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April 29, 2008

Carl Barry and "Footprints"

Back on April 29, 2005, my "Song of the Day" entry was Wayne Shorter's classic "Footprints." I highlighted one of Shorter's fine versions therein, but my favorite version, a jazz guitar tour de force by my brother Carl Barry, was not online at the time. I'm pleased to link to that version today (full-length audio clip here), which happens to be Carl's birthday! The track, from the album "Holding On," features the fine bass player Steve La Spina and the terrific drummer John Clay. Enjoy! And Happy Birthday, Bro!

April 27, 2008

Song of the Day #891

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("The Miracle") [audio clip at that link], music by Miklos Rozsa, is a restatement of the central theme from this magnificent soundtrack, with hallelujah chorus bringing the film to a triumphant finale. A Happy Easter to all my Eastern Orthodox friends and family! Christos Anesti! (from St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery in Arizona, via Into the Light).

April 22, 2008

SITL, Part 2: Socialism After Hayek

As I explained in my recent post, "SITL, Part 1: Marx, Reason, and the Art of Freedom," in the coming months, I will be turning some of my attention to discussions of my work on "dialectics and liberty," which appear in the scholarly literature (SITL stands for: "Sciabarra In The Literature"). Part 1 of this series discussed Kevin M. Brien's brief examination of my work on Marx and Hayek in the second edition of his superb book, Marx, Reason, and the Art of Freedom. In Part 2, I turn my attention to another book that highlights my comparative studies of Marx and Hayek: Socialism After Hayek, by Theodore A. Burczak, which is part of a series, "Advances in Heterodox Economics" (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006).

Burczak synthesizes the insights of Hayek, Marx, and even Aristotle, in developing a humanistic framework that hopes to advance arguments on the viability of socialism. Burczak is deeply critical of the classical soclialist project and attempts its reconstruction in the light of Hayek's work on the "knowledge problem," that is, Hayek's efforts "to understand the limited and socially constituted nature of human knowledge..." Or as Don Lavoie put it: the problem of "how best to coordinate the actions of scatterd individuals, each of whom is in possession of unique, partial, tacit, and potentially erroneous knowledge" (pp. 1-2). Burczak writes:

Karl Marx, the father of modern socialism, also recognized the dispersion of human knowledge in a market economy. But, as Chris Sciabarra argues in his fascinating Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (1995), Marx viewed the dispersal of knowledge as a result of workers' alienation from the means of production, a transitory side effect of the property relations of capitalism. This stands in contrast to Hayek, who views the strictures on human knoweldge as "existentially limiting," that is, as natural and transhistorical properties of human existence (Sciabarra 1995, 119). Sciabarra understands Marx to accept epistemic fragmentation as only a temporary feature of social development, to be overcome in a socialist or communist society. For Marx, development of the forces of production and cooperative work relations would allow tacit and dispersed knowledge to be articulated and integrated in consciously directed economic activity, thereby solving Hayek's supposedly permanent knowledge problems. Sciabarra calls this Marx's "synoptic delusion" (ibid. 46)---the idea that one can consciously design a new society to achieve social justice. Many interpreters of Marx have embraced and extended this premise to argue that a Marxian vision of communism or socialism could only be realized by a centrally planned economy. Sciabarra claims that Hayek's thought ultimately triumphs over Marx's---and free market capitalism over centrally planned socialism---because Hayek resisted the synoptic delusion while Marx and his followers did not.
For contemporary socialists, this raises fundamental questions. Is there any meaningful notion of socialism that can answer Hayek's epistemological critique? Can the goals of classical socialism be achieved without central planning and the abolition of private property? Can there be socialism after Hayek? (p. 3)

Burczak answers these questions affirmatively and seeks to develop a "libertarian Marxist" conception of socialism. He integrates "three heterodox traditions" in formulating his answer---Hayekian-Austrian, Marxian, and Aristotelian---wherein each "absorb[s] certain concepts and criticisms from the others to maximize its own contribution to human betterment" (p. 4). He wishes to preserve the Hayekian-Austrian appreciation of market process, the Marxian theory of class, and the Aristotelian capability theory of justice (extended by writers such as Nussbaum and Sen).

