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September 30, 2005

Song of the Day #410

Song of the Day: My One and Only Love, music and lyrics by Guy Wood and Robert Mellin, has been recorded by so many wonderful artists. Listen to audio clips from renditions by Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, Frank Sinatra, Sting, and Carly Simon. One of my favorite instrumental versions is by jazz guitarist Jim Hall (no audio link available, unfortunately).

September 29, 2005

Barry Bonds v. Babe Ruth

Last night, Alex Rodriguez set the Yankees' single-season club home-run record for right-handed hitters: he hit the 47th home-run of the season, eclipsing Joe DiMaggio's record 46 HRs. (And the Yanks have moved one game up, into sole possession of first place in the Eastern Division of the American League, with four games to play, including three with the Boston Red Sox this weekend. Nail-biting till the last out, I'm sure...)

Home runs are still the sexiest of baseball hits. And other players are still vying to set all-time career home-run tallies. Chief among these is San Francisco Giants player Barry Bonds. He's third on the career home run list and is only a few behind Babe Ruth, who is second only to Hank Aaron.

Now, I'm not really wanting to debate the virtues and vices of Bonds and Ruth. These two exemplary players are of a different time and place. The game has changed so much over the years, and comparisons are likely to be of the apple-and-orange variety.

But lots of people are making noise about who has been the greatest HR hitter of all time.

A cursory look at career home-run statistics will show a few interesting tidbits: Ruth hit 714 career home runs in the regular season, with 8,399 career at-bats. Placed in that context, it beats Hank Aaron, who hit 755 career HRs in 12,364 at-bats, and Barry Bonds, who currently has 708 HRs in 9,137 at-bats.

But NY Times sports writer Alan Schwarz compares Bonds and Ruth on another measure: triples. In his September 18, 2005 article, "Statistical Twins Are Separated By Triples," he has a few very interesting observations:

With every beguiling arc he shoots into the San Francisco night, Barry Bonds—who returned to the Giants' lineup Monday after missing the first 142 games of the season with a knee injury—steps closer to Babe Ruth on the career home run list. ... Bonds has dominated his era almost as much as Ruth did his, so comparisons between the two players' home run rates, on-base percentages, walks and what-not are quite the rage. There are few surprises, except for this: The greatest difference between the career batting records of Bonds, a smooth and swift athlete for most of his career, and Ruth, generally remembered as a lumbering oaf, is that Ruth hit vastly more triples.

Think about that. Babe Ruth ... the "lumbering oaf"... hit more triples. I found that remarkable. Schwarz continues:

Numbers are the marionettes of rhetoric, but a surface glance at the record books does paint a rather bizarre picture of these two sluggers. They got other hits at reasonably similar paces: Ruth hit home runs more often (1 per 14.9 plate appearances to Bonds's 16.5), while Bonds had a higher frequency of doubles (every 20.6 times up to Ruth's 21.0). Ruth singled 20 percent more often than Bonds, which is quite a bit.
But that is not nearly as striking as the triples column. Bonds has 77 triples in his career; Ruth legged out 136—more than only a handful of players since his retirement. When you compare how the performances of Ruth and Bonds towered over their respective leagues, a considerable portion of Ruth's edge derives from his nose—and legs—for the triple. As Casey Stengel once said, Huh?

Schwarz offers this explanation: "Bonds plays in a home run era, thanks to cozier ballparks, smaller strike zones and additional fertilizer."

And we all know that "fertilizer" is a euphemism for a word that begins with S. Yeah. Steroids.

In Ruth's era, however, the "fences, often quite tall, stood much farther from home plate, often an extra 20 to 60 feet or more from the power alleys to center field." But this surely had a productive effect on the number of Ruth's triples: "Booming drives would often land over outfielders' heads and roll all the way to the fence, during which time even Ruth, an average runner at his best, could reach third base comfortably."

Schwarz tells us an interesting story about how, in 1918, star Red Sox pitcher, Babe Ruth, wrote an article for Baseball Magazine entitled ''Why a Pitcher Should Hit.'' He quotes Ruth as saying: ''If there is any one thing that appeals to me more than winning a close game from a tough rival, it's knocking out a good clean three bagger with men on bases.''

Interestingly, baseball historian John Thorn says that most of Ruth's triples probably would have been HRs in today's smaller ballparks. Ruth may have ended up with a tally closer to 800.

Schwarz continues:

Ruth's career O.P.S. (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) was 1.164, or 53 percent higher than his contemporaries. Bonds entered this week at 1.053, 41 percent above his league. Take away the at-bats in which each player tripled, and Bonds winds up just .087 behind Ruth in O.P.S. Ruth's 53-41 edge in percentage over his competition would be cut to 48-37.

Bonds, of course, was once quoted (during the 2003 All-Star break) as saying: ''In the baseball world, Babe Ruth's everything, right? I got his slugging percentage and I'll take his home runs and that's it. Don't talk about him no more.''

Schwarz reminds us, though, that even if "Bonds could have easily caught the Bambino in a footrace, and will most likely catch him in home runs," it is Babe Ruth who "will forever stand alone" on the three-bagger.

I confess that Bonds's hubris has always pissed me off. I think he's one remarkably talented ballplayer. But Mr. Baseball he'll never be. And, in fact, Schwarz's good points on triples don't even begin to do justice to the comparison.

So I wrote to the NY Times. I'm a bit like Don Quixote in this quest: Over many, many years, not a single letter I've sent in, to any section of the paper, has ever been published. Now having heard from Schwarz, my "hitless" streak continues. I know that my letter won't be published. So I publish it here, as I reflect on the Bonds vs. Ruth debate:

Barry Bonds said that "In the baseball world, Babe Ruth's everything, right?" Well, by comparison, Ruth is still "everything." And not only in triples. Ruth set the overwhelming majority of his records in fewer at-bats than Bonds. He was the face of baseball because he was one of the all-time greatest hitters and a fine pitcher too, who held records in that department for the better part of the 20th century. Oh, and as one of the most physically "unfit" baseball players of his era, he also set his records without any hint of steroid use. Bonds may "step closer to Babe Ruth," but he'll forever be in Ruthian shadows.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #409

Song of the Day: Three Little Words, music by Harry Ruby, lyrics by Bert Kalmar, was the title song from the 1950 Fred Astaire-Red Skelton film. But it has shown up on screen many times, going all the way back to the Amos 'n' Andy 1930 film "Check and Double Check," where the song is performed by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, with Bing Crosby on vocals. Listen to an audio clip of that version here. I adore a live swinging version by Carmen McRae; listen to an audio clip of that version here.

September 28, 2005

Song of the Day #408

Song of the Day: All This Time, words and music by Jonathan Peters, Richard Bush, and Delsena Walrond, features the vocals of Sylver Logan Sharp. Listen to audio clips from two different remixes of this pumpin' dance track here and here.

September 27, 2005

Maxwell Smart, Over and Out

Don Adams, star of the TV show, "Get Smart," passed away on Sunday, September 25th.

I remarked to my pal Aeon Skoble that I am starting to feel a little old: All the TV stars of my youth are dropping like flies!

Adams, as Agent 86, and Barbara Feldon, as Agent 99, were quite a couple on that classic TV show. When I was young, I just thought it was so cool that a guy could have a shoe phone! I guess you could call it the Cell Phone Precursor.

Maxwell Smart, Over and Out. RIP

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #407

Song of the Day: Higher Ground, words, music, and electric performance by Stevie Wonder, is rockin' funk incarnate. Listen to an audio clip here and to a Red Hot Chili Peppers version too.

September 26, 2005

Norms of Liberty

Some time ago, I was privileged to read significant parts of Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for Non-Perfectionist Politics, authored by my friends and colleagues Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl. I was deeply impressed with the manuscript, and I am delighted to announce today that the book has been published by Penn State Press (the publisher of several of my own books).

Click Here to Purchase the New Rasmussen-Den Uyl Title

As the abstract states, the book asks how we can "establish a political/legal order that does not require the human flourishing of any person or group to be given structured preference over that of any other." Rasmussen and Den Uyl, who are on the Board of Advisors of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, examine the foundations of political liberalism. They are post-Randian neo-Aristotelians who have written a significant tract in political philosophy, continuing the fine work of such previous books as Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order.

JARS will be reviewing the book, and we hope it will spark some good discussion. In fact, the upcoming Spring 2006 issue will feature a contribution from Doug Rasmussen, as part of a larger symposium on Rand's ethics.

