MARCH 29, 2016
Song of the Day: The Miracle Worker ("Main Title: Helen Alone") [YouTube link] was composed by Laurence Rosenthal for the brilliant 1962 film, starring Oscar-winning Best Actress, Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan and Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actress, Patty Duke as Helen Keller. I grew up watching "The Patty Duke Show" on television, but this was another side of Duke entirely. As Ayn Rand observed in her essay, "Kant versus Sullivan," Duke gave a "superlative performance" as the young Keller both on the Broadway stage and in the screen version of what Rand called "the only epistemological play ever written," for its depiction of the way in which human beings grow to understand words and their referents. Rand praised Bancroft as well, for illustrating a fierce "titanic" determination to transform a young girl with little sensory contact to reality into a thinking human being. Sadly, Patty Duke passed away today at the age of 69. But I'll never forget laughing to her TV show, and crying when she utters the word "water" in this film's finale. The expressive Rosenthal score puts to music the aloneness and alienation that Keller must have experienced as a child before her cognitive liberation by Sullivan.
MARCH 28, 2016
In the very first episode of the HBO hit series "Boardwalk Empire," Steve Buscemi, who plays the lead character Nucky Thompson---racketeer, political insider, and bootlegger---lifts his glass of liquor in a toast to "the distinguished gentlemen of our nation's Congress . . . those beautiful, ignorant bastards," who enacted the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited."
This nightmarish "noble experiment" lasted from 1920 to 1933, until the Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition (and was probably one of the most important reasons for FDR's initial first-term popularity as an advocate for its repeal). Without a doubt, the major effect of this legislation was to give a boost to organized crime. From speakeasies to mob wars, the general population of this country became part of a new culture of criminality that put the Roar in the Roaring Twenties. As an entry on Wikipedia puts it:
Organized crime received a major boost from Prohibition. Mafia groups limited their activities to prostitution, gambling, and theft until 1920, when organized bootlegging emerged in response to Prohibition. A profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol flourished. Prohibition provided a financial basis for organized crime to flourish. In a study of more than 30 major U.S. cities during the Prohibition years of 1920 and 1921, the number of crimes increased by 24%. Additionally, theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicides by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6%, and police department costs rose by 11.4%. This was largely the result of "black-market violence" and the diversion of law enforcement resources elsewhere. Despite the Prohibition movement's hope that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, the reality was that the Volstead Act led to higher crime rates than were experienced prior to Prohibition and the establishment of a black market dominated by criminal organizations. The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre produced seven deaths, considered one of the deadliest days of mob history. Furthermore, stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle. To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the federal government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. In response, bootleggers hired chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. As a response, the Treasury Department required manufacturers to add more deadly poisons, including the particularly deadly methyl alcohol. New York City medical examiners prominently opposed these policies because of the danger to human life. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended. New York City medical examiner Charles Norris believed the government took responsibility for murder when they knew the poison was not deterring people and they continued to poison industrial alcohol (which would be used in drinking alcohol) anyway. Norris remarked: "The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol... [Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible."
One of the few really good things to have come out of that era has been a terrific flow of really good gangster movies, including the 1987 Grammy Award-winning Ennio Morricone-scored film, "The Untouchables," with Robert DeNiro as one terrific Al Capone, Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, and a fine Sean Connery, who played Jimmy Malone (based on the real-life Irish American agent, Marty Lahart), who went on to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. In the end, Capone was brought down not by his criminal activities, per se, but by tax evasion.
With prohibition repealed, however, the model for the expansion of organized crime extended into the prohibited black markets for hard drugs, from cocaine to heroin. From Mafia chieftans to drug lords running operations across the world, from Latin America to Afghanistan, much of the profits of this business have boosted the money flow to terrorist organizations of all sorts. Crime has soared. And the prison population in the United States began to outstrip that of every modern society.
Last week, a cover story with regard to the "War on Drugs," was published by the New York Daily News stating that John Ehrlichman, who went to prison for Watergate-related crimes, and "who served as President Richard Nixon's domestic policy chief," admitted that the "War on Drugs" strategy was a "policy tool to go after anti-war protesters and 'black people'." Apparently, these revelations were made in an interview with journalist Dan Baum, for a 1994 book, but were not revealed until the current April 2016 issue of Harper's, where the writer provides a wide-ranging discussion of how to seriously readjust drug policies in the United States. Here is an excerpt from the Daily News article:
"You want to know what this was really all about," Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, said in the interview after Baum asked him about Nixon's harsh anti-drug policies. "The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying," Ehrlichman continued. "We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did." . . . By 1973, about 300,000 people were being arrested every year under the law---the majority of whom were African-American.