Burczak characterizes Hayek's work as postmodern insofar as it "eschews reductionist" methods, while embracing a "more dialectical ... understanding of social phenomena" (p. 5). He also examines the "Amherst school" of postmodern Marxism (arising from the work of Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff), which sees class exploitation persisting "in the presence of centralized planning and socialized property." He wonders if "these postmodern Marxists really escape the synoptic delusion that Sciabarra sees in Marx." He believes that "[i]n principle, they do," and that much is to be applauded in their critique of planning (p. 7). But he criticizes the "old Marxist faith in a utopian future ... [of] material abundance" transcending "material scarcities" (p. 8). He applauds the work of G. A. Cohen, which highlights the importance of so-called "bourgeois" concerns such as freedom and justice, and Stephen Cullenberg, who rejects the utopian dimensions of socialist thought, while accepting "Hayekian knowledge problems, albeit implicitly..." (p. 8).

There is much more to recommend in Burczak's book, especially his grappling with the hermeneutical turn in Austrian theory (the work of Lavoie, Boettke, Horwitz, Prychitko, Ebeling, Koppl and Whitman, Lachmann, and others). Throughout the book, his goal is a "post-Hayekian socialism," one that "speaks to the need for economics to return to the traditions of Hayek and Marx and to read them in a spirt of productive creativity elicited by the tensions between these two traditions" (p. 16).

I will leave it to readers to decide whether Burczak succeeds in this goal. My own evaluation of his effectiveness would take me far beyond the scope of this current series, because it would require an assessment of various concrete proposals for institutional reform. Nevertheless, I am deeply impressed with Burczak's willingness to engage diverse traditions, and with his embrace of the dialectical aspects of Hayek's brand of social theorizing. His evaluation of policy proposals is always made in the context of those "intractable Hayekian knowledge problems." Ultimately, he seeks new "sets of institutions [that] might make a system of labor cooperatives function well in a market economy" (p. 139), while staying clear of "Hayek's 'road to serfdom'" (p. 146).

In my next installment of SITL, I will be shifting gears to explore the remarkable work of John F. Welsh, whose new book, After Multiculturalism: The Politics of Race and the Dialectics of Liberty, genuinely advances the dialectical-libertarian approach in a critical examination of racism.

Noted at L&P.

April 19, 2008

Song of the Day #890

Song of the Day: Exodus ("Main Theme"), music by Ernest Gold, with lyrics added later by Pat Boone, is from the 1960 film, directed by Otto Preminger. It's a great theme to mark the arrival at sundown of Passover, the prelude to an exodus led by Moses out of Egypt. Listen to audio clips of this cinema theme from the original soundtrack, the Pat Boone vocal rendition, Percy Faith, a very cool Dizzy Gillespie, and the absolutely classic piano-and-orchestra rendition of Ferrante and Teicher.

April 18, 2008

Song of the Day #889

Song of the Day: Ben-Hur ("The Galley") was composed by birthday boy Miklos Rozsa for a classic scene, the rowing of the galley slaves, in this 11-Oscar-winning masterpiece. The perfect wedding between cinematic scoring and film, this composition takes us from "battle speed" to "attack speed" to "ramming speed" in thrilling fashion. It is Rozsa's music that directs the pace here as much as the great director William Wyler. Check out the scene on YouTube, where Jack Hawkins as Quintus Arrius and Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur, Galley Slave No. 41, match wits. And check out the YouTube Red Bull Spoof.

April 16, 2008

Song of the Day #888

Song of the Day: Pushit features the music and lyrics of Maynard James Keenan and the band Tool. The song appears on the album Aenima (audio clip at that link), but my favorite version is one that breathes with kaleidoscopic instrumentation and vocals. It was recorded live for the band's 2-disc set, "Saliva!" A video version of that rendition is available in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2.

April 06, 2008

Charlton Heston, RIP

This morning I learned that legendary actor Charlton Heston passed away on Saturday, April 5, 2008, at the age of 84, in his Beverly Hills home. The cause of death has not yet been announced, but after a bout with prostate cancer, Heston had publicly acknowledged the onset of Alzheimer's disease in 2002.

Heston was well-known for such larger-than-life epic roles as Moses, El Cid, and Michelangelo, and for his Oscar-winning nod in the 1959 masterpiece, "Ben-Hur," which is still my favorite movie. Heston's passing saddens me personally; from the time of my childhood, I was inspired by his heroic screen portraits. So enamored was I of his performance as Judah Ben-Hur that I went to see him in-person when I was 10 years old when he made an appearance at my local movie house, the Highway Theatre. His film, "The Hawaiians," had just opened there and he'd shown up to promote it to a huge Brooklyn audience. I couldn't believe how red his hair was and was ecstatic that he'd mentioned "Ben-Hur" in his little talk.

