Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference.
News item: An effort to name a Lake Tahoe cove for Samuel Clemens has been blocked – again – by a complaint from Nevada’s Washoe Tribe, which says “Mark Twain” held racist views about Native Americans.
No doubt Clemens, in his smart-Alec style, showed disrespect for Nevada’s Indians. Of course, he was disrespectful of everybody. The point is, many a great writer has been censured in like manner for literary indiscretions.
Professor Jill Poke, who holds the prestigious reclining chair in American literature at Duckwater University, in the scenic forests of central Nevada, told us famed authors from Homer to Hemingway have been denied honors because of ill-considered cracks about various ethnic groups.
“Let’s take Homer,” said Poke. “Just a few years ago some liberal Turks wanted to name a beach on the Hellespont after him, but more conservative elements said the Iliad was too disrespectful of the Trojans. After much debate, the idea was abandoned.”
I allowed that this was somewhat surprising, because the Iliad was generally respectful of Troy.
“That’s true,” said Poke, “but folks felt Homer gave too much attention to Achilles and his insults – like he agreed with the Greek hero.”
“What about later writers – like Shakespeare?” we asked.
Poke laughed. “You’ve never seen a performance of ‘The Merry Wives of Brian Boru’ have you?” she asked. “People of Celtic descent so often blocked its production that it’s not even included in the Bard’s first folio. They were outraged by lines like:
And Brian to the weeds himself betook
And at the naked maidens had a look.
Once hid he there espied U Neil’s daughter
And said, ‘She pleaseth this Bog Trotter.
“Shakespeare eventually just gave up and shelved it.”
“Do you know, Cervantes isn’t read in some parts of Portugal, because legend has it that he once referred to residents of that Iberian land as … Well, I can’t say it, but it begins with a ‘d.’”
“You don’t say!” I exclaimed.
“I do say,” said Poke. “You know, some people rate ‘War and Peace’ history’s greatest novel, but Tolstoy’s bust in Toulouse regularly is egged by the French because he once declared, ‘I don’t like frogs.’
I opined, “He might not of been using a slur on the French people; it might be he just didn’t like to eat amphibians.”
Poke mused, “It doesn’t really matter, does it? He was insulting either the French or a French culinary favorite. To the French, both would be ‘Gauling.’”
“Get it?” Poke snickered.
I pretended not to hear and asked, “Is there any distinguished author who has failed to offend some person or group?”
“I don’t believe so,” said the professor. “That’s why thinking people have come to agree that no classic author ever should be honored for anything. All such writers either have written something offensive or probably have written something offensive or thought something offensive.”
“So, you won’t be honoring any ‘classic’ writers here at Duckwater?” I asked archly.
“Of course not!” replied Duckwater hotly, “except, maybe, women and minority writers, who are incapable of being offensive.”
I suggest her view was rather narrow, but she said defensively, “What do you expect? This is an American university.”
Meanwhile, in California: Gov. Jerry Brown is blaming recent heat and forest fires on global warming, which recalls to me the words of the late professor Howard Cogswell of California State University, Hayward.
Back in the ’70s the San Francisco Bay Area experienced a bizarre cold snap. The temperature plunged below freezing and stayed there for a couple of weeks. Thousands of eucalyptus trees – Australian imports – died off, and the public and the media speculated that the climate was changing forever.
But Cogswell, a biologist, noted that while the eucalyptus trees had died, the native plants – oaks, madrones, manzanitas and other flora – were perfectly fine.
The professor noted that human life, indeed, human history, was short.
“We think a freeze like this is new,” he said, “but the native plants have seen it probably many times before and they are adapted to it, so they survive.”
It’s a good idea to keep this in mind when discussing global warming – which, in fact, has been going on, with some backsliding, for more than 15,000 years. Climate variation that occurs in the span of a generation or two probably has happened before. We’ll adapt and survive, too.
Adding to the list: President Obama didn’t know about NSA spying, didn’t know about IRS abuse of power, didn’t know about the Benghazi lies, didn’t know about “Fast and Furious” gunrunning and didn’t know the Obamacare website was a disaster.
Now we learn he didn’t know about Veterans Affairs abuses – until he learned about them from the news media. This is despite the fact his transition team was told about VA problems before his inauguration. This is despite the fact he declared in his ’08 campaign that he was going to fix the VA.
Perhaps the White House press corps could ask him what he does know about. It would be a shorter list.
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