I highly recommend this book.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #406

Song of the Day: Everything I Have is Yours, music by Burton Lane, lyrics by Harold Adamson, was introduced by Joan Crawford and Art Jarrett in the 1933 film "Dancing Lady." It was recorded by singers such as Ruth Etting and Rudy Vallee. Among my favorite versions are those by Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan (audio clips at those links)

September 25, 2005

Song of the Day #405

Song of the Day: Poinciana (Song of the Tree) features the words of Buddy Bernier and the music of Nat Simon. It has been recorded by many artists from Nat King Cole to Manhattan Transfer (audio clips at those links). When I was a child, I fell in love with a live version by pianist Ahmad Jamal (listen to an audio clip from "Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me"). I used to call him "Ama-jo" at that young age... and the song gave me more than enough reason to continue my "coffee table" adventures.

September 24, 2005

Alexander Rustow

Walter Grinder and John Hagel III have posted a very nice essay on one of the most important books I've ever read: Alexander Rustow's work Freedom and Domination. In this thread, I left a few comments, which I reproduce here for Notablog readers:

Wonderful post, gents, about a very important work. My only quibble is in the use of the word "dialectical" here (I'd use it in a much wider sense to encompass radical-contextual analysis). I suspect you're using it as a way to distinguish it from a kind quasi-teleological "dialectical materialist" conception of history, or at least one that points to "resolution" of conflict (though Marx's conception itself is filled to the brim with discussions of struggle and conflict).
Ironically, I think one can find certain parallels between R?#39;s perspective and the Marxist conception. Rustow even objects to the "one-sided" view of "capitalism" advanced by Mises and Hayek. He sees "subsidy-ridden, monopolist, protectionist" policies as the reality of capitalism's essence and even defines capitalism as a form of "protocollectivism."
Rustow calls himself a "neoliberal"; I know that that label also has a variety of connotations.
So, while I think you're both absolutely correct that this work is crucially important for helping liberal scholars in the formation of a research-and-activist programme, I'm wondering where you see Rustow in relationship to today's libertarianism. How different is Rustow's "neoliberalism" from today's libertarianism?
Not having read the full original German work, I have always been very curious about Rustow's larger political sympathies. I've read a few essays about him here and there, but any further light you could shed on his politics would be greatly appreciated.

Comments welcome.

There Are No Rose Petals in Baseball

Readers of Notablog are familiar with the humanity inherent in my "Rose Petal Assumption," that is, the assumption that it is possible to find "one rose petal in a pile of manure." It makes for a wonderful way to bridge differences and to create a context of civility when people are discussing contentious topics honestly.

It's the kind of premise that informs the best of sportsmanship too: "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."

Well, of course. Nobody who is a true sports fiend wants to win the game by cheating.

But let me be very clear about one thing: This close to the end of the regular baseball season: IT'S ALL ABOUT WINNING FAIR AND SQUARE. With an emphasis here on winning.

At this point, I'm not interested in philosophic platitudes about Rose Petals.

I'm a Yankee fanatic. My team has been "grinding it" all season long; it has been painful to watch some of these older ballplayers grinding themselves onto the disabled list with each passing week. But I've been a Yankee fan all my life. Even through the mid-to-late 1960s and through the early 1970s, when they didn't win. Even through the long drought of the 80s and through 1995, when Donnie "Baseball" Mattingly couldn't get himself arrested into a World Series if he tried.

Well.

My pal George Cordero reminds me in this thread:

The following comment has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic at hand; however, I strongly believe Mr. Sciabarra will not mind. Chris, did you happen to notice that the Yankees have moved into first place! Small is 9-0, R. Johnson "might" finally be healthy enough to be a play-offs factor, and Rivera continues to be brilliant. If the BoSox miss the play-offs, Francon will be crucified in Boston. My only fear (and I suspect) is that after Francon is fired, Torre will be the new BoSox manager for next year.

It's a legitimate fear, George, especially with that other George, "Boss" Steinbrenner, making nice-nice with Lou Piniella, who is most definitely not returning to the dreaded Devil Rays as manager (those dreaded Rays have kicked Yankee butt this season).

But the Yanks are in 1st Place again, for the first time since mid-July. The Red Sox are chasing the Yanks, and the two teams face-off in a major duel next weekend, the final three games of the season. I have a suspicion that the team that wins that series is going into the postseason. The loser probably won't have enough wins to take the AL wild card. So...

IT'S WIN OR LOSE! There are No Rose Petals in Baseball. I'm not looking to find that "one rose petal" in any manure piles. Not to mix metaphors, but I'm taking the hose to the manure, and looking for the clean sweep!

Today, Yankee Stadium will set an all-time franchise record as the season attendance goes above 4 million for the first time in Yankee history. That's an average of more than 50,000 fans per game. It's my hope that they will all be cheering:

GO YANKEES!!!

Comments welcome. No civility can be guaranteed if you're a Yankee hater.

Song of the Day #404

Song of the Day: The Peppermint Twist features the words and music of Henry Glover and Joey Dee, who, with his Starliters, took this song to #1 in 1962. When I was about 2 years old, I'd go "round and round" a living room coffee table to this song. It has been a sentimental favorite ever since. Listen to an audio clip here.

September 23, 2005

Song of the Day #403

Song of the Day: See You in September, music by Sherman Edwards, lyrics by Sid Wayne, was recorded originally by The Tempos (audio clip at that link). But my favorite version is by The Happenings (audio clip at that link). It's the classic return-to-school song: "See you in September, when the summer's through..." The "danger in the summer moon above" has now come to pass. Listen to another audio clip of this melancholy song here.

September 22, 2005

Tribute to Zacherle

My pal and colleague David Hinckley published a piece in today's New York Daily News that took me down memory lane. "Blood on the Charts: Zacherle's Greatest Hits" tells the story of John Zacherle, who graced New York television for a number of years with his twice-a-week "Shock Theater." It was actually today, in 1958, that Zacherle made his debut on Channel 7, WABC-TV. He later switched to WOR-TV (Channel 9 in NYC). I grew up in the 1960s watching his fun-filled horror spoof.

For those who watched Zacherle (also spelled "Zacherley"), Hinckley's piece should bring back a lot of memories.

Comments welcome.

Teaching from Your Textbooks

There's a raging debate going on at Liberty and Power Group Blog and the Volokh Conspiracy (discussion here). Aeon Skoble posted a very thoughtful discussion entitled, "A Textbook of Cluelessness," in which he criticizes Law Professor Ian Ayres, who argues that it is "borderline unethical for profs to assign textbooks they have produced."

Here is how I replied to this assertion today on L&P:

My, my, I've just looked at all these comments and the ones at Volokh too! Some are calling for Aeon's prosecution now for "profiting" from the pittance he makes in royalties if he assigns his books to his students.
Frankly, I'm at a loss.
If you teach a course on Marx's concept of alienation, and you happen to have written the book on Marx's concept of alienation, what's wrong with assigning the book to the class? That's what Professor Bertell Ollman did when I took his course on Marxism. And I profited enormously.
And when I teach cyberseminars on my own work, I have to assign my books. I'm teaching them! In a sense, what could be more fulfilling than reading and studying a text that your own professor has written? If you have questions about the book, what better source to ask?
I realize this is not the issue at hand: People are just ticked off that somebody somewhere might be making 4 cents in royalties. Clearly those who are upset over this have no clue about the standard academic contracts that require an author to sell 1000 or 5000 books before even making a dime on anything, on a sliding scale that nets you a couple of hundred dollars a year if you are lucky! (There are exceptions to this, of course, but they are exceptions). If some think we're in this for the money, well... we picked the wrong profession, folks!
As an aside, I've done some work on pre-Bolshevik education in Russia, prior to the Communist takeover. One of the things that really irritated Narkompros (the "Commissariat of Enlightenment") [once the Bolsheviks took over] was the fact that Old Guard professors were... HORRORS!... lecturing and using their own books as texts in their classes. Such books projected the individual professor's interpretation of history or philosophy, rather than the politically correct and approved version. As the Old Guard was exiled or shot, the requisite PC texts slowly replaced everything else. If you happen to have been an approved Marxist, you could teach your own PC text at that point. Otherwise, fuhgedaboudit!

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #402

Song of the Day: Indian Summer, originally entitled "An American Idyll" (audio clip at that link), features the music of Victor Herbert and Al Dubin's lyrics, which were added some 20 years later. Listen to an audio clip of a famous Tommy Dorsey recording of this song (at that link). I love a Jim Hall studio recording of this from the album "Commitment" (considered by some as among the top jazz albums of the past 50 years). Hall also recorded it live with bassist Ron Carter, who states the melody line in an audio clip here. Autumn arrives today, but we can still hope for an Indian Summer.

September 21, 2005

Song of the Day #401

Song of the Day: September, words and music by Maurice White, Al McKay and Allee Willis, was performed by the funky and fabulous Earth, Wind, and Fire. "Do you remember the 21st night of September?" Well, my brother and sister-in-law do! Happy anniversary, with much love! Listen to an audio clip here.

