Amazon.com: Saving us from ourselves, one cartoon at a time

tom and jerryMedia outlets are reporting that Amazon Prime Instant Video is warning subscribers who view old Tom and Jerry cartoons that the venerable series may depict scenes of “racial prejudice.”

The cartoons, produced between 1940 and 1957, are being tagged by Amazon for its depiction of a black maid and for the use of blackface in some episodes.

Tom and Jerry: The Complete Second Volume is accompanied by this warning: “Tom and Jerry shorts may depict some ethnic and racial prejudices that were once commonplace in American society. Such depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”

Amazon’s warning says such prejudice was once “commonplace” in US society, according to the BBC.

The warning was attacked as “empty-headed” by sociology professor Frank Furedi of the University of Kent, who said it was a form of a “false piousness” and a type of censorship which “seems to be sweeping cultural life.”

“We’re reading history backwards, judging people in the past by our values,” Furedi said.

Tom and Jerry was a longtime mainstay on American and British children’s programming, and can still be seen today.

However, it does seem rather difficult to believe that there’s a need to attach a warning to a children’s cartoon that identifies the stereotyping of blacks as wrong. Blackface is pretty much accepted as verboten in our culture today and has been for several decades.

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Death by football: Remembering a college friend 10 years later

justin Strzelczyk

It is not news to anyone who follows professional sports that the National Football League has some serious problems, including issues with domestic abuse, banned substances and players suffering debilitating and life-shortening injuries with all-too alarming frequency.

While this crisis seems to some a recent phenomenon, it’s not. The light has only been shined on it with greater intensity recently.

I remember when I got my first real inkling that something was wrong – really wrong – with professional football. It was perhaps 18 or 19 years ago, while watching a game involving the Pittsburgh Steelers. I don’t remember who the Steelers were playing, but I do remember a specific play which was run toward the Steelers’ sideline, where Pittsburgh players not in the game were standing.

As one of the opposing players slowed up as he ran out of bounds at the end of the play, a Pittsburgh player standing along the sideline took the opportunity to deliver what in football parlance is known as a “forearm shiver,” clocking his opponent with a forearm to the head. As the opponent, not surprisingly, wasn’t expecting a blow, it had a powerful effect.

I remember the network catching the infraction and showing it again, and highlighting the culprit. It was Justin Strzelczyk, a grizzly bear of an offensive lineman. The incident was shocking not because of what happened – most every NFL game has cheap shots and late hits – but because of who committed the offense.

It stunned me because Strzelczyk, who I’d known in college, had been one of the most easygoing individuals I’d known during my time at the University of Maine. He may have been a 6-foot-6, 250-plus pound football player, but he was a genuinely good-natured guy.

I’d actually met him during his recruiting visit to Maine in 1986, when he was still a senior in high school. My dorm room was across the hall from that of one of the captains of the football team. Recruits are paired up with current team members when they visit campus and Strzelczyk spent the weekend of his recruiting visit across the hall, when he wasn’t out getting his first taste of college life.

That weekend, amid the beer, girls and good times of college, Strzelczyk was in hog heaven. I wasn’t surprised when he opted to attend Maine. We remained friends and would chat whenever we  bumped into each other on campus up until I graduated in 1988.

Strzelczyk continued to improve and was a starter and standout during the latter part of his career at Maine. The last time I saw him, ironically, was in April 1990. I’d gone back to Maine to visit some friends still in school and it happened to be the first day of that year’s NFL draft.

While walking on campus we saw each other and talked briefly; I asked him if he thought he’d be drafted. He replied that he hoped so, but he’d have to wait and see. He still had an easy way about him, despite the fact that he was hours away from learning what the future held for him.

In the end, the Pittsburgh Steelers picked him in the 11th round, No. 293 overall. Normally, 11th round draft choices don’t have much of chance of making it in the NFL, but Strzelczyk, who had size, aptitude and desire going for him, made the team.

Over the next nine seasons, Strzelczyk would play in 173 games for the Steelers, starting 75. He was versatile, starting at every position on the offensive line except center. He even played in Super Bowl XXX.

His career came to a close, as nearly all do in the NFL, because of an injury. He suffered a quadriceps tear during a game in 1998, and then was hurt the following year in bar fight. Finally, he suffered another injury during a celebrity hockey game in 2000 and was shortly afterward released by the Steelers.