Of course, much has been made of Heston's conservative politics, especially his Second Amendment "absolutism," as president of the National Rifle Association. He famously held a rifle over his head and challenged Democratic presidential nominee, Al Gore, to pry it "from my cold, dead hands." But, like his conservative pal Ronald Reagan, his own political positions were varied over a long activist career, as he traveled from the Democratic Party to the GOP. Like Reagan, he served as head of the Screen Actors Guild. And there is some irony in the fact that he passed away a day after the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination; Heston was a vocal opponent of racism and walked with King in the historic 1963 civil rights March on Washington. He was also opposed to the Vietnam War.

Regardless of his politics, it is Heston's film career that I remember today. Some critics have derided him as both stiff and over-the-top. But I think he hit many more nuanced notes than critics have acknowledged in the creation of his own cinematic symphony. Yes, he'll be remembered as the only one who could truly fill the sandals of Moses, who could stand on an extravagant Cecil B. DeMille set, and hold a staff above the waters to part the Red Sea (in what is still one of the most eye-popping special effects in Hollywood history). He portrayed presidents, cowboys, and even John the Baptist. He embodied the driven artist as Michelangelo in "The Agony and the Ecstasy." He starred in classic film noirs ("Touch of Evil") and sci-fi classics too (as the cynical George Taylor in "Planet of the Apes" and "Beneath the Planet of the Apes," or opposite Edward G. Robinson in "Soylent Green," or as "The Omega Man"). But even his understated roles offered something of poignance ("Will Penny") and principle (on the small screen, in the short-lived "Dynasty" spinoff, "The Colbys").

What I will remember of Heston's portrayal of "Ben-Hur," however, is not just the square-jawed ruggedness of his character. It was the humanity that he brought to the role, an ability to rise above the magnificent spectacle of ferocious naval battles, epic chariot races, and Passion plays, and to provide a deep personal sense of the character's nearly fatal inner conflicts. Beyond the words he speaks, he says more about pain, loss, and anger-driven hate, faith, hope, and redemptive love, through his eyes and his facial expressions. It was a performance for which he well deserved his Best Actor Oscar.

Heston died; but he will continue to "row well, and live" in the extraordinary films he has left behind.

April 05, 2008

Bette Davis Centennial

If she were alive today, she'd probably be bitching that TCM had declared this the year of the Joan Crawford Centennial, when Joan was clearly the older one.

Well, today marks the centenniel of Bette Davis' birth, and what a Grande Dame she was. Among her classic films listed in "My Favorite Films": "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" and "The Virgin Queen," wherein she played Elizabeth R, "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?," "All About Eve," "Pocketful of Miracles," and ... well, the list goes on and on and on.

And for the record, TCM is running a classic Bette Davis film festival on this day, with such movies as "The Cabin In The Cotton" (1932), "The Petrified Forest" (1936), "The Corn Is Green" (1945), "The Bride Came C.O.D." (1941), "The Letter" (1940), "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" (1939), "Now, Voyager" (1942), "All About Eve" (1950), "Dark Victory" (1939), the hilarious "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961), and her two Oscar turns: "Jezebel" (1938) and "Dangerous" (1935). And they'll also air "Stardust: The Bette Davis Story," a 2005 documentary.

Join in the fun... tune in... and celebrate the extraordinary talent that was Bette Davis.

April 02, 2008

Song of the Day #887

Song of the Day: Dirty Boots, words, music, and performance by Sonic Youth, is featured on the band's album, "Goo." There are a few hilarious comments in the film "Juno" about Sonic Youth (which has exhibited a fascination for Karen Carpenter and Joan Crawford in "Mildred Pierce"). Check out the music video on YouTube and a YouTube live performance too, and the full album line-up (with audio samples).

April 01, 2008

Song of the Day #886

Song of the Day: Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread), music by Rube Broom, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, has been recorded famously by Frank Sinatra when he was with Tommy Dorsey, and by Sinatra solo, as well as by Ricky Nelson and Elvis Presley (audio clips at artist links). A Happy April Fool's Day!