September 20, 2005

The Bugs of Summer

A few summers back, I was going through a particularly difficult period. Everything seemed to be going wrong on so many levels. The weather was miserable. My health wasn't too great. Friends and family were in distress over other life problems.

On one hot, humid, sticky, and terribly cloudy day that summer, I walked down my block, a bit disheartened by this state of affairs. For one brief moment, I looked up at the sky and saw the most elegant Monarch butterfly. And for that one moment, a feeling of total relaxation came over me. A world with that kind of beauty, I reasoned, will allow for all these difficulties to pass.

And in that instant ... I kid you not ... a bird flew by, grabbed the Monarch in its beak, and flew off.

I looked up at the sky again. Shook my head in disbelief. And couldn't help but chuckle. It was as if the gods had sent me a message: "Life really is that dismal, Chris, and you'll get no relief today!"

But it all came to pass. And several consecutive summers with lousy weather have given way to one of the most glorious summers in New York City that we've had in recent years.

I love the summer.

Now, in its waning days, I have a slight sense of melancholy, which is tempered only by the still-warm temperatures in the still-Baking Apple. They'll reach 84 degrees today, and the 80s throughout the rest of this week.

One of the things I'll most miss about summer, however, are the bugs. The insects. Flying. Crawling. Creeping. They are a perennial sign of life. And this summer in the city was like the classic summers of old. Bugs that were not too plentiful in recent years seem to have come back in droves. Maybe it was the weather.

June into early July started out with the biggest burst of fireflies ("lightning bugs") that I've ever seen in my entire life while living here in Brooklyn. So sparkling was the nightly display that the front lawns and backyards of my neighborhood looked as if it were Christmas in July. Mating insects never seemed so sexy.

The fireflies eventually went away ... only to be replaced by hordes of various kinds of butterflies. There were even more Monarch butterflies this summer. One afternoon, two Monarchs were fluttering around one another in a spiral; I followed their dance for almost the length of my entire block, my dog Blondie in tow. I'm sure they found romance beyond my field of vision. At least there were no birds descending this time 'round!

I've had a Beetle land in my hair, a Ladybug land on my hand, a Jurassic-sized Dragonfly (or "Dining Needle") land bingo on my beach blanket. I've marveled at athletic grasshoppers and diligent ants. In fact, as my aging dog's diet has changed, I had all this leftover Fit and Trim. I chopped it into a fine substance, and dumped it on the borders of sand and grass at Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn. When I came back the following week, I saw that the ants had made a hotel out of it ... the kind of hotel that you could eat if you got tired of living there!

As July literally melted into the "Dog Days of August," the Cicadas arrived like clockwork for their annual appearance. In unison, they sing, though their melody sounds more like a sprawling sprinkler system, reverberating for miles around, reassuring us that they'll hold off the Fall for as long as they can.

September is here. Their sounds are almost gone.

And I confess that I'll miss the sounds and sights of the Bugs of Summer.

But there are Sounds and Sights of Autumn too.

Soon the Boys of Summer will be gearing up for the Fall Classic. For me, the crack of the October bat is as musical as the nightly chorus of crickets still serenading us (they'll stick around for quite a while yet...).

Do not ask me about the Yankees' chances; I'm having periodic nervous breakdowns with this team all season! But that's part of the summer too! At least these Damn Yankees (who have adopted the phrase "Grind It" as their mantra) are giving us a fun run in the final weeks of the regular season (Bubba Crosby's walk-off home run last night was terrific).

So here's to the Summer of 2005 ... you and your bugs were nice to be around.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #400

Song of the Day: I Believe in Love features the music, lyrics, and performance of Paula Cole. As much as I like the original album version (audio clip here), I fell in love with the Jonathan Peters dance mix. It is astounding. Listen to an infuriatingly brief audio clip here.

September 19, 2005

Song of the Day #399

Song of the Day: Somebody Told Me features the music, lyrics, and performance of The Killers. Post-punk, retro new wave... whatever you call it, this combination of guitar, synths, and beats is irresistible. Go here to listen to an audio clip and to watch a video clip. Check out too the audio clip featured for the album "Hot Fuss."

September 18, 2005

Song of the Day #398

Song of the Day: The Honeymooners (aka "You're My Greatest Love"), music by Jackie Gleason, lyrics by Bill Templeton, opened this immortal TV comedy. We began our TV theme tribute with The Great One and we close this year's installment with him again. With the Harvest Moon arriving only a few hours ago, listen to an audio clip of this wonderful theme here and here.

September 17, 2005

Song of the Day #397

Song of the Day: I Love Lucy, music by Eliot Daniel, lyrics by Harold Adamson, is a classic TV theme from a classic show, which starred Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Listen to both vocal and instrumental audio clips here.

September 16, 2005

Bush, Krugman, and the Old Deal

Today's NY Times article by Paul Krugman, "Not the New Deal," gave me a few chuckles.

With George W. Bush projecting a huge federal government effort to reconstruct Louisiana and Mississippi and other areas affected by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, fiscal conservatives are already murmuring. But little stands in the way of this vast projected increase in government spending.

As my colleague Mark Brady has asked: "Did You Really Expect Anything Else?"

A Bush critic such as Paul Krugman is busy objecting to a Heritage Foundation-inspired plan that would include "waivers on environmental rules, the elimination of capital gains taxes and the private ownership of public school buildings in the disaster areas." But he also believes that "even conservatives" must recognize that "recovery will require a lot of federal spending." Since this will have an appreciable effect on the deficit, Krugman wonders "how ... discretionary government spending [can] take place on that scale without creating equally large-scale corruption." Given the Bush administration's penchant for awarding so much pork to favored corporations in places like Iraq, Krugman is understandably concerned about "cronyism and corruption."

This, says Krugman, is in marked contrast to the efforts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose "New Deal" provided "a huge expansion of federal spending" without corruption or cronyism. The New Deal, says Krugman, "made almost a fetish out of policing its own programs against potential corruption. In particular, F.D.R. created a powerful 'division of progress investigation' to look into complaints of malfeasance in the W.P.A. That division proved so effective that a later Congressional investigation couldn't find a single serious irregularity it had missed." For Krugman, FDR was committed to "honest government," because he understood that "government activism works. But George W. Bush isn't F.D.R. Indeed, in crucial respects he's the anti-F.D.R."

Is Krugman kidding me?

Throughout his presidency, Bush has looked to such American Presidents as Woodrow Wilson and FDR for inspiration. Bush believes that FDR himself "gave his soul for the process" of taking America out of the Depression and into a world war against authoritarianism.

As for the New Deal: There are no "honest government" spending programs that don't involve some kind of structurally constituted cronyism and corruption. That's just the nature of the beast. And FDR's New Deal is no exception. It was, in many ways, a paradigmatic case, no different from the "war collectivism" policies of World War I or World War II, all of which entailed using the vastly expanding power of government to privilege certain groups at the expense of other groups. Not even Herbert Hoover's response to the government-engendered Great Depression was "laissez faire" (see Rothbard's "Herbert Hoover and the Myth of Laissez-Faire" in A New History of Leviathan, and, of course, his fine book on the subject).

A cursory look at Jim Powell's recent book, FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression reveals "why so much New Deal relief and public works money [was] channeled away from the poorest people." From its inception, the New Deal was inspired by the corporatist model of Italian fascism. Even Krugman's beloved Works Progress Adminstration was constructed on the basis of patronage schemes. Citing economic historian Gavin Wright, Powell tells us that "a statistical analysis of New Deal spending purportedly aimed at helping the poor" gives us evidence that "80 percent of the state-by-state variation in per person New Deal spending could be explained by political factors."

Mainstream politics offers no genuine opposition to FDR's Old "New Deal" or Bush's New "Old Deal," not when "conservatives" and "liberals" are united in their support for massive government intervention.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P and Mises Economics Blog.

Song of the Day #396

Song of the Day: Alfred Hitchcock Presents (aka "Funeral March of a Marionette") was actually adapted from a Charles Gounod composition. TV shows borrow such themes all the time. Listen to an audio clip here.

September 15, 2005

Sunni Maravillosa: Happy Birthday

After that wonderful interview experience, I just wanted to tell one of my favorite people: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SUNNI MARAVILLOSA! (shouting as loud as my Brooklyn voice will allow...)

Squeezessssssssssssssss, hugsssssssssssssss, kissessssssssssssss, much love alwayssssssssssss.

Comments welcome.

Robert Wise, RIP

Aeon Skoble not only scooped me... but I was floored: I didn't watch the news yesterday or this morning, and just found out that director Robert Wise passed away. Many of his movies are listed in the film section of "My Favorite Things" list, including "West Side Story," "The Sound of Music," "The Sand Pebbles," and, of course, "The Day the Earth Stood Still."