The following day, the News reported that Nixon's former White House counsel John Dean expressed shock over the revelations "but admitted 'it's certainly possible.' . . . If this was indeed true, it would have been the Nixon-Ehrlichman private agenda.'"
On this issue, a fine piece appears today from Mark Thornton, writing on Mises Daily (the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute): "The Legalization Cure for the Heroin Epidemic." For years, voices on the left and on the right (from the time of William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman to Senator Rand Paul today) have been advocating a saner drug policy. Forty years after this declaration of a "War on Drugs," 1 trillion dollars in taxpayer money spent, the prisons are packed ---drug use is apparently just as rampant behind bars as on the streets---but the epidemic stretches from the inner cities to suburbia.
It is clear, however, that no political change will occur if we have to depend on those "beautiful, ignorant bastards," until there is a cultural shift across this country that allows this issue to be re-examined fundamentally. The time has come.
MARCH 27, 2016
After hearing the tragic news of the passing of Tibor Machan, I am saddened to report of the passing of another light of liberty: Don Heath, who passed away on March 25th, after suffering a massive coronary. We last corresponded in February, after hearing reports of his being cancer-free for five years, and I wished him well.
I knew Don from the 1990s when he assisted me, no matter how many times I interrupted him, during my years of research and writing, in the preparation of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. A man with a delightful demeanor and sweet personality, he was always a joy to talk to or to see. My condolences to his friends and family for this devastating loss.
MARCH 25, 2016
I have just heard that yesterday, Thursday, March 24, 2016, Tibor Machan passed away. He was my dear friend and colleague of many, many years, and I can hardly believe it. I know he was very sick for many months, and I'd been in touch with him regularly. He never forgot my birthday (and sent me a birthday e-card back in February, while awaiting a CAT Scan!), and I never forgot his. We last corresponded at the beginning of March, about the great film, "Judgment at Nuremberg." He was an indefatigable warrior for liberty, with a larger-than-life personality ... and handshake. He published hundreds of articles and scores of books that covered more topics than I could count, so important to the emergent modern libertarian movement, whether one agreed or disagreed with this or that point.
I first encountered the name of Tibor Machan when I found a book called The Libertarian Alternative, which had "selections in social and political philosophy" from a vast array of libertarian thinkers. This 1974 edited collection offered a kaleidoscopic vision of so many different approaches to the defense of liberty, from authors as diverse as Nathaniel Branden, Roy Childs, Milton Friedman, John Hospers, Israel Kirzner, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, James Sadowsky, Thomas Szsaz, and Joan Kennedy Taylor. I largely credit that book with opening the door to what became a vast library in libertarian thinking; I never knew that it would also be a door that would lead to correspondence with many of its authors, some of whom became my teachers ... and friends.
Though I had published before in New York University periodicals, I had never been professionally published outside of the university, from which I earned my B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. So it was Tibor Machan who first engaged me when I emerged from the university, with the idea that I was going to drag dialectical method and libertarian thinking into constructive engagement with one another. My first attempt, "The Crisis of Libertarian Dualism," an article published in Critical Review in 1987, elicited a stern response from Tibor, to which I replied in the Spring/Summer 1988 issue of the journal. It was clear that we were on the same side, politically, even though my criticisms of certain forms of libertarianism must have raised my colleague's eyebrows just a bit. A year later, Tibor would publish my very first professional article on Ayn Rand, entitled, "Ayn Rand's Critique of Ideology," [.pdf link] which appeared in the Spring 1989 issue of Reason Papers. Suffice it to say, that single article did more to propel my percolating work on Rand as a dialectical thinker than any publication or presentation I'd done. I sent it to scores of people I'd never met, most of whom responded with courteous and respectful criticisms that only propelled my interest in the subject exponentially. I met scholars such as Douglas Rasmussen, Douglas Den Uyl, and so many other individuals, who I am today, proud to call my dearest friends and colleagues; many of them eventually became advisory board members for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, which I co-founded with Bill Bradford and Stephen Cox in the Fall of 1999. And I was proud to publish Tibor's essays in that journal (indeed, JARS eventually published seven essays written by Tibor). He was a regular subscriber to the journal, and never lost an opportunity to praise it, or severely criticize a particular essay that enraged him. His emotional range was remarkably wide. One might say his passion burned: you could feel the deep warmth of a friend, and the scalding fire of a critic, in the same conversation. But in the end, it was that deep warmth that touched my heart.