Without football, Strzelczyk’s life seemed to come apart at the seams. He and his wife of eight years divorced in 2001; he was arrested for drinking and driving in 2003; and his behavior became increasingly erratic.

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Investigating the rich history of Lowcountry rice farming

rice barge

When one thinks of antebellum agriculture, one typically thinks of cotton. Indeed, by 1860 Southern farms and plantations supplied 75 percent of the world’s cotton, and Gossypium hirsutum was the dominant agricultural crop from the Carolinas to Texas.

Cotton was such an important part of the pre-war South that the Confederacy believed it would be the ultimate instrument of its independence.

Much less well known today is the princely standing held by another Deep South crop during the days before the War Between the States – that of rice.

Rice was introduced to the United States in the 17th century and is reported to have been cultivated in Virginia almost as soon as the first settlers landed at Jamestown, but it was in the marshy, humid regions of Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia that the crop flourished.

Rice planters couldn’t have succeeded without the forced labor of slaves, particularly those from the Senegambia area of West Africa and coastal Sierra Leone.

At the port of Charleston, slaves with knowledge of rice culture brought the highest price and were put to use on rice plantations around Charleston, Georgetown, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.

A new book by Richard Dwight Porcher Jr. and William Robert Judd detailing the once-great Lowcountry rice industry states that nowhere else was an agricultural crop so intimately tied to status and its associated wealth and influence as rice was to the Lowcountry.

The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice: An Illustrated History of Innovations in the Lowcountry Rice Kingdom is an extensive account of the rice industry in Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia.

market preparation“… the real strength of this book is the author’s documentation based on extensive field research of fifty rice plantations, mill sites, museum and archival collections and travels to investigate foreign connections to the Lowcountry rice industry,” according to a review by the Charleston Post and Courier.

The work, published by University of South Carolina Press, which contains “meticulously rendered line drawings depicting the mechanical devices of the rice industry, lend a startling clarity to the written explanations of how they actually functioned and what part each played in the crop’s journey from the field to the consumer,” the publication adds.

The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice identifies the inventiveness of Deep South planters, recognizing that the U.S. Patent Office granted substantial numbers of antebellum patents to South Carolinians for inventions or improvement for rice harvesting and milling equipment alone.

It also recognizes the contributions of slaves “whose blood and sweat transformed inland swamps and riverine marshes into the remarkably dynamic hydraulic systems that composed the sweeping rice fields of the Lowcountry,” according to the Post and Courier.

The book doesn’t gloss over the fact that slaves worked in brutal conditions, explaining “that tidal river marshes were an extremely harsh environment just to exist in, let alone to work in. As it proved, an enslaved work force was the essential element in the survival of the Rice Kingdom, for without them the days of glory were over.”

(Top: Image showing the unloading of rice barges on a 19th century South Carolina rice plantation.)

Monet discovered among art hoard collected during Nazi era

vue de sainte-adresse

A German art collector who came about his works partly through his father’s questionable dealings during World War II managed to smuggle a Monet with him into a hospital where he was admitted earlier this year.

The hospital sent the suitcase containing the work by the famed French Impressionist to the executor of Cornelius Gurlitt’s estate on Sept. 2 after having kept it in storage for several months following Gurlitt’s death, according to The Art Newspaper.

Gurlitt had some 1,400 paintings, drawings and sketches – believed to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars and including masterpieces by Picasso and Chagall – in his apartment in Munich for decades.

During the Nazi era, Gurlitt’s father Hildebrand was tasked with selling works taken or bought under duress from Jewish families, and avant-garde art seized from German museums that the Hitler regime deemed “degenerate,” according to Agence France-Presse.

In the final days of World War II, Hildebrand Gurlitt had loaded his family and the artworks into a truck to flee Allied bombing, ending up at a baron’s castle in Bavaria, according to the Wall Street Journal.

After the elder Gurlitt died in 1956, his son assumed the collection.

Gurlitt apparently brought the Monet to the hospital in southern Germany as his health worsened earlier this year. Gurlitt went home shortly before he died on May 6, but the work was left at the hospital, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Experts have determined that around 450 works in the Gurlitt collection are suspected of being looted art, while another 380 may have been confiscated “degenerate” works, Agence France-Presse added.

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Starbucks: The more you know, and all that …

I don’t drink Starbucks for one singular reason: I don’t drink coffee.