Klaatu Barada Nikto.

Rest in peace.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #395

Song of the Day: Dynasty ("Main Theme"), composed by Bill Conti, announces the patrician excesses of the Carringtons and the Colbys. Listen to an audio clip here and here.

September 14, 2005

The O.C. and Reunion

Last week, I taped episode 1 of the third season of "The O.C." and the very first episode of "Reunion," both Fox-TV shows.

Now... no comments from the Peanut Gallery about how worthless these shows are. Some of us actually like a little mindless entertainment on occasion. And my life certainly won't be over if I don't get to see these episodes.

But, tonight, when I went to use the same video tape on which the shows were recorded, I discovered that the tape had been eaten by the VCR. Tomorrow night, Fox airs the second episodes of both of these series; it would be nice to actually see the first episodes before venturing into the second episodes.

So, I'm wondering... do any of my readers have video copies of last week's episodes of "The O.C." and "Reunion"?

Comments welcome, but please contact me offlist and I'll arrange to compensate for video and shipping charges; I'm at chris DOT sciabarra AT nyu DOT edu

Thanks a million...

The Comic Book Geek Revolutionaries

Okay, I'm not a total Comic Book Geek; I did score 82% "comic pure," which does not make me a Comic Book Geek by any stretch of the imagination. But clearly, there is still 18% "comic corruption" in my soul. And when that impure aspect of my character—let's call it my "Comic Book Geek Self" (CBGS)—does a mind meld with my "Scholar Self," I end up producing such essays as this one.

I sometimes wonder how many radical libertarians began as Comic Book Geeks. I know a few myself who have long struggled with their CBGS's; such gents have only encouraged me in my Comic Corruption. Well. Actually. These gents don't struggle at all with their CBGS's. They completely embrace their Inner Geek. Some more flamboyantly than others. When a guy like Roderick Long devotes a whole webpage to Anarky, it's one thing. But when a guy like Aeon Skoble writes more than a few articles and even edits a book on an animated television program (i.e., The Simpsons... i.e., a cartoon!), one must take notice.

If one were to measure one's revolutionary quotient by the presence of an Inner Geek, however, Aeon might be called Our Fearless Leader. His interests extend from comics to comedic artists, but underlying all of this is a profound appreciation of the important link between philosophy and popular culture. He has written pieces on Seinfeld, Forrest Gump, and The Lord of the Rings; he even wrote a superb Spring 2003 paper for the American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues, entitled "A Reflection on the Relevance of Gay-Bashing in the Comic Book World." He's straight and "Married With Children," however. Not that there's anything wrong with that! He has a wonderful family, a great wife, and two adorable daughters (see those pics at the bottom of his links page). And he certainly has his priorities straight: He's a Yankees fan and has even written a piece on baseball and philosophy! And, by now, he's probably blushing reading all this praise.

As it happens, I recently got him to inscribe a copy of a new book entitled Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way, edited by Tom Morris and Matt Morris. Aeon has a fine essay in the anthology entitled "Superhero Revisionism in Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns." He argues that these two graphic novels, the first written by Alan Moore, the second by Frank Miller, "invite us to completely rethink our conception of the superhero, and ... to reconsider some of the fundamental moral principles that have traditionally underwritten our appreciation of superheroes."

Many sophisticated elements of comics today that we now take as givens—the way they raise questions of justice and vengeance, their exploration of the ethics of vigilantism, and their depiction of ambivalent and even hostile reactions toward superheroes from the general public as well as from government—are largely traceable to these works.

What follows is a discussion that references everything from Death Wish, the 1974 film with Charles Bronson, to Friedrich Nietzsche. The article motivated me to finally read Watchmen from cover-to-cover before I even attempted to digest Aeon's points. I found Alan Moore's graphic novel, featuring the character Rorschach, quite provocative on many levels. I agree with Aeon when he writes:

One of Moore's epigraphs is the famous aphorism penned by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you." ... Moore and Miller are asking us to look into the abyss, and then to use it as a mirror for seeing ourselves more clearly.

Aeon points out further:

The superhero's most fundamental attitude seems to be that, contrary to Locke, it's everyone's right, if not duty, to fight crime, and to do whatever we can to seek justice for ourselves and for our communities. Spider-Man famously realized that "with great power comes great responsibility," but [Moore's character] Rorschach shows us that the "power" to fight crime is largely a matter of will, or choice, which seems to create a greater responsibility for all of us.

Aeon suggests that Moore puts his finger on certain troubles inherent in the "Superhero" mind-set:

There are many important ways in which we can be led by Watchmen to rethink the superhero concept: Could anyone ever be trusted to occupy the position of a watchman over the world? In the effort "to save the world," or most of the world, could a person in the position of a superhero be tempted to do what is in itself actually and deeply evil, so that good may result? Is the Olympian perspective, whereby a person places himself above all others as a judge concerning how and whether they should live, a good and sensible perspective for initiating action in a world of uncertainty? That is to say, could anyone whose power, knowledge, and position might incline them to be grandiosely concerned about "the world" be trusted to do the right thing for individuals in the world? Or is the savior mindset inherently dangerous for any human being to adopt?

I found these questions to be significant especially in the light of my earlier reading of a book recommended to me by Joe Maurone: John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett's work, The Myth of the American Superhero, which deals with certain quasi-"fascist" elements at the base of the "American Monomyth" (discussions of the Lawrence-Jewett book can be found here).

Aeon rightly attaches crucial importance to these issues:

Questioning the concept of the superhero ultimately involves questioning ourselves. And the main question is not whether we as ordinary people would be prepared to do what a superhero might have to do under the most extraordinary circumstances, but rather whether we are in fact prepared to do whatever we can do in ordinary ways to make the world such that it doesn't require extraordinary salvation from a superhero acting outside the bounds of what we might otherwise think is morally acceptable. Against the backdrop of some bleak and nihilistic statements about meaning in the universe and in life, Alan Moore seems to be making the classic existentialist move of throwing the responsibility of meaning and justice onto us all, and showing us what can result if we abdicate that responsibility, leaving it to a few, or to any one person who would usurp the right to decide for the rest of us how we are to be protected and kept safe.

All excellent points.

It's interesting to me that Aeon focuses on this tension between taking individual self-responsibility and abdicating that responsibility to perceived superiors. It might be said that the same tension exists in the dynamics that propel social change. Whereas it might be true that the Philosopher Kings and Queens have a way of establishing broad and influential intellectual movements in history—their ideas slowly filtering through many different levels of social discourse, including popular culture—it is also true that popular culture itself has a way of altering consciousness and fueling broad-based social change.

Indeed, one might say that there is a reciprocal connection between the forms of popular culture (films, TV shows, comic books, etc.) and the "consciousness-raising" necessary to all social change. As Aeon puts it in his Spring 2003 paper, "all social problems depend for their successful resolution on grassroots-level changes in people’s thinking, a shift in general perception from the bottom up, as opposed to edicts from the top down. ... Comic books both reflect trends in social change and help foster social change."

This doesn't mean that a Watchmen movie is going to usher in a political and social revolution; but it does mean that the forms of popular culture can have an important effect on social and political attitudes ... and realities.

Like I said: We "Comic Book Geeks" are revolutionaries at heart.

In any event, pick up one, or all, of the books in which Aeon's terrific work is featured. You won't be disappointed.

Update: Praise God! Aeon has finally posted (as a PDF) his APA article, "A Reflection on the Relevance of Gay-bashing in the Comic Book World."

Comments welcome. Mentioned at L&P.

Song of the Day #394

Song of the Day: Mission: Impossible ("Main Theme") is another cool and jazzy opening theme composed by Lalo Schifrin. Listen to an audio clip here.

September 13, 2005

Ben-Hur: A Tale of A Great DVD Collection

Readers of Notablog are certainly familiar with my life-long love of the 1959 film version of "Ben-Hur," as expressed in essays such as this one.

As I mentioned here back in May, a 4-DVD collector's edition of the great William Wyler-directed film has just been released today. The digital restoration and sound have made this one remarkable release. There are many wonderful extras, commentary by film historians, a music-only track showcasing the immortal Miklos Rozsa score, trailers, newsreels, screen tests, Academy Award Ceremony highlights, several fabulous documentaries, including a brand new one entitled "Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema." And on top of all this, you get the magnificent 1925 original silent version, starring Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman, with its Carl Davis orchestral score.

This is an utterly superb collection. Do not miss it. I am awestruck by this DVD's clarity and quality. And I'm still in love with every aspect of this great epic (and I told the Miklos Rozsa Society Forum the same thing).

Also: Check out the Cool Warner Brothers Promo Site!

