The Score: California Wildfires, Thanksgiving Origins, Illiberal Democracy, Facial Recognition
This week on The Score – Could California-type wildfires hit Virginia? What are the true origins of Thanksgiving? Is facial recognition technology a threat to our civil liberties? Will “illiberal democracy” undermine liberal values? All this, plus a film review and a tidbit from the archives.
Winter Is Coming
Virginia and neighboring states experienced their first blast of winter weather this past week. Meanwhile, California has been hit by horrendous wildfires that have killed dozens of people and destroyed whole towns, like Paradise.
As snow and cold rain fell on Virginia, I spoke with state climatologist Jerry Stenger at the University of Virginia. I asked him if Virginia has ever suffered the kind of fires California is enduring now. Later in our conversation, he explains why it is so hard to come up with an accurate long-term outlook for Virginia’s winter weather.
Virginia 1, Massachusetts 0
Anyone who has attended elementary school in the United States knows the story of the first Thanksgiving: the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, nearly starved during their first winter, and, with the help of local Indians, had a successful harvest that they celebrated with a magnificent feast of turkey, cranberries, and corn.
Like so many things we know to be true, that story is wrong:
…the Plymouth Thanksgiving of 1621 was likely a non-religious, secular harvest festival. The Pilgrims (and there were about 150 of them at the event) were simply marking an old English custom: the “harvest home.” It was a celebratory meal that on that day in 1621 more than likely included a lot more fish, lobster, geese, and beer (“strong water” as they called it), than it did turkey and stuffing.
It’s interesting to note as well that the only eye-witness account of that “First Thanksgiving” does not even include the word thanksgiving nor even the phrase giving thanks— or, in fact, any mention at all of being thankful.
Truth is, the FIRST Thanksgiving in English America (it’s even older in French Canada) was held in the colony of Virginia on December 4, 1619 at Berkeley Hundred (later Berkeley Plantation), on the James River near present-day Richmond — a full year and 17 days before the Pilgrims even landed at Plymouth.
Historian Coy Barefoot, executive director of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, sets us straight in this conversation. I met him at historical society’s office and exhibit hall, which was given by Paul Goodloe McIntire in the early 20th century as a public library for Charlottesville’s white residents. (The library next door was originally the post office and federal court house.)
Barefoot is author of Thomas Jefferson on Leadership: Executive Lessons From his Life and Letters (2008) and The Corner: A History of Student Life at the University of Virginia (second edition, 2010). In this interview, he strongly recommends a book by the late James Deetz, The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony (2001, with coauthor Patricia Scott Deetz).
After a hiatus of a few weeks, The Score’s film critic, Tim Hulsey, has returned with a review of a new feature called Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, based on a book by Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer. The film stars Dean Cain, Janine Turner, and Nick Searcy.
Tim’s review might suggest that he sees movies so you don’t have to.
Hungary and Brazil
Our next guest is Jake Grant, one of the writers and pundits from Young Voices. He recently wrote an article about political developments in Brazil and Hungary, and he fears what will happen to liberal, democratic values in those countries and elsewhere around the world.
Grant has previously been a guest on The Score, talking about eminent domain and criminal justice reform.
Facial Recognition vs. Liberty
The same day I met up with Jake Grant in Washington, I also met Matthew Feeney at the Cato Institute, where he is director of Cato’s Project on Emerging Technologies. We talked about how facial recognition technology, aimed at controlling immigration at the borders or facilitating travelers in TSA lines at airports, can adversely affect U.S. citizens by eroding our civil liberties. Matthew’s most recent paper for Cato is titled “Walling Off Liberty: How Strict Immigration Enforcement Threatens Privacy and Local Policing.”
Journalism, Then and Now
As The Score was being recorded this week, CNN went to court to sue President Trump in an effort to force the White House to reinstate Jim Acosta’s credentials. On Friday, a federal judge issued an injunction ordering the White House to restore Acosta’s “hard pass” and access to the West Wing and grounds.
A few years ago, I had an opportunity to interview another political journalist, Sid Davis, who was a witness to John F. Kennedy’s assassination and covered the politics beat for four decades, including the Kennedy and Johnson White Houses, when he was with Westinghouse Broadcasting.
If you look closely at that famous photograph of Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One, you can see Sid Davis behind Jackie Kennedy, just off to the right.
From the archives (October 2014), Sid Davis talks about how journalism has changed since the early 1960s.
Look for a special edition on the Bearing Drift web site on Thursday, marking the 55th anniversary of the JFK assassination, but be sure to come back next weekend to hear more news, reviews, and interviews, including a discussion with historian Phyllis Leffler on Charlottesville’s Jewish community over the past two centuries and — no doubt — some surprise from the archives that uses the past to shed light on the present.
So: come back Thursday and next weekend, tell your friends where to find The Score, and take part in the conversation by leaving your comments and questions below.