I will always thank him from the bottom of that heart for all the opportunities he gave me and especially for all of the support he showed me when so many were shocked at the 1995 appearance of the first edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. So incensed was he by the chorus of boos that he provided a rousing endorsement for the book. He was especially supportive during some of my own darkest medical adventures. He was a comrade, a colleague, and a friend to the end, and I will miss him very, very much.
MARCH 23, 2016
Given that this is Holy Week for Western Christians, I thought it was high time to take a look at the two trailers for a new film version of the classic story of "Ben-Hur," based on the great "Tale of the Christ" published by General Lew Wallace in 1880. The story was adapted for the stage, but saw its first cinematic expression as a 1907 one-reeler, then a 1925 silent classic, and finally, a 1959 blockbuster. (I should note that there was also a 2003 animated adaptation with the voice of Charlton Heston, who received the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Judah Ben-Hur in the 1959 version [a nice documentary link at YouTube], and a very forgettable 2010 miniseries starring Klaus, from "The Vampire Diaries," as Judah.)
You can take a look at the two trailers for the 2016 film version: here and here [YouTube links].
I've actually commented on the Collider Crew review of the trailers at YouTube, where I said the following:
I must admit that this film is going to have to go a long way toward topping the 1959 version, winner of 11 Academy Awards, and perhaps the greatest "intimate" epic ever put on screen. From its larger-than-life Academy Award-winning actors to its remarkable cinematography, special effects (none of them CGI--those guys rode the chariots and there were 6000 extras in the arena, not computer-generated people), to its utterly superb score by Miklos Rozsa and its superb direction by the immortal William Wyler, whose use of symbolism throughout the film can be the subject of a book in itself, the 1959 "Ben-Hur" is still the standard by which epics are judged. Can't the folks in Hollywood leave classics alone? Is there nothing original? Must everything be reinvented? We'll see...
Apparently, the screenwriters for the new version thought the 1959 version spent too much time on revenge, rather than forgiveness. To which I can only say: Bollocks, and I'm being polite.
The 1959 film is the ultimate story of redemption, captured brilliantly by Wyler's magnificent symbolic use of the cleansing nature of water and blood (see my essay on why the Wyler version is my all-time favorite film).
So, I'll see the new one... but all I can say is, God help us. But to my Western Christian friends, I say: Have a Happy Easter this coming Sunday. My orthodox Christian upbringing will allow me to join in the festivities on May 1st (Eastern Orthodox Easter almost always arrives around the time of the Jewish Passover).
Ed.: A "hat tip" to my friend Don Hauptman for bringing the new trailers to my attention.
MARCH 12, 2016
Song of the Day: Toccata [YouTube link] is an adaptaion of the fourth movement of Albert Finastera's First Piano Concerto, in this instance featured on the classic progressive rock album, "Brain Salad Surgery," arranged by Keith Emerson (Carl Palmer did the percussion movement). Emerson tragically died on March 20th of an apparent suicide. Emerson, Lake,& Palmer were perhaps among the most significant keyboard-driven rock/classical/jazz fusion groups to grace the genre. They were often dismissed by critics as "pompous" and "pretentious" like most other bands in the genre, but there was always a touch of envy in that critique, for few rock keyboardists could integrate that fusion with the effectiveness of Keith Emerson. The piece has an almost cinematic feel to it, suited for the sci-fi screen.
MARCH 09, 2016
Song of the Day: Love Me Do, words and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was the first single released by The Beatles in 1962 in the United Kingdom, and later, in 1964, in the United States, where it went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. And the British Invasion was underway (even if the original version released in the U.S. had Andy White on drums and Ringo Starr on tamborine, though versions with Starr on drums, and Pete Best before him, were also recorded). Leading the charge of this invasion, however, was the man who worked behind the scenes as a producer, the so-called Fifth Beatle, who was no Fifth Wheel: the deeply talented and visionary George Martin, who passed away yesterday at the age of 90. Martin was an amazingly prolific producer, arranger, and composer, for both the recording studio and the cinema. He produced over 20 #1 singles in the US and 30 #1 singles in the UK. And he was responsible for the string arrangements brought to one of my all-time Beatles favorites, "Eleanor Rigby," something that was influenced, he acknowledged, by the work of the great film score composer Bernard Herrmann. But it's best to start at the beginning; check out the original UK single, with Ringo on drums, and remember the love [YouTube links].