24 February 2005

In The Merchant of Venice, the Jewish moneylender Shylock is a caricature, a vicious stereotype. Shylock is also one of Shakespeare's great roles, and one of the most important roles in English drama.

Othello, one of Shakespeare's great tragic heroes, is a Moor. African, Muslim, and driven into a murderous rage by jealousy.

Should The Merchant of Venice be performed at all? Should a Jewish actor be cast as Shylock? What about Othello? Does casting a black man as the lead pander to racial stereotypes?

Shakespeare's plays set the standard by which all other theatre is judged. An important role in a major production can have a substantial impact on an actor's career. Someone who refused to cast a black or Jewish actor as Hamlet or Macbeth would arguably be creating a glass ceiling as insidious as any in the corporate world. Othello and Shylock are equally important roles; why should they be closed to any sufficiently skilled actor?

And then there's the problem of Huckleberry Finn. Or, more precisely, the problem of Jim. Jim is a slave. He speaks in dialect and repeats one ignorant superstition after another. Huck worries constantly that helping Jim escape to freedom is wrong. For all of these reasons, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn consistently ranks near the top of lists of banned books. Yet Jim is arguably the wisest, least selfish, and most ethical character in the book. His ability to transcend his circumstances is part of the reason why The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the greatest American novels.

The definition of great literature is that it transcends barriers, that it speaks to the universal concerns that all humans share. Limiting access to great literature in the name of "racial sensitivity" isn't sensitive at all. It's patronizing and insulting.

(These comments apropos of a thread on Holly's blog and elsewhere about the ghettoization of African-American literature.)

Posted 08:06 PM

High marks for social engineering, low marks for overall intelligence. Apparently someone is sending out email, purportedly from the FBI, warning people that they have accessed an illegal website. The attachment, which claims to be a questionnaire, is actually a virus.

Apparently the author didn't think far enough ahead to realize that their little prank might make the real FBI unhappy. If the FBI is unhappy enough, they will find you.

Posted 09:16 AM

22 February 2005

The software industry has made a shocking discovery. It turns out that people are more productive when they work for fewer hours.

I think one of the reasons why is that shorter hours make people more respectful of each other's time. (Or, conversely, respect for people's time leads to more reasonable hours.) If you're planning to be out the door at 5:30, you don't have time for three hour meetings with no discernible agenda. And if, as the person running the meeting, you know it will cut into the amount of work that gets done, you might figure out how to move things along.

Posted 11:05 AM


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