NOTABLOG MONTHLY ARCHIVES: 2002 - 2020
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MAY 31, 2005
Every so often, they let me out of this joint to go see a film or maybe a ballgame. Yesterday, it was time for a movie.
Having seen all previous five films in the "Star Wars" franchise, my natural curiosity to see the final film has been sparked even more by all the discussions I've read. Commentary by Technomaget, Ari Armstrong, Scott Horton, Anthony Gregory, Thomas A. Firey, Joe Maurone, and Ed Hudgins, to name a few, has been thought-provoking.
I don't want to argue about the relative merits of these commentaries. I just want to say that I genuinely enjoyed the film, despite the many mixed messages contained therein.
It helped that I chose to make the viewing of this film a grand entertainment experience. We went to the Ziegfeld Theater, which stands a few hundred feet from the original Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan. Understand that this is a theater; it's not some mutliplex with rooms no bigger than your living room. This theater has over 1100 seats and a real balcony! It features red velvet carpets and walls, crystal adorned chandeliers and relics from the Ziegfeld Follies, from the days of Sophie Tucker and Fanny Brice. All in all: a wonderful environment in which to witness a cinematic spectacle. The last time I was there was in the early 1970s when Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 epic, "The Ten Commandments," was re-released. I remember it well; we entered the theater to the soundtrack music composed by Elmer Bernstein, and sat in awe of the opening of the Red Sea.
The presentation of "Revenge of the Sith" was no different in form: We entered the theater to the triumphant soundtrack music composed by John Williams. And when the film began, the digital sound and picture were nearly overwhelming in their sharp clarity.
It's easy to fall in love with the dazzling special effects and cinematography, the terrific film editing, and that Williams score, which is relentless, playing like an instrumental opera as cinematic subtext, intensifying our emotions and the images on screen. As Anthony Tommasini puts it:
The whole "Star Wars" epic has been likened to Wagner's "Ring" cycle. In the earlier films Mr. Williams certainly adopted the Wagnerian technique of using identifying themes (leitmotifs) to mark the appearances of specific characters, symbols and plot lines ... In the new film, when Anakin is on the brink of becoming Darth Vader, you know what's coming, and it comes: the treading "Darth Vader" theme, as much a trademark of the "Star Wars" enterprise as Han Solo action figures. But in general, Mr. Williams uses the leitmotif technique with greater subtlety here. Hints of themes thread through the score�in inner voices, in wayward bass lines.
This is one of Williams's grandest, most accomplished scores. As an aside, I actually purchased the soundtrack before seeing the film, and was deeply impressed as well by the second "bonus" DVD disc, which I recommend highly. It is entitled "A Musical Journey" and features 17 "music videos," actually a series of montages that roughly follow the chronological arc of the story from Episode I, "The Phantom Menace" to Episode VI, "Return of the Jedi." It's a glorious primer for the "Star Wars" fan, a nice way of viewing the whole mythic story through music. And it's narrated by Ian McDiarmid, who once again plays the deliciously evil Emperor Palpatine.
But the heart of a film is not its special effects or its score; it is its script and its acting, and on these points, this film has problems not unlike some of the others in the series. Many critics have commented rightfully on the passages of "wooden" dialogue, and some have found Hayden Christensen lacking in his portrayal of the full range of emotions that the role of Anakin Skywalker would seem to demand. He's okay in the role, but there is an angst and a moral confusion that exist in the continuum between a smile and a scowl that seems missing (quite different from his more nuanced performances in such films as "Life as a House").
Nevertheless, I did find the story absorbing. Whatever problems Lucas has as a philosopher, there is enough in his film about the deterioration of principles in the act of "protecting" them that is of interest. For those of us who are especially concerned about the alleged trade-off between "freedom" and "security," in which an augmentation of the latter is often used as a pretext for the protection, and destruction, of the former, there are many lessons illustrated on screen.
A lot has been made of the fact that Obi-wan Kenobi, portrayed by Ewan McGregor, utters the baffling line that "Only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes." But the evil Emperor Palpatine accuses the Jedi of being just as "dogmatic" in their absolutes. So, from where I sit, it's a wash.
Even more has been made of Yoda's Zen-like advice to Anakin to resist the fear of loss, which is the path to the Dark Side. Of course, it is easier for Yoda to talk about forsaking the fear of loss, since he knows that in death, there is new life to come.
Still, there is something to be said about accepting both death and loss as part of life's natural cycle; it is not loss per se that is the problem. It is the fear of loss that often motivates people to forsake their values in an attempt to keep alive something that is threatened, or withering away. It's like that in love too, hence the old adage: "If you love somebody, set them free. If they come back, they're yours. If they don't, they never were."
I take Yoda's dissertation on loss to be something similar to that. And the insight that fear is at the base of the basest of human vices is a good one. This is something that I once wrote about on the Atlantis discussion list: "Star Wars' Yoda and Rand on Fear." In that post, reflecting on "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," I wrote:
Every so often, a few kernels of philosophic truth come blaring forth from the dens of pop culture, and "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," like other films in the George Lucas series, is no exception. Discussing whether young Anakin Skywalker (who shall become Darth Vader) is an appropriate subject for Jedi training, Yoda senses that the boy is filled with fear and even if he proves to be the "chosen one," there are too many unresolved contradictions and questions within his soul. "Fear," says Yoda, "is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to Anger. Anger leads to Hate. Hate leads to Suffering."
I thought this especially interesting since in previous posts we have discussed how fear is the "enemy within" (as the Rush lyricist Neil Peart expressed in three songs, the so-called "Fear" trilogy). Ayn Rand has had a lot to say about "fear"---in fact, I conclude the final chapter of my book, AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, with a passage from THE FOUNTAINHEAD that has long been my favorite, and that centers on this very issue. It is a passage that other writers (such as Slavoj Zizek) have greatly appreciated. As Roark stands before a jury of his peers, ready to provide a defense of himself, Rand writes:
"He stood by the steps of the witness stand. The audience looked at him. They felt he had no chance. They could drop the nameless resentment, the sense of insecurity which he aroused in most people. And so, for the first time, they could see him as he was: a man totally innocent of fear. The fear of which they thought was not the normal kind, not a response to a tangible danger, but the chronic, unconfessed fear in which they all lived. They remembered the misery of the moments when, in loneliness, a man thinks of the bright words he could have said, but had not found, and hates those who robbed him of his courage. The misery of knowing how strong and able one is in one's own mind, the radiant picture never to be made real. Dreams? Self-delusion? Or a murdered reality, unborn, killed by that corroding emotion without name - fear - need - dependence - hatred? Roark stood before them as each man stands in the innocence of his own mind. But Roark stood like that before a hostile crowd - and they knew suddenly that no hatred was possible to him. For the flash of an instant, they grasped the manner of his consciousness. Each asked himself: do I need anyone's approval? - does it matter? - am I tied? And for that instant, each man was free - free enough to feel benevolence for every other man in the room."
I think Rand and Yoda ... recognize a great truth: the reciprocally reinforcing relationship between fear, anger, hatred, dependency, malevolence, and suffering. It is only by facing the root of fear and triumphing over it that one can begin to express the best within oneself.
Ironically, I had the occasion to revisit this theme of "fear" in my reading of James Valliant's new book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics. Valliant reproduces whole sections of Rand's private journals, those notes she made when she was grappling with the painful collapse of her relationship with Nathaniel Branden. At one point, Rand places in quotes the comment: "Fear is the antonym of thought," and she recognizes that a person who is "totally motivated by fear ... is not motivated by the 'love of values.'" The only motivation for those who fear is "the desire to escape from fear" (see page 347 of the book).
In the end, whatever murky Yoda-isms Lucas ascribes to, I think he's put his finger on something very important. The whole epic can now be viewed from another angle, which does not obscure the clear line between good and evil as much as it captures the process by which good is lost, and by which it might be regained. "There's still good in him," says the dying Padme of Anakin Skywalker. And so the epic franchise becomes a tale of Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader, who began as the "Chosen One," only to embrace the Dark Side out of fear, only to find redemption out of the courage to face the best that still lurked deep within him.
Be that as it may, Yoda still kicks ass as a Master Jedi and, like in the last film, "Episode II: Attack of the Clones," it's still worth the price of admission just to see him in action. And once you hear that deep breathing from Darth Vader, you'll know you've come full circle. Quite a Ring, indeed.
Comments welcome. Noted also at L&P in the comments section to Sheldon Richman's "Crisis, Leviathan, and the Revenge of the Sith" and Technomaget's Live Journal.
Oh, Chris! The visuals were WOW! and the music was Williams at his finest, but the basic story-telling? No, I got over the Force and "don't think, use your instincts" stuff long ago and in a galaxy far, far away. No, what makes my head hurt is trying to follow the logic of the characters.
O.k., this was IT, the movie where we finally find out why Annakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. The logic of all six movies is riding on it--in effect, these films comprise his story.
What's his downfall? His attachments, the people he cares about: his mother, Padme and, to a lesser extent, Obi Wan. We learned in the last one that while Jedi are encouraged to love, they must love all. Yoda warns Annakin in this one to be prepared to surrender all that he cares about. (Presumably, this is why young Jedi recruits are taken at such an early age, to prevent such familial attachments from forming in the first place.) This is, indeed, what Yoda will later warn Luke against in Empire Strikes Back when Luke leaves his training to help his friends...
But then is Yoda wrong after all? Isn't it the family ties and emotional attachment between Luke and Darth that prove the Emperor's undoing in the end? Isn't the Emperor's assertion to Luke at the final battle that "faith" in his "friends" is Luke's "weakness" really the opposite of what's going on in the dramatic battle sequence we effectively cut to every other heart-beat? Isn't it Darth's reference to Luke's sister possibly turning to the Dark Side that finally gets Luke out of the shadows to defeat Darth?
So which is it?
And what about Annakin's motive for turning to the Dark Side? Was it really his effort to save Padme? ... who he Force-chokes until Obi Wan appears? Go bad, save Padme later? That is, until I try to kill her in a couple of scenes from now? But, then, still get pissed off when the Emperor says that she's dead?
O.k., and does this serial killer of children--in no less than TWO movies, now--really deserve the death-bed conversion that Lucas has in store for him? Why, because Luke can feel some ineffable "good" in him? Just enough "good" in the end to kill the Emperor, something he had planned to do anyway when he and Luke took over?
Then there's that "absolute" business. Say what? A "wash"?? A wash of nonsense, Chris, like everything else. In Episode VI, Obi Wan tells Luke that truth depends upon our "point of view." Well, so does the Emperor in this one. So, we have agreement between the Good and the Bad--truth is dependent upon perspective and there are no absolutes. Really, the distance between Good and Evil has been dramatically closed in this last film. That's part of the "balance," it seems, that needs to be returned to the Force, as the Prophecy says.
Turns out we need a balance between "Good and Evil." (And I refuse to insult anyone's dialectical sensibilities with a snide comment here.)
That does make a certain amount of sense since nothing happens "by accident," as we are repeatedly told. The Force has had all of this, including the behavior of Good and Evil, worked out from the start... deflates the balloon a bit, no?
As a good friend of mine said about the experience, "My brain hurt when I walked out of that theater." Mine still suffers the bruises, too.
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN when they let you out, again, Chris!
Posted by: Jim Valliant | May 31, 2005 06:49 PM
But, now that I think of it, this is classic Chris--among all of those "murky Yoda-isms" you find perhaps the one item of genuine wisdom.
You remind me of Ayn Rand focusing on Jesus' "what should it profit a man.." gem when she implicitly objected to just about everything else Christ is said to have said.
Isn't there something about "context" and Hegel's Whole that we should also keep in mind in this context?
Posted by: Jim Valliant | May 31, 2005 07:19 PM
To answer your last question: Yes. :)
The series is ~filled~ with too much murky-ness for me to recommend as philosophy---though it's fun as entertainment. But then again, so is so much mythology and legend filled with murky contradictions. My effort here was, as you suggest, only to recover that one nugget of truth buried under a lot contradiction. That "rose petal", so-to-speak.
What I meant by a "wash" was that these two forces, Jedi and Sith, are so filled with contradictions, that their contradictions cancel each other out. Doesn't make them consistent---just equally incorrect. As Joe Maurone says in his commentary, noted above, what we need here is some kind of position that transcends the weaknesses among both Jedi and Sith. (And you're lucky you didn't make any snide comments about transcending Good and Evil! hehe... )
Finally, on the "redemption" of Anakin... his final act in Episode VI does save his son, but not for the further purpose of taking power from the Emperor. In the "Revenge of the Sith," after all, we are told that the Emperor rose to power by having done-in ~his~ mentor; Anakin chooses to break-out of that cycle by doing-in Palpatine in Episode VI, with ~no~ eye toward taking his power. This doesn't make him a "good" character any more than Al Pacino's confessions in "Godfather II"---but it does show a character aware of his own evil, and wanting to take one last redemptive action for the sake of his own soul and for the sake of the life of somebody he apparently loves.
Now, in retrospect, I think this is one huge tragic tale on so many levels. It will certainly make me look at the whole of its story in a very different light.
Anyway, thanks, as always, for your comments!
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 31, 2005 07:52 PM
As you know, I loved the movie despite some reservations, particularly regarding the film's first act.
For all those Objectivist who criticize this movie based on its philosophical contradictions, you really should check out Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen. Supposedly, it was Rand's favorite film. To be surely it's a brilliantly executed piece of film making (if dated in some ways), but a film that is so nihilistic that I found it repulsive far beyond the worst of Lucas' contradictions. I watched the full epic as a almost a duty, and then off it went to ebay as soon as I was finished... yet, Rand considered it a great film, something that I still find amazing. The lesson? You can't judge a movie based on just philosophic grounds.
Regarding wooden dialog, I just watched the original Star Wars film. We're told that actors are purely subservient to the story... still, it's amazing what a great actor can do. I think the original film has some really corny and/or wooden dialog ("before he turned to evil", "only the master of evil, Darth"). So what's the difference? Well, these lines are given to Alec Guiness, one of the greatest actors ever, and he just does wonders with this 'dialogue'.
Posted by: Stan Rozenfeld | June 1, 2005 09:53 AM
Chris, though we differ on interpretations of the movie, you still manage to
amaze me in your quest to find the nugget of wisdom in everything!
I've read your analysis of "fear" previously, which I think is brilliant, and you incorporated it very well into this piece. It did make me see the movie in a different way. (I still don't like it, and not just because of the philosophy! But it is better than the first two, at least. Ah well, there's always the original tril-oh, wait, no there isn't! Not after Lucas gets done editing them again and again! hehe.)
Anyway, you touched on Rand's comment about fear as the antonym of thought...reminds me of Paul Atreide's constant refrain in DUNE: "Fear is the mindkiller."
Hope they let you out for BATMAN BEGINS!
Posted by: Joe | June 1, 2005 01:55 PM
Stan, thanks for your excellent comments. And good points about Alec Guiness too.
And Joe, I'm not sure we're that far apart on this. I've simply focused, as you say, on that one nugget. There are more than a few nuggets in this film that undermine even the one nugget of wisdom. But I'm not telling you anything you don't already know: It is always possible to appreciate a movie on other levels, even a movie that is antithetical to one's beliefs.
I'll want to see "Star Wars" again when it is released on DVD. But before then... yes... let us hope they let me out for BATMAN BEGINS. :)
I'm also looking forward to seeing "War of the Worlds." The 1953 George Pal film classic is still one of my favorite films, and I even loved the Orson Welles radio broadcast version. So Spielberg has some big shoes to fill!
