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April 30, 2005

Congrats to Aeon Skoble

What started as a thread on a famous picture taken at the end of the Vietnam War has become a place to congratulate my pal Aeon Skoble for his promotion to Associate Professor. I added my "voice" to the "Congratulations Choir" here.

Comments welcome, but go to L&P and become part of the choir.

Song of the Day #248

Song of the Day: Piece of My Heart, music and lyrics by Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy, was recorded by Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring the screaming vocals of Janis Joplin. Listen to an audio clip of this bluesy rock classic here.

April 29, 2005

Song of the Day #247

Song of the Day: Footprints, music by jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter, with lyrics added later by Donna Smith, has become a jazz staple. Listen to an audio clip of one of Shorter's recordings of this track here. In 1962's Downbeat magazine, Shorter polled second only to Duke Ellington (whose birthday is today) as a jazz composer. My favorite version of the song, however, remains one by another birthday boy: jazz guitarist, Carl Barry, from the album "Holding On." Listen to the full-length track here. Happy Birthday to my brother Carl!

April 28, 2005

Spencer, Long, and a New Encyclopedia

In light of all the good discussion on Herbert Spencer that we've seen here and here on L&P, I wanted to share some good news.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to do an encyclopedia article on "Karl Marx" for the forthcoming International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology, to be published by Routledge. Amazingly, there was not a single entry offered for Herbert Spencer (who many view as one of the founders of sociology) or of any of the great classical liberals. I knew that Spencer had fallen out of favor with sociologists over the years, and that too many working in that discipline had a tendency to dismiss (wrongly, I might add) the work of classical liberals as somehow too "atomistic" and not worthy of the sociological imagination.

Whatever the reason, I was quite frankly shocked that nothing on Spencer, liberalism, or libertarianism had been scheduled for discussion in the encyclopedia. So, I asked the fine editor if he would be interested in one additional contribution from me: a general, broader piece on libertarianism, that is, on the relevance to sociology of theorists working in the classical liberal/libertarian tradition. The editor accepted my offer. And instead of writing a sole piece on Marx, I wrote two pieces.

The entry on libertarianism brought into the encyclopedia a discussion of the works of Herbert Spencer (to whom I devote much space, relatively speaking), Carl Menger, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, and others.

I've just been informed today that the encyclopedia is due out in October 2005; I'll be sure to note it here when the time comes.

Thus, this is my way of thanking Roderick Long doubly: not only for his continuing work on Spencer, but also for offering constructive commentary on my essays before they were submitted to Routledge.

Cross-posted to L&P.

Comments welcome, or readers may join the discussion at L&P (where Roderick leaves a comment here).

Song of the Day #246

Song of the Day: Hush, music and lyrics by Joe South, was performed with hard rock gusto by Deep Purple. The song was originally performed by Billy Joe Royal (audio clip here), and has been recorded by others as well. But my favorite version remains the Deep Purple one: From the howling wolf opening to its organ-and-electric guitar-drenched instrumentation, this track percolates. Listen to an audio clip here.

April 27, 2005

Same-Sex Marriage and the 2004 Election

I've written ad nauseam about Election 2004, still of the conviction that the issue of same-sex marriage (and its connection to the broader issue of "moral values") had an important impact on the outcome. I have always believed "that other issues, especially the war, had an effect in shoring up Bush's winning coalition." Still, "the anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives were promoted by GOP strategists to bolster one aspect of the winning Bush coalition"; without "the socially conservative vote," which supported those initiatives, Bush could never have won such states as Ohio—indispensable to his national electoral victory.

One recent analysis of the Presidential election comes to a similar though much more informed statistical conclusion. Gregory B. Lewis, in the April 2005 issue of PS: Political Science & Politics, concludes that the "same-sex marriage" issue "mattered ... less than some issues but more than most. ... At the state level, even after controlling for Bush's vote share in 2000 and the general conservatism of the state population, popular disapproval of homosexuality influenced Bush's share of the 2004 vote and may have contributed to party switches by New Hampshire and New Mexico." Lewis admits that "[t]he vote was close in Ohio despite relatively high disapproval of homosexuality." But the question remains: "Would it have turned out differently without same-sex marriage on the agenda?"

That question will inspire many different answers. But I think the evidence strongly suggests that without the support of socially conservative Protestant and Catholic voters, who came out en masse to vote against same-sex marriage, Bush would have lost to Kerry.

In the same issue of PS, even those with a dissenting view (such as Hillygus and Shields) argue that the "values-based appeals," though not the only crucial issue, served to reinforce Bush's appeal among his supporters. As I have argued for months, this was part of the Rove strategy: without that support among Bush's core constituency, Bush does not win re-election.

Whatever one's views on this subject, I think the implications are becoming clearer with each passing week. Social conservatives believe that the Bush administration owes them. Of greater importance is the apparent belief of the administration that social conservatives are owed.

Cross-posted to L&P. See L&P comments here and here.

Comments welcome on Notablog as well.

Bush-isms

Say what you will about the President. He has a sense of humor, sometimes intentionally (as in this description of the scene after Bill Clinton's recent surgery: "When he woke up he was surrounded by his loved ones: Hillary, Chelsea and my Dad"), sometimes unintentionally.

Everybody is having a field day with that photo of George W. Bush holding the hand of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. (Talk about a fearless man date!) That, coupled with this comment by Bush—with regard to the annual Galveston, Texas gay beach party known as "Splash Day"—has given me a good belly laugh this afternoon.

My pal Chip at Binary Circumstance is having a laugh too.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #245

Song of the Day: Crazy, music and lyrics by Willie Nelson, was performed as a classic country song by the late, great Patsy Cline (listen to audio clip here). Nelson himself has recorded the song several times; listen to one audio clip here.

April 26, 2005

Song of the Day #244

Song of the Day: How's It Going to Be (audio clip and pop-up lyrics at that link) features the words and soulful vocals of Jennifer Ahmed, with music provided by the group Intransition. From the debut album, "Intransition," this infectious rock groove is aided by the guitar accompaniment of my pal Walter Foddis. "Keeping me tied down, locked in, making me crazy, with the tangled web you spin. ... Isolated, abbreviated, how's it going to be?"

April 25, 2005

Democracy and Saudi Arabia

I've had a lot to say about Saudi Arabia, and about the Bush administration's Adventures in Mideast Democracy.

Well, in Episode #2,345 of this Quixotic Political Saga, the Saudi royal family, which has been a trusted US "ally," "has been under pressure from Washington to engage in political reform at a time of social tension and a two-year campaign against the state by militants associated with al-Qaeda." Today, the news tells us:

Candidates on an alleged "golden list" backed by religious clerics have swept the final round of Saudi Arabia's first nationwide municipal elections. Islamist candidates won all the municipal council seats contested in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. They also fared well in northern towns as well as the comparatively liberal port of Jeddah, according to results released on Saturday. Women were barred from the polls, which were presented as a step towards more popular participation in public life.

