or science-fiction geeks. You could ask it to being [beam] you up and it’ll stay “energizing.” You say Klaatu barada nikto and it promises to pass the information on to Gort. Ask for the meaning of life, and you’ll get “42.” If you don’t understand any of those answers, you’re not a science fiction geek. I personally enjoy the answer to the question “how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.” Apparently, it depends on if you’re talking about an African or European woodchuck. Some Monty Python fans among the science-fiction geeks, it seems.

Speaking of bizarre comedy mixing with science-fiction, the same day I got my iPhone, I also picked up a copy of William Shatner’s latest magnum opus, Seeking Major Tom. I really have no excuse for that, except that I watch every episode of S%#^ My Dad Says, which means that I am as devoted to William Shatner fan is you could possibly be. There is no other reason to subject yourself to this kind of nonsense other than your shot Mary and worship. [I tried to say “pure Shatnerian worship,” but the speech recognition software doesn’t let you make up words.]

On this latest CD, satin or [Shatner] does his same old stick [shtick] with a whole bunch of classic rock tunes. Instead of singing, Shatner’s makes [Shatner speaks] his way through all of the songs, which gets especially strange with local masterpieces like “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The conceit is not a new one, and it’s not nearly as fun now that Shatner himself seems to get the joke. The surgeons [versions] are beautifully orchestrated, but then when you hear Shatner coming in and plowing his way through with his overblown dramatic nonsense, you end up doing wishing you were listening to the original versions instead. There’re some exceptions, of course, especially his bizarre take on “She Blinded Me With Science,” which seems to have been designed to be mutilated by William Shatner. Other musicians lend a hand, too, most notably Cheryl Frelon this is Maj. Tom. [Sheryl Crow on “Mrs. Major Tom.] Still, its all kind of pointless – everybody recognizes that Shatner has stopped taking himself seriously and has become a caricature of the caricature of himself.

Very little of this album is worth listening to twice, with the exception of the Thomas Dolby number and wonderful version of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” which Shatner actually sings alongside an Aussie [Ozzy] sound alike. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is just embarrassing, and when Shatner’s tries to sing the song “Struggle,”he tries to find dozens of ways to say the word “struggle” in a very strongly [struggly] sort of way. Songs with very few lyrics just don’t work when all you’re doing is speaking them.

Perhaps the weirdest irony about this album is that Shatner’s recorded version of Elton John’s “Rocketman” is strangely muted. Everyone with a YouTube account has seen Shatner barrel his way through this number to 1970s award show clip, so perhaps Shatner felt his latest version needed to be different enough from that one before to be worth recording. Or perhaps this last histrionic version is his way of saying sorry for the previous one.

Bottom line: skip this album and watch Shatner’s old Priceline commercials on YouTube instead.

And thus concludes my first dictated blog entry. When I stop driving, I plan to go through it and edit it so if there’re [it bears] some resemblance to written English, but I will probably leave some of the more Regis [egregious] and funny errors as they are.

Unequal Occupation

There’s a cool, creepy old Twilight Zone episode called “Button, Button,” where a mysterious stranger arrives at the home of a suburban couple. He brings a box with him, and he tells the couple that if they’ll just push the button inside the box, they can have two hundred thousand bucks.

What’s the catch?

Well, if they press the button, someone they don’t know will die.

The rest of the episode focuses on them agonizing over the morally portentous decision, and you’ll have to watch it yourself to figure out what happens. (SPOILER: Okay, I’ll tell you. They don’t press the button, but the stranger gives them the cash anyway and takes the button away to give it to, and I quote, “someone they don’t know,” implying that if that someone presses the button, the couple will die. Moral of the Story: Don’t mess around with Twilight Zoners because they’re always creepy freaks.)

Anyway, let’s change the scenario a bit. Suppose the same stranger offers you a different choice. If you press the button, you get a million dollars, but someone you don’t know… will get five million dollars. If you don’t press the button, neither of you get anything. Nobody dies, though. There’s no other catch. Nobody gets cursed or turned into a zombie or forced to eat haggis. The only catch is that somebody else will get five times more money than you will.

Guess what, folks. I’m all for pressing that button.

As I watch the weirdness surrounding this whole “Occupy Wall Street” movement, I really wonder if these angry people have any idea what they’re doing. They’re mad, which I get, so they want Wall Street to… what? Give them all their money? Well, then they’d be the rich jerks that would need to be occupied, wouldn’t they? No, not if it’s distributed equally.

Okay, then, how much do I get?

Well, dividing the billions up over 300 million American citizens, I might end up with a few hundred bucks in the bargain. Carve it up across the population of the world as a whole, and maybe I’ll get a nice dinner out of it. In the meantime, all the people who created that wealth are no longer hiring anyone, all of the banks that financed the businesses that made people rich are kaput, and everybody ends up out of a job.

That’s not a good button to press.

Please tell me where I’m wrong, but from where I’m sitting, rich people didn’t get their money by stealing it from me. I never had it, and the fact that they have it doesn’t mean I would get it if they didn’t. The fact that they have it also doesn’t mean that there’s no wealth out there for me to get. Wealth isn’t static – it grows and contracts along with the economy. If you confiscate all of it, you ended up killing the incentive to create it, which means you have less of it to redistribute.