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | June 1, 2005 07:01 PM
Chris, RE War of the Worlds -- forgive me if you already know this, but there are actually _two_ film versions of War of the Worlds coming out this year. One is the Spielberg you mention, the other is an indie brit project which has been made as a (Victorian) period piece, with a script that (they say) pretty faithfully follows the novel. While I love the George Pal film as you do, and am planning to see the Spielberg, I have to say I'm pretty excited that someone has filmed a straight version of the H.G. Wells novel! I'm guessing you are too.
Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | June 1, 2005 09:23 PM
I agree that philosophical content is not the way to judge a movie. Many of my favorites have themes with which I really don't agree. Some are even just a bit hokey. But for me to keep suspending my disbelief, for me to "get into" the movie, it must make sense in its own terms. It has to have an inner-logic, at least, to which it adheres. I was trying to hold the whole sweep of the big story in mind and found I was having a hard time. But, I admit along with Joe that Chris, as usual, has gotten me to see things in a different way. He's good at that.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | June 2, 2005 01:05 AM
Aeon, I was totally unaware of that indie film, so thanks again for letting me know.
Meanwhile... I forgot to mention another really nice feature of that Ziegfeld showing. I was reminded of it by my friend Donna, who has attended other Ziegfeld showings.
The theater shows its usual pre-show "commercials" and entertaining (or, alternately, irritating) previews. Then, right before the feature presentation is to begin, the immense, regal inner and outer curtains close on the screen; the theater gets even darker, and the curtains open slowly, once again, Dolby and Digital announcements made loud and clear.
And the film begins, in this instance, with the ever more regal "20th Century Fanfare" composed by Alfred Newman --- before the first chords of the Williams' "Star Wars" main theme.
Whatever one thinks of this movie, or any other movie in the series, I have to say: This is a very respectful way of showing a film. It's getting to the point that the size of multiplex theaters won't hold a candle to one's Home Theater set-up; if one is to go to a theater to see a film, the Ziegfeld experience is one wonderful way to do so.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | June 2, 2005 12:46 PM
Notice that Anakin does what he is prophesied to do: bring balance to the Force. With the help of Palpatine and his son, he managed to destroy not only the Jedi but also the Sith, both of which, as has been previously noted, were marred with inner contradictions and had become stagnant. Where do things go from there? Well, there is a wealth of fiction (all approved by Lucas) in the form of comic books and novels that cover the time period after episode VI in which Luke attempts to rebuild the Jedi but not necessarily exactly as it had once existed. It has been many years since I read this material, and a lot has been published since I stopped, so I can't speak as to exactly what form the new Jedi Order takes under Luke, but for those who are really interested it is worth looking into.
Posted by: Geoffrey Allan Plauche | June 2, 2005 06:01 PM
For instance, and this might be telling, Luke establishes his new Jedi Academy not on Coruscant but on Yavin 4, the remote jungle moon that was home to the Rebel Alliance for a time, rather than the capital planet of the galaxy.
Posted by: Geoffrey Allan Plauche | June 2, 2005 08:05 PM
Thanks Chris for the nice spin you put on Yoda's teachings on attachment and loss. I hadn't thought of it that way before and had been discounting it as one of Lucas's bumbling attempts at philosophy. Your interpretation may not be the way Lucas intended it, but I think it is more correct philosophically. Interestingly, it is also very applicable to the problem of irrational fear of death which Epicurus attempted to resolve. It is how I think Aristotle would have dealt with the problem and the way I think Epicurus should have. We aren't really valuing life properly if we are so obsessed with our own mortality that we fail to truly live.
(My turn for a shameless plug.) ;o) Anyone interested in the argument put forth by Epicurus as to why we should not fear death as well as references to the contemporary debate and my take on the issue, see here ( http://veritasnoctis.blogspot.com/2005/05/death-version-20.html ).
Posted by: Geoffrey Allan Plauche | June 2, 2005 11:51 PM
I just rewatched the entire original trilogy, and it still holds up beautifully. I must be the only person in the world who likes Return of the Jedi the most of all the Star Wars films.
I then started thinking about continuity between original trilogy and the prequels, and a lot of things don't add up. Some stuff, such as Leia saying she remembered her real mother, and Obi-Wan saying that Yoda is the one who taught him can easily be overlooked. But some stuff does bother me.
For instance, we're told in Episode III that Annakin will eventually surpass both Emperor and Yoda in power. Now, in the original trilogy, Darth Vader exhibits some awesome powers, but there seems to be no indication of him being other than subservient to the Emperor. We can certainly speculate why, but there doesn't seem to be any indication in any of the movies about that.
Another thing that's not fully answered is the peculiar relationship that Sith have with each other. Why does Palpatine need an apprentice? Is that a nurturing instinct or something? Didn't Lucas promise that he would explain that? Among the Sith there seems to be tension between loyalty to each other and competitiveness. If you look at that history: Palpatine killed his own master after learning all his secrets. He also had no problem sacrificing Count Dukhu. He encourages Luke to kill his father. Vader himself raves about how he is going to take over from Emperor at the end of Episode III, and tells Luke in Episode V that they can destroy the Emperor and "rule the galaxy as father and son". On the other hand there seems to be a genuine loyalty and respect between them. Palpatine seems to really care what happens to Vader at the end of episode III, and calls him 'his friend' rather sincerely. His attitude towards Darth Maul seems to be very positive. Vader is VERY respectful of the Emperor in Episodes V and VI.
On a separate issue, I still don't understand Obi-Wan's phrase "Only Sith believe in absolutes" or something like that. It just seems a very awkward phrase. Somehow, I find it hard to believe that suddenly Lucas espouses moral relativism or some such thing. I've even read somewhere that it's a shot at George Bush...
Anyone has any insights on the above issues, it will be greatly appreciated.
As a sidenote, I don't personally require absolute consistency in any series, because such consistency is very hard to maintain. Asimov once complained about the prospect of continuing his Foundation Trilogy was that it was harder to maintain consistency the longer you made it. Classical Mythology and great classics are riddled with inconsistencies, and so are many of the TV shows that I enjoy watching. Still, there are certain things that do bug me, and I like to see as much consistency as possible.
Posted by: Stan Rozenfeld | June 3, 2005 03:35 AM
In answer to some of your questions:
Either Leia didn't know she was adopted and thought that her adopted mother was her real mother, or because of force capabilities was able to sense her mother's feelings while still in the womb.
Obi Wan saying that the one who taught him was Yoda was simplifying. Yoda teaches all, even if they have a main teacher.
As I mentioned before, the problem with Annakin was his flip-flopiness. I don't think he had enough certainty to overtake the emperor until the end when he had turned or re-turned.
Chris already commented on the Sith's believe in absolutes phrase.
Regarding the nature of the Sith. Read Wikipedia, all Lucas approved. It explains everything. Also, if you want detailed insight into the Jedi and the Sith, you should play the two video games as they delve into philosophical issues quite deeply.
Posted by: Technomaget | June 3, 2005 10:15 AM
Nice exchanges here and thanks to all for the additional comments. Just a few points in reply:
First, that's a really thought-provoking paper, Geoffrey... I encourage readers to take a look at it.
Second, Stan, "Return of the Jedi" is not my favorite---but I am pretty sure I like it more than Aeon. :) I think that my response to Jedi, especially the whole climactic bout between Luke, Darth Vader, and the Emperor, was influenced by two things: 1) My contemporaneous study of the works of Gene Sharp, the Senior Scholar at the Albert Einstein Institution who has written many books on the techniques of nonviolence resistance. A lot of that revolves around the issue of sanction of the victim, and not giving into the typically violent responses to violence. The point Sharp drove home was that nonviolent resistance ~is~ resistance. It is not pacifism. And 2) Richard Nixon. Don't chuckle. It's the comment that was brought up yesterday by Stanley Crouch in his NY DAILY NEWS discussion of Deep Throat and the "Nixonian tragedy" of Watergate (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ideas_opinions/story/315090p-269530c.html). As he left Washington DC in disgrace, a resigned President Nixon said: "Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself."
I take the whole issue of ~hate~ very seriously, and as I have said in this Sith post, I think Lucas takes the relationships among fear, anger, and hate as internal, to use a philosophic term. So seeing Luke not giving into hate in that climactic scene, thus breaking the cycle of tragedy... made an impact on me. Of course, seeing Vader throw the Emperor to his death made an impact on me too. :)
And thanks Technomaget with regard to those video games!
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | June 3, 2005 03:35 PM
Gene Sharpe has done some good work. I draw on his work briefly in connection with Etienne de La Boetie, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi in my oversized M.A. thesis. The political thought of these men, as well as that of Mikhail Bakunin, should be studied in depth as a necessary part of understanding the concept of libertarian revolution. Guerilla warfare and privateering are not the only means. And centrally organized violence tends to be counterproductive.
Posted by: Geoffrey Allan Plauche | June 4, 2005 10:59 AM
Thanks for your additional thoughts, Geoffrey.
BTW, in case you've not seen it, there's a good book that talks about Aristotle's view of contraries as akin to the "yin and yang" in Chinese philosophy. It's Stephen R. L. Clark's book, ARISTOTLE'S MAN: SPECULATIONS UPON ARISTOTELIAN ANTHROPOLOGY (Oxford University Press, 1975). It's tangential to this thread, but not irrelevant.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | June 4, 2005 03:16 PM
Actually, both Episodes II and III hit me pretty deeply. I actually felt much unlike most in that I respected Hayden Christensen's portrayal of Anakin Skywalker. I didn't find him 'wooden' at all, but reticient in passionate emotions he had no way and no knowledge of how to realize. His desperate attempt to his have life mean something, his fierce loyalties underscored by a high demand for trust and immense, waiting sense of imminent betrayal- in a world which in fact he shouldn't trust, his willingness to switch to something he can trust absolutely and prefer clear and certain darkness to wavering and murky light, all made immense sense to me. He makes me think, oddly enough, of Medea and Hedda Gabbler- two strong icons who also turned destructive rather than accept the constraints of their world. In all three cases I feel judging the tragic protagonist is precisely to miss the point.
To be honest, I blame the Jedi squarely in this instance. They resemble nothing so much as the Christian (or Buddhist) monopolists of idealism, who take everything Anakin- a person of greater passion and spirit than they are- has to give, and then at the end just crush him and leave him hanging, telling him to 'let go' of Padme (why?). They do not merely teach factual acceptance an ugly reality, but preach resignation as a virtue. Why could Yoda not teach Anakin to 'rage, rage, against the dying of the light?
Their codes deny personal attachments outside of attachment to their order, yet their order is not in itself a suitable substitute for personal attachments. Their methods of training involve a military master/apprectince relationship which allows for emotional closeness only in the militant denial of sympathy. This order may be suited to producing disciplined and spiritually capable warriors, but it is *not* suitable for nurturing human happiness. How on *Earth* is someone with Anakin's spirit going to find happiness in such a place? I not only find such a code on balance unadmirable, but the Jedi way strikes me as emotionally abusive.
Philosophically speaking, I find the Sith route closer to truth in *essentials* than the Jedi role. The Jedi preach calm and warn against passion. But, like it or not, every code of values requires a passionate dedication to be lived, and what the Jedi effectively preach is passionate attachment to an anti-passion code. In practice, what this means is turning the capacity for enjoyment away from the enjoyment of life towards the enjoyment of an ideal which clashes with it. I strongly follow Ayn Rand in her opposition to codes of values which take the individual's capacity for moral ambition and attach it to something in direct opposition to living on Earth. This is what the Jedi code does, and the Order's callous treatment of human love in a perfect symbol of this.
If one ties 'the Light Side' of the Force with this inhumanity, and then associates passion with the imperialism and brutality of the Sith, then the Jedi shouldn't be surprised that their strongest keep being tempted to the Dark Side. Given those two options, it is what I would expect any truly *human* being to do... except for the fact that the power-climbing teleology the Sith ascribe to passion in truth will drain happiness as quickly as the Jedi demand to drain it.
What one needs here is a dialectical, contextualized transcendence of a false dichotomy. To put it plainly, I sympathise with Anakin because what he needs is Sith ends and Jedi means- in other words a pursuit of passion that respects life, cultivates benevolence, and loathes imperial conquest as integral parts of what is neccesary to make both happiness and spiritual efficacy possible. And this is as option that does not exist in Anakin's moral universe. Anakin is a person of intense spiritual seriousness and discipline who turns to worldly evil because he is presented with worldless good as the only option. Under such conditions, Palpatine's serpentinisms have the power to subvert because they whisper bits of truth. Anakin *should* be able to have a place where his stature can be realized, and Palpatine touches on the worst version of something more real that the Jedi are willing to acknowledge. Is it very telling that Lucas sets the rise of Empire against the background of wealthy, lights-blazing cosmopolitan Coruscant, borrowing a favorite Biblical smear from Genesis to Revelations which links wealth and worldly enjoyment to exploitation and tyranny. Good Jedi lose their loves, their personal lives, their independence and end up in awful places like Dagobah and Tatooine. Bad Sith corrode their souls and end up doing horrible monstrosities because they follow passion, self-interest, and love (not even lust, but *love*). I may strongly believe that Sith nastiness is a disastrous way to pursue passion (because benevolence is enjoyable, and hatred miserable, and because hurt and oppresion is bound to be counterproductive). But at least the Sith have a narrow respect for it, while the Jedi sublimate passion into passion for antipassionate morality. Which side is someone like Anakin going to choose?
One should be glad Star Wars is fiction, where Light and Dark represent only odd special cases of the polychromatic possibilities of codes of value in life. What Anakin should have done is to tell both Yoda and Darth Sideous to pike it, quit the self-made schisms of the Jedi/Sith common moral scenery, and set up his own Order with the force tinted his own colour. Make amends to the shadows of his past crimes, take Padme's offer, and leave everything behind; stay away from Coruscant with its politics and the kind of yicky deserts and swamps the Jedi seem to frequent. Take love over moralistic or immoral lovelessness, raise their child, and (I admit I'm prejudiced), settle down on Naboo. I can't help notice that both Palpatine's and Yoda's skies are polluted. The light seems better and warmer from Naboo's star.
Posted by: Jeanine Ring | July 12, 2005 04:14 PM
Thanks for your lengthy and interesting comments, Jeanine; I do think there is a kind of "dialectical" necessity to transcend the Jedi-Sith "dualism" at work. A good insight.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 14, 2005 08:25 PM
The discussion on Ayn Rand's intellectual development continues at SOLO HQ. Today I posted additional comments here and reproduce them below.
Rick tells us that he doesn't "quite buy [my] arguments" and therefore "won't be buying [my] book [Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical]" which, apparently, he has "flick[ed] through ... now and again" when he visits "the 9th floor of the central library at University Of Canterbury." Well, I'm delighted to know that Canterbury has my book, but even more delighted to know that you know where it's located. If somebody desecrates the book by putting a moustache on a picture of N.O. Lossky, one of Rand's teachers, we'll know who the prime suspect is! :)
Seriously, Rick, I don't think I need to know anything about Michael Jackson's biography or Ayn Rand's biography in order to appreciate their respective arts. (And I've made it a point of saying that I don't care what artists have done in their private lives in my appreciation of art. See here.) One can dance to "Don't Stop til You Get Enough" without ever knowing or caring whether MJ was born in Gary, Indiana, or is guilty of molesting kids. Likewise, one can love Atlas Shrugged without ever knowing or caring whether AR was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, or had a friendship with Isabel Paterson.