I had a half a cup when I was 11 years old and it tasted like boiled tar – or at least what I assumed boiled tar would taste like – even when heavily dosed with sugar and cream, and I’ve never had an urge to repeat the experience.

That said, I can say with certainty that neither me nor my wallet are the Starbucks’ type.

The one time I did stop into the local store and asked for a Coke, I was told in a snotty tone by a 20-something “barista,” who had with more piercings than I cared to count, that “We don’t served carbonated beverages here.”

He said it in a tone as though I’d requested an omelette made from the eggs of the last two California condors remaining on Earth.

I will confess that I’m not certain what Starbucks’ customer training entails, but I suspect shaming and self-righteousness are key components.

(HT: VisibleFriends.net)

Remembering the Miracle Braves and the 1914 World Series

This Saturday’s Atlanta Braves-Oakland Athletics game will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1914 World Series, in which the Braves and Athletics met in one of the more improbable championship matchups in Major League baseball history.

The game, to be played at Atlanta’s Turner Field, will include a tribute to the 1914 Miracle Braves, who were then based in Boston, and feature both clubs wearing retro 1914 uniforms.

In the 1914 World Series, the Braves shocked the sporting world by sweeping the vaunted Philadelphia Athletics (they wouldn’t land in Oakland until 1968, by way of Kansas City).

By mid-season of that year, however, the Braves appeared en route to a dismal finish. On July 15 they were in last place, 11-12 games behind the New York Giants. They caught fire as the summer went on, though, and won the National League pennant by 10-12 games.

The Athletics, on the other hand, were defending champions, having won the World Series in 1913, and also in 1911 and 1910. Philadelphia had four of the last five American League pennants and was heavily favored.

The Braves didn’t even have a home field to call its own; they had forsaken aging South End Grounds in August 1914, instead choosing to rent Fenway Park from the Boston Red Sox while awaiting construction of Braves Field, which would open the next season.

On paper, the Braves would seem to have been no match for the Athletics. The latter had three future Hall of Fame pitchers in Chief Bender, Eddie Plank and Herb Pennock, along with second baseman Eddie Collins, third baseman Frank “Home Run” Baker and Manager Connie Mack.

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April 1861 editorial shows divided sentiments within US

fort-sumter-bombardment

Among the misconceptions surrounding the American Civil War is that both North and South were monolithic in agreement that their side was in the right and the other in the wrong.

The fact is that there were many Unionists in the South and plenty of Northerners with pro-Southern sentiments, particularly at the beginning of the 1861-65 conflict.

Still, it is sometimes startling to see such counterintuitive views expressed in print. Consider an April 8, 1861, editorial from the New York Herald, titled “Invasion of the South – The Inauguration of Civil War”.

After beginning with a description of Union warships sailing “for parts unknown,” but accepted to be the recently seceded states of the Deep South, the publication writes, “It is thus evident that a bloody civil war is resolved upon by Mr. Lincoln and his Cabinet. After long hesitation, the President has screwed his courage to the fighting point. At what precise spot he intends to commence hostilities or to provoke them – whether at Charleston, Pensacola, the mouths of the Mississippi or in Texas, where there is an evident design to excite ‘domestic insurrection,’ or at all of these places together – does not yet appear; but a few days will unfold the mystery.”

The Herald continues that as of that date, which is still four days before the bombing of Fort Sumter, Lincoln has three options:

 … first, to yield to the Confederate States and to all the slaveholding communities their just rights as coequal partners in the Union, which would have had the effect of healing the breach and reuniting the sections; second, to permit a peaceable and bloodless separation, either in the hope of reunion at a future day, or at least of a friendly alliance for mutual defense against foreign foes, and for the establishment of commercial relations, which, if not specifically favoring the North, would at least not discriminate against her; and third, to wage a war of subjugation against seven sovereign States, which will be ultimately extended to fifteen, to compel them to submit to the authority of the government at Washington, and to pay tribute to it, whether they are represented in its Congress or not, in contravention to the great principle for which the colonies fought and conquered the mother country in the Revolution of 1776 – the principle that ‘without representation there can be no taxation.’

The Herald goes on to display a grasp of history that would be utterly out of place in a newspaper today, stating that the impeding war “ … is a revival of the struggle which took place two centuries ago in England between the Puritan Roundheads and the rest of the nation. The vast majority of the people were against them, but by the military genius and iron will of Cromwell the fanatics were rendered successful for a time, after putting their king to death and deluging their native land with seas of blood.” Continue reading