Would it be nice if everyone were equally rich? Well, yes, in theory, but even then, there are problems. It would be nice if everyone had a billion dollars. But I would rather that 99% of people had twenty bucks and one guy had a billion dollars than have a scenario where 100% of the people have nothing. Equality is a great virtue, but it’s not the only virtue, and when zealots pursue it at the cost of all else, they lose sight of the reasons they were attracted to equality in the first place.

This is merely an observation, not a solution. As I get older, I realize that there is no utopian governmental system that can right all the wrongs of an imperfect world. Only God can do that, which is why I have more faith in Him than I do in Wall Street occupiers, Tea Partiers, or politicians of any stripe.

“Mormon Jesus” vs. “Christian Jesus”

I have nothing new to add to the national Are-Mormons-Christians nonsense that has once more reared its ugly head. I said my peace here, and I addressed it even further here. In that second link, I address the idea that even though Mormons profess faith in Christ, we’re so far out of step in how we view the Savior that our Jesus isn’t the same Jesus that Christians revere, so the “Mormon Jesus” is an entirely different guy than the Christian Jesus, and we’re all doomed to eternal hellfire because we’re worshiping the wrong dude.

I think that’s a really, really, stupid idea, and I want to explain why.

Do Mormons believe Jesus is the Son of God? Yes. Do they believe He was born of a virgin, that He performed the miracles described in the New Testament, that He was crucified and died for our sins, and that He was resurrected on the third day after His death? Yes. Do Mormons try to emulate and live according to Christ’s moral teachings as found in the New Testament? Yes.

Do they believe there is any other way to heaven other than the atoning blood of Jesus Christ? No.

So far, then, the Mormon Jesus and the Christian Jesus look identical, don’t they? Where’s the problem?

Well, maybe you could start with the fact that we believe Jesus did other stuff, too. For example, we believe that after His resurrection, He appeared to the “other sheep” He mentioned in John 10:16, some of whom were scattered across the American continent. That visit is chronicled in the still-controversial Book of Mormon, and it stands as “proof” to many Mormon bashers that the Mormon Jesus is wildly out of kilter with the Christian Jesus.

That would make some sense, then, if the Mormon Jesus showed up in America and said ridiculous, contradictory things to what the Christian Jesus said.

“Hey, guys, I told the people over in Jerusalem to love their neighbors and stuff. But for you guys, I have a new law: finders keepers, losers weepers! Can I have an amen? Hallelujah!”

The problem, though, is that this so-called Mormon Jesus says nothing of the sort. He teaches nothing that subverts anything He did that is recorded in the New Testament. He repeats the Sermon on the Mount; He heals the sick and blesses the children, and He preaches the gospel, which sounds suspiciously like the gospel He taught in the Old World.

So maybe the problem, then, is that He does something that is not recorded in the Bible, because the Bible is supposed to constitute a complete record of everything Jesus did. But that’s really silly. Not even the Bible itself can support that claim. John ends his gospel by saying that “there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” (John 21:25) So where does the idea come from that the Christian and/or Mormon Jesus should be confined solely to the pages of the Bible, never to speak again? That Jesus certainly isn’t the Jesus that John is describing.

If you dig deeper, then, you find out that the Mormon Jesus is the wrong guy because even though Mormons think he’s the Son of God, they get God wrong. Son of which God? Zeus? Thor? We Mormons apparently worship a different God, so saying Jesus is His son doesn’t really get us very far, does it?

Do Mormons really worship a different God?

The First Article of Faith in the LDS Church states the following: “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” We believe that all three of these beings are perfectly united in might, majesty, and authority, that all three can rightly be called God, and that their unity is absolute, perfect, and unshakable, which makes them one God in purpose and power.

Orthodox Christians have absolutely no problem with any of those ideas – except they add one more concept on top of it. When the Bible speaks of unity between the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, they aren’t thinking just of purpose but of “substance” or “body.” That is, the Father IS the Son IS the Holy Ghost. Mormons reject that idea, because, frankly, it makes no sense. How can God be three people and one person at the same time? The Trinitarian answer is that He can because He’s God, and how He does it is a mystery that is unknowable to the human mind. Again, I find this hard to square with John’s plain language that “life eternal” is to “know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) An incomprehensible God who is somehow His own father is a lot more difficult to know than the Mormon version, I would think.

I’m not alone in believing this – even in the orthodox Christian world. A pollster by the name of Gary Lawrence conducted some research to determine what Orthodox Christians believe. One of his questions to an entirely non-Mormon audience was the following:

“The New Testament says that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are one. Do you believe that means they are one in purpose or one in body?”

By almost two to one, the answer favored the Mormon “one in purpose” version over the Trinitarianly Correct “one in body” answer – 58% purpose, 31% body. In other words, a majority of those who reject Mormonism and nominally embrace the “Christian Jesus” conceive of him largely in “Mormon Jesus” terms. Are they, too, worshiping the wrong God? If they don’t repent and embrace God’s mysterious incomprehensible one-in-three-three-in-oneness, are they not really Christians?