But in the realm of ideas, I do think biography matters (see Carlin Romano on this here) if one is interested in the means by which a thinker arrives at her conclusions. Trying to understand the means by which a thinker discovers and "chews" an idea is something that is not easily discernible by reading the published works of that thinker.
Basically, a thinker engages in several stages in the development and presentation of an idea.
She begins with certain basic (metaphysical and epistemological) premises. But the critical thinker who embarks on an investigation, draws partially from her own experiences, from the evidence of her own life, which serves as the raw material for her inductive generalizations. In this sense, the Soviet Union was like a giant laboratory from which Rand could draw much material not only for her evolving understanding of the nature of collectivism but also as backdrop for her first forays into fiction (Red Pawn, We the Living, etc.).
The investigation, the inquiry, never ceases. But as one learns to grapple with the evidence, with the raw material, one typically engages in intellectual reconstruction or self-clarification. That is the step that is most often not seen by the general public. To have evidence of Rand's beginnings not only in that provided by, say, a thorough analysis of her college education (see here), but also in her extant journals, notebooks, and letters, helps one to view the possible steps that a thinker of her calibre took in both checking her own premises and coming to the conclusions that she eventually presented in her published work.
The next step---the published work, the actual exposition of the material that Rand gathered, inquired about, and "chewed"---is something that is easy to see. But even here, Rand tells us (in posthumously published books like The Art of Fiction and The Art of Nonfiction, both derived from lecture courses) that there are methods to the presentation of material, methods that can best be described as an application of the "art of context-keeping" to the exposition of an idea (I discuss this here).
Upon basic premises, inquiry, intellectual self-clarification, and exposition, there is a final aspect to consider that is relevant to each of us, as consumers of her work: The application of the lessons learned to the context of one's own life---a life in which one purposefully acts to continue the task of testing one's conclusions, deepening one's understanding (that "spiral theory of knowledge" mentioned by James Heaps-Nelson here), and, ultimately, changing the world. And Rand had a lot to say about that too.
The one thing that I also wish to emphasize is that the most important aspect of Russian Radical is not, in my view, a speculative consideration of Rand's beginnings. (And thanks to George Cordero for touching upon a lot of important aspects of my book.) It is in the reconstruction of Rand's dialectical or "context-keeping" methods of dealing with social problems. Part Three of my book reconstructs that method as a multidimensional investigation of any social problem on three distinct levels of generality (what I call the "personal," the "cultural", and the "structural") and from many different vantage points within each of those levels (psycho-epistemology, ethics, ideology, pedagogy, aesthetics, linguistics, economics, politics, etc.).
In other words, in any problem that Rand considered, be it the phenomenon of racism, war, or inflation, she was never content to examine these in one-dimensional terms. It was always with an eye toward grasping each problem's preconditions and effects, often taken as mutual implications of each other. It was always with an eye toward relating a particular social problem to other social problems, and viewing each as constituents of a larger system that had a past, a present, and many possible future implications. That's how Rand could view racism as a manifestation of irrationalism, tribalism, and collectivism, and also as an example of the anti-conceptual mentality at work. That's how she could trace the distorting effects of racism on culture and language (e.g., her discussion of "ethnicity" as an anti-concept). And finally, that's how she could see tribalism/racism and advancing statism as reciprocal presuppositions of one another: For Rand, the modern mixed economy was a tribal war writ large and racism was one form of the vast social fragmentation that state intervention had created and perpetuated.
All of this has important implications not only for understanding racism, but for challenging it radically, for uprooting it, and for creating the kind of social change that would toss racism on the scrap-heap of history.
Part III of Russian Radical is focused on making apparent the ways in which Rand constructs this kind of full-bodied radical analysis. In the wide scheme of things, it might be "marmalade" for the golden-browned toast that is Rand's work, but it is also an exposition of the ingredients that Rand used in baking that bread to begin with.
Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to view the full dialogue at SOLOHQ, starting here. (Other comments in this thread can be found here, here, and here.)
Song of the Day: It's a Love Thing, music and lyrics by W. Shelby and D. Meyers, was performed by another great SOLAR group: The Whispers. Listen to an audio clip of this dance classic here.
MAY 30, 2005
At SOLO HQ, Phil Coates has raised a few issues about Ayn Rand's intellectual development. I replied to some of his questions here and here, and reproduce my comments here:
I certainly don't want to make this thread a debate over Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and I do appreciate the fact that you were honest in admitting that you'd not finished my book---going so far as to recommend horse-whipping for this crime (with which I obviously agree). But I figured I'd answer your one comment here (with thanks also to Steve Shmurak here):
But just as reducing Ayn Rand to a thinker in the Aristotelian tradition is too glib, not a full and thorough exploration of her uniqueness and doesn't begin to address all the questions I list, reducing Ayn Rand to a dialectical thinker in the Russian tradition [if that is what CS does] would have analogous shortcomings.
I can see how you might come to that conclusion in a less-than-full reading of my book. I realize too that you "found the academic style and lack of brevity unpalatable so I simply set it aside..sorry Chris."
But the book was written as part of a larger trilogy on the history of dialectical thinking, and it was also written with an eye toward presenting Rand's philosophy not only within that context, but also to a scholarly audience. (I'm actually in the process of writing several essays for various publications, and sitting for several interviews for various periodicals, all on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Russian Radical and Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, the first two books of my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy, which Total Freedom completes.)
Given this context, I can only say, briefly, that while I situate Rand in a larger Russian dialectical tradition, I situate her more generally in a larger Aristotelian dialectical tradition, since I consider Aristotle the father of dialectical inquiry. That is made even clearer in Total Freedom (chapter one is called: "Aristotle: The Fountainhead"). And I also state, quite self-consciously, that my take on Rand is a "one-sided" take; in other words, I admit the shortcomings of putting forth a particular view of Rand's corpus from a particular vantage point. But sometimes it is important to focus selectively on various aspects of a thinker's work in order to make apparent something significant that is often obscured by other interpretive takes.
As to your formal questions in this thread... I don't know how Rand became Rand precisely, but the first four chapters of Russian Radical, at the very least, provide us with a much more detailed context for understanding the conditions in which she began her intellectual adventures. I think she learned a lot from her Russian surroundings, both positively (methodologically) and negatively (in terms of rejecting the miseries of collectivism), having been raised in the grand Russian Silver Age, and having been educated by the last gasp of Old World professors before they were exiled, imprisoned, or murdered by the Soviets. And now, with the release of her journals and letters, we can begin to trace the influence on her thought of everything from Hollywood to Isabel Paterson. There is an inordinate amount of work yet to be done, but I think that scholars have taken the necessary first steps in this project.
Update: In response to various issues raised by posters at SOLO HQ, I discussed the importance of studying intellectual history. Here's what I said on that forum:
I really like "Man in the Mirror"! :)
When we get to the "bottom line," I actually agree with you: We all adhere to that famous Spanish proverb that Rand and Branden were fond of quoting: "Take what you want and pay for it." Which means, in this context: Take what you want from Rand's ideas, and take the responsibility for making them your own, integrating them with your own context of knowledge and experience... and move on. And, in reality, that is what we all do.
But there is legitimacy to the study of intellectual history. And it's quite apart from needing to make "a personal connection to the author," as you suggest. It's certainly not about what Rand ate for breakfast! :)
Everything that exists has a past, a present, and many future implications. It's like that whether we are talking about the computer that I'm typing on, the social system in which we live, or something as abstract as an intellectual system of thought. For example, it's a bit more obvious (to me at least) why a historical study of our current social system would have relevance: Understanding how the current social system became what it is and understanding how it functions today are both helpful if our aim is changing that social system.
For this thread, however, let's focus just on the notion of intellectual history: studying the genesis and evolution of a system of thought---its past, present, and possible future implications. It's of interest to trace the origins of an idea or a system of thought for several reasons:
1. It allows us to situate the ideas in an historical context, which might help us to understand both the relevance and application of those ideas to the specific circumstances in which they were conceived (thus suggesting its possible limitations) as well as the current circumstances to which such ideas might still have relevance. Take Rand's anti-communism: It's of historical interest to relate Rand's anti-communism to the circumstances in which that anti-communism took root---not only as a response to the horrors of Soviet communism, which Rand witnessed and experienced, but also as something much more universally relevant. As Rand said about We the Living: it wasn't just about the strangling, "airtight" environment of communism, but a testament against all forms of collectivism and statism. And it carried more universal implications about the sanctity of the individual.
2. It allows us to trace the cross-fertilization of ideas, which might help us to understand why certain ideas in certain contexts may have meant one (valid) thing, and something quite different when transposed to another context. Take Karl Marx: We know that he was influenced by Feuerbach and Hegel. Surprisingly, however, he accepts a lot of Aristotelian realism and "social ontology." He accepts quite a few "evolutionist" ideas from the Scottish Enlightenment figures (such as Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, David Hume) as well as quite a few ideas about the power of reason from the French Enlightenment (which was actually far more rationalist, in the bad "constructivist" sense that both Hayek and Rand repudiate). Each of these ideas taken in isolation has very different implications than their attempted integration. It's not enough to condemn Marx outright: Trying to unravel the mess that is Marx's framework helps us to identify precisely where Marx went wrong, what specific threads in the tapestry of his thought are lethal.
3. Thus, the study of intellectual history allows us to learn from the traditions we study: to identify what's right, discard what's wrong, and move on. In other words, it allows us to "take what we want" from the various traditions we study, "and to pay for it," in precisely the way described above.
Just a few things to consider, I think, in justifying the study of ideas and their historical evolution over time: how they were born, what they meant, what they mean, and where they might lead us---logically and empirically.
Update: See additional comments on this topic here, here, and here.
Since I have the rare chance of questioning the actual author of a book, how accurate were my descriptions as stated in the below link?
Posted by: George Cordero | May 31, 2005 09:24 AM
Really, George, very well done. Hat tip to you!
I also thank you at SOLO HQ.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 31, 2005 09:47 AM
Song of the Day: Silent Running, music and lyrics by Michael Rutherford (formerly of Genesis) and B. A. Robertson, was performed by Mike and the Mechanics. It was featured in the 1986 film "On Dangerous Ground" (also known as "Choke Canyon"). Its stirring lyrics are delivered effectively by lead vocalist Paul Carrack. Listen to an audio clip here.
MAY 29, 2005
Of all the tributes that I've read this Memorial Day Weekend, this one, entitled "A Mothers' War," by Cynthia Gorney, had particularly poignant passages. The story centers on Tracy Della Vecchia, who runs a website for mothers nationwide whose children are fighting, and being injured, and dying, in Iraq. Tracy's son,
Derrick Jensen, has spent three birthdays in a row deployed in Iraq. There are about 140,000 American troops stationed in Iraq; 23,000 of them are marines. As this article appears, Corporal Jensen should be somewhere near Falluja. He is an infantry radio operator, which sounded to Tracy like a good, safe job until she found out that radio operators carry big antennas, which make them easier targets. She let me stay at her house for a while this winter partly because I am a reporter and happen to have a 22-year-old son who is not in the military. Tracy thought people like me might want to know something about what it's like to live all the time with that kind of information about your child, to go to sleep knowing it and wake up knowing it and drive around town knowing it, which makes it possible to be standing in the Wal-Mart dog-food aisle on an ordinary afternoon and without reason or warning be knocked breathless again by the sudden imagining of sniper fire or an explosion beneath a Humvee. Still. Derrick has been shipped home twice since President Bush delivered his May 2003 speech in front of the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the deck of an aircraft carrier, and shipped back twice. He has had one occasion of near death that Tracy knows about in some detail; there are others, she assumes, that Derrick has so far kept to himself. "During the first deployment," Tracy said to me once as we were sitting in her car, a lipstick-red PT Cruiser with a yellow "Keep My Son Safe" ribbon magnet on the back, "the only emotion I could imagine him having was fear." ...
Tracy's closest friends in the world right now are other parents whose sons and daughters have served in Iraq or are serving there now. Some of these parents think the war is righteous, some think it was wrongheaded from the outset and some, like Tracy, have made fierce internal bargains with themselves about what they will and will not think about as long as their children and their children's comrades remain in uniform and in harm's way. The women Tracy meets every week for dinner, each of whom has a son in the Marines or the Army, have a "no politics" rule around their table; this was one of two things I remember Tracy telling me the first time she took me to a gathering of the mothers. The other thing was that draped over a banister in Tracy's house was an unwashed T-shirt Derrick had dropped during his last visit home. I thought Tracy was apologizing for her housekeeping, which I had already seen was much better than mine, but she cleared her throat and said that what I needed to understand was that she hadn't washed the T-shirt because if the Marine Corps has to send you your deceased child's personal effects, it launders the clothing first. "That means there's no smell," Tracy said. She let this hover between us for a minute. "I've heard from so many parents who were crushed when they opened that bag, because they had thought they'd be able to smell their son," Tracy said. ...
When I woke the next morning, it was barely light outside, but Tracy was already at her computer. She was smoking at her desk, which she usually doesn't do, and her face was bleak. "I got a D.O.D.," she said. A D.O.D. is what Tracy calls a death notice from the Department of Defense. These notices come to her as e-mailed press releases, each with a headline that identifies the service the deceased American belonged to ... She had walked around with it all day ... she had known ... only that it wasn't Derrick, first because the Marines had not come to her house ... "The knocking on the door." ... Tracy jammed her cigarette into the ashtray, hard. "And the way I'd react: You've got the wrong house. I just talked to my son. This can't be right. Denial is the first thing. And knowing there's just complete and total despair in somebody's home right now. This is their Easter." She started to cry. "And I feel so grateful, and then so guilty," she said. "Nobody's going to say, 'Thank God, it wasn't my son.' But that's what we're all thinking."
Read the whole article.
Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.
Song of the Day: Sunday in New York ("Main Title"), music and lyrics by Peter Nero and Carroll Coates, is the Golden Globe-nominated title track from the 1963 film, in which it was performed by Mel Torme (listen to an audio clip from his "Songs of New York" collection). Bobby Darin does a nice swing arrangement here as well. But my favorite instrumental version of this song is by jazz guitarist Joe Pass, from his 12-string guitar tribute to "Great Motion Picture Themes."
MAY 28, 2005
Song of the Day: Prisoner of Love, lyrics by Leo Robin, music by Clarence Gaskill and singer Russ Columbo, who performed the aching song of unrequited love in 1931. In addition to the Columbo version, this standard was recorded by Perry Como (who took the song to #1 on the Billboard charts), the Ink Spots, and Billy Eckstine (click links to listen to audio clips from each).
MAY 27, 2005
Readers know from this essay that I've long considered "Ben-Hur" to be my favorite film of all time. Some months ago, I was contacted by those involved in the production of a new mega DVD release coming out in September 2005. I gave them a lot of information for their Collector's Edition, but I doubt I'll make the credits. :)
In any event, a very nice press release comes to me via film historian and producer Bruce Crawford. Bruce was interviewed for the new documentary, and another pal of mine, film historian T. Gene Hatcher, offers commentary. Check out information on the new "Four Disc Collector's Edition" here. It will even include the 1925 silent version!
Update: I mentioned this at the Miklos Rozsa Forum as well.
Wow, that looks amazing, Chris! Can't wait. My VHS copy is deteriorating (as are
all my VHS movies of course).
BTW, what's the latest on a DVD release of "We The Living"?
Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | May 28, 2005 09:17 AM
Hey Aeon... it sure does look amazing.
As for "We the Living," I have heard something about a DVD release, but nothing about a date yet. I'll be sure to announce it the moment I learn more!
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 28, 2005 11:32 AM
Not my personal favourite, though I do enjoy the movie greatly and will probably buy the DVD when it comes out here.
