Harper Lee’s New Book

Apparently Harper Lee is about to release another book where Atticus Finch is a racist. A critic for NPR just called it ‘sloppy’ both on a literary and moral level, and when asked how to do it she said that teachers should probably teach To Kill a Mockingbird alongside portions of this new novel.

Here’s a suggestion for all the teachers (if they deserve such a name) who are willing to take it: there are thousands of literary classics of FAR greater merit. Why don’t we just dump TKAM and put in something better, like, you know, Travels with Charley, The Marble Faun, The Last of the Mohicans, Roughing It, Old Times on the Mississippi, The Innocents Abroad, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Love of the Last Tycoon, John Brown’s Body, Ben-Hur, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, selections from the Decameron, Troilus and Criseyde, The Song of Roland, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, El Cid, Pharsalia, Coriolanus, Richard III, Timon of Athens, and/or Pericles, Prince of Tyre? Just a thought, and while we’re at it maybe we can dump The Catcher in the Rye, too!!!!

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Cosby and Friends

In the wake of the recent allegations and revelations surrounding Bill Cosby, I would like to add my two cents.  I am not exactly a qualified commentator on rape, but I have beliefs about what this man has done that may be considered as reflective of a strong moral conscience.  I have encountered rape victims before, and I suspect more than just the ones who have told me about their experiences.  Not all people are privy to that, and I believe that these encounters hold value both for me and for readers who value information.

To rape once is a very bad thing and deserves a very harsh punishment if it can be proved.  It lacks any sort of gratification for either party and is an act of a man’s power over a woman, a physical power which carries no conscience with it.  Sex is an act of pleasure derived from mutual consent and enjoyment.  It is not an act of violence and submission, unless it is being practiced perversely.  To rape repeatedly and consistently is to deliberately violate the laws of nature and of nature’s God and to call for the severest form of punishment, which is to say capital punishment.  Were the opportunity to present itself I have no doubts but that I would personally inflict God’s vengeance on this man, no matter his age.  Laws to protect such a man are unjust, and the most unjust thing to do is to blindly obey an unjust law.

The sole exception to this is the case of the armed forces who have laid siege to a city for months and not gotten laid the whole time.  In that case, all bets are off, especially since a negotiated compromise generally would ease the tensions and allow them to go back to their wives and girlfriends and get some.  But for a stand-up comic, and a Hollywood icon, to do so, and to use drugs to accomplish his ends, is the ultimate betrayal of other people into the hands of fame and money masquerading as honor.  That he presented himself as he was doing this as a public moralist adds to the just outrage that I feel.

The issue is, first and foremost, the violence of the act.  But it is more than that.  It is the theft of moral and emotional peace from the victim and the replacement of it with shame, guilt, fear, and other forms of inner turmoil,  Where this substitution is made, the victim becomes herself nearly as evil–at least temporarily–as the perpetrator, but not through any fault of her own.  If eventually they overcome the event, it is only through an uncommon strength of character.  Many rape victims, I fear, never recover.

With this in mind, I should remind everyone of an event, now nearly twenty years ago, long since forgotten in this age where people can’t see more than one second behind them.  In the hills just north of Los Angeles, before one enters the San Fernando Valley, lies a small, mostly very reformed Jewish enclave, divided by the 405–the San Fernando Parking Lot–a high school on one side and an elementary school on the other.  If you start in West Los Angeles and take the 405 North, this is the area around the Skirball Center/Mulholland Drive exit.  Take the exit, and make a left off the exit ramp.  There lies a marker, dedicated to Ennis Cosby, Bill’s son, who was murdered on the spot.

I was ten years old and the drive to school was inordinately long that morning.  When we got to the area we saw that the police had marked it off.  Traffic was stopped.  We heard what happened.  The public mourned.

But now, of course, I am called back to that time, and I think about how God inflicts his justice.  I am not a religious man.  Nevertheless there is something so clear about it and I believe that these men get their due, at least partially, from God or whatever force we may believe acts as a ‘higher power’ if men fail to yield it.  I have no doubts that it is not sufficient.  Still we must recognize it, and remind ourselves that there are consequences for our actions, regardless of our unwillingness to face them honestly.

For everyone who wishes to live in a society of decency and civilization, the lessons of Cosby’s rapes should serve as a reminder that we are not above our actions, not permanently.  Pride cometh before the fall, the wise men say, and they are right.  Whether our model of genius is Biblical or Greek, the most important vice to avoid is also the most ancient: hubris.