Comments welcome... but don't waste time! Go get the DVD collection now!

The Rand Transcript, Revisited

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the publication of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and still marking the Rand Centenary, I have been publishing a number of retrospectives.

Today comes yet another essay. Published in the new issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, it is another installment in my continuing research on Rand's education in Russia, which I first examined in Russian Radical, and explored even further in two 1999 articles: "In Search of the Rand Transcript" (published in Liberty magazine) and "The Rand Transcript" (published in the very first issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies).

The newest article makes use of archival materials that were recently uncovered by Anne Heller, who is currently working on a biography entitled Ayn Rand: An American Life, scheduled for publication by Doubleday in 2007. Anne was remarkably generous in sharing these materials with me, and they provided some interesting additions to the historical record. I'm delighted as well to see a continuing stream of evidence that does not impugn, in any way, the conclusions I reached in my earlier studies over the past decade.

I've not only revisited the archives in this new essay; I've also revisited the subject of philosopher N. O. Lossky, who was Ayn Rand's philosophy professor during her first year at the University of Petrograd. We were able to recover and publish a rare photograph of Lossky, taken from his secret police file (kept by the GPU). It is a photo of a man who seems to echo the physical attributes of a philosophy teacher named "Professor Leskov," a character that Rand eventually cut from her most autobiographical novel, We the Living.

For my thoughts on all this, and on many other subjects of historical importance, read the whole essay, which is available today on my "Dialectics and Liberty" website:

"The Rand Transcript, Revisited" (PDF available here)

Comments welcome.

New JARS: The Seventh Volume Begins

The temperatures are going to hit 90 degrees again in New York City on this late summer day. But Autumn is arriving a little early.

Today, the Fall 2005 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has been published. It begins our seventh volume, our seventh year.

Here is the Table of Contents:

The Rand Transcript, Revisited - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Mimesis and Expression in Ayn Rand’s Theory of Art - Kirsti Minsaas

Langer and Camus: Unexpected Post-Kantian Affinities with Rand’s Aesthetics - Roger E. Bissell

The Facts of Reality: Logic and History in Objectivist Debates about Government - Nicholas Dykes

Ayn Rand versus Adam Smith - Robert White

Feser on Nozick - Peter Jaworski

Kant on Faith - Fred Seddon

Seddon on Rand - Kevin Hill

Reference and Necessity: A Rand-Kripke Synthesis - Roderick T. Long

Reply to Ari Armstrong: How to Be a Perceptual Realist - Michael Huemer

Rejoinder to Michael Huemer: Direct Realism and Causation - Ari Armstrong

Abstracts for this issue are available here; contributor biographies can be found here.

Print-out and mail-in your subscription form today!

Comments welcome. Also noted at L&P, SOLO HQ, Humanities.Philosophy.Objectivism Usenet Group, and the Ayn Rand Meta-Blog.

Song of the Day #393

Song of the Day: The Fugitive ("Main Theme"), composed by Peter Rugolo (with lyrics by Roy Huggins, William Conrad, and Glen Campbell), was just the title track to a haunting score that echoed the existential loneliness and alienation of Dr. Richard Kimble, played to perfection by David Janssen in this television morality drama. One of my favorite themes and scores from one of my all-time favorite series. Listen to an audio clip here and here.

September 12, 2005

The Beams of Renewal

September 11, 2005 began at Ground Zero with a reading of the names of those who were killed four years ago in the terrorist attacks on New York City. This year, siblings read the names.

Watching this annual tribute unfold on television, where all the local channels preempted national programming, we recognized the faces of friends and colleagues, both among those who recited the names, and among those who were killed.

Four years have come and gone, and the sadness of that day never truly dissipates.

In the evening, like last year, we marked the anniversary by going to see the Twin Towers of Light. I'd seen these up close in Manhattan, birds looking like sparkles flying within the glowing light. But there is something almost ghostly about these beams when one views them from afar.

This time, we viewed the tribute not from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, as we did in 2004, but from the 69th Street Pier, which has been renamed the Veteran's Memorial Pier. Every night, since its debut in May 2005, a 25-foot tall bronze sculpture called "Beacon" has shone a similar beaming light from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. On this night, the beam reached to the heavens, as if to meet the two beams from Manhattan Island. And the pier was illuminated further by the glowing candles held by those who had come to remember. It was, after all, from this pier that so many Brooklyn neighbors saw the horror of that day unfold ... while the Lady in the Harbor stood within their field of vision, holding her torch as if in defiance.

Last night, the tribute on the pier featured a color guard, military-gun salute, and a number of speeches, including one by the daughter of one of those killed on 9/11, who spoke tearfully of her mother's last moments.

Like last year, at 9:11 p.m., the Empire State Building dimmed its lights.

Coming together with other New Yorkers on this night, once a year, allows for a certain poignant solidarity. Looking into each person's eyes, there is a bond of shared tragedy. But there is also a common strength.

We left the pier feeling a sense of renewal.

The beams shone all night; I walked my dog Blondie at 4:15 this morning, and still saw them comforting the north sky. I threw a kiss to them. Till next year.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #392

Song of the Day: Hawaii Five-0 ("Main Theme") composed by Mort Stevens, conjures up images of that tropical surfer wave in the opening title sequence. Book 'em, Danno! Murder One! Listen to an audio clip here.

September 11, 2005

Song of the Day #391

Song of the Day: The Winds of War / War and Remembrance ("Main Title" / "Love Theme"), composed by Bob Cobert, was heard throughout the miniseries versions of the Herman Wouk novels. It is a melancholy, unforgettable theme that graces some of the most poignant, and most harrowing, scenes of these grand productions. Listen to audio clips from the soundtrack here and here. It is in keeping with our TV theme tribute, and appropriate too for a day of remembrance ...

September 10, 2005

Song of the Day #390

Song of the Day: Mannix ("Title Track"), composed by the prolific Lalo Schifrin, is one of the jazziest main themes to ever grace the TV screen. Listen to an audio clip of several versions of that theme here.

September 09, 2005

Rand and the Ad Hominem Fallacy

One would think after several years in the development of modern Rand studies that Rand scholars would not have to continue dealing with the fallacy of ad hominem, which is a familiar tactic used by Rand critics to discredit Rand as a philosopher.

This is quite apart from any genuine, substantive criticisms of Rand's work, which are needed, and which Randians should engage.

Granted, because Rand ended her postscript to Atlas Shrugged with the comment "And I mean it," suggesting that her life itself was a testament to the philosophy and morality she extolled, she virtually invited discussion of how well or how poorly she reflected Objectivism. And as I have said in my review of James Valliant's book here, "we can learn things about a philosophy by examining the ways in which those who adhere to it, or who claim to adhere to it, behave. But we can’t reduce a philosophy to a study of biography. Ideas have analytical integrity quite apart from the people who enunciate them. And this is coming from a writer who has enormous respect for the necessity of placing intellectual figures in both a personal and historical context so as to better appreciate the process by which such figures came to their conclusions."

Nonetheless, the "commingling" of biography and philosophy continues, especially in discussions of Rand's work. The most recent example of this comes from Commentary magazine, in which Algis Valiunas attempts to dissect "the work of the high priestess of reason," whose "centenary has gone uncelebrated."

Hogwash! As my own Centenary articles make clear, the Rand Centenary attracted quite a bit of coverage. As I wrote: "Every publication from Reason, The Free Radical, and The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies to the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, and New York Times featured something of significance in its pages. There were sponsored parties and panel discussions from California to New York to the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C."

But disparaging the Centenary isn't Valiunas's purpose; it's disparaging Rand's person as a means to disparaging her ideas that is most obvious here:

In Rand's psychology, reason unfailingly determines emotion, never the other way around. But in her own erotic life Rand was at the mercy of a turbulent unreason that pulled her under even as she burbled on about her unimpeachable rationality. As she could only love an extraordinary man, she endowed the man she married, Frank O'Connor, with all the qualities of a hero, even of a god. In fact, in almost everyone's eyes but hers, O'Connor, a failure as a movie actor, was a raging mediocrity. At the age of forty-nine, Rand fell for yet another god, Nathaniel Branden, the husband of her biographer and himself a disciple younger than she by 25 years. She expounded the perfect reasonableness of their adultery to each of the injured spouses, whom she expected reasonably to accept their twice-weekly scheduled trysts in the bedroom she shared with her husband. After years of this, the Brandens' marriage collapsed and Rand's husband swirled down the alcoholic drain. When Rand was sixty-one and Branden thirty-six, the sexual fire went out for him and he found a younger lover. Rand nearly went insane in her jealousy. Maintaining that she was entirely reasonable and right, and Branden purely evil, she destroyed his professional reputation and banished him from the Randian kingdom where he had been until then the crown prince. Heroic reason, heroic freedom, heroic love ended, as they began, in folly.