"I gave them a lot of information for their Collector's Edition, but I doubt I'll make the credits. :)"
A lot of special edition DVDs come with short "booklets" of information where they sometimes acknowledge assistance and such (at least they do in the UK...I assume it's the same there?), so if there's one with this release perhaps they'll at least put a "thank you" to you in there?
Posted by: Matthew Humphreys | May 29, 2005 07:20 AM
Hey, Matthew, I would like to think so! But even if not... I'm just delighted to see this film get the grand treatment. We're headed toward its 50th anniversary in a few years...
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 30, 2005 01:00 AM
I left a brief comment at L&P in response to David Beito's post, "Alfred Kohlberg, Joe McCarthy, and the China Lobby." He mentions a new book about John T. Flynn, Old Right opponent of the welfare-warfare state.
I know absolutely nothing about "Serenity," an upcoming film... though I've seen a lot of chit-chat about it in the blogosphere. But today I got a chance to read Ari Armstrong's essay at Colorado Freedom Report, "Jewel Staite Brings Serenity to Colorado." Armstrong makes fun use of the tri-level dialectical model of analysis I explore in my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. It's almost enough to make me go see the movie!
Serenity is the film sequel to the television series Firefly, which has definitely some libertarian themes. It is an excellent show that only lasted 13 or 14 episodes. You can get them on DVD. I highly recommend it.
Posted by: Timur | May 28, 2005 03:51 PM
Yes, don't just go see the movie. Watch the episodes first. It took about five people to convince me to see the show since it sounded really cheesy to me, but it turned out to be really well done and now I can't wait to see the movie.
Posted by: Kirsten | May 29, 2005 12:26 AM
Thanks, folks... I'll just have to add this to my "Eventually Hope to See" list. :)
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 30, 2005 01:01 AM
Every time I list a "Song of the Day," I hyperlink the phrase "Song of the Day," which takes the reader to the specific song listing as noted in the Master List, which I call "My Favorite Songs." That listing is alphabetical, though it includes in [brackets] the date that the song was added. The Master List features all the songs and all the things I say about the songs.
Because it is among the most popular items here at Notablog, I've added a link to the Master List on the main page under the "Search" functions. Now readers can just click into the Master List and look up the songs in an easy-to-find catalogue.
Enjoy, or not. :)
In a discussion that began here and that continued in my entry, "To Publish or Not To Publish," I have addressed the issues of "tolerance" and "sanction" in the context of various Internet forums.
In the comments section to that most recent entry, Jim Valliant raises the issue of "boycotts" and a reader named "Cato" addresses the subject of SOLO HQ. Valliant suggests that even the most tolerant among us might become "intolerant" at some point, and that exercising our right to boycott is simply an extension of the necessity of drawing lines and boundaries.
In truth, of course, as every economist reminds us, there is not a single person on earth who does not discriminate. Lindsay Perigo, founder of SOLO, has often taken to calling me "Her Royal Whoreness," because he found my capacity to "mix it up" on so many diverse forums to be quite promiscuous. But even this ol' whore has learned over time that there is a virtue in not participating in forums where my practice of civility and tolerance are used against me. As I suggested in my previous post, I still try to take the high road even among those who insist on the sewer, but I withdraw from discussion much more swiftly nowadays; I am willing to thrash out ideas and to debate issues vigorously. I am not willing to be anybody's punching bag. And I will not sanction discussions that revolve around personal attacks.
Clearly, this leaves a lot of room for debate. And I'm willing to engage a very wide diversity of opinion. As a founding co-editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, I encourage vigorous discussion among contributors who come from many different schools of thought. Heck, my aesthetic tastes alone should suggest the breadth of my eclecticism and of my willingness to put personal and ideological differences aside for the sake of the artistically sublime ... or even for the sake of some darn good entertainment!
But as I indicated in that aesthetics post, "Taking the Ad Hominem Out of Art Appreciation," I won't censor my own artistic responses according to whether or not the artist in question has the "right" intellectual premises or is a member of the "right" political or ideological groups. I'd say the same thing about intellectuals and nonfiction writers. In fact, my appreciation of, and engagement with, people whose views I adamantly reject is partially responsible for the strengthening of my own convictions. Where would I be without the challenges posed by my mentor, the Marxist theoretician Bertell Ollman? Ollman himself was a Volker fellow under Friedrich Hayek! And Hayek was taught by Friedrich von Wieser, who was a Fabian socialist. Even within the broad Randian universe, stranger bedfellows could not be found: Leonard Peikoff, whose doctoral thesis advisor was the pragmatist-cum-social democrat, Sidney Hook; David Kelley, who studied with the postmodernist Richard Rorty; and so forth.
So, I have been, and I am, a proud "whore" in terms of my willingness to read those whose views I reject.
As I have suggested, however, reading is not the same as posting. I suspect that Commentator Cato might be working with the same distinction. Cato writes here:
The reasons given by fan are exactly the reasons I do not post at the SOLO forum. Some time ago I read some messages in a tread about [hard] rock music and the people that dared to admit they liked bands like Rush were treated with the utmost disgust and revulsion. I don't care how much their ideas are in line with mine when objectivist[s] are being called Nazi's because they like a certain kind of [rock] music. Something is very, very wrong here.
Well, I genuinely understand the need to abstain from posting on sites or on particular threads within sites, when these forums are not the most inviting of dissent. I don't participate in several forums for precisely that reason: they are overwhelmed by unappealing posters and messages. But, I confess, this doesn't stop me from occasionally reading an article or a thread on a particular forum that I won't post to. If I cut off my reading activities (in contrast to my posting activities) every time I found myself hating an Internet forum, I'd quickly find myself navigating nowhere ... except my own solipsistic cyber-universe. I just can't imagine putting myself in that kind of intellectual ghetto. (Granted, sometimes when I read certain threads on certain forums, it packs the kind of fascination that bystanders feel when viewing a car wreck... but that's another subject entirely...)
So, Cato, here is a key difference that you might have with fan: You suggest that you won't post to SOLO because of the treatment that some hard-rock music fans have received in some of the discussion threads at that site. Well, I grew tired of posting on SOLO on two issues primarily: art appreciation and foreign policy. (And you'll note, at Notablog, I won't even open up my "Song of the Day" entries to discussion; they are not open to debate!) There are only so many times I can say the same thing over and over and over again, only to be met with the same objections over and over and over again ... only to see the whole thing degenerate, eventually, into a flaming, verbal slugfest.
But I don't think this problem is endemic to SOLO. In the Randian cyber-universe, the problem proliferates: These subjects seem to bring out the best, and the worst, in some people. Because they inspire a certain degree of high passion, such discussions can end up shedding much more heat than light. And after a while, the reactions are so predictable that the threads start to resemble a "repetition drill" like that which I remember from my days of studying French in junior high school: People just repeat the same phrases as if they are listening to an "ecotez et repetez" audio drill in a language lab.
The key difference here, however, is on the issue of posting versus reading. Cato, you suggest that you won't post to a forum that allows some of its participants to be "treated with the utmost disgust and revulsion." Well, okay, and something may indeed be "very, very wrong" with the tone of such a discussion.
But that still doesn't prevent you from navigating to a free site and reading a specific thread or a specific article (like my own) that has nothing to do with the kinds of threads that bring you grief.
Perhaps "flaming" is simply the nature of the beast we call the Internet. Plenty of people who would be pussycats in person become roaring lions when hiding behind a computer screen. And you will see the same dynamic played out in "ideological" forums especially, across the political spectrum, on blogs, in usenet groups, in the groups at Yahoo and MSN, and in the comments section of many online periodicals. It's because of these tendencies that each of us must discriminate in terms of our posting proclivities in the cyber-marketplace of ideas. But these tendencies don't prevent any of us from occasionally navigating to sites we don't like in order to read the one or two posts we might find enjoyable.
A very dear friend of mine who has known me for nearly twenty-five years once said to me that I'm the kind of guy who would find that one rose petal in a pile of manure. Sometimes, when the whole world smells like fertilizer, you do need to search out the flowers that spring forth, nourished.
Again with utmost respect I must humbly disagree with Chris who I do not think is a whore --- sorry to disappoint you. But Chris raises several points most of which I think are side points.
Certainly unpleasant and uncivil forums like SOLO one may wish to avoid for obvious reasons. The tendency to call names, pass insults off as arguments, to abandon reason in favor of rudeness, etc. are all good reasons to avoid posting there. But what about reading? As Chris says one can sometimes find rose petals in piles of manure.
A cute analogy but what if instead of rose petals we said strawberries. Yes, you might find a strawberry in a pile of manure but is it worth the effort and would you eat it? Those are two other questions.
We all have limited time available and I�m not sure sifting through mountains of manure for a rose petal or strawberry is the best way to spend that limited time. I�d rather go to the many, many useful sites on the web and ignore those which reek of Objectivist fundamentalism. And if I do want a rose petal I�ll go where I can find the whole rose and not just one petal covered with..... well we all know what that image conjures up.
In addition frequenting such sites gives the bullies who run them encouragement. Honestly Chris do you consider you not a blog blog a success or not on the basis of comments people most or readers you have? Most of such sites look at the number of readers as a sign they are doing something right. So sticking my hands in the pile in the hopes of finding a rose petal not only makes me feel dirty but encourages the farm hand to pile on more manure.
In my previously misguided attempts to use SOLO seeking rose petals I quickly figured out the farmhand that runs it is encouraged by people's presence. If the thinks he has an audience he increases his rudeness, his meanness and viciousness. The bigger the audience the more vile the comments. Simply visiting the site was encouragement enough apparently. So I�d rather not visit it and offer no encouragement.
So Chris there are numerous issues involved. I won�t read SOLO because rose petals can be found much easier without digging through manure piles. And I have no desire to encourage unpleasant people in continuing to be unpleasant. I�d rather come here and encourage a pleasant person who strews many rose petals with giving me any shit along the way.
Posted by: fan returns | May 27, 2005 11:08 AM
Insanity galloping with the analogy: You're welcome to come to my rose garden anytime.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 27, 2005 11:35 AM
Well-taken point, Fan. Indeed, the resource of time is so limited, and literature so vast, that the context demands hard choices even about what we read. By posting, we do also give an indirect "sanction" to the website in question; no, we are not necessarily conceding that the forum is "fair," but we are giving the forum what it wants and needs most--traffic. This cannot be ignored.
Jesus Christ--not someone I normally cite as authority--reportedly said that He came to heal the sick, not the healthy, and so He hung-out with prostitutes and tax-collectors. Jesus himself may have learned a thing or two from those "sinners," too. Challenging engagement is a great resource--and essential to developing a critical mind.
And, there is a big difference between being wrong and being dishonest or abusive. It is at the latter two that I draw the line myself.
Returning to the Bible, when God told Abraham that He intended to smite the wicked residents of Sodom, the Patriarch, who had relations in that area, began to negotiate with the Almighty: "What if only 50 virtuous men lived in the city?" Would God spare the city for their sakes? God said that He would. Abraham continued to haggle, "What about 20?," etc.
My inner-Dagny is too often too tempted to engage at such places for the sake of the 2 virtuous men who might have remained in the wicked city.
But Fan's right: sometimes it simply should go up in blaze of fire and brimestone.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | May 27, 2005 01:02 PM
While we're being Biblical, if I may, I, myself, learned a lesson about turning the other cheek through all my years of near-total toleration for personal abuse on various sites.
Turning the other cheek was okay---when you've got four cheeks. But after getting slapped in the face on both sides, and kicked on each of the half-moons of my butt... well... I ran out of cheeks. :) And my cup runneth over too.
Go in peace.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 27, 2005 01:24 PM
Thanks for the comments Chris. You hit the nail on the head. Yes I do sometimes browse the SOLO forums. There are quite a few people posting there who's contributions I value.
The first that comes to mind is a Grand Ol' Dame of objectivism Barbara Branden. He memories on the early day's of "the movement" are priceless. Not just because she has lived it but also because in time she succeeded in distancing herself from the more negative aspects of it.
I found her book "The passion of Ayn Rand" very instructive to the very subject we are discussing here. I think that your approach to the question of sanction is much better than the ironclad dogmatic approach of some of the objectivists I have met.
What bothers me about the way that the "Sanction principle" is being used in objectivist circles is that it is being handled as a means to very dangerous rationalization.
When people admit to be an admirer of the "wrong" writers, painters or music they are not being addressed as fully human anymore but as an abstraction. Despite their explanations they are being told that they are Kantian, Nietzian or even worse, a Nazi.
Whatever they say, no matter how logical or rational they try to be, they are not being heard. Within the context of their objectivist critics universe they are not fully human anymore. And they can be insulted and dismissed out of hand without being payed to much attention to.
I consider this to be a very dark element in the way objectivism is explained and sometimes used by some people.
Posted by: Cato | May 31, 2005 04:23 AM
Song of the Day: Maniac, music and lyrics by Dennis Matkosky and Michael Sembello, who performed this Oscar-nominated song for the soundtrack to the 1983 film "Flashdance." Listen to the album version of this frenetic, high energy track here.
MAY 26, 2005
Derek Jeter led the New York Yankees to a win over the Detroit Tigers, 4-2, with one of those classic catches that will be shown on sports highlight shows for eons ... along with his many other spectacular plays.
Yanks and Bosox face off this weekend. Go Derek! Go Yanks!
Comments welcome... unless you're a Boston Red Sox fan. :)
As a life long Yankee fan, I echo your sentiments. If only the 'big unit' could find the fountain of youth; that would dispell the uneasy feeling in my gut that says we no longer have enough solid pitching to make it through a AL playoffs to the show (assumming we even have enough to make the playoffs). To be honest nearly the entire pitching staff is too old and has lost a step.
Whatever the outcome this season, Steinbrenner will have to bite the bullet soon and accept a couple of sub-par seasons in order to introduce a 'youth movement' into the yankee pitching staff. If he doesn't, we will end up re-living the 80's - the highest paid losing team in baseball.
Posted by: George Cordero | May 26, 2005 11:24 AM
I agree with you 1000%. I've been saying it for a long time now. Steinbrenner has forgotten the formula that delivered NY its championships from 1996 through 2000: A strong farm system with a core group of loyal players who have excellent chemistry, along with a group of sign-ons who have mixed well with that core group.
He is, in fact, doing ~exactly~ what he did in the 80s, which is typical of what happens to him anytime his team wins. In response to those fabulous teams of the late 70s, he kept signing "all-star" players in a quest to "stay on top," with no consideration for what he was giving up in the process. And so, as you put it, he ended up with a high-priced all-star group (not a "team") of losers.
The only good thing about the current team is that there is a core that knows how to win: Jeter, Williams, Posada, the return of Tino Martinez, etc. But for the long-term future of this club, Steinbrenner has to get back to building up that farm system, instead of using it as a place to raise young "colts" who are dealt to other teams before they've had a chance to show their pinstripes.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 26, 2005 12:28 PM
Jets or Giants?
For me it's the Giants. Jets fans (along with Mets fans) should be euthanized.
Posted by: George Cordero | May 26, 2005 01:18 PM
Well, I grew up not paying much attention to football (for shame!) because I was always so busy with school, and could not devote an entire Sunday to watching the games.
I have to confess I'm a bit of a "New York" fan... but these damn teams don't play in New York, so that leaves me with a problem, until the municipal statists build their West Side Stadium, that is.
I used to root a lot for the Giants... then a bit for the Jets. But in truth, I actually like both quarterbacks (Young Manning and Young Pennington) for the promise they seem to hold ... hope they deliver.