Of course, the regime itself will pick "roughly half" of 1,200 councillors, which might "dilute" the power of Islamicists. Not that the Saudi regime is all that liberal by comparison. After all, this election news comes on the heels of another news story that the Saudis had detained 40 Pakistani Christians who were caught "attending a service in Riyadh" in a private home. The police also found (horrors!!) "Christian tapes and books." Since one cannot practice any religion other than Islam in Saudi Arabia, this is a crime, in case you were wondering.

I get exhausted pointing out the obvious. This is a regime that is allegedly a "friend" of the United States government. Let's put aside the prospects for democracy among "unfriendly" regimes. Of what use is procedural "democracy" when a "friendly" regime schools its citizens in a fanatical ideology of intolerance, when it marginalizes and criminalizes women, non-Muslims, and freedom itself? Of what use is "democracy" when the dominant culture would bring about a political condition that might make the current Saudi regime appear "moderate" by comparison?

Comments welcome, or readers may comment at L&P, where this has been cross-posted here.

Update: In addition to L&P comments on this post here and here, readers should check out Matthew Barganier's antiwar.com blog entry, "Saudi Democracy: A Little Realism, Please." Matthew makes some excellent points in that post. I agree that the US presence in Saudi Arabia might have made that country a tad less illiberal, and I also agree that the US-House of Sa'ud relationship has been a focal attack point for fanatical Islamic fundamentalists. In many respects, however, the US presence has been a model of neocorporatist intervention, a symbol of everything that is wrong with US foreign policy, as I point out here, for example.

Song of the Day #243

Song of the Day: Electric Storm is an electric guitar extravaganza, composed and performed by Sean Mercer, who just so happens to be hubby to my pal, Ilana. It's the scintillating title track to a fierce album of neoclassical-rock fusion. Listen to an all-too-brief audio clip here.

April 24, 2005

Song of the Day #242

Song of the Day: The Sorrows of Young Apollo, music and lyrics by Karen Michalson and Bill Michalson, is performed by Point of Ares. My dear friend Karen provides the vocals for this post-prog title track, the beginning of a hard-edged rock odyssey into the mythic and the pagan. Check out this concept album here.

April 23, 2005

Song of the Day #241

Song of the Day: Israel is a minor blues composition by John Carisi, a standard of the jazz repertoire made famous by such jazz luminaries as Miles Davis, on the classic album "Birth of the Cool" (audio clip at that link), and the incomparable Bill Evans, who recorded it many times. Listen to a full audio clip of one of Evans' renditions, featuring bassist Chuck Israels, and the late drummer Larry Bunker. Another Evans audio clip can be heard here. To my knowledge, the title has nothing to do with the holiday, but I wish a healthy Passover to all my Jewish friends!

April 22, 2005

Song of the Day #240

Song of the Day: A Night to Remember, music and lyrics by Dana Meyers, Charmaine Sylvers, and Nidra Beard, was performed endearingly by the R&B/dance group Shalamar. Listen to an audio clip here.

April 21, 2005

Song of the Day #239

Song of the Day: Four on Six is one of those "incredible jazz guitar" tracks composed and performed by the outstanding Wes Montgomery. A lyric was added later by Donna Smith. Wes recorded this a number of times; check out the audio clips on "The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery" or my absolute favorite rendition, performed live with the Wynton Kelly Trio: Smokin' at the Half Note. (The Half Note is now closed but it was a premier jazz spot in NYC; Carl and Joanne Barry, my brother and sister-in-law, appeared in the club too, opposite James Moody.) Wes's solo on this version is indeed smokin': a soaring, swinging, lyrical, deeply artistic statement.

April 20, 2005

Welcome to the New Pope!

My pals Timur (Technomagnet) and Aeon Skoble (at L&P) offer some thoughts on the new Pope, to which I offer comments. At L&P, I write:

Good points.
But as my pal Timur says, the new pope "package deals" the bout against relativism and the bout against egoism. He's quoted as saying: "We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism, which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one’s own desires." And the Pope's biographer observes: "Having seen fascism in action, Ratzinger today believes that the best antidote to political totalitarianism is ecclesiastical totalitarianism."
The conventional anti-egoism and the positing of any kind of totalitarianism as an antidote to relativism ... gets me nervous.
But nothing gets on my nerves more than this proclamation: that rock 'n' roll is "evil" and full of "diabolical and satanic messages." According to the NY DAILY NEWS: "[H]e singled out the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and the Eagles as especially evil."

Comments welcome, but readers should feel free to post to the other blogs as well.

Update: This post has been noted by Liberty & Culture and Blank Out Times too. Thanks!

Welcome to the Blogosphere!

Two regular readers of Notablog have launched their own blogs, at which I've left comments as well. Welcome to the Blogosphere to Technomaget and Matthew Humphreys. I left a comment for each here and here.

Song of the Day #238

Song of the Day: Someone to Watch Over Me, music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, respectively, was written for the Broadway musical, "Oh, Kay!" One of my favorite renditions of this great American standard is by Barbra Streisand from her album "My Name is Barbra." Listen to an audio clip here.

April 19, 2005

New Rozsa CD

A new hybrid SACD recording of three choral suites for "Ben-Hur," "Quo Vadis," and "King of Kings" will be released at the end of April by Telarc. See here. I hope to post a review once I've had the opportunity to pick up the CD and listen to it.

The release is discussed at the Miklos Rozsa Society Forum as well (where I asked a technical question here, with follow-up here). There's also another one of those "artistic integrity" threads at that forum, started by moi, here. I have some follow-up thereafter, which also continues here.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #237

Song of the Day: How Insensitive (Insensatez), music by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Portuguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, English lyrics by Norman Gimbel, boasts a title that is in total contradiction to the sensitivity of this bittersweet song, performed by artists from Sinatra to Sting (audio clips at those links).

April 18, 2005

Mandate for a Man Date

Last weekend, I read a perplexing piece in the New York Times about how straight guys seem to be so insecure when they go out to dinner or to a movie together. The piece, "The Man Date," written by Jennifer 8. Lee, was amusing only because it struck me as such a caricature. I had even thought about blogging on the topic, but just couldn't believe that American straight men were typically twisting themselves into pretzels just to share a bottle of wine over dinner. I mean: This is the 21st century. What gives?

Well, apparently, most of the readers of the "Sunday Styles" section ask the same question. Take a look at a series of interesting letters, starting here.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #236

Song of the Day: Desafinado, music by Antonio Carlos Jobim, lyrics by Newton Mendoca, made a huge impact when it was introduced to American audiences by tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd on their album "Jazz Samba" (audio clip at that link). There's also a memorable vocal rendition by Joao Gilberto on the "Getz/Gilberto" album (audio clip at that link). The song is also featured on the soundtrack to the 2003 film, "Goldfish Memory." Listen to an audio clip of that version here, sung by Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan. Finally, here is an audio clip of this lovely bossa nova, played on piano by Jobim himself.