The greater question, however, is whether the Mormon Jesus or the Christian Jesus – or, to make things easier from here on out, the person to whom I will simply refer to as “Jesus” – is going to be giving a theological quiz at the Pearly Gates. Every time Jesus came into contact with legalistic nitpicking, He rejected it in the strongest possible terms. Those who accused the Savior of violating the Sabbath because he failed to obey Pharisaical edicts were rebuked harshly. The Samaritans were hated by the Jews for supposedly not being pure followers of the covenant, yet Christ used the Good Samaritan as the consummate example of human kindness and mercy. At one point, a man cast out devils in Jesus’ name and the disciples “forbad him, because he followeth not us.” Jesus’ response was to correct them and forbid him not, because “he that is not against us is on our part.” (Mark 9:38-40)

Does any of that sound like someone who is going to keep a fervent follower of Christ out of heaven because he doesn’t quite grasp how three people can be one person at the same time?

There are other issues, I suppose, but all of them boil down to theological dogma that has little or nothing to do with the broken heart and contrite spirit that Christ expects from all of us, regardless of what name we use to describe ourselves.

Those who are eager to judge another’s sincerity or authority to worship any Jesus would do well to remember that.

CBC VII – The Final Chapter: July 13, 1985

Why do I remember the specific date of July 13, 1985?

It was the day of Live Aid, the concert where I first discovered Mick Jagger and therefore began a new chapter in my life right after this one ended.

Sad, but true. For behold: July 13, 1985 was the day Charlie Brown died.

No, not the comic strip – Sparky Schulz would keep on drawing the Peanuts gang in original adventures for another decade and a half. But it was the last time I would ever take the stage as Schroeder, and, indeed, the last time I would ever appear in this show in any role ever again.

By the summer of 1985, I’m surprised the show was still limping along. Stallion and Snoopy were the only original cast members left, and I don’t think we had mounted a full version of the show in well over a year. I was gratified, however, that My Esteemed Colleague had been recruited into the cast at this point in the role of Linus, which made rehearsals far more fun – and nonproductive, but in a good way. Everyone had lost interest in the enterprise, but nobody seemed willing to pull the plug.

I recall an attempt to mount the show at the Los Angeles Children’s Museum somewhere near this time, but the museum demanded that the show run continuously throughout the day with no announced beginning or end time. This made no sense, so we abandoned doing the show in the middle of the first performance and started improvising instead. I took to the keyboard and played mysterious-sounding background music whilst My Esteemed Colleague made up disturbing fairy tales on the spot. It was wildly imaginative and a lot of fun, but it had nothing to do with Charlie Brown.

On July 13, 1985, we took this reckless abandon to its logical, turgid conclusion as we took the stage to perform You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at a senior citizen’s center somewhere in the San Fernando Valley.

Our longtime director didn’t bother to show, so the guy in charge was someone we barely knew. I had wanted to spend the day planted in front of the television watching the Live Aid performances, but, no, I had to go be Schroeder for a bunch of folks who may or may not have already been dead. As we finished the opening number and sang, “You could be king, Charlie Brown/You could be king,” we expected some acknowledgment that we had just done something, but what we got was silence. Complete silence. No half-hearted applause, no titters, no raspberries. Just an eerie, old-people silence.

We kept going, and we got the same response. So I began to experiment, and not in a good way. It was the musical theatre equivalent of mad science.

I had one bit early in the show where I come out and talk about how Beethoven loved nature and would take long walks to view the countryside. Knowing that I could have spoken Norwegian and gotten the same response, I decided to ramble on about the power and majesty of rock and roll, and how I was missing Live Aid, and how that sucked, and how all of us should be watching it. It threw our new Lucy off, because she wasn’t sure when her cue to say “give me that ball, you blockhead” was supposed to come. I didn’t much care, and, really, nobody else did, either. With that act of rebellion, the floodgates opened, and everyone started to ignore the script and pontificate about whatever they felt like. At one point, I found a bunch of Martian-style deelybopper antennae backstage, and I brought them out for the glee club number and made everyone wear a pair.

After that, most of us decided to stop going on stage altogether.

I’m not sure when it was that we left Snoopy out there all on her own, and she started to complain that she was the only one taking the whole thing seriously, and we just made faces at her from the wings. Nobody came to rescue her. So, for reasons I can only begin to fathom, she started to sing “Let It Be,” and I helpfully came out and accompanied her on the piano. We tried to get the geezers to join in a singalong, but I think they were too busy decomposing. But that’s my final memory of the show – Snoopy on her doghouse, and me at the piano banging out Beatles tunes, and a bunch of silent coots with their faces buried in their soup.

A sad, sad way to go.

I wish it hadn’t been that way. Ten years later, when I was running a theatre in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I had this wild fantasy that I would reunite the original cast from 1982 and that we’d take the stage for one last hurrah. It never happened. It probably never will. But wouldn’t it be fun if twenty years from now, when we’re all in our sixties, we could ditch the grandchildren and find a stage somewhere and bring the whole show out of mothballs?

Zowie. What a blast that would be.

So stay tuned for the Charlie Brown Chronicles Volume VIII, coming to this blog circa 2031.