As for the Mets... to their own grief, I have family members (brother and sister-in-law) who are Mets fans... and I do confess that I like a few of their players, and it's a bit hard hating a team whose manager was a beloved New York Yankees second baseman. But when the Mets face off against the Yankees... all bets are off. hehe
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 26, 2005 01:24 PM
I am talking about two winners, actually: The winner of Jeopardy's "Ultimate Tournament of Champions" and the winner of the "American Idol" competition. And for the benefit of those who have Tivo'ed or taped these programs, I offer my comments in the extended entry.
They're calling Brad Rutter the all-time champion in cumulative cash winnings on any game show in history. And, in truth, Rutter earned it over the last three days of competition, wherein he faced off with Jerome Vared and the guy who is now the second biggest winner in game show history: Ken Jennings.
Okay, fine. But Rutter is no Ken Jennings. Take a look at all the records Jennings set here, in more than 75 appearances on "Jeopardy." It's simply remarkable. Yes, Rutter didn't have Ken's luxury of appearing in more than 5 games (the old limit for potential winners), but 75+ is simply ... unbelievable.
As to that other contest, "American Idol," well, it seems this is just not my week to pick winners! Carrie Underwood defeated Bo Bice. I still think Bice was the better pick, but the season in general had a slew of disappointments, and I don't think it quite delivered on its promise to field the strongest group yet. I suspect time will tell, since many of the also-rans from other seasons have gone on to recording and acting careers. It remains to be seen if the current crop, which will be touring in concert this summer, truly delivers.
I would rather spend an hour in the same dentist chair that Dustin Hoffman did in 'Marathon Man' than watch this show.
Chris, you must have a huge home supply of novacaine.
Posted by: George Cordero | May 26, 2005 11:34 AM
In truth, there were nights I ~needed~ novicaine to sit through the performances of some of those horrific contestants. But I am a sucker for a talent show---a tradition that goes way back. I liked the house band, and even last night, I was treated to a brief performance by George Benson. :)
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 26, 2005 12:31 PM
Perhaps I am wrong here, because I watched only the first season of the German outlet of this show. Incidentially, it was called "Deutschland sucht den Superstar" (Germany looks for the Superstar), but it had one major drawback: The Jury.
I couldn't believe they nominated Modern Talking "singer/creator" Dieter Bohlen, because this musical light-weight hadn't even the simplest idea of what music is about. (His usual songs have something like three different tones, being hit rhythmically and some high-pitched electric vocals by his companion and later arch-enemy Thomas Anders)
Perhaps this is better in the US, if you have a really qualified jury. I was just pi***** off by Mr. Bohlen, because he really insulted those people, who could even perform better than he ever had...
That's been the last time I watched such a singer-talent show, because it really wasn't fair or good and the "output" of those shows is neither
Posted by: Max Schwing | May 26, 2005 04:46 PM
Well the finale of AI just aired here in the UK. What a moving finish! Carrie certainly deserved her victory - at least to my tastes she's had that extra sparkle all the way along, and I'm sure Bo will go on to a successful singing career also.
These talent shows do tend to be a little hit and miss - some of the Pop Idol winners (the UK version) and even runners up have gone on to great success, others have been one hit wonders. I'm sure the former will be the case here.
And George...lighten up man! :-)
Posted by: Matthew Humphreys | May 27, 2005 06:01 PM
Hey, Matthew, I ~knew~ you'd be delighted with the choice! :) Actually, I think she'll be very good in the country-pop arena, which is the style that I most enjoyed her in.
As for the judges, Max: The initial picks were made by the judges, but this year, they got rid of the celebrity judges, and kept their standard three here in the US. Ultimately, of course, the judges were the people with the fastest fingers on the re-dial button. I could not even get through ~once~ to register a single vote; the lines were always busy.
Anyway... I think I still like Mario Vasquez, the guy who bowed out before the competition went anywhere. :)
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 27, 2005 06:25 PM
Max - I think I misunderstood your previous post: you're actually complaining about the judges right? I'm sorry, I thought you were talking about one of the contestants!! :-)
Posted by: Matthew Humphreys | May 27, 2005 06:55 PM
In the comments section for today's post on the Ayn Rand Centenary, a "fan" left a comment that carries with it quite a few implications. I don't wish to place this current post in the category of "over-reaction," but I take it that the "fan" has a problem with the forum on which my Rand Centenary piece appears. "Fan" writes:
Too bad you picked that site for it. I would have liked to read it but there are just some places i won't go.
The site that fan refers to is SOLO HQ. I write a regular column for The Free Radical, as you may know, and SOLO HQ is, in many respects, an online extension of that magazine. The two were, of course, founded by the same person, Lindsay Perigo, who has been a friend and colleague for many years.
In truth, however, I have many significant differences with Lindsay on many issues, as I do with many other people who have published in The Free Radical and on SOLO HQ. But this is not unusual. I also blog occasionally at the Mises Economics Blog and at the Liberty & Power Group Blog, and I have significant differences with many of the people who contribute to those forums as well. In the past, I've even contributed to Marxist forums. In fact, back in the 1990s, I was a cofounder of an Internet discussion group called "marxism-thaxis," which continues to thrive (though I no longer participate). "Thaxis" was actually my little neologism: a combination of "THeory" and "prAXIS."
What this comes down to is the implementation of a little piece of wisdom that was best summed up by my friend and colleague Wendy McElroy. She once said to me that she'd publish in Pravda if they printed her essays uncensored and with full attribution.
We live in a world of many different perspectives, and on the Internet, when so much that is offered is free to view (you don't have to pay in order to view certain sites), it can sometimes be effective to publish in a variety of venues. You may sometimes be perceived as a "fish out of water" in some of those venues, but the fact that some readers might be exposed to your work who might not otherwise even know of it, can be an incentive.
I go on about this at some length because it is often a pressing issue, in Rand circles especially, not to "sanction" certain venues because of who participates there, or the kinds of views that might be represented there.
My own thoughts on this subject have evolved over time. In the beginning stages of my writing career, I used to take on all comers in virtually all relevant venues. I always made a habit of "taking the high road," and I sometimes did this in the face of some very severe and personal insults.
Though I still try to take the high road, I have learned a bit more about how my "tolerance" for insults gave a "sanction" to those who fed off my good will and tried to use it against me. In such circumstances, the outright hatred for me and my point of view was so lethal that I learned to ignore it and to remove myself from such forums.
I may still give people the benefit of the doubt and I may even answer an insulting comment on a public forum for the benefit of those who might not know better. But after one or two tries, if it gets really personal or is very hateful or insulting, I've become very "Zen-like" about it: I just move on and ignore it. And in truth, it has taken years to get to the Roarkian point of feeling in most such instances: "But I don't think of you."
In the end, people's hatred and venom says more about them; beyond a certain point, however, outright insults, rudeness, and lethal personal attacks ought to be met with silence and nonparticipation. The alternative is to engage in a public pissing contest with people, which only degenerates further, and in which you risk losing a part of your own soul.
So here's my rule of thumb: As long as I am not treated disrespectfully, I'll participate in any forum that will have me. At SOLO HQ, for the most part, I have not been treated disrespectfully. There have been exceptions to this, and when these have occurred, I have simply withdrawn from such discussions in that forum and in other forums as well. Besides which, I have an inordinate amount of work to do and a limited number of hours in which to do it, and I have always prioritized my work because of this. (Ah, and if you'd like to learn more about why prioritizing is so important to me, given certain significant constraints with which I must deal, you'll need to actually navigate to the article link I posted this morning!)
All of this said, one of the reasons I call "Notablog" my home (as I have discussed here) is that it is the only place on the web in which I am completely at home. I often "cross-post" my entries to other forums (or vice versa) so that my regular readers might have a single place to reference my work. But having a home doesn't preclude me from dropping by other places to spread my particular brand of cheer.
I hope readers will take this into account anytime they have second thoughts about not visiting those other places with me.
So, fan, despite offering only two sentences of commentary, you've inspired a whole post in response. If anything, it proves that I take my fans seriously, and that I practice the "dialogical" virtues I extol as part of the very dialectical perspective I offer.
I fully understand that position and agree with it for the most part. I do not think that the views of the forum should matter for the reasons Ms. McElroy gave and with her provisos. Take any forum you have with those provisos and it is fine with me. And while I think the views of SOLO are wrong in many cases, including having the wrong concept of what Rand meant by a sense of life, that is not my concern. It is the way the forum leader has treated other people including friends of mine that I find totally unsupportable. This includes how people were treated on the site itself. A divergence in views I can live with. A divergence in basic decency I can not so I choose not to frequent that forum at all even if it means I miss some of you posts which I almost always agree with.
Posted by: fan | May 26, 2005 10:07 AM
I appreciate your concerns. I've had my own divergence of views on the issue of civility in various forums of discussion.
In any event, in time, most of my articles will probably be cross-published on my home site. So keep your eyes open.
Thanks again for your feedback.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 26, 2005 10:11 AM
Chris, this is why you are the premiere salesman of Objectivism! Truly a role model.
Posted by: Joe | May 26, 2005 11:01 AM
Is there anything so ironic as �boycotting� ideological �boycotts�? Must we be so �tolerant� that we draw no moral distinctions about the persons with whom we permit ourselves to engage? That�s nonsense. Or, in response to another�s boycott with which we disagree, do we become so �intolerant� of the �boycott� that we become moralistic about such �intolerance�? That�s nonsense, too. The term �tolerance� is so misused in some circles, it has become nothing but a verbal rationalization for preexisting prejudices.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | May 26, 2005 02:03 PM
The reasons given by fan are exactly the reasons I do not post at the SOLO forum. Some time ago I read some messages in a tread about [hard] rock music and the people that dared to admit they liked bands like Rush were treated with the utmost disgust and revulsion.
I don't care how much their ideas are in line with mine when objectivist are being called Nazi's because they like a certain kind of [rock] music. Something is very, very wrong here.
Posted by: Cato | May 27, 2005 03:15 AM
Another one of my articles marking the Ayn Rand Centenary was published online. This one was previously published in the April-May 2005 issue of The Free Radical and makes its debut on SOLOHQ today:
"The Ayn Rand Centenary: Taking It Personally" (A PDF is now available here.)
Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to join the discussion here. (See also here.)
Update: I posted a comment in the SOLO thread here and here.
Too bad you picked that site for it. I would have liked to read it but there are just some places i won't go.
Posted by: fan | May 26, 2005 08:33 AM
But, fan, it's well worth the effort of holding your nose to do it.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | May 26, 2005 08:42 AM
Hey "fan"... the implications of your well-meaning comment have actually inspired me to post a whole new entry on Notablog. It's your fault.
Check it out here (cut and paste):
PS - The PDF of the article is now available here.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 26, 2005 09:39 AM
Song of the Day: The Best of My Love, music by Al McKay, lyrics by Maurice White (of Earth, Wind, and Fire), was taken to #1 on the Billboard pop chart by The Emotions. The performance netted them a 1977 Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus. Its groove was so distinctive to its era that, 20 years later, it opened the soundtrack to the 1997 film, "Boogie Nights" (listen to an audio clip here).
MAY 25, 2005
I've been catching up on some of my blog reading. Three cheers to Sunni Maravillosa for her post on Henry Mancini. He's a long-time favorite of mine too, Sunni!
Anyway, I left a comment at Sunni and the Conspirators, mentioning a terrific Mancini box set, entitled "The Days of Wine and Roses."
Song of the Day: Got to Be Real features words and music by David Paich, David Foster, and Cheryl Lynn, who sings like the R&B Disco Diva that she is. It's a mid-tempo dance classic. Listen to an audio clip from the "Will & Grace" soundtrack here.
MAY 24, 2005
Well, it was an enjoyable "Subway Series" between baseball's New York Yankees and New York Mets. Yanks took two of the three games at Shea Stadium, including the last one pitched by Pedro Martinez (formerly of Red Sox Nation).
Though the series was riddled with errors and sloppy play on both sides, I was impressed with the promise shown by some of the young players on the Mets, including David Wright (nice story on him in today's NY Times).
Still, the best image I saw was in the New York Daily News. A fan did a take-off on the "Who's Your Daddy" chant that followed Pedro Martinez last season every time he faced off against the Yankees. The fan, dressed like Darth Vader, sported a sign: "Pedro, I am Your Father."
Yanks face the Red Sox this coming Memorial Day weekend; neither team is in first place in the American League East... but it will be fun, regardless.
I am really not going to say too much about "24" because I have too many friends who have yet to see the finale. However, even they should stop reading now. Spoiler Alert! I just wanted to share one or two thoughts ...
It was a really terrific season, with a suitably nerve-racking finale.
But those last frames of the finale ... the lone man walking down the train tracks ... well, it reminded me of those famous frames from the first episodes of "The Fugitive." It almost seemed like an homage to that classic television series, starring David Janssen. And how apropos. (BTW, when will that great series be released on DVD? It was like a weekly Morality Tale... )
When the credits appeared at the end of "24" and the voiceover told us about next season (which won't debut till January 2006), well, the narrator was right: If you think you've seen it all on this series, "You Don't Know Jack."
Bravo to the best show on television... four years running.
Update: This post was noted at LFB by David M. Brown. See also here.
I second Chris' great praise for "The Fugitive" (the original one). And I concur that this year's run of "24" was terrific. Really great stuff. This whole season was the best since around 1:00 PM of the first season. The second half of season 1 was pretty lame, IMO, and seasons 2 and 3 were uneven, suffering from too much "making-it-up-as-we-go" which made the plot twists gratuitous, made later acts defeat earlier acts, and (esp. in season 2) had too much Kim silliness. But this year was absoutely fantastic. And a great ending, which sets up next season. I hope the story picks up _after_ Jack's had a chance to grab some sleep though.
Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | May 27, 2005 09:20 AM
hehehe... so true, Aeon, so true... and, uh, perhaps a bathroom break too. :)
Seriously, it's really a fine series. It will be very interesting to see what they do next.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 27, 2005 10:52 AM
Song of the Day: Vertigo/Relight My Fire, music, lyrics, and performance by the late Dan Hartman, is a classic dance track that also features the roaring vocals of Loleatta Holloway. Unrelated to "Light My Fire," it's a fiery R&B-laced disco extravaganza; listen to an audio clip of the instrumental "Vertigo" section here (unrelated to Herrmann's "Vertigo").
MAY 23, 2005
Song of the Day: Light My Fire has music and lyrics by Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, and Jim Morrison, collectively known as The Doors. The group took this standard of the classic rock repertoire to #1 in 1967. Listen to an audio clip here. I confess, however, that I have the softest spot in my heart for the ever-soulful vocal rendition by Jose Feliciano. Listen to an audio clip of his version here.
MAY 22, 2005
Song of the Day: I Could Have Danced All Night, music by Frederick Loewe, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, is from the classic 1956 Broadway musical, "My Fair Lady," based on the 1914 comedy, "Pygmalion," by George Bernard Shaw. The production starred Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. Listen here to an audio clip from the original Broadway soundtrack, sung by Andrews. The 1964 film version also starred Rex Harrison, but surprisingly Andrews was replaced by Audrey Hepburn (even though Julie ended up with the Oscar that year anyway, for "Mary Poppins"). Listen here to an audio clip from the film soundtrack, as sung by Marni Nixon (whose vocals were lip-synched by Hepburn). So many other artists have recorded this show standard, but the one version that still makes me chuckle is that featuring Hank Azaria in the hilarious 1996 film, "The Birdcage." Listen to an audio clip of that version here. A very happy and healthy birthday to my friend Karen, who shares with me a love of this wonderful musical.
