Politics & Policy

Save The Whales; The Goldberg Strikes Back


I have an emotional attachment to whales. Considering my name, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. I still remember the first time I encountered my name in popular culture. It was an episode of The Flintstones when Fred and Barney were stuck in the belly of a whale. On the inner “wall” it read, “Jonah was here.” In grade school, my mom used to draw whales on my lunch bag instead of, or in addition to, writing my name (my brother Josh got a horn). The school, which believed that raising esteem was fine as long as “no one was left behind,” asked her to stop because other kids didn’t have pictogram-friendly names. Drawing a picture of a bat or frog instead of writing “Irving Greenberg” may be a very nice gesture but it doesn’t get lil’ Irv his cold knish any sooner. The Goldbergs continued the whale policy.

So anyway, all of my life people have been associating my name with whales (even though my name was inspired more by a jazz trumpeter than by the Prophet of Nineveh). I’d have to say, “Yes, it’s spelled J-O-N-A-H, like ‘Jonah and the Whale’ ” to every new teacher or phone operator. So I hope my fellow economic conservatives and anti-environmentalists will forgive me when I go astray in regards to the recent whale hunt by the Makah Indians in Washington state. I’m against the hunt.

The Makah Indians used to hunt whales a lot. It was a big part of their culture. And then, they stopped about 70 years ago when the population of gray whales was nearly wiped out. The government put the beasties on the endangered-species list and since then the whale population has bounced back to nearly 26,000. So the Makah said, we want to hunt whales again. The Clinton administration was caught on one of those wonder dilemmas that are only possible in a coalitional ideological movement. The white man is always wrong sentiment ran into the “whales are more sacred than nuns” axiom. The Clinton administration sided with the Indians over the vociferous protests of the environmentalists.

On this one I think I side with the environmentalists, with extenuating reasons. First, I have no problem choosing amongst animals. I think pandas are more worth saving than some breed of scorpion. I think dolphins are better than eels. I think we can experiment on rats because they are rats but we should be very cautious doing the same to dogs or chimps. We are humans and there is nothing wrong with us making value judgements about animals. Sometimes we can go overboard with certain things and muck up the ecosystem with our biases, to be sure. But we live in a world with limited resources when it comes to protecting animals and we should pick and choose accordingly. I like whales, we all like whales, so we should have a bias against killing them.

Second, if we are going to allow the Makah to hunt the whales because of religious considerations — and they are not endangered — then I guess on principle I have to say okay. But the Makah strayed pretty far from the reservation — as it were — in their hunt. They used high-powered rifles and artillery. They chased the animals with power boats. They had a Coast Guard escort (admittedly mostly to protect them from the greenies). When the hunt was over, according to various reports including in the New York Times, many of the Makah said they were going home to make burgers out of the whale.

Now, I don’t want to judge any religion (except Scientology, which I think isn’t one). But this doesn’t strike me as a sacred ritual handed down over the generations. When the Makah warriors killed the animal, according to the New Tribune of Tacoma, Wash., they didn’t offer up a prayer, they high-fived each other. Explosive bullets, high-fives, and whaleburgers aren’t the stuff of religion, Indian or any other.

But, again, who am I to judge? With some very broad exceptions, if someone says “it’s a religion” then it’s a religion. But if that is the case, why did the Commerce Department give the Makah a $310,000 grant to carry out the hunt? Where are all the high-wallers on religious issues? The ACLU types have been fighting the inclusion of Catholic schools in any voucher system because giving free scholarships to poor inner city kids allegedly violates the separation between church and state. But giving money to a bunch of hunters to kill a whale with weapons and boats their religion never anticipated is okay? THE GOLDBERG STRIKES BACK

About Star Wars. Yes, I saw it last night. And I think it’s too soon for me to do the whole dissection. Most people haven’t seen it and I’ve only seen it once. So I will reveal no plot. But there are a couple of things worth saying.

First, Jar Jar Binks, the digitally animated character, is just plain awful — just as I suspected. He is silly, annoying, and he ruins many otherwise wonderful scenes. If he had been so brutally murdered during the course of the film that Phantom Menace got an NC 17 rating, it would have been worth it.

Second, and more importantly, George Lucas has made a grave, grave mistake in the writing of this film. The beauty of Star Wars began with its graceful opening: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away.” That one sentence immediately told the audience, “bring nothing with you, we will provide everything you need to know.” That one sentence said that progress, technological, spiritual, or by any other measurement, is divorced from the linear progression of time. It said that if you recognize any truths or morals from this film they are by definition universal because this story has no actual attachment to your own time or place. That’s why so many kids like me loved these movies, because they give you an intact and coherent universe you can play with in your mind — like The Lord of the Rings, or The Chronicles of Narnia.

In The Phantom Menace, Lucas throws that away. Instead we are treated to a dozen or two moments when we are forcefully yanked away from the other to the here and now. There are phrases, jokes, and sight gags that are so contemporary they could be on an NBC sitcom. This is all needlessly done for the benefit of little kids who would like this movie if the entire thing were in subtitles. One gets the sense that any number of inside jokes and gags which made the late night crew at Industrial Light and Magic laugh were left in without any concern about what the real audience might think of them. This is truly unfortunate.

Now for the good news. The total movie is awesome. In short, great movie, unfortunate dialogue. If you can manage to muzzle your disgust for Jar Jar and the kid’s terrible acting, this is the most fun you will have in a theater in years. It is no Empire Strikes Back and I have some serious plot questions which will have to wait until I see it a third or fourth time (say, by Monday). But this is a majestic film to behold — and to hear.


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