April 17, 2005

The Dialectics of Baseball

Some people, who admit to their own obsessions, have noted my obsession with baseball, and have wondered when I'm going to explain the sport's "dialectical significance," along with its "singular place in the fabric of liberty and of our nation’s cultural life."

Well. With the Baltimore Orioles sweeping my last place New York Yankees in a three-game set, I'm not feeling very baseball-friendly right now. Ah, the season is early... though I think owner George Steinbrenner has probably just set a record for the earliest moment in the season to express his disgust with his multimillion dollar ball club.

So. The only dialectical insight I have right now is that there is an internal relationship between Steinbrenner's disgust and the Yankee losing record, and that winning is the yin to the losing of yang.

We'll get 'em tomorrow.

Comments welcome. But Yankee haters... BEWARE.

This post is noted at Not PC too (with a suitably triadic title: Baseball v. Rugby v. AFL).

Song of the Day #235

Song of the Day: Ain't No Mountain High Enough, words and music by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, has been performed by many artists, including Diana Ross (audio clip at that link), Michael McDonald (audio clip at that link), and classic disco versions by Boystown Gang (in a medley with "Remember Me") and by Inner Life, with vocalist Jocelyn Brown (listen to audio clip here). My favorite version remains the Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell duet. Listen to an audio clip here.

April 16, 2005

JARS Plugs

I noticed that David M. Brown (at the LFB.COM Blog) has a few things to say about the current issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Check out "Rand Among the Austrians" and "Boettke on the Economics of Atlas Shrugged."

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #234

Song of the Day: Let's Get Serious features the music and lyrics of Lee Garrett and Stevie Wonder, who does background vocals on Jermaine Jackson's recording of this song. This danceable and funky R&B jam is the title track of Jermaine's solo album; an audio clip is featured on The Jackson's Story.

April 15, 2005

Song of the Day #233

Song of the Day: Purple Haze, music, lyrics, and scalding performance by rock guitar legend Jimi Hendrix. It still makes me chuckle, though, when I hear the words "'scuse me, while I kiss the sky." For years, I, and quite a few other people, thought it was: "'scuse me while I kiss this guy." That is also the title of Gavin Edwards' book on "misheard lyrics." Listen to an audio clip that features that very phrase, from the classic album, "Are You Experienced?"

April 14, 2005

American Idol Under Assault

Stephen Holden says some accurate things about "American Idol" in his review of Barbara Cook's show at the Cafe Carlyle. But some of it is a bit over the top.

I mention this in response to Aeon Skoble's self-outing at L&P as an "AI" viewer: "Problems with Democracy."

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #232

Song of the Day: There Will Never Be Another You, music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Mack Gordon, has been performed as a ballad and a swing tune by innumerable artists. So many to choose from: Listen to an "after hours" audio clip by pianist Andre Previn, guitarist Joe Pass, and bassist Ray Brown, a classic Art Tatum piano version, a straight-ahead Bud Powell piano interpretation, a sweet Stephane Grappelli violin version, a Stan Getz saxophone version, a Chet Baker trumpet rendition, and a lovely vocal version by Nat King Cole.

April 13, 2005

Movie Music: Perlman and the New York Philharmonic

With all this discussion here and here over the quality of "crossover" artists, such as the great composer Miklos Rozsa, who wrote both for the concert stage and the cinema, nothing could have been more timely than going to a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center last night. Yes, occasionally, I actually get out!

The concert was billed as "Music from the Movies: An Evening of American Cinematic Musical Magic," and it featured the great New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, whose parents and uncle, he explained, had early experiences in the field of Hollywood music-making. The great violinist Itzhak Perlman joined the orchestra as the featured soloist on several compositions. (A copy of the program is offered here in PDF format.)

Comments welcome.

The concert opened, appropriately, with the famous Alfred Newman-penned fanfare for 20th Century Fox. It sent a ripple through the packed house, serving notice that we were here for a night of both art and entertainment. Slatkin then led the orchestra into a bold, majestic take on the magnificent overture to El Cid, composed by Miklos Rozsa. Having never heard anything from El Cid performed by a live orchestra (one of my favorite film scores), I was immediately hooked.

Slatkin paused after the Rozsa piece to welcome the audience; he provided lots of interesting little tidbits about the compositions to be performed. He told us that this was not music from "film." It was not music from the "cinema." This was "Movie Music," he announced boldly. And, to a certain extent, he was actually quite correct. The concert did not focus on the more expansive, industrious, or full-bodied twists, turns, and intricacies of film scoring. But it did present some of the most melodic, most memorable movie themes. (Of course, I am only sorry that the concert did not last for several hours: I would have loved to have heard selections from Rozsa's Ben-Hur or Jarre's Lawrence of Arabia, or anything by Bernard Herrmann, for example.)

The Philharmonic then turned to Alex North's "Love Theme from Spartacus," which, even though it conjures up images of Kirk Douglas and Jean Simmons, stands alone as one of the most delicate, romantic compositions I've ever heard.

A John Williams-arranged orchestral version of Charles Chaplin's "Smile" (from Modern Times) followed, as Itzhak Perlman joined the Philharmonic on stage. Perlman worked through Alfred Newman's "Cathy's Theme" from Wuthering Heights, Max Steiner's Now Voyager theme, and Erich Korngold's love theme from The Adventures of Robin Hood, all in a heartfelt tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood. I could see older couples familiar with these films from the '30s and '40s grasping one another's hands, transported into the romantic moments these compositions encapsulated on the screen.

The first act concluded with a rousing tribute to one of the grand Maestros of the Philharmonic: Leonard Bernstein (pronounced "stine," as in "Einstein," Bernstein reportedly once said, or so Slatkin reminded us—in contrast to the pronunciation of the "steen" in Elmer Bernstein's name). Slatkin told us that Bernstein was none too pleased with his experiences in Hollywood and his soundtrack for On the Waterfront was his only bona fide film score (though his theatrical scores were used in film adaptations, such as On the Town and West Side Story). Bernstein's "Symphonic Suite" from On the Waterfront offered us a bit more of the complexities to be found in film scoring. It also provided a few hints of that classic "New York" sound that might be found in a later composition of his, "Something's Coming," from West Side Story.

The second act opened with a tribute to great American film composers who died over the past 16 months. Elmer Bernstein's rousing theme from The Magnificent Seven and Michael Kamen's charming "Scherzo from An American Symphony" from Mr. Holland's Opus were followed by an utterly mesmerizing orchestral treatment of David Raksin's theme from Laura. This section closed with a terrific performance of the main title from Patton, composed by the late, great Jerry Goldsmith.