MAY 21, 2005
I haven't seen "Revenge of the Sith" just yet, but I enjoyed today's column by John Tierney in the New York Times: "Darth Vader's Family Values." I especially like the fact that he cites my pal and colleague Dan Klein on "The People's Romance." Tierney writes:
The People's Romance is [Klein's] explanation for why so many Americans have come to love bigger government over the past century. Their specific objectives in Washington differed�liberals stressed charity and social programs for all, while conservatives promoted patriotism and spending on national security�but they both expanded the government in their quest for a national sense of shared purpose.
The result, though, has not been one happy community because America is not a clan with shared values. It is a huge group of strangers with leaders who are hardly altruists�they have their own families and needs. Tocqueville recognized the inherent problem with the People's Romance when he described citizens' contradictory impulses to be free while also wanting a government that is "unitary, protective and all-powerful."
People try to resolve this contradiction, Tocqueville wrote, by telling themselves that democracy makes them masters of politicians, but they soon find that the Force is not with them, especially if they're in the minority. Republicans used to rail helplessly at Democrats for taxing them for destructive social programs and curtailing their economic liberties; now Democrats complain about the money squandered on the Iraq war and the threat to civil liberties from the Patriot Act.
For those Democrats, the signature line in this "Star Wars" is the one spoken after the chancellor, citing security threats, consolidates his power by declaring that the republic must become an empire. Senator Padm� listens to her colleagues cheer and says, "So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause."
She's disgusted with them, but their enthusiasm is understandable. The chancellor has tapped into their primal desire to unite in one great clan with a shared purpose. They're in the throes of the People's Romance.
I'm looking forward to seeing the concluding episode of George Lucas's myth.
Cross-posted to L&P.
Song of the Day: One Less Bell to Answer, music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David, is one of those heart-tugging, slit-your-writs-end-of-a-romance songs that has been performed most memorably by The 5th Dimension, but also by artists such as Barbra Streisand (in a duet with herself) and Sheryl Crow (check out all the audio clips linked to each artist's name).
MAY 20, 2005
After posting on the subject of ducklings, I thought I'd mention the new baby Peregrine falcons who make their home at 55 Water Street in Manhattan (there is a live "Birdcam" at that link).
The NY Daily News also reports that despite a tragedy brought about by some nutcase who brutally killed two swans in a Bronx park, the little cygnets they left behind were hatched without incident.
With previous posts here and here on "American Idol," I'm obviously a fan. After a season of controversy on the show, D-Day is next Wednesday. Will it be Bo Bice or Carrie Underwood? My vote is for Bo, though I don't actually vote. Well, I mean, I try to vote, but I never quite get through because of endless busy signals. Either way, it would be nice to see the coronation of a rock-influenced Idol for a change; Bice's vocals remind me a bit of the classic sound of Blood, Sweat, and Tears.
There's only one finale I'm more interested in than "American Idol." That's "24." And, no, I'm not a shill for Fox.
Based on this week's performance (which just aired here in the UK), I agree Bo and Carrie are *both* very talented singers, but after a thorough dialectical consideration of the full context of this situation, I am going to have to go for Carrie.
Of course, the primary contextual factors at work here are that Carrie is one gorgeous babe, and that I am a heterosexual guy.
Posted by: Matthew Humphreys | May 20, 2005 04:47 PM
In truth, I think Carrie is very talented and very good-lookin' too. (And, in truth, Bo is definitely not my type... but he is very talented... hehe)
It is actually going to be very interesting. The voter demographics for this contest are probably going to intersect. Carrie is very good when she embraces her country-and-western essence. Her "music" constituency probably skews South and Southwest. But Bo is from Alabama; he has a Southern-blues-and-rock base, and his demographic most likely skews South as well.
So... that probably means that the rest of the country is going to decide on such important factors as, uh, who has better hair? :)
It would be nice if talent and performance are the biggest measures. On this, I tend to vote Bo, because I think he tends to have a higher level of performance professionalism. Either way, they're both going to get recording contracts, and as Clay Aiken makes clear: Even the #2 can have quite a career.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 20, 2005 04:59 PM
Some time ago, 30-year old Soccer hottie David Beckham, who is married to Posh Spice, named his kid "Brooklyn." Well, apparently, lots of people are naming their kids "Brooklyn"! The New York Daily News reports that "[a]n astounding 3,211 kiddies" were named for the borough that is my birthplace and home. This makes it "the 101st most popular name in the country."
Ah, but do all these kiddies know how to say "Yo!"???
Not to many guys are named after the borough I was born in: Queens. ... Well, at least not they are not so named by their parents. :)
Posted by: Jason Pappas | May 20, 2005 08:54 PM
ROFL LOL HAHAHAHAHA
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 20, 2005 09:20 PM
An "unintended consequence" is a "side effect" of an action that was not intended by the actor. Whether we refer to these effects as "externalities" or the more pernicious, "blowback," one thing is clear: An unintended consequence is not necessarily something that is unforeseeable, as I have maintained here.
The brutal Hussein regime benefited from US complicity in its war with Iran back in the 1980s. Desperate to "even the score" with the Iranian Ayatollahs, who dumped the US-backed Shah and held Americans hostage until Inaugural Day, 1981, the US stood by while Hussein assaulted Iran.
Well, yesterday's pals become today's enemies, and, lo and behold, yesterday's enemies might become tomorrow's friends. Is this what the US intended when it toppled the Hussein regime? The NY Times reports:
In a move that is likely to inflame further Sunni Arab resentments, the Iraqi government publicly acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that Iraq was the aggressor in 1980 when it touched off a bloody eight-year war with Iran. In a joint statement at the end of a three-day visit by the Iranian foreign minister, Kamal Kharazi, the new Shiite-led Iraqi government said that Saddam Hussein, the overthrown Iraqi leader, and other officials in his government must be put on trial for committing "military aggression against the people of Iraq, Iran and Kuwait," as well as crimes against humanity and war crimes. It was an effort to bring to a close the bitter legacy of the war in which nearly a million people were estimated to have died and tens of thousands more were displaced as refugees.
Well, okay. But while the foreign ministry in Iraq argues that this is merely a way of "lay[ing] the responsibility for the war squarely on Mr. Hussein and other leaders of his government," the pronouncement carries with it other implications. A "gesture of warmth toward Iran" is a sign of "how the political landscape ... has shifted, with Iraqi Shiites, many of whom spent years in exile in Iran, now running the [Iraqi] government." A majoritarian Shi'ite regime in Iraq is much more likely to bolster its ties to the Shi'ite Muslims running the Iranian theocracy. This might be very good for Iran-Iraq relations, but I don't see how the consolidation of theocratic forces serves the cause of freedom.
The Sunni Arabs, who also have little interest in the cause of freedom, are none too pleased. While the Sunnis' former leader lounges about in his underwear (those photos don't quite rise to the level of a "crime against humanity," but don't push me...), the Iranians are cozying up to "the [Shi'ite] religious leadership in Iraq." The Times continues:
In another sign of just how far the relationship between Iraq and Iran has progressed since the administration of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was sworn in, the communiqu� said Iran had agreed to open consulates in Basra and Karbala, Shiite-dominated cities in southern and south central Iraq. For its part, Iraq will open consulates in Kermanshah and Khorramshahr, cities in western Iran near the Iraqi border.
I shudder to think of the potential implications among the Shi'ites in Iraq, whom the US has emboldened, should the US decide to invade Iran. If US administrators think that the way to reduce US troops in Iraq is to endorse an exit strategy through Iran, would it be too much to ask that they contemplate, even briefly, the potential unintended consequences of such action?
Comments welcome. Also noted at L&P and LOR
??? -- Iran is the largest Shi'i country in the Islamic world. The most sacred Shi'i sites are in southern Iraq. The latter is a Shi'i majority country. Shi'is on both side of the political frontier have had cordial relations over the centuries for obvious reasons. What is new is that a Shi'i regime rules in Baghdad for the first time in all those centuries. But the political thinking of Baghdad & Teheran are quite distinct -- see Ali Sistani's ideas vs the Iranian ayatollahs. Juan Cole is very good here; also see Bernard Lewis on the uniqueness & comparative newnwss of Shi'i political ideas in Iran.
Posted by: Sudha Shenoy | May 20, 2005 09:44 PM
Thanks for your comments, Sudha. I've read Juan Cole on this, and Lewis as well. I do agree that there are distinctions between the Shi'ites on either side of the border on the issue of the mixing of politics and religion. Al-Sistani seems much less likely to call for a theocratic order in Iraq.
Still, what concerns me here is that there are very real tendencies to merge politics and religion in Shia doctrine. Cole himself recognizes this. He quotes Phillip Kennicott of the Washington Post (see http://www.antiwar.com/cole/?articleid=4888):
"While American leaders emphasize that Sistani isn't like the clerics of Iran, others point out that the Shi'ite tradition leaves Sistani little wiggle room on fundamental topics, including women's rights. 'It is important to keep in mind that there are certain issues in the Shi'ite community about which no ayatollah, however progressive, can afford to deviate in his deliberations and final ruling,' Abdulaziz A. Sachedina writes in an e-mail from Iran. A professor of Islamic studies at the University of Virginia, Sachedina met with Sistani several times in the 1990s, and on one occasion Sistani criticized his writings and issued a ruling against Sachedina's public comments on matters of faith. Sachedina was undaunted and says he carries 'no grudge' against Sistani. Nonetheless, Sachedina's inside view of Sistani and Sistani's organization lead him to consider the ayatollah more conservative than do other observers. Sistani's views on women 'are restrictive and in his personal communication to me in 1998 he made it very clear that he abides by the age-old opinions regarding women's inequality with men, and that he regards their testimony, as extrapolated from the Qu'ran, half of a man's testimony in value,' the scholar writes."
Sistani may appreciate the value of "popular sovereignty and parliamentary elections," as Cole puts it---but he can afford to appreciate that value, considering that the Shia constitute a majority in Iraq, and that majoritarian voting will provide them with the political "legitimacy" to rule the Iraqi state.
There is one further point that is implicit in my post here: The US administration has long considered Iran to be a member of the "axis of evil"--and yet, its actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, quite apart from their legitimacy (or illegitimacy), have had the effect of making Iran the most potent geopolitical force in the region. A closer relationship between Iran and Iraq can only embolden Iran further; I can't imagine for a moment that this is what the US administration intended.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 20, 2005 10:05 PM
1. In his comments before/just after the Iraq election, Juan Cole showed that Ali Sistani _opposed_ the merger between Shia 'clerics' & politics in Iran. He felt that religious leaders should hold aloof. Also, Bernard Lewis has shown that the Irani situation is very, very recent & quite new in Islamic history.
2. Of course, Sistani is an Islamic cleric & as such, anti-women. The real question is, how far such views can influence actual Parliamentary legislation. All factions in Iraq (including especially the Kurds) have to hold together to exploit oil revenues -- so Islamic traditionalists _may_ not have it all their way.
Posted by: Sudha Shenoy | May 22, 2005 09:07 AM
I forgot to add:
3. Iran has always been an impt player in the region. They opposed the Taliban -- on religious grounds; & with the fact of the Shi'i majority in Iraq, Iran was bound to have a significant influence. They did give shelter & support to Shi'i opponents of Saddam's regime. There is also an impt Shi'i ?minority? -- it may now be a majority -- in Lebanon. And Iran already supported Shi'i political groups there. So the _explicit_ emergence of Iranian influence was simply waiting to happen. It could not have been postponed indefinitely. American intervention simply gave an additional -- & very strong -- stir to the pot.
(Of course, _within_ America, the notion that American policy did it all by itself -- everyone else was simply background -- is the easiest to grasp.)
Posted by: Sudha Shenoy | May 22, 2005 09:24 AM
Sudha, thanks much again, as always, for your comments here.
In truth, I agree with much of what you say.
Cole is right about Sistani; Sistani is certainly no al-Sadr, and, at least up till this point, he has shown much more "practicality" on these questions---which is why the US has viewed him as a force for moderation. Insofar as the political, ethnic, and religious factions in Iraq will have to compromise in Parliamentary procedures (as they navigate among their differences), there is a much lower probability of any fundamentalist theocracy establishing itself on Iraqi soil. (Of course, there is also a possibility that the factions won't get together long enough to establish Parliamentary procedures, and an insurgency-led civil war eats away at the fabric of an emerging democracy.)
You are, of course, completely correct that Iran has been an important player in the Middle East, and a countervailing force to the Taliban and the Hussein regime. US intervention, however, has eliminated those anti-Iranian countervailing forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and despite its opposition to the Iranian regime, it has, in my view, emboldened that regime thereby.
In my view, US intervention contributed to the rise of that fundamentalist regime in the first place; its continued intervention is liable to strengthen that regime, rather than the forces for democracy within Iran. I therefore agree fundamentally with you that the US "gave an additional -- & very strong -- stir to the pot."
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 22, 2005 11:13 AM
Song of the Day: Lay All Your Love on Me, words and music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, was recorded by the group ABBA. I recently acquired a copy of the classic Disconet remix of this track (thanks Denis!), done by Raul Rodriguez, and it is as crisp and creative as I remember it, when I first heard it over 20 years ago. The song has been revisited by such groups as Information Society and Erasure, and can also be heard on the soundtrack to the musical production, "Mamma Mia!" (audio clips at all inks). It has also been recorded by Abbacadabra and Steps. But none of these takes comes close to Raul's magical remix, which is nearly 8 minutes long and sports an unbelievable break. Ah... memories. At the very least, listen to an audio clip of the original ABBA track here (taken from the album, "Super Trouper").
MAY 19, 2005
Song of the Day: What's New?, music by bassist Bob Haggart, lyrics by Johnny Burke, is one of those wonderful standards from the Great American Songbook. It was a "signature theme" of trumpeter Billy Butterfield (with the Bob Crosby orchestra), and has also been recorded by Bob's brother, Bing. Listen here to an audio clip of Linda Ronstadt singing this as the title track of her first foray (with Nelson Riddle) into American standards.
MAY 18, 2005
Song of the Day: Runnin' is an instrumental track with scat-choral voicings composed by Maurice White, Larry Dunn, and Eddie delBarrio for the jazz-soul-funk masters of Earth, Wind, and Fire. Trumpeter Michael Harris takes a terrific solo. Listen to an audio clip here from the album "All 'n All."
MAY 17, 2005
I just wanted to welcome Chris Cathcart to the blogosphere; his first entry (May 11, 2005) mentions Total Freedom, so how can I resist? Check out his home page as well.
For all you Ayn Rand fans, a few tidbits for your education and entertainment:
Douglas Bass, who is an assistant professor in the Graduate Programs in Software at the University of St. Thomas, has posted Parts 1 and 2 of Rand's book, Anthem, as a podcast (which can be heard on your iPod or mp3 players, or as streaming audio). Bass uses an interesting soundtrack mix as well, featuring music-in-the-background from sources as diverse as Keith Jarrett and Brian Eno. Take a look at the various posts at his blogger site: "Belief Seeking Understanding Podcast." (Noted at SOLO HQ as well.)
Also, the newest issue of Aristos is online here. Notablog readers might be interested to know that yours truly is mentioned in the "Notes & Comments" section, on "Why Ayn Rand Matters: Some Surprising Views."
With a hat tip to Arthur Silber here, here, and here, I have to say that I too am disheartened, on a variety of levels, over the whole Newsweek affair. Yes, if Newsweek screwed this story up, an apology and retraction are the least one would expect. Of course, this sidesteps a few issues: If the "screw-up" was due to the fact that Newsweek's government source had a change of heart about the story after being "talked to" by various superiors, there are implications here that demand discussion.