As I mentioned in my critique of Valliant's book, I have devoted only a few paragraphs in toto, in all of my Rand scholarship, to the discussion of the Rand-Branden Affair. When the critics focus on this Affair and reify it as if it were a whole unto itself, one must begin to question precisely what this strategy seeks to accomplish. They wouldn't do this typically with Plato, Kant, or Hegel, would they?

As Rand once said: "Don't bother to examine a folly, ask yourself only what it accomplishes."

Of course, we live in a culture that encourages a focus on prurient interests; that's why tabloids sell so well. And it's fairly typical that discussions of Rand end up becoming discussions of Rand's life. In these instances, however, biography doesn't supplement a discussion of ideas; it often supplants that discussion entirely. Even the New York Times, which has reviewed many Rand works, has never actually reviewed any books about Rand, unless those books are of a biographical character. Reading the Times, one would not even know that there is a growing secondary literature, a veritable industry, of scholarship focused on Rand's ideas.

As I acknowledged in my review of Valliant's book, "[t]he particular charges concerning Rand’s sex life can be traced to claims made in the Branden books. That much is true." But these charges are almost always used by others as the veneer to cover up an essentially ideological opposition. Back to Valiunas:

What is one to make of it all? In Rand, soundness and charlatanry commingle. In the end, charlatanry prevails. Having learned the lessons of socialist dystopia on her own body, she embraces a utopian fantasy of her own ... In her passion to reshape the world in accordance with her idea, Rand begins to sound like the tyrants she hates. Her capitalist revolutionaries speak of their opponents as "subhuman creatures," "looting lice." Galt's radio address to the nation—he has commandeered the airwaves by some electronic magic—is positively Castrolike in its mad zealotry, running to over 50 pages and unfolding every half-truth and alluring lunacy Rand ever entertained. ... But compassion disgusts Rand; John Galt scorns it as love of the unworthy, a triumph of sloppy feeling over lucid reason. This is no doubt why, for all her continued popularity, Rand is anything but a commanding figure these days. Very few conservatives want any part of her, for she is the conservative bogeyman that liberals invoke to terrify their children: money-worshipping, absorbed in the pursuit of her own happiness, indifferent to the pain of others. Though she will no doubt continue to sell-there are certain effects she brings off as well as anyone, and they haye their undeniable appeal—it is hardly a matter for regret that her centenary has gone largely unmarked.

Now, even if Valiunas is absolutely correct in every assertion (and these are assertions, since nowhere does Valiunas actually provide any argument), what "commingles" here is ad hominem and an essential hatred of Rand's intellectual body of work.

If only more mainstream critics would focus on that body ... instead of, literally, Rand's body, or Branden's body, the state of Rand criticism and critical engagement would advance considerably. I know we are working very hard at The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies to advance that critical engagement (information about our new Fall 2005 issue will be posted here at Notablog on Tuesday, September 13, 2005). But more work needs to be done.

In any event, even if one wishes to focus on Rand biography, or on the particular issues surrounding the Rand-Branden Affair, then it is incumbent upon the critic to focus on all the material now available. Whatever one thinks about the Valliant book, I do believe that the publication of Rand's private journals changes the landscape considerably in any discussion of this particular aspect of Rand's biography. If Valiunas wishes to indict Rand's philosophy by assassinating her character, then it's important for Valiunas to at least weigh the evidence that is now available to scholars on this subject, for better or for worse. And though I have been intensely critical of how Rand's private papers have been edited up till now (see here, here, and here), I stand by my expressed belief that there is no reason to doubt the quality of Valliant's editing of those papers in his book. One may quibble with Valliant's parenthetical interpretive remarks. And one may still long for the unedited publication of all of Rand's private papers. But, in his publication of Rand's notes, Valliant is very careful to place any changes or substitutions in [brackets], unlike previous editors of Rand's letters, journals, and lectures. Such editors do not realize that their attempts to smooth out some of Rand's previously unpublished materials lead those of us who have not seen these materials to question their full authenticity.

Quite clearly, Valliant's book and my review of it are not the last words on this subject. Nor was my review or the lengthy dialogue on Notablog the last word on his book. In describing what is the essence of the "hermeneutical" enterprise, I state in my review:

The publication of [Rand's private] journals, however, will have unintended consequences; any published text is liable to generate such consequences, since it will be read and interpreted by many different people, each of whom brings a given context of knowledge and experience to the reading. And whereas people have been reading the Branden books and analyzing them for years, I suspect that even clinical psychologists will now have a field day poring over Rand's personal journals.

And so... the dissection of Rand's private life is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

In fact, Rand's private life has now been made the subject of a comic book! Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey have just published this past June the newest installment of their "Action Philosophers" series. This one is an "All-Sex Special" that focuses on "the shocking contradiction of Thomas Jefferson," the "Hard-Drinkin', Hard-Lovin' Saint Augustine," and "Ayn Rand's Non-Objectivist Love Affair." Oy.

The cover design for Issue #2 of this series only hints at the contents. The comic tells the story of Rand's life from her beginnings in Russia. In the context of a comic book, it accurately renders Rand's thinking, but the last two pages of it tell the story of the Affair. And on that note, Van Lente concludes: "Rand liked to say that modern culture 'seemed totally indifferent to my ideas and to ideas in general.' She made sure that that would be a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Van Lente provides us with a "Recommended Reading" list at the end, which includes The Virtue of Selfishness. Though he "find[s] Rand's novels turgid and dated (the plot of Atlas Shrugged hinges upon the centrality of passenger railroads to the American economy, for example)," he believes "she is perhaps the most entertaining writer of philosophy since Nietzsche (whom she rejects as a non-rational pseudo-hedonist)."

The Rand-Branden Affair is not going away. And the rancor and divisiveness it provokes won't dissipate, I suspect, for a few generations. All the more reason for Rand scholars to insist that critics adopt a scrupulous focus on ideas in their engagement with Rand's philosophy. And if their subject is Rand biography, then they should do their best to assess all the information now at our disposal.

To reiterate: There is a place for biography and there is always a place for situating ideas in a larger historical context. But I don't think it serves the cause of Marxist criticism, for example, to criticize Marx's private life as a means toward criticizing his analytical framework. This tactic has been adopted by some critics of Marx (Gary North's essay, "The Marx Nobody Knows," published in the Yuri N. Maltsev volume, Requiem for Marx, and available as an mp3, comes to mind).

That kind of thing may be of interest to our understanding of the development of an idea. But it serves no purpose in grappling with the complexity of Marx's legacy.

If, in the future, Rand's legacy is treated with the same critical respect that has been given Marx's, it will be no small achievement.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #389

Song of the Day: TheTwilight Zone boasted two distinct main titles and both were wonderful in that "other dimension" sort of way. The original "Main Title," which debuted in Season One, was composed by the great Bernard Herrmann; the alternate theme, which debuted in Season Two and became quite famous, was written by French avant-garde composer Marius Constant. That theme was actually an integration of two of Constant's compositions: "Etrange #3" and "Milieu #2." Episodes of this terrific Rod Serling show were scored by Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Nathan Van Cleave, Fred Steiner, Leonard Rosenman, Jeff Alexander, and Franz Waxman, among others. Listen to audio clips of the main titles and other themes here.

September 08, 2005

The New Aristos

The new Aristos has been posted here. As readers know, it is now an online journal of the arts, edited by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kamhi, both of whom have been contributors to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

Of course, I noticed immediately that Lou and Michelle had some very kind words of praise on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Those reflections are posted on their "Notes and Comments" page.

All in all, a good read.

WTC Remembrance: Patrick Burke, Educator

Starting in 2001, I began an annual series that I entitled: "Remembering the World Trade Center." I subsequently posted my comments "As It Happened," and I have revisited the subject each year: in 2002, a tribute to "New York, New York"; in 2003, a tribute to the World Trade Center; in 2004, reflections on the tragedy by "My Friend Ray."

I will be posting these remembrances for as long as I can. "Never Forget" is no cliche here. It is a matter of life and death.

This year, as we near the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, I publish the fifth, and newest, installment of my series:

"Patrick Burke, Educator"

Patrick was previously interviewed, briefly, by The Advocate for that magazine's October 23, 2001 issue. He was the principal of the public high school closest to Ground Zero. I am honored that he agreed to have this discussion. It is an important one.

Update: I've heard from Patrick, who tells me that a 20-minute documentary film was recently made that depicts the therapeutic art project (referenced in the interview) conducted by St. Vincent's Hospital at the High School of Economics & Finance on the anniversaries of 9/11. That film will have its premier at the Museum of the City of New York (Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street) at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, September 11, 2005. The program will begin with a musical segment followed by the film at 3:00 p.m. and then a Q & A session. The event should conclude by around 3:30 p.m. It is open to the general public. The film will also be shown at a number of locations across the country.

Comments welcome. Noted also at L&P and the Ayn Rand Meta Blog.

Song of the Day #388

Song of the Day: Star Trek ("Main Title"), composed by Alexander Courage, opened up every episode of the classic sci-fi series. Listen to an audio clip of this theme here. I also like a version by the Maynard Ferguson Big Band (audio clip at that link). [William Shatner performed this theme on the 2005 Emmy Awards telecast with opera star Frederica von Stade.]

September 07, 2005

Song of the Day #387

Song of the Day: The Jackie Gleason Show (aka "Melancholy Serenade"), composed by "The Great One," Jackie Gleason, for his CBS-TV show, is one of those recognizable television themes. It was a glorious show in its heyday, one that gave birth to classic characters from Reginald Van Gleason III and the Poor Soul to Joe the Bartender and Ralph Kramden. And don't forget the June Taylor Dancers. Gleason was also a composer and music producer. Listen to an audio clip of this theme here. Today kicks off twelve days of favorite TV themes, in anticipation of the Emmy Awards.

September 06, 2005

Santorum and Big Government Conservatism

For several years now, I have been going on and on about the continuing growth of the religious right in conservative circles. My antipathy to theocratic conservatism had been at fever pitch long before I wrote my essay, "Caught Up in the Rapture," which, with its sister essay, "Bush Wins!," predicted a Bush victory a good six months prior to the 2004 election.

In this context, a recent Jonathan Rauch essay, "America's Anti-Reagan isn't Hilary Clinton. It's Rick Santorum," has been making the rounds all over the blogosphere; it's a dissection of Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum's anti-libertarian philosophy. The fact that Santorum is a Roman Catholic only adds weight to my own long-time contention that a growing coalition of Catholic and Evangelical ideological blocs poses a threat to individual liberty in this country.

What one will not find in Rauch's essay, however, are two words: "Bush" and "Iraq." In my view, Santorum's new book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, is only the newest manifestation of a religious conservative movement, whose titular head is George W. Bush. Whereas the religious conservatives wish to remake the culture and politics of this country, the neoconservatives wish to remake the culture and politics of the Middle East. Together, these tendencies make for one very potent anti-libertarian, anti-individualist politics. As I wrote in my "Rapture" essay:

The Bush administration has thus become a focal point for the constellation of two crucial impulses in American politics that seek to remake the world: pietism and neoconservatism. The neocons, who come from a variety of religious backgrounds, trace their intellectual lineage to social democrats and Trotskyites, those who adopted the "God-builder" belief, prevalent in Russian Marxist and Silver Age millennial thought, that a perfect (socialist) society could be constructed as if from an Archimedean standpoint. The neocons may have repudiated Trotsky’s socialism, but they have simply adopted his constructivism to the project of building democratic nation-states among other groups of warring fundamentalists—in the Middle East.
Bush clearly believes that it is his role as President to change not only American culture but the tribalist cultures of nations abroad in the direction of democratic values. In an interview with Christianity Today, he asserts that "the job of a president is to help cultures change. ... I can be a voice of cultural change." This "cultural change," according to Bush, must begin "with promoting—taking care of your bodies to the point where we can promote a culture of life." It is from this essential principle that he derives his "position on abortion," and his advocacy of "the faith-based initiative," which "recognizes the rightful relationship between hearts and souls and government" (emphasis added).
Got that? For Bush, the role of government is to help construct "a culture of life" that protects the rights of fetuses and politically-funded religious social organizations. Whatever happened to the principle that the singular role of government is the protection of an actual human being’s rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness?
For a man who once campaigned against the Clintonistas’ penchant for nation-building, Bush seems to have made the building of nations and the building of cultures a full-fledged state enterprise. Bush’s maxim—that "[t]he role of government is to help foster cultural change as well as to protect institutions in our society that are an important part of the culture"—is an attempt to use politics as a cultural and religious tool. ...
It is quite revealing that, during his tenure, Bush has drawn lessons from the most activist Presidents in history: Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, Bush asserts, "gave his soul for the process" of taking America out of the Depression and into a world war against authoritarian tyranny.

What hope does a religiously based conservative administration have to inspire secular, liberal democracies in the Middle East when it is at war with both secularism and liberalism at home?

A recent NY Times article by Michael Ignatieff makes some of this clearer by reference to "Iranian Lessons." While the fundamentalist Shiite elements within Iranian society have embraced a "death cult," a younger generation of more liberal Iranians now longs "for 'a wall of separation' between religion and government, as Thomas Jefferson called it." These Iranians "found it puzzling, even disappointing, that religion and politics are not actually separate in the United States." Surprise, surprise. Ignatieff writes:

Democracy in Iran also means working free of what one student called ''the culture of dictatorship,'' a floating web of patriarchal controls over private life. All of the young people I talked to were under 30, invariably were living at home till marriage and were chafing under restrictions on their personal lives. For young women, living free means the right to choose whom you marry and how much hair to display around your hijab; it means leaving to get an M.B.A. in Australia and then coming back and running a business. For one young man, struggling to find how he might buy his way out of compulsory military service, it means the freedom, he confessed in a whisper, to be gay. Homosexuality is a crime in Iran, and seemingly the only time when conversations do become furtive, with anxious looks over shoulders, is when homosexuality is the topic.
The hostility toward homosexuality is not just a reflex of a deeply traditional family culture. The Shiite regime has waged a 26-year war on pleasures both homosexual and heterosexual. In Persian culture, however, the taste for pleasure runs deep. Just think of the music-making, dancing and the costumed beauty of the men and women in classical Persian miniatures. During the revolution, many of these Persian treasures were hacked off the walls of mosques and palaces by Shiite zealots.
Thankfully, Persian pleasure remains stubbornly alive. When I flew south from Tehran to Isfahan, the astounding capital of the Safavid shahs of the 17th century, I spent one night wandering along the exquisitely lighted vaulted bridges, watching men, not necessarily gay, stroll hand in hand, singing to each other and dancing beneath the arches, while families picnicked on the grass by the banks of the river and men and women passed a water pipe around. Though it cannot be much comfort to those who have to live, here and now, under public and private tyrannies, I came away from a night in Isfahan believing that Persian pleasure, in the long run, would outlast Shiite puritanism.

Give Santorum and his ilk a few years of unchecked political growth, and they'll start enacting laws that would make a Shiite fundamentalist proud. Ultimately, however, their battle is not primarily political; it is cultural. Make no mistake about it: The fundamentalists at home and abroad are at war with individualist culture.

Of course, the bout between secularism and religion is not specific to Iran or to America. It is a bout that is on grand display also within Iraq, that country which was "liberated" by the United States so that it might be free to pursue a majoritarian theocracy. With Shariah being bandied about as the governing code for women and marriage in the new Shiite-dominated government, it is no wonder that so many feel as if the US is "Off Course in Iraq." Yes, as Stephen J. Hadley and Frances Fragos Townsend put it here, "we face an enemy determined to destroy our way of life and substitute for it a fanatical vision of dictatorial and theocratic rule. At its root, the struggle is an ideological contest, a war of ideas that engages all of us, public servant and private citizen, regardless of nationality." But there is no way to "win" this war, ideologically or otherwise, when "our" side is so committed to compromising the very secular, liberal ideals necessary to victory. With mounting American casualties and mounting taxpayer-funded war expenditures, with growing rifts among Iraq's ethnic and religious groups, even some of the administration's former cheerleaders are fast abandoning any belief in the success of Iraqi "democracy." Frances Fukuyama, for example, who told us that we'd reached "the end of history" with the close of the Cold War, and who still fears premature US withdrawal from Iraq, had this to say:

The United States can control the situation militarily as long as it chooses to remain there in force, but our willingness to maintain the personnel levels necessary to stay the course is limited. The all-volunteer Army was never intended to fight a prolonged insurgency, and both the Army and Marine Corps face manpower and morale problems. While public support for staying in Iraq remains stable, powerful operational reasons are likely to drive the administration to lower force levels within the next year.
With the failure to secure Sunni support for the constitution and splits within the Shiite community, it seems increasingly unlikely that a strong and cohesive Iraqi government will be in place anytime soon. Indeed, the problem now will be to prevent Iraq's constituent groups from looking to their own militias rather than to the government for protection. ...
We do not know what outcome we will face in Iraq. We do know that four years after 9/11, our whole foreign policy seems destined to rise or fall on the outcome of a war only marginally related to the source of what befell us on that day. There was nothing inevitable about this. There is everything to be regretted about it.

But Fukuyama, who turned on the Bush administration prior to the last election, is still one of the neo-Hegelian founding fathers of today's neoconservatism, and it is this Republican administration's ideological marriage of neoconservative and religious conservative thought that is at the forefront of the very "Big Government Conservatism" at war with individual freedom.

There is only one remaining myth that must be put to rest. This "Big Government Conservatism" is not a fundamentally new development. As I wrote in this L&P post, "Brooks and the 'Progressive Conservative' Project," the GOP was never a "limited government" party to begin with. Yes, it has had its share of post-New Deal interventionist foes, and its Goldwater-Reagan libertarian rhetorical flashes, but in its inception, in its practice, in its essence, it has always been a party of Big Government. That some of today's conservatives are boldly embracing these "Big Government" roots, with a theocratic twist, is simply a return to the Republican Essence. As I put it back in August 2004:

... it is only in war that Bush has begun to solidify the "progressive conservative tradition," rooted in the neomercantilist politics of Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. This is the politics that forged government-sponsored "internal improvements" (today, we'd call it "building infrastructure"), the government socialization of risk, government subsidies for business, government land grants for railroads, and national bank cartelization and centralization.

Radical thinking is about integration; it is about connecting the dots dialectically, with an understanding of the full context within which each dot presupposes every other dot. And like the dots that make up a TV screen, it is only by viewing the whole that we can begin to grasp the reality before us.

It is only when we connect the dots between statist and religious barbarism that a genuine ideological revolution will begin to take shape, one that challenges fundamentally the zealots both at home and abroad.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted excerpt at L&P.

Katrina

After a week of watching, listening, and reading about one of the most painful episodes in the history of American life, I don't think there is much I can say that hasn't already been said, better. I remember Hurricane Camille, but the human and financial costs of Hurricane Katrina are likely to be the worst ever recorded in the United States. I am only thankful that friends and colleagues who lived in the area (including Journal of Ayn Rand Studies advisor, Eric Mack) survived the storm.

I've read a lot of very interesting, provocative, and instructive commentary from writers such as John Tierney, Stephen Murray, Radley Balko (e.g., here, here, and here), Will Bunch, Wayne R. Dynes, first-person accounts by Geoffrey Allan Plauche (start here, and also see his links to many other interesting libertarian discussions here), and Arthur Silber (e.g., here, here and especially here, with links to that Aaron Broussard appearance on "Meet the Press," which was heartbreaking to watch this past Sunday morning).

I must admit that I am morally outraged by the racist crap that I've read, which poses as sociological analysis in the blogosphere, in such places as this, where we are told that the "plain fact" is that "African-Americans ... tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society." Hence, this writer asks, why are we surprised over the catastrophe of New Orleans? After all, the city is two-thirds black!

I have always appreciated explorations of the sociological effects of interventionism on generations of African Americans, who have been subjected to a history of statist and collectivist coercion, from the injustices of slavery, Jim Crow, and hateful and murderous discrimination to the nightmare of public education, institutionalized poverty, and bureaucratic welfarism. I have no doubt that some of these injustices have affected the social psychology of some African Americans, the way it would affect the social psychology of any other groups in this country, indeed, all groups, to the extent that each is both parasite and host in the grand war of all against all that statism breeds.

But to blame the horrors of New Orleans on the "poorer native judgment" of African Americans is to sink into a fetid pool even worse than the one that has engulfed that city.

Let's not forget either that interventionism creates the underclass it attempts to quell with its welfare policies. Let's not forget either that interventionism creates and bolsters the privileges of other classes and groups through an ever-evolving network of corporatist policies, both domestic and foreign. (As if to emphasize the domestic-foreign connection, Kenneth R. Bazinet informs us "that Vice President Cheney's former company, Halliburton, which has handled much of the repair work as well as support services for the U.S. military in Iraq, was hired to restore power and rebuild three naval facilities in Mississippi that were wrecked by Katrina.")

It would be ideal for local, state, and federal officials to get out of the way, to allow entrepreneurial ingenuity to save the devastated areas of the South. But the structures and institutions of the system will not allow for this. There is a supreme politico-economic boondoggle in the making, in which billions of taxpayer dollars will pass through various levels of government bureaucracy. As Errol Louis puts it: "Ten billion dollars are about to pass into the sticky hands of politicians in the No. 1 and No. 3 most corrupt states in America. Worried about looting? You ain't seen nothing yet."

In the perfect storm of its first few days, the response to Katrina has revealed too the utter failure of local, state, and federal officials to grapple with crisis. It is not very reassuring in this post-9/11 world. It is also not very reassuring to know that tens of thousands of National Guard troops continue to do the work of an international army (hat tip to Ilana Mercer), even as their services are required here at home. There is an inescapable connection between this administration's foreign policy adventure in Iraq and the drain on domestic human and financial resources.

I'd like to make one final observation.

Many readers know the depths of my anguish concerning the nightmare that unfolded in New York City on September 11, 2001. This Thursday, I will be posting the next installment of my annual World Trade Center tribute (the remembrances are archived on each tribute page, starting here).

I was asked by several readers if I thought the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina was worse than 9/11.

I think the question compares apples and oranges.

The devastation of a natural disaster of this magnitude (and the accompanying man-made mismanagement) is worse on almost every level: Concerning New Orleans alone, we have witnessed the virtual obliteration of an entire city, with economic effects that will last decades. The thousands of deaths, the billions of dollars in property lost or damaged beyond repair, are simply hard to fathom.

But on another level, of course, 9/11 is worse: It was an attack, an act of war, which, unlike a hurricane, caught its victims completely unaware. The mismanagement of pre-9/11 intelligence and post-9/11 foreign policy adds yet another dimension to the level of tragedy entailed.

I think it matters not, however, to those who have been victims of the respective tragedies, to engage in a fruitless debate over whose hurt, whose pain of loss, is worse. There are certain things over which people have no control. All that matters is that they improve their ability to manage the things they can control, so that disasters of any kind are not an occasion for yet one more day of national mourning.

Comments welcome. Mentioned at L&P.

Song of the Day #386

Song of the Day: Too Close for Comfort, words and music by George Weiss, Jerry Bock, and Lawrence Holofcener, is from the 1956 musical "Mr. Wonderful." It has been performed by many artists through the years. There have been many swinging versions of this song; for a sampling, listen to audio clips at the following links from Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald (here too), Patti Austin, Natalie Cole, and Sammy Davis, Jr.

September 05, 2005

Song of the Day #385

Song of the Day: Empty Faces (Vera Cruz) features the words and music of Milton Nascimento, Marcio Borges, and Lani Hall. Listen to an audio clip of this song by the great Sarah Vaughan and an instrumental version by guitarist Jim Hall. My sister-in-law, Joanne Barry, does a terrific version of this song on the album, "Embraceable You." It's her birthday... much happiness, health, and love always!

September 04, 2005

Song of the Day #384

Song of the Day: I Can't Give You Anything But Love, music by Jimmy McHugh, lyrics by Dorothy Fields (the centenary of whose birth was marked in July), has been performed by many artists through the years. It debuted in a 1928 production, "Blackbirds of 1928," the longest-running black musical of the twenties. Listen to a few audio clips from the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, Ella Fitzgerald (which features the lovely introduction), and New Orleans native, Louis Armstrong.

September 03, 2005

Song of the Day #383

Song of the Day: Signs, produced by The Neptunes, sports an abundance of writing credits: C. Broadus, P. Williams, C. Hugo, L. Simmons, R. Taylor, and Charlie Wilson, from the Gap Band, whose vocals are unmistakable on the track. It can be found on Snoop Dogg's album, "R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece," and it also includes some Old Skool-influenced falsetto from Justin Timberlake. All in all, it's a funky throwback. Listen to an audio clip here.

September 02, 2005

Song of the Day #382

Song of the Day: I Was Made to Love Her is credited to Sylvia Moy, Henry Cosby, Stevie Wonder, and Lulu Hardaway (Wonder's mother). It was the first Stevie Wonder 45 rpm recording that my sister ever bought, and it is one of her favorites till this day. And it's one of my favorites too. Happy birthday to my sister, my friend! Much love, health, and happiness always. Listen to an audio clip here.

September 01, 2005

Song of the Day #381

Song of the Day: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 24, composed by Miklos Rozsa, is one of my favorite Rozsa concert pieces. Listen to audio clips of all three movements from the debut recording by violinist Jascha Heifetz, and another recording by violinist Robert McDuffie. I saw this grand piece performed live with violin soloist Glenn Dicterow and the New York Philharmonic. What better way to celebrate the First Anniversary of "Song of the Day"! I'll be posting music favorites (sometimes more than one on a single day!) for as long as there's a song in my heart.