Itzhak Perlman joined the orchestra once again for another set of selections. The ever-lovely main theme from Out of Africa, by John Barry, ended on a surprise note, as Slatkin introduced the composer, who sat a few rows to my left. Barry stood to applause, and gave his "thumbs up" to the musicians for this tribute. John Williams' sensitive theme from Far and Away followed. Perlman's delivery of the theme from Schindler's List was shattering. Having recorded this composition for the film's soundtrack and having performed it live on the 2000 Academy Awards' television broadcast, Perlman's performance here was nothing less than brilliant. He followed it with the "Tango (Por una Cabeza)" from Scent of a Woman, and gave us an encore too: the Morricone-penned theme from Cinema Paradiso. Perlman's contributions were met with a much-deserved standing ovation.

Slatkin concluded the night with Howard Shore's soaring "Symphonic Suite" from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which featured the vocals of young boy soprano James Danner. Violating a rule of entertainment—not to follow the performance of a child—as Slatkin declared, he came back for an encore to conduct the orchestra in a tribute to the "March King," as he put it. "No, not that one," he joked, but the "March King" for the last 35 years: John Williams. The audience erupted as the orchestra blared the "Imperial March" (also known as "Darth Vader's Theme") from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

After all my recent discussions over film scores as "derivative" and "culture lite," I can only say: Nuts to the naysayers. This was one terrifically entertaining and moving night of music.

Also noted at The Rozsa Forum.

Song of the Day #231

Song of the Day: I Have Nothing, words and music by David Foster and Linda Thompson, was an Oscar-nominated song performed powerfully by a full-voiced Whitney Houston in the 1992 film, "The Bodyguard." Listen to an audio clip here.

April 12, 2005

Song of the Day #230

Song of the Day: All I Ask of You, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, is from the musical, "Phantom of the Opera" (listen to the audio clip at that link). It is featured in the 2004 film as well (audio clip here). My favorite version of this melodic, romantic song is by Barbra Streisand (listen to the audio clip at that link).

April 11, 2005

To What Extent Was Rand a Misesian?

Long-time Misesian scholar Bettina Bien Greaves has written a review of the Spring 2005 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium, "Ayn Rand Among the Austrians." The review appears as the Daily Article on the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Read the Greaves essay here. It is also linked at the Mises Blog here, with follow-up comments here. I've left one comment thanking Bettina, and mentioning Rand's marginalia comments on the works of Austrian writers.

Comments welcome, but readers are invited to join the discussion at the Mises Blog.

Update: This Greaves essay was also announced at L&P by Roderick Long here, leading to some good-natured chit-chat here, here, here, and here (where I post a few comments myself).

Musical "Purists" and "Impurities"

The discussion that began over Miklos Rozsa and Mario Lanza has led to further contributions from me: here, here, here, here, here, and here.

One of those posts is actually worth reproducing here at Notablog because it deals with important issues on the complexity of different genres of music (including jazz and film scores) and on the nature of artistic integrity. With the great violinist Itzhak Perlman and the New York Philharmonic performing a concert of "Music from the Movies" tomorrow at Lincoln Center, these subjects have a certain timeliness.

Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to join the discussion at SOLO HQ.

This is going to be a long post. I apologize in advance for its length. But there is no way to discuss these complex issues without opening up a few worm-cans. So, here goes:

George, I am certainly not suggesting that there are no qualitative standards by which to evaluate the complexity of different genres of music. And I certainly recognize that there are primitive and more complex forms of any art. What I was questioning was your own implicit view that jazz is inferior to classical music, at least insofar as we consider performance.

Since most jazz features improvisation based on less complex "popular tunes" or standards, a legitimate argument can be made that most classical composition is superior to jazz "composition." (This sets aside, for the moment, the fact that most classical composers simply wrote down their improvised variations on a theme, while in jazz, that improvisation is spontaneous within a structure; as Louis Armstrong once said, and I'm paraphrasing: "Asking a jazz musician to play the song in exactly the same way every time, is like going over to a bird and asking: 'How's that again?'")

Of course, the argument for "complexity" breaks down somewhat when we start to compare advanced jazz-influenced composition by people like Gershwin, Bernstein, Legrand, Sauter, and others—who explore complexity in rhythm and harmony on a par with classicists (and why wouldn't they? Most of these composers studied the classics, after all.)

Some of this is discussed in a superb work entitled Music, The Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination, by Robert Jourdain (a hat tip to Joe Maurone, who gave me the book some years ago). I strongly recommend Jourdain's book for those who wish to understand more fully the nature of complexity in music. For example, though Western music has enormous melodic and harmonic complexity, it does not (typically) have the rhythmic complexity that is found in the Middle East, Asia, and especially Africa. Jourdain writes:

Most Westerners have so much trouble with extended meters that even some musicologists have declared them incomprehensible. But much of the world revels in metrical complexity. In fact, it is the absence of complex meter in the West that is anomalous. Wherever music emphasizes complex meter, ordinary people learn to perceive it ... An even greater perceptual challenge is posed by polyrhythm. Polyrhythm might more accurately be called "polymeter", since it's made by playing more than one meter at a time. ... Polyrhythm makes your brain work overtime by demanding more attention than the simple meters found in most music, where sixteenth notes fit evenly into eights, eighths into quarters, quarters into halves, everything nicely aligned. This orderly arrangement lets the brain anticipate coming notes easily as halvings or doublings of the underlying beat. But when three notes overlay four in a polyrhythm, irregular distances fall between the notes of the two meters. The result is a sort of temporal texture that requires close listening to grasp analytically.

Jourdain states additionally:

Polyrhythm is rare in Western music, yet it has been around for a long time. You'll find instances in the experimental music of the early Baroque, in Mozart and Beethoven, and especially in the music of Romantic composers like Schumann and Brahms. In classical music, polyrhythm often is employed ornamentally as a sort of rhythmic bump in the road. But long polyrhythmic passages also appear. There's a good deal of polyrhythm in jazz, but not much elsewhere in the West.

And that point is key: because jazz, as a uniquely American contribution to music, is at a cultural crossroads in its genealogy, integrating Western, African, and sometimes other world cultural idioms (Brazilian, etc.) in its various musical forms. And these textures are not just found in the rhythm of a jazz arrangement; they are typically found in the phrasing of a jazz instrumentalist, who might play triple-notes over a single beat, along with many other complex permutations, integrating these with new, complex harmonies laid over a given melodic structure.

So, where does this leave us?

It tells us that "complexity" is something that needs to be evaluated according to a standard. It is not a "given" that classical performers are "superior" to jazz performers. The complexity is simply different in each genre. (As for the other genres, it depends: for example, there are classical and jazz forms to be found in progressive rock, hard rock, and so forth. That's why a lot of this music is called "fusion," rather than simply "rock" or "jazz," and different forms of complexity will be found in each.)

I'm astounded, George, that a fan of John Coltrane, such as you, could possibly suggest, by implication, that Coltrane is in the Minor Leagues when compared to a classical player. What these performers do is just... different. It can be more or less complex depending on the nature of the piece being performed, and what it demands. And it needs to be evaluated accordingly.

I should note that there are few classical players who can do what a jazz player does, and vice versa... simply because, as I suggest above, the approach and complexity are different. On this, by the way, I have a slight difference with Lindsay: Lanza may have been able "to do a Sinatra," and Sinatra may have worshiped at the altar of Lanza... but Sinatra is Sinatra. He learned from jazz artists the art of singing "behind the beat," which makes his phrasing much different from Lanza. Is this "better" or "worse"? Nonsensical question. It's simply a different approach, based on a different idiom. (Ironic, isn't it, that Lanza, who is being criticized as not "pure" enough by classical standards, is actually much closer to the classical technique than he is to the jazz technique that inspired Sinatra.)

And, in the end, one could look at technique, mastery of rhythm, harmony, melody, and the integration of these, and so forth, and come up with a much more "complex" picture of what constitutes "complexity." That's why I'm not willing to say that the classical performer is better than the jazz performer.

(Let's not confuse issues, however. For the record, I don't consider "pissing in a jar and adding a crucifix" to be art, let alone a primitive form of "art" ... but that's a subject for another day.)

Now, let me turn to Michael's newest post.

You ask, Michael, "is there any way that you can help me explain to you that high art is not a service industry? and that that is a good thing? Or do you like the idea that artists should go back to pre-renaissance times, back to the middle ages?"

The question implies a false dichotomy in my view; it suggests that an artist who is paid for his art is in a service industry necessarily. Now, maybe in certain circumstances, that might be true, that some artists produce art the way Howard Roark's inferior competitors produced architectural designs: they build in order to have clients, rather than needing clients in order to build in accordance with their own vision. (I would, however, caution us in making blanket moral statements about artists across the board on this issue; we would need to know the very specific personal circumstances of any artist in order to make those kinds of judgments.)

The genuine artist creates and is true to his vision—but this certainly does not mean that he must never seek out commissions for his creation or that it is never proper to be a part of a collaborative artistic endeavor (such as a film).

You bring up Michelangelo. Well, one of the best stories about Michelangelo and the Pope is depicted in the novel (and subsequent movie) "The Agony and the Ecstasy" (with a fine score, by the way, written by Alex North). I am deeply aware of the issues that motivated each of these men in what became a titanic struggle for artistic integrity. But Michelangelo's integrity was not compromised because he accepted money or because he chose to perform a service by selling his artistic talent to depict specifically religious scenes in a specifically religious structure.

Even Howard Roark, who created the great, exalted Stoddard Temple, accepted commissions to design a gas station—done in his way. And that is the key: As long as one is not asked to create "in a certain way," contrary to one's artistic vision, I see no compromise of integrity. And I see no difference here between Roark and Miklos Rozsa on this point: Rozsa accepted commissions to do motion picture scores—his way. He never compromised the integrity of his artistic vision in creating these scores.

I sometimes get the sense, however, that Michael is suggesting that anybody who does a film score is, per se, a compromiser, if they can also do concert works. But that's not the case, in my view. Rozsa learned the art of the score (and it is an art), and that art both informed his concert compositions, while also being informed by those concert compositions. Over time, in fact, many of his scores were adopted for the concert stage and presented as the integrated works of art that they were, quite apart from the films in which they were featured. And that is often the mark of a great film score and a great film score composer.

Ironically, tomorrow, at Lincoln Center, the incomparable classical violinist Itzhak Perlman will be performing an entire concert devoted to "Music from the Movies," with the New York Philharmonic. It features selections from the works of Rozsa, North, Newman, Steiner, Korngold, Williams, and other great film score composers. The program (which is available in PDF form here) discusses the ongoing debate over "movie music," which is sometimes dismissed by "purists" who claim that “Movie music is to music as ad copy is to writing and laugh tracks are to dialogue. ... In other words, it doesn’t stand alone but is in service to something else. … It’s certainly technically interesting, like lighting, but it’s not really music.”

Nonsense.

As James Keller writes, there is no "good reason to disdain music that stands 'in service to something else,' a characteristic that film music shares with operas, ballet scores (Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, for example), incidental music for theatrical productions (like Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream music), and any sacred music composed for liturgical use (say, Palestrina’s Pope Marcellus Mass or J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio)." Keller understands "that some of this attitude is derived from the notion that commercial success somehow taints a work of art, and so a film score is contaminated by its very genealogy." But he asks, "does anyone argue that opera companies should not produce Der Rosenkavalier on the grounds that Richard Strauss composed the work hoping it might be successful and, sure enough, ended up building his mountain retreat with its royalties?" In any event, not all film scores enjoy commercial success, and not all film music is created equal. The fine composer Bernard Herrmann wrote:

Music on the screen can seek out and intensify the inner thoughts of the characters. It can invest a scene with terror, grandeur, gaiety, or misery. It often lifts a mere dialogue into the realm of poetry. It is the communicating link between screen and audience, reaching out and enveloping all into one single experience.

Keller continues:

From a technical point of view, composing film music makes specific demands. You’ve got to feel a measure of sympathy for the composer who, having composed a beautifully structured nugget of sound that perfectly reflects the details of a cinematic scene, receives a memo informing him that the director has decided to expand the scene by 30 seconds or cut it by 18. Yet composers in all fields are accustomed to accommodating limitations, whether in fulfilling a commission for an orchestral piece “not to exceed 12 minutes” or in writing a violin part that really wants to descend to F, even though that instrument is thoughtlessly built to go only as low as G.

And the thing to remember is this, and here I truly agree with Keller: The finest film scores

are full participants in the success of a collaborative effort, but they also have complete musical integrity on their own. That’s why it’s possible, and not at all questionable, occasionally to unhook a score from the visuals and present it in a concert format. True, in doing so we lose the music’s connection to the context for which it was conceived (except to the extent that our memory may supply it). However, concert audiences are used to that, since it happens every time a symphony concert opens with Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture or ends with the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. If a well-executed musical composition holds its own when transferred from a movie theater to a concert hall, we only impoverish ourselves if we don’t sit back and enjoy it.

I'd maintain that Rozsa's scores—and those of any of the great film score composers—have an internal integrity; they constitute an organic whole, in which each part enriches the experience of the whole, not only serving (and strengthening) the purpose of the film, but standing on their own as integral creations. Listen to his score from "Ben-Hur," or "El Cid," and see if you do not walk away with a sense of that integration, and a sense of Rozsa's artistic integrity, quite apart from whether you like it or not.

Michael brings up the Renaissance. Well, let's not forget one historical curiosity, which is not a coincidence: Just as the Renaissance gave birth to great humanist art, it also heralded the spread of capitalism. And an artist such as Rand was able to articulate the principle that art and entertainment need not be in conflict, that there is no inherent conflict between art and business, and that there is nothing inherently wrong with being paid for one's art. In the best of circumstances, the "service" being paid for is the creation of the sublime, in accordance with the artist's vision.

As a final point: The good thing about artistic taste is that it is personal and that each of us can find the sublime in different forms. We may be able to provide objective evaluations of an artist's technique and complexity. But what each of us likes, we like. C'est la vie, like I said. If opera "speaks" to you, Michael, in a certain way, the way that jazz and film scores and other forms of music "speak" to me, great! I celebrate the difference.

Song of the Day #229

Song of the Day: Lullaby of Birdland, music by jazz pianist George Shearing, lyrics by George David Weiss, has been sung by many jazz artists, including a wonderful version by the great Mel Torme. Listen to an audio clip from his album "Songs of New York."

April 10, 2005

The Problems with Rozsa and Lanza?

In response to an ongoing thread at SOLO HQ (to which I contributed more recent comments here and here), artist Michael Newberry takes me to task on my views of composer Miklos Rozsa and singer Mario Lanza. I respond at SOLO HQ here, but duplicate those comments for my Notablog readers below. I make additional comments here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Comments welcome, but readers may wish to join the discussion at SOLO HQ.

Update: I've initiated a discussion of the question of "artistic integrity" at the Miklos Rozsa forum. Start here.

Playing with fire, eh?

The thing I find most objectionable in your post, Michael, is this assertion: "The problem that I see is that Chris doesn't know about artistic integrity and he insists to call people with an understanding of it or people that have it snobs. That is unjust."

I will admit to not knowing enough about the technical aspects of painting and sculpture, for example, in order to make an informed judgment about an artist's integrity or technical brilliance. I can only tell you what I like in these arts, and my tastes vary from Michelangelo to Monet.

But in music: I'll gladly play with fire. I've studied music, played an awful violin, taught a course on the history of jazz, and have been surrounded by musicians my whole life (including a virtuoso jazz guitarist brother, a terrific jazz vocalist sister-in-law, and a couple of professional opera-singing cousins). I spend every day of my life listening to music. I have eclectic tastes that range from the great classical compositions to contemporary R&B; I have a musical palette that makes room for Beethoven, the Blues, and the Beatles. Even among My Favorite Songs, one will find composers and artists from Puccini, Haydn, and Bach to Sarah Vaughan, Stevie Wonder, and Led Zeppelin.

So, let us begin.

First, Michael, look carefully at the paragraph you quoted. When I spoke of snobs, I was speaking primarily of the "avant-garde" of the 20th century who embraced "silence" and "traffic horns" as music, and who then condemned people like Miklos Rozsa because his music was too "melodic" and of another era. They were right. It is melodic, and it is of another era, and like many who still captured Romanticism in their music, Rozsa spent a lot of time composing for film (and this was not his only sphere of composition).

I am astonished to read that you have neither the patience nor the goodwill to discuss Rozsa in-depth, but to assert, as you do, that he lacked artistic integrity, is simply that: an assertion. Plenty of people work for hire and take direction: If an architect is hired to build a gas station, he builds a gas station---not a gymnasium---according to his own vision; and if the vision of the architect matches the needs of the customer who pays for it, a gas station is built. If a painter is hired to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, his artistic integrity is not being violated because he has a limited canvas and must adhere to a religious theme. Rozsa matched the needs of the director who paid for his compositions, but he had mega-guts in never sacrificing his artistic integrity, his vision, in composing the pieces for the screen that remain among the most formidable achievements in film scoring ever written. And his wonderful concert works were composed for some of the finest instrumentalists of the 20th century, including Jascha Heifetz and Pinchas Zukerman, who both celebrated the Rozsa legacy.

You can say you don't care for Rozsa's work. You can even tell me that you don't like my artistic tastes. C'est la vie. But to tell me that I have no understanding of artistic integrity is remarkable on the face of it. We have different tastes, Michael. But the chief difference is: I don't belittle the achievements of a Leontyne Price (whom I love), or many of the great classical composers (whom I also love) as a means of celebrating the achievements of people in jazz, R&B, or film scoring.

And many classical musicians don't feel the necessity to belittle the achievements of, say, their brothers and sisters in jazz either. Violinist Yehudi Menuhin played a magnificent classical piece; but he bowed before the improvisational genius of violinist Stephane Grappelli, and in all the albums they recorded together, Menuhin (who played transcriptions) couldn't say enough about the artistic integrity of Grappelli. Violinist Itzhak Perlman said the same about jazz guitarist Jim Hall. Classical pianist Jean Yves-Thibaudet said the same about jazz pianist Bill Evans. He even recorded a tribute album to Evans, based on transcriptions of Evans' solos, which Thibaudet himself likened to Ravel, Debussy, Chopin, and Rachmaninov. And many classical opera stars stood in awe of the vocal genius of Sarah Vaughan, who was often called the jazz world's "Leontyne Price." These classical artists, and many others, celebrate the deep rhythmic and harmonic complexity of jazz (and jazz-influenced composition too: in the works of George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Eddie Sauter, and Michel Legrand, to name a few). And such classicists, more often than not, cannot duplicate the improvisational genius they see at work within that genre. And, as an aside, that improvisational genius is on display in most cases, in concert halls and clubs, where the same formula as the opera house applies: "no retakes, ... no stalling, no charm can help you if you mess up."

As for Lanza: My original article on Mario Lanza clearly and unequivocally dealt with the tragedy of his life. In fact, the whole Cesari book that I reviewed is subtitled "An American Tragedy." That book and my review most certainly did not brush aside the tragedy: it was the whole point of the project.

But for what he did achieve, I can only say: Bravo, Derek McGovern.

Song of the Day #228

Song of the Day: If You Should Ever Be Lonely, music and lyrics by Fred Jenkins and singer Val Young, for whom it was a huge 1986 club hit, has also been covered by the Real McCoy [audio clip at that link], Reina, and Mariah Carey as part of a dance remix medley with the song "Heartbreaker" [audio clip here].

April 09, 2005

The Apocalypse Will Be Broadcast

I've been writing about the rise of the religious right for quite a while now, most recently in connection with the re-election of George W. Bush. Starting with my essay, "Caught Up in the Rapture," I have argued that the political impact of the religious right is second only to its cultural and economic impact, which is growing significantly:

Christian merchandising is a $4.2 billion industry, which includes a $100 million video game business. The Christian book market is particularly lucrative: Evangelist Rick Warren has sold 15 million copies of his book, The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? There are even Christian diet books that sit alongside Atkins and South Beach manuals: The Maker’s Diet helps you to lose weight by eating just like Jesus. From number one best-selling books such as The Da Vinci Code to "Joan of Arcadia" on television and "Bruce Almighty" on the silver screen, God is Hip and Hot. ... A blockbuster film such as "The Passion of the Christ"—which was condemned initially as "anti-Semitic" by some critics—has now grossed nearly $400 million. That figure does not include director Mel Gibson’s cross-promotional merchandising efforts—sales on such items as metal replica crucifixion nails and thorn-adorned necklaces and bracelets. ... [And the] 12-volume LaHaye-Jenkins work­—from its first installment, Left Behind, to its action-packed finale, Glorious Appearing: The End of Days—now qualifies as the best-selling Christian fiction book series of all time[, having] sold in excess of 60 million copies in the past nine years.
Ultimately, the Left Behind series is not simply a religious narrative. It is a political one. Glenn W. Shuck, author of Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity, argues persuasively that "the novels have less to do with escaping and more to do with remaking the modern world" (emphasis added). It is the kind of "remaking" that Friedrich Hayek would have characterized as thoroughly rationalist or "constructivist" in its political implications.

Except that in this instance, the "Left Behind-ers" are praying that God will be the ultimate constructivist, and fix things for good. The fact that so many of them voted for George W. Bush as His messenger is not a comforting thought.

Well, God makes a prime-time appearance on NBC in a major network mini-series that begins this Wednesday, April 13, 2005. As Frank Rich puts it (hat-tip to Arthur Silber): "It's all too fitting that 'Revelations,' which downsizes lay government in favor of the clerical, is hijacking the regular time slot of 'The West Wing'" (the show aired its season finale on April 6th). Fitting indeed. The typically liberal "West Wing" is being replaced by a Left Behind knock-off that will merge an "X-Files" sensibility, an Omen-like horror quotient, and an apocalyptic scenario worthy of the Millennium Group.

In the end, of course, the Apocalypse is not the most disturbing prospect; it's the fact that the Apocalypse has become so marketable in this culture.

Cross-posted to L&P. See discussion threads here, here, and here. Comments welcome.

Selling Freedom

I comment briefly at SOLO HQ on an article posted by Joseph C. Maurone, "Selling Freedom: The Choice of a New Generation?," which holds me up as "one of the premiere Objectivist proprietors..." I reproduce those comments below.

Comments welcome, but readers may wish to join the SOLO HQ discussion that begins here.

Thanks for the tribute, Joe.

Now people will understand that when Linz calls me "Her Royal Whoreness," it refers (ahem) to my penchant for being an ideological "capitalist," "salesman," and "proprietor," with a dialectical sensibility.

But I had a good teacher: Ayn Rand herself ... whom Peikoff was right to call "the greatest salesman philosophy has ever had."

The key, for me, has always been: Know what market you're targeting, learn about the specific concerns of that market (especially about your competitors in that market), and package your message in a way that bridges the gaps between your own perspective and the perspective of the people you are trying to reach.... not by compromising your message, but by learning to translate that message for a specific audience's context. In other words, this is all about context-keeping as applied to the exposition and sale of one's ideas.

I discuss the reasons for this in my Free Radical article, "Dialectics & the Art of Nonfiction," which draws from Rand's own insights. She said that "the purpose for which you write depends on your audience," and it is for this reason that we must never be "neutral about [the] audience's context." That would make about as much sense as a car dealer (using Joe's example) trying to sell a toaster to a customer looking for an SUV. Know your audience... know your customer... and adapt your message accordingly to appeal to that customer's interests and concerns... in other words, to his or her context.

Song of the Day #227

Song of the Day: Just Be Good to Me, words and music by Terry Lewis and Jimmy "Jam" Harris, has been recorded by Zodiac, DLP, and Kym Rae (audio clip at that link). But, for me, the original version of this churning R&B groove is the definitive one: by the S.O.S. Band. Listen to an audio clip here.

April 08, 2005

Song of the Day #226

Song of the Day: Over the Rainbow, music by Harold Arlen (the centenary of whose birth was celebrated on February 15th), and lyrics by E. Y. "Yip" Harburg (who was born on this day in 1898; check out the new stamp in his honor) is from the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz." Made famous by Judy Garland, it is a timeless song of yearning and hope. Listen to an audio clip of young Dorothy singing this gem. And for an utterly hilarious story about Ethel Merman's reaction to Renata Scotto's vocalizing of this song, see here. Listen also to the full audio clip of Scotto's rendition at that site.

April 07, 2005

Mars, Venus, Earth

Robert Bidinotto's SOLO HQ essay, "Objectivism, Venus and Mars" has elicited quite a few comments. I posted a comment that makes reference to my own work on Ayn Rand, and the various reactions it has elicited among people with different "thinking styles." See here.

Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to join the dialogue at SOLO HQ.

Song of the Day #225

Song of the Day: God Bless the Child features lyrics by Arthur Herzog, Jr. and music by Billie Holiday, who would have celebrated her 90th birthday today. Listen to a poignant Lady Day audio clip here. And for a change of pace, listen to an audio clip of the classic Blood, Sweat & Tears version here.

April 06, 2005

Song of the Day #224

Song of the Day: Deja Vu (It's Hard to Believe), words and music by Ray Roc Checo, Jodi Marr and Denise Rich, is performed by The Roc Project, featuring Tina Novak. Listen to an audio clip of this punchy dance track in a freestyle mix here and a more house-oriented mix here (several other remixes are offered here).

April 05, 2005

Yanks 2, Boston 0

I know, I know, it's still very early ... but that was fun.

The Bosox tied the game in the 9th inning, and Derek Jeter came up in the bottom of the 9th, the Stadium bathed in spring sunlight, and hit a walk-off home run to win the game for the Yanks, 4-3. Carl Pavano failed to get his first Yankee win, but he had 7Ks in 6 1/3 innings of work.

Okay, I promise not to do this for every game. It's just so good to see baseball again.

Comments welcome.

Rand Centenary Essay Republished

In "Celebrating the Year of Ayn Rand," ISIL has republished my Freeman essay, "Ayn Rand: A Centennial Appreciation." The essay is also available as a PDF here.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #223

Song of the Day: What You Won't Do For Love, words and music by Bobby Caldwell and Alfons Kettner, has been performed by many artists, including a solo version by Michael Bolton, a duet by Natalie Cole and Peabo Bryson, and a rap-vocal fusion with Tupac Shakur and Eric Williams (as "Do For Love") (audio clips at each of those links). But my favorite remains the original Bobby Caldwell performance. Listen to an audio clip here or here.

April 04, 2005

Yanks 1, Boston 0

Okay, we've got a long way to go. But it was still nice seeing pitcher Randy Johnson make his debut at The Stadium. It was still nice seeing shortstop, and Yankee captain, Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees beat the, cough, cough, ahem, World Champion Boston Red Sox, 9-2, in the first game of the 2005 Major League Baseball Season.

Let's Go Yanks!

In the meanwhile, today, the New York Mets have their first official game of the new season, led by their new manager, former Yankee Willie Randolph. They are a team to watch, especially their fresh third baseman, David Wright.

Spring is here. Daylight Savings Time has returned. Baseball is back. Life is good.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #222

Song of the Day: Love Will Save the Day, music and lyrics by Antoinette "Toni C" Colandero, was performed by Whitney Houston on the album "Whitney." Produced and mixed by Jellybean Benitez, it's an energetic and musical dance track, which features a cool vibraphone solo by Roy Ayers. Listen to an audio clip here.

April 03, 2005

Song of the Day #221

Song of the Day: Take Me Out to the Ball Game, composed by Jack Norworth in 1908 (and re-fashioned in 1927), is a perennial baseball park favorite, and one of my all-time favorites too... because it reminds me of my favorite sport, played in my favorite ballpark, by my favorite team, which just so happens to be opening up the 2005 baseball season tonight. Go Yanks! Oh, and I loved a 1996 commercial version of this song by the Goo Goo Dolls. Listen to an audio clip of that version here. And read David Hinckley's essay on this "Great Baseball Song."

April 02, 2005

Pope John Paul II Dies

My condolences to those mourning the passing of Pope John Paul II. Whatever one's thoughts on organized religion, Catholicism, or the Pope's applications of Catholic doctrine, I think it can be said that this was a gentle man with guts, one who lent his support to such movements as Solidarity during an historical period that saw the collapse of Communism.

R.I.P.

Update: At SOLO HQ, I reflected on the Pope's passing, and in reply to Lindsay Perigo's own homily, "The Pope, Objectivism ... and 'The Best Within'." I reproduce those comments below for readers of Notablog. Also note SOLO HQ follow-up here, here, here, and here.

Comments welcome, though you might also wish to join the discussion at SOLO HQ.

Marcus [Bachler] writes:

More spirituality needed for SOULO? How about we rename this group GWBSO = George W Bush Spiritual Objectivists? :-)

You mean it's not named that already? [running for cover...]

Seriously, Linz's article raises a number of issues.

I don't think Objectivism will ever reach the kind of mass appeal that one finds in mass-appeal religious movements—whether they go by the name "Catholicism" or "Islamic fundamentalism" or the more secular religiosities of Communism and Nazism. And I say: Thank God! That doesn't mean, however, that some "Objectivists" are not prone to the same kinds of behavior that plague those types of movements (minus the killing of infidels); perhaps the development of joyless, nasty "sectarianism" is simply endemic to the development of movements as such.

Of course, Linz is right: Catholicism has been at the center of many achievements. But even those achievements were bound up with the development of secularism. The resurgence of Aristotelianism through Thomas Aquinas, and the Renaissance thereafter, laid much groundwork for, and provided the inspiration for, many glorious developments and expressions in architecture, sculpture, painting and music that followed. The secularization of the Western mind has taken centuries to achieve... even if we are still facing various "blips" that seek to interrupt (and reverse) that process. And so many of those who have expressed "total passion" of a religious nature are still looking to the heavens for height... belittling, in the process, the individual human being living on earth.

On the passing of John Paul II: I marked his death briefly because I have long viewed him as a "gentle man with guts," who stood up, rhetorically, to Communism and to Nazism in his lifetime. Ironically, the "gentle man with guts," the serene, self-confident man of conviction who embraces the "total passion for the total height" can also be found in Rand's own novels, in characters such as Howard Roark. Now, I'm not suggesting for a moment that all of us have to mimic the qualities of Roark or even the gentility of John Paul II. Lord knows, we all have different demeanors and personalities, and there is strength in that diversity.

But I just don't know of any other way to fight "repressive, persecutorial, joyless, prudish and downright nasty" behavior, except by not practicing it in my own dealings with other people. My actions are part of a culture, and if I want a rational and civil culture, I need to practice those virtues in my own relationship to my self, and to others.

One cannot "implement" a culture the way one selects a Parliament, a President, or a Pope. A culture is emergent: If you desire a certain type of culture tomorrow, you need to own and exhibit the virtues of that culture in your actions today. "Anyone who fights for the future," wrote Ayn Rand, "lives in it today"—each in the context of his/her own life, individual goals, and familial, romantic, professional, political, social relationships.

Hayek and Spencer

At L&P, I made a comment on a review of Bruce Caldwell's recent book on Hayek here.

Song of the Day #220

Song of the Day: Till There Was You, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson, has been covered by so many artists... even The Beatles! It was sung by Tony-winning Barbara Cook in the original Broadway cast recording of "The Music Man," also starring Robert Preston (check out the audio clip here) and in the 1962 film version by Shirley Jones.

April 01, 2005

April, May, June, July ... Fools

So much in the news on this April Fool's Day, 2005. For example, the "final verdict" on prewar "intelligence" has been issued. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. The "final verdict" won't be issued for years and years. But this particular verdict does make it appear that there were plenty of fools running America's "intelligence" community. American "homeland security" is gravely dependent on the quality of its intelligence. That should make all of us feel very safe.

And then, on the heels of the departure of NBC's Tom Brokaw and CBS's Dan Rather, another Long-Time Talking Head will be Leaving the Airwaves—this coming December: Ted Koppel, long-time host of ABC News' "Nightline." I've actually been a fan of "Nightline" for many years, if only because it does offer an opportunity for a more comprehensive look at the news of the day, with more in-depth interviews and coverage than that offered on the nightly news broadcasts.

I'm also a religious viewer of the Sunday morning news broadcasts, but I have found them infuriating for the last few years. I spend most Sunday mornings doing a most un-Godly thing: Cursing at the TV Screen. Not only because of what is being said, but because it's the same people saying the same things. Ted Koppel puts his finger on it. As the NY Times reports this morning:

Mr. Koppel said he had been concerned about what he saw as the uniformity of all the Sunday public affairs programs—particularly when a viewer can flip from one channel to the other and see people like the secretary of defense or secretary of state interviewed on each. "That seems to be the general understanding in Washington these days," Mr. Koppel said. "The administration sets the tone and theme and presents the same guests to all the programs at the same time. I don't think anyone is served by that."

Quite honestly, let me put it another way: ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

There.

That felt better.

[begin rant] Why don't they just call the Sunday morning news programs: The Condi Rice Show? Or The Don Rumsfeld Show? Or The John McCain Show? Or (up until recently) The Colin Powell Show? EVERY DAMN WEEK, the same people, over and over and over again. On every channel. Sometimes simultaneously. Taped broadcasts putting to rest the maxim that one can't be in two or three different places at the same time. Who needs a Pentagon Channel? [/end rant]

April Fool's Day? The Washington establishment makes fools of all of us, every day of the year.

Comments welcome.

Cross-posted to L&P.

Song of the Day #219

Song of the Day: I'm a Fool to Want You, words and music by Jack Wolf, Joel Herron, and Frank Sinatra, has been performed by many singers, including Ol' Blue Eyes. Billie Holiday performed this sad song of unrequited love to heartbreaking effect. Listen to audio clips of several Holiday takes here (and tune-in to the WKCR Billie Holiday Festival, starting today). If you want to change the mood... have a fun April Fool's Day!