In any event, US government officials who demand apologies and retractions from Newsweek might profitably spend some of their time apologizing for their own policy gaffes (Downing Street memo, anyone?)
Yes, we live in volatile times where anything said in the media is liable to invite comparisons to yelling "fire" in a public theater (though there are real questions as to whether this gaffe "triggered" the riots in Afghanistan; see here).
But has anyone bothered to ask why on earth one should "blame" Newsweek for Muslim riots? Let's say, for sake of argument, we take the worst case scenario as true: "Newsweek Lied!" But to say that "People Died!" as a result is to miss a few steps in the causal chain. Michelle Malkin, are you kidding me? As you beat the tom-tom of media censorship, ask yourself a question: Did Newsweek put a gun to the heads of people in Jalalabad to force them to riot? The best conservative defenders of Second Amendment rights tell us, over and over again, that guns don't kill people. People kill people. That is: the actors themselves bear ultimate responsibility for the people whose lives they take. Isn't it amazing how this testament to individual accountability goes out the window when it fits the conservative image of an out-of-control liberal media of fifth-column jihadists?
Moreover, if the mere mention of a possible religious desecration is enough to set off such violence, perhaps nation-builders like Malkin should think twice about the folly of "democratizing" that region of the world. It will take a lot more than elections to create a liberal-democratic society, where flag-burning and book-flushing are among the rights of a free citizenry. The nation-builders will create Democratic People Power for sure�with none of the individual rights that keep the tyranny of the masses in check.
Update (1): I got a kick out of the fact that the Atlasphere just posted (at 6:32 p.m.) a column by conservative economist Thomas Sowell entitled, "Newsweak." Of course, Sowell is more concerned about the media's liberal bias against the Bush administration rather than the irrationalities of that administration or the irrational savagery of those in Afghanistan who are responsible for deaths attributed to Newsweek. On these issues, check out Silber's follow-ups here, here and here (a Silber trackback is here), and a fine post by Ilana Mercer here (the May 16th entry).
Update (2): This post has been noted by Jonathan Rick in "The Newsweek Incident: Let Them Riot."
While I personally think the toilet is the perfect place for the "holy" Quran, the story (if true, as I believe it is despite the retraction) shows an incredible insensitivity and disrespect for private property rights.
However, people who would riot and murder over some paper being flushed down the toilet are clearly deranged. Even the looniest Christian in this country would not do that if someone threw a Bible in a toilet.
The idea that Western values can take root anywhere where this sort of reaction can be provoked is sheer lunacy.
Posted by: Mark | May 17, 2005 03:12 PM
While the riots are certainly not the magazine's fault, the riots do say something profoundly disturbing about our enemies in this War on Terrorism.
And, though the evidence does not indicate that the magazine "lied," the mental predisposition of certain journalistic outfits is all too clear.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | May 17, 2005 08:37 PM
Of course I absolutely agree that the rioters were solely responsible for their actions, irrespecetive of what Newsweek may have printed.
But, I have to wonder if in certain limited contexts it isn't better for responsible journalists to temporarily (and I stress temporarily) sit on a story?
Assuming purely for argument's sake that the original story was true, this was basically a one off incident that in the current context had the capacity to create a lot of trouble. It's not like there's some sort of widespread government sanctioned mistreatment (which certainly ought to be bought into the open), so would it really have made much difference to Newsweek if this had been published a few months down the line when the situation in Iraq will hopefully be more stable?
Posted by: Matthew Humphreys | May 20, 2005 02:45 AM
Thanks, gents, for your comments.
I added a link to the entry, courtesy of Jon Rick, which includes a host of other published views similar to my own on this question.
As for the issue that you raise, Matthew, I think that there are plenty of examples to choose from of journalists who did, in fact, "wait out" a situation if it was particularly sensitive, from a military standpoint. From the "Missiles of October" in 1962 to the practices of "embedded" journalists in the lead-up to the Iraq war, many periodicals held back sensitive information in the midst of a military action.
The thing about the Newsweek story is that there really wasn't much ~new~ to that story. Many outlets have reported about "mistreatment" of the Koran as a way to break Muslims held as prisoners. Furthermore, the specific riots that we're talking about actually took place in the supposedly more "stable" Afghanistan, not Iraq. What we're finding out here, of course, is that there really isn't much that is "stable" in that region of the world. How could it be? The quest for "stability" is starting to feel more and more like a Quixotic Quest indeed.
In any event, you raise a good point.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 20, 2005 11:38 AM
"the specific riots that we're talking about actually took place in the supposedly more "stable" Afghanistan, not Iraq."
Oops, my mistake - though I do stand by the essential point I was making. Afghanistan seems to be going through something of an unstable patch: check out this story from The Times (London) of an Afghan female who discarded Islamic tradition and became a presenter on an "MTV" style music channel - she's just been shot dead!
Posted by: Matthew Humphreys | May 20, 2005 01:41 PM
Matthew, that is one horrific link. It only makes me more pessimistic about the long-term potential for social change in this region of the world.
Thanks for sharing that.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 20, 2005 03:10 PM
Song of the Day: Right Here Waiting, music, lyrics, and performance by Richard Marx, is one of those plaintive paeans to romantic heartbreak. Listen to an audio clip here, from the album "Repeat Offender."
MAY 16, 2005
Song of the Day: Tempted, music by Glenn Tilbrook, lyrics by Chris Difford, was performed by the alternative rock band, Squeeze. Co-produced by Elvis Costello, and sung by the band's lead singer Paul Carrack, the song is sexy, soulful, and seductive. Listen to an audio clip here.
MAY 15, 2005
Song of the Day: Boogie Wonderland, music and lyrics by Jon Lind and Allee Willis, was a collaborative performance between two funky musical groups: Earth, Wind, and Fire and The Emotions. It remains a dance highlight of the Disco '70s. Listen to an audio clip here. Today marks the day that Earth, Wind, and Fire actually made its debut on the Billboard album chart, back in 1971. Viva EWF!
MAY 14, 2005
Gus diZerega has a thought-provoking post at L&P entitled "Spontaneous Order, Liberal Democracy, and Classical Liberalism Again," which responds to a few questions I posed here.
Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to read Gus's post and comment at L&P.
I want to join Wendy McElroy and Aeon Skoble in wishing well to my friend and colleague, Liberty editor, and Journal of Ayn Rand Studies founding co-editor, Bill Bradford. Bill was taken ill, and I hope he gets well soon.
Comments welcome... or just send your best wishes to Bill for a speedy recovery. (See my L&P cross-post here.)
Song of the Day: I Feel the Earth Move, music and lyrics by Carole King, is from one of my all-time favorite albums: "Tapestry." Those first piano chords on this first track of the album provide the pulse for a great pop record. Listen to audio clips from the original album, an R&B take by Eternal (on a tribute set, "Tapestry Revisited"), and a dance version by Martika. "Mellow as the month of May," indeed.
MAY 13, 2005
Song of the Day: Fight for Life, composed and performed by Jean-Luc Ponty on the electric violin, is one of those virtuoso jazz-rock fusion pieces that switches gears mid-stream and takes us "Upon the Wings of Music" (the title of the album on which it is featured). Listen to an audio clip here.
MAY 12, 2005
No, not Yogi Bear!
Yogi BERRA! He turns 80 years young today.
And his Yogi-isms still crack me up.
Happy Birthday to a great Yankee!
A few days late, but Happy Birthday Yogi! I was a mere kid when he started his career with the Yankees, and had finished a year of graduate school and a two-year tour in the Naval Reserve by the time he retired. All these years, he's earned my affection and admiration. What character---and what a character!
Posted by: Lou Torres | May 16, 2005 09:10 PM
AMEN, Lou. Wonderful link too!
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 17, 2005 10:32 AM
Over at L&P, Aeon Skoble, inspired by Don Boudreux (here and here), gives us a list of the 12 books and 12 articles that really influenced him. I suspect this list is not a list, necessarily, of 12 "favorite" books or articles from childhood through adulthood. If I had to assemble such a list, I'd have to start with Harold and The Purple Crayon.
So, here we go. In no order of influence, I give you The Twelve (x 2, + a few others) that were a significant part of my intellectual education (though I'm sure I could come up with twice that number, and I'm probably forgetting a few in this very list):
1. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal: This Ayn Rand collection was the first book I read that introduced me to the whole universe of Objectivist, Austrian, and libertarian literature.
2. Human Action: Ludwig von Mises's magnum opus captivated me for weeks on the NYC subway, going back and forth to NYU as an undergraduate.
3. Power and Market: Originally a part of Murray Rothbard's magnum opus, Man, Economy, and State (and now reunited with that work in a new Scholar's Edition), this book made a huge impact on my understanding of the ways in which government intervention warps the market economy.
4. For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto: A grand Rothbard polemic that shaped my early anarchist predilections. Even though I long ago backed away from anarchism, and some of Rothbard's positions therein, this book was still a very influential work.
5. The Road to Serfdom: F. A. Hayek's famous polemic that explored the connection between political and economic freedom was another important influence in my formative development.
6. National Economic Planning: What is Left?: An influential critique written by Don Lavoie who integrated Austrian and radical themes on the "calculation debate" in an exploration of the failure of socialism.
7. Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society: Bertell Ollman, who was my doctoral thesis advisor, introduced me to Marxist dialectical method with this book... and in his book...
8. Dialectical Investigations, he sent my interest in the subject into hyper-drive.
9. The Disowned Self: Nathaniel Branden's first major post-Randian work gave me a deeper appreciation for the integration of reason and emotion.
10. The Libertarian Alternative: A collection edited by (and including important articles by) Tibor Machan, it assembled impressive essays that fueled my libertarian education.
11. A New History of Leviathan: A "revisionist history" collection edited by Ron Radosh (when he was a New Leftist) and Murray Rothbard, this book made a major impact on my understanding of the relationship between the welfare and the warfare state.
12. The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916, by Gabriel Kolko, overturned any vestige of conventional understanding concerning the growth of government regulation in the early 20th century.
Three honorable mentions (for a baker's dozen + 2): Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx by Scott Meikle, which turned my understanding of the history of philosophy upside down insofar as it explored the Aristotelian influence on Marx; Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order, by Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen, in the grand tradition of Aristotelian eudaimonia; Our Enemy, the State, an Albert Jay Nock polemic that crystallized central principles in my understanding of the nature of state intervention.
I'm going to make one alteration in this next list of 12 influential articles; I'm including an audio-taped "lecture series" as part of this list:
1. "A Groundwork for Rights: Man's Natural End," by Douglas B. Rasmussen, published in The Journal of Libertarian Studies, first exposed me to the literature on human flourishing.
2. "The Clash of Group Interests," by Ludwig von Mises, which helped me to discover a whole universe of libertarian class analysis.
3. "Toward a Theory of State Capitalism: Ultimate Decision-Making and Class Structure," by Walter Grinder and John Hagel III, put libertarian class analysis to work.
4. "The Objectivist Ethics," by Ayn Rand, pointed to a fundamentally different view of ethics at the foundation of politics.
5. "Kant versus Sullivan," by Ayn Rand, impressed me most for its appreciation of the epistemological principles on display in the classic play, "The Miracle Worker."
6. "Alienation," by Nathaniel Branden, provided me with more intellectual ammunition in my critique of Marxism than the one-sided (though important) economic criticisms developed by Austrian theorists.
7. "The Use of Knowledge in Society," by F. A. Hayek, was a key essay in my greater appreciation of the role of tacit knowledge.
8. "Nozick on the Randian Argument," in The Personalist by Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen, gave me the first indication that Nozick's critique of Rand's ethics was wanting.
9. "Toward a Reconstruction of Utility and Welfare Economics," by Murray Rothbard, overturned everything I was learning in my standard economics course of study as an undergraduate.
10. "Big Business and the Rise of American Statism," by Roy Childs, was one of those essays that brought together so much: an objective understanding of historical methodology, a revisionist reading of American history, and a bold alternative libertarian vision.
11. "Economic Depressions: Their Cause and Cure," by Murray Rothbard, as part of a Richard Ebeling edited collection on The Austrian Theory of the Trade Cycle, was a fine primer on the Austrian business cycle literature.
12. "Understanding Objectivism," by Leonard Peikoff, is not an essay, but really a series of "essays" that should have been a book, but remains an audio-taped series of 12 lectures. Outstanding integration of many themes in Objectivism as a dichotomy-busting alternative to rationalism and empiricism, intrinsicism and subjectivism.
I could go on... but ... I think that's all for now.
Comments welcome. Noted at L&P as well, and the blog of Matthew Humphreys (who lists his 12 here, and I comment here).
What, no Danielle Steele? ;)
Posted by: Joe Maurone | May 12, 2005 07:16 PM
Actually, "Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal," was the first book of Rand�s that I read and because of that fact it has had a major influence in my political disposition.
I have to admit that the power of the title surpasses any of the titles given to Rand's collection of essays by her estate. Just look at how provocative that title is! She seizes upon the very word used in contempt by capitalism's enemies. No "free market," "free enterprise," "liberal" (which is my favorite, by the way), "consumer democracy," "conservatism" (yeh, right!), "market economy," etc. She's ready for battle!
Also, her very thesis, that capitalism is a moral ideal, is contrary to the usual defense -- and it is in the title! This is not some grudging defense that concedes that moral high-ground to socialist "good intensions," nor denigrating capitalism's status to a practical requirement of man�s base materialistic needs, nor grudgingly accepting that it is the least of all evils.
But then again, I don't have to sell the power of a provocative title to the guy who calls his book, "Ayn Rand, the Russian Radical!"
Posted by: Jason Pappas | May 13, 2005 09:12 AM
Well, uh, Danielle Steele might make my ~favorites~ list, rather than the most influential list. LOL (ONLY KIDDING! Sheesh...)
And, Jason, you are completely correct about Rand's capacity for provocation.
So... Give us a list on your site! :)
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 13, 2005 01:41 PM
BTW, Jason Pappas has some very interesting comments on CAPITALISM: THE UNKNOWN IDEAL here:
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 14, 2005 11:33 AM
Good stuff Chris, including quite a few I've never heard of! Here's my list, all of which you will have heard of ;-)
Posted by: Matthew Humphreys | May 14, 2005 03:47 PM
Song of the Day: If Ever I Would Leave You, music by Frederick Loewe, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, was performed famously by Robert Goulet in the 1960 Broadway musical, "Camelot." The production also starred Julie Andrews and Richard Burton. Listen to an audio clip of this lovely song here.
MAY 11, 2005
I was doing one of those google searches and came upon a site called "Smooth Jazz Vibes." The folks who run it have been posting a "Song of the Week" since December 2004. I've been doing a "Song of the Day" since September 2004. And we both make use of that same "Stormy" stylesheet. (Cue Twilight Zone music...)
Anyway, it's a really nice site for contemporary and smooth jazz fans. Check it out!
To lift the words of a jazz DJ in another context, I never met Miles Davis, but I did breathe his essence once.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | May 11, 2005 03:48 PM
Song of the Day: Nardis is a classic jazz standard, composed by Miles Davis. My jazz guitarist brother plays a mean version of this song, and I also love any of many versions recorded by pianist Bill Evans (scroll down at that link for a fast-paced audio clip of one of those versions). Indeed, it became an Evans theme of sorts. Listen to another audio clip here, of a classic Evans trio, with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums.
MAY 10, 2005
Song of the Day: Georgia on My Mind, music by Hoagy Carmichael, lyrics by Stuart Gorrell, has been performed by Willie Nelson, whose voice bespeaks heartache even when it's joyful, and the incomparable Ray Charles (audio clips at those links).
MAY 09, 2005
Song of the Day: Here I Am, music and lyrics by William Shelby, Nidra Beard, Melvin Gentry, and Belinda Lipscomb, was performed by the group Dynasty. The song encapsulates that late '70s-early '80s R&B "SOLAR" sound that I love so much. Listen to an audio clip here.
MAY 08, 2005
This morning, I made comments (here and here) on SOLO HQ, in response to James Kilbourne's essay, "Yes? No!" A long-time opera fan, Kilbourne gave a negative review to "Going For the One," an album by the prog-rock group, Yes. I responded:
Jim, I enjoyed your article for many of the reasons described above by others, most importantly: that you actually listened to and engaged with the material and evaluated it as such. You made some key distinctions, as well, between technical evaluation and aesthetic response.
I recall Linz telling me once that he thought Ray Charles' rendition of "America the Beautiful" was interminable, but my own view is: If you can't hear the beauty I hear, I can't explain it to you. (Thank goodness I get a special dispensation because of my love of Mario Lanza.) However, my own tastes run the gamut from classical, film scores, Broadway, and jazz to R&B, disco, rock, and even a little country. Music speaks so personally to us, and, indeed, a lot of it has to do with the factors that Phil points to above: very personal associations and experiences, cognitive stylistic preferences, mood, and even the context of a particular time and place. Let's take that last factor: I think one can make an objective judgment that Maria Callas is a magnificent singer, technically far superior to Madonna (an analogy I take from Jim). But I doubt that Callas could have sung a good "Vogue," and if I go to a dance club, and want to shake my booty, I'd rather listen to "Vogue" than to "Un Bel Di, Verdremo." That fact does not in any way detract from the superiority of Callas's voice. (And since the issue has been raised, I just wanted to emphasize that my love of some pop music, including some prog rock---does not depend on the influence of alcohol, which I rarely drink, or illicit drugs, which I don't take.)
I would also argue that the subcultures that surround the various genres of music are not necessarily extensions of the music per se; they can be, however, reflections of the overall culture. That's why I'm a bit apprehensive with regard to the implications of this statement of Jim's:
"Also, it is not just coincidence that rock music is almost all politically left inspired. But that is for another day."
I'd venture to say that most artists have an association with the political left. Even so-called "redneck" country musicians have had their share of politically-left inspired artists (of the "blue collar," "working class" variety). There are reasons for this, some of which relate to the arts in general, and some of which relate to the culture in general. I suspect that if you were to commission the Nielsen organization to run a political poll among all artists (actors, actresses, painters, sculptors, literary writers, poets, and musicians from all genres of music), you'd find a leftward tilt. Some of this can be explained by the fact that "conservatism" in any age has been associated with suppression and/or censorship of cultural and aesthetic tastes that are deemed "threatening." That has been the response of the older generation to any musical "rabble rouser," for example, whether it be Frank Sinatra in the 40s or Elvis Presley in the 50s, right through to some popular performers today.
The other issue is, of course, related to the current state of culture in general, which is a reflection of a conflicting array of implicit philosophical premises. Change the ideas that underlie that culture and the cultural forms will reflect that. There is evidence, for example, that even among "leftward-tilting" artists in prog rock, Rand has made and continues to make a cultural impact (as I've argued here and here). Hers is not the dominant influence on that genre, but it's not the dominant influence on the culture-at-large either. And though I know you, Jim, are not suggesting this, I just thought I'd say the obvious: If I had to give an ideological litmus test to every actor, painter, novelist, or musician as a precondition of responding to their work: well, fuhgedaboudit, as we say in Brooklyn. My music collection (to say nothing of my DVDs) would be decimated.
It's those very last sentences that have provoked further thoughts. I've been meaning to write about this for weeks, because every so often I get a note from a Notablog reader who looks at "My Favorite Songs" and asks: "How can you like the music of that child molester Michael Jackson?" Or: "Frank Sinatra!? That Mafia rapist!!"
I have to confess that I'm exhausted hearing about all the "boycotts" of various artists whose views or characters people don't like. Maggie Gyllenhaal says that the US government contributed to the 9/11 attack: Boycott her movies. The Dixie Chicks don't like George W. Bush: Ban them from the radio airwaves. Jane Fonda is a traitor: How dare you express admiration for "Barefoot in the Park" or "On Golden Pond." Barbra Streisand is a limousine liberal whack-a-doo: Ban "Funny Girl" from your Broadway and cinematic memories! Don't read Ezra Pound, he's a Fascist! Don't listen to Wagner, he's an anti-Semite! And so is Mel Gibson, so make sure you don't ever see or (gasp!) enjoy another "Lethal Weapon" movie!
You're morally corrupt if you happen to like Joan Crawford movies, because that "Mommie Dearest" beat her kids. Do you like the song "White Christmas"? Bing Crosby was an SOB to his kid Gary too. You like Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze"? You're just an apologist for drug addiction! As for the Chairman of the Board: Well, I now read about allegations that Frank Sinatra was a Mafia courier or, worse, a rapist: So it's time to say, "That's Life" to Ol' Blue Eyes: Roll his music up in a big ball and let it die.
And don't even go there with the alleged child molester, Michael Jackson. If you so much as think of tapping your feet to "Rock with You," you're off the wall!
Folks, I give up. I just don't care what any of these artists, musicians, writers, or performers did, allegedly did, may have done, could have done, or will do in their lives. I respond to their work according to whether I like it or not. I'll keep reading, I'll keep watching, I'll keep listening, I'll keep dancing to any artist I want. If I start censoring my appreciation of art according to how "morally upright" the artists in question are, I'd soon find myself with an ethically "pure," though vastly depleted, music, film, and literary collection. As I said above: Fuhgedaboudit!
Art appreciation is slowly being infected by various shades of "political correctness" coming from both the left and the right. But I think of art the way I think of philosophy. I respond to artists and performers the way I respond to ideas. On their own terms.
And so, let me advise my readers: Respect your own aesthetic response. Don't temper your appreciation of art by appealing to personal considerations about the artist's character or life. End the guilt that you feel because you just happen to like the work of somebody who is "persona non grata" in today's culture because they were idiots or criminals. Focus less on who the artist is, or how the artist lived, and more on the art that inspires you, makes you laugh till you cry, or dance till you drop.
And don't forget: Some of the greatest art has been produced by some of history's most tortured souls. We can celebrate the greatness without "sanctioning" the torture.
Update: This post has been noted by me at Liberty & Power Group Blog, and also, by Chip Gibbons at The Binary Circumstance.
As a child, I knew a survivor of the Third Reich, a friend of my father's, who would not tolerate the music of Wagner. (Among Dad's many virtues was keeping our home always humming with a variety of good music.) One of my sharpest memories is that of my father explaining to us kids the reason why. I knew that the man's reaction was a TOTALLY reasonable one, but I also decided then never to allow "political" considerations to affect what I would enjoy in life--as best as I could manage.
But, once more, you bring sanity, Chris.
I've taken friends to the opera only to have to keep them awake. I've played Yes, one of my personal and absolute favorites, to other friends who immediately begin looking for the door. To both I have the same reaction: what a shame that this particular emotion is outside of their range of appreciation. I imagine someone might have the same reaction to my reaction to Rap. Somehow I doubt it.
You see, my musical taste is perfectly objective, damn it! Nay, intrinsic and absolute, totally unaffected by considerations of personal context! And just mine, of course. The rest of the Kilbourne's and Linz's of the world are simply blind to obvious and objective virtue.
(Old Yes is the best, and old Yes spin-offs, Bruford in King Crimson, also rocks, as you know! Even Jon with Vangelis is great! Who can't see this axiomatic truth?)
Posted by: Jim Valliant | May 8, 2005 07:14 PM
Amen! As an atheist who enjoys black gospel music, I couldn't agree with you more, Chris.
Posted by: Mick Russell | May 9, 2005 12:24 AM
And one of my favorite singers, Paul Robeson, was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize. Not even that could tarnish his magnificent bass-barritone voice!
Posted by: Mick Russell | May 9, 2005 12:38 AM
Well put, Chris.
Posted by: Joe | May 9, 2005 07:57 AM
I hope they don't ever unearth "Hitler Sings the Classics" in some old Nazi vault. What if it turns out der Fuhrer was a Mario Lanza quality tenor?
And btw, Maria Callas had an ugly voice. Sure, she projected a lot of emotion and sang loudly, but she always sounds like she is singing with cotton in her mouth. (Ducking from the eggs from Callas fans.)
Posted by: Mark D. Fulwiler | May 9, 2005 01:21 PM
Thanks to everyone for the various comments, some of which made me chuckle.
Of course, I was waiting to see how long it would be before somebody would bring up Der Fuerher (though, with all due respect Mark, there is one Callas fan who will probably eviscerate you upon seeing your comment).
Well, in truth, I've thought about Hitler. He was, after all, an amateur painter. And even Charles Manson, apparently, wrote songs, one of which was recorded by the Beach Boys; see here: http://www.charliemanson.com/music.htm .
I can't imagine that my ~response~ to Hitler's paintings or to Manson's songs would be anything other than what it is (whatever it might be). Knowledge of the artist's biography might, of course, color my response to it. But there are still distinctions that can be made among aesthetic response, technical evaluation, and a consideration of the personal context or biography of the artist.
In truth, the ~only~ reason why people might wish to call a "boycott" of any particular product or producer (whether it is art or not) is because they don't wish to "line the pockets" of people whose views or actions they find abhorrent. And that is a person's right.
But in a market economy, especially one with a complex global division and specialization of labor, we often do ~not~ know the biographies of the people who produce the products we use. (To a certain extent, that is the ~beauty~ of the market system: If we had to know the biographies of every producer, prior to purchasing any product, odds are we'd starve to death, without clothes or shelter.)
Everything we do in a complex market economy has ripple effects; it is liable to benefit people (directly or indirectly) who are, for lack of a better word: scoundrels. For all I know, the computer I'm working on was assembled by 30 different people, one of whom is a mass murderer or domestic abuser. I don't have to be concerned with that mass murderer or domestic abuser, though; I need only be concerned with the quality of the product I've purchased.
Still. I suppose if I absolutely knew that a portion of my purchase price was going to benefit a killer or an utterly immoral cause, I might indeed exercise my right to boycott. These are, however, ~marginal~ issues. Most artists are not killers, and holding a mistaken or downright disgusting idea is not the same as actually committing the deed.
Then again, in the case of criminal justice, the situation is a bit different. Most convicted criminals do ~not~ benefit from the sale of their products; in most instances, courts have put liens on the estates of criminals, such that money earned is actually collected for the purposes of restitution to crime victims. If that's the case, there might actually be a reason to ~purchase~ one of Manson's songs.
In the case of Manson's Beach Boys song, however, Manson doesn't receive a dime from the sale of the "Friends/20/20" album. If I really liked all the Brian Wilson compositions on that album, I don't think I'd deny myself that pleasure simply because one of the compositions ("Never Learn Not to Love," with re-worked lyrics) was written by the cult leader of a murderous clan.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 9, 2005 02:14 PM
I generally agree with your view on this, but I do think it needs some caveats or clarification.
First, it's true that liking or disliking something is different from technical evaluation of the work, but for my money what really counts is the Total Response which includes technical evaluation, sense of life, philosophy, and highly personal elements. Doing just technical evaluation is a good academic exercise, and a useful abstraction for scholars to work with, but for a consumer of art, it means nothing by itself. To make things more complicated, how much you give weight to the technical elements of the work of art in your total response to it varies from individual to individual. There are people who are what I would call pure aesthetes (is that a word even?)... perhaps most critics are like that... these are people for whom the artistic element weigh heavily, even dominate their total response. For me the moral, philosophical, and personal dimensions of the work is just as important as its technical merits.
Second, as for juding the art and not the artist, I would say it depends. It depends most of all on how much the art and the artist's other activities actually intersect. For instance, I thoroughly detest the works of Oliver Stone, and the things he says outside of his art, makes me detest his art even more.
On the other hand, I understand that Paul Newman is a big lefty, but I certainly don't see it in his art... what I see is a consummate actor, so obviously, I do not go around boycotting Paul Newman's movies.
Literary scholars tell us that knowing the background of the art work will help us appreciate the art even more. Well, we can't have it both ways, because if that's true that means knowing something about the artist's background and context will change the way we view his/her work, for better or worse.
No work of art is done in a vacuum, and neither is our evaluation of it, so I think, to take the view of looking at art, but not the artist to its extreme would be a form of acontextualism.
Posted by: Stan Rozenfeld | May 12, 2005 04:49 AM
Thanks very much for your thoughts on this. I actually agree with you. I do think that response to art is deeply complex and that once we do know about an artist's context, it ~can~ influence the way we respond to their work.
Note, however, that what you are ~not~ responding to in Oliver Stone's work is the leftist leitmotif of that work. The reason Paul Newman's lefty predilections don't affect you is that Newman doesn't beat you over the head with that ideology.
Nevertheless, I still think it's possible to appreciate and even be entertained by works to which I'd be otherwise politically opposed. I think of Stone's film, "JFK," for example. It helps that I am a JFK assassination buff of sorts; I've always been very intrigued by that assassination and the whole JFK era. Certainly I find myself opposed to JFK's ideology, the way I oppose Stone's ideology. But his "JFK" is really a tour de force on many levels, not the least of which is his weaving of complex plot points and even the editing and cinematography. One doesn't have to accept his particular version of a "conspiracy" or even the notion of a conspiracy in order to be entertained.
Same for his "Nixon": I thoroughly enjoyed the performances in that film, from Anthony Hopkins to Joan Allen. One doesn't have to accept Stone's fictionalizing of various historical episodes in order to appreciate aspects of his films.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 12, 2005 10:14 AM
After reading your comments, I actually put Nixon and JFK DVDs in my netflix queue. My estimate of Oliver Stone's work is based on Wall Street, Natural Born Killers, and to a lesser extent on Platoon.
I want to emphasize that my reaction to the work is never as simple as "it's left, so therefore I dislike it". I admire and even love the movies of John Ford on the left, and Cecil B. Demille on the right. It's just that Oliver Stone's brand of leftism is a particularly nasty sort that I despise, and he offers very little else besides that. If you push me to the wall, I would say that he is actually a very talented film maker, but I generally detest both the substance and the style of the works that I did see.
Posted by: Stan Rozenfeld | May 13, 2005 08:26 PM
I didn't care for Nixon because I had artistic problems with it. It was quite long and I don't remember what else I didn't like abou it. I did like JFK quite a bit and thought is was very well done.
Posted by: Technomaget | May 14, 2005 10:17 AM
Thanks for the additional comments, gents.
I guess what it comes down to for me is that there are movies that I enjoy ~thoroughly~ on all levels. Those might make my own personal favorite list.
But I also tend to enjoy movies on a variety of different levels. For example, in my own "favorite movies" list (which can be found here http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/about/favorite.htm#film ), I tend to break up the titles in terms of genre (epics, historical/biographical, war & peace, gangsters, comedies, Hitchcock, 007, sci-fi and fantasy, monster movies, silent classics, classic cinema, foreign, and musicals). Now, granted, there is overlap on occasion. But it's just very hard for me to compare apples and oranges, which is why I tend to appreciate things for ~what they are~, rather than rejecting them for what they are ~not~.
I also tend to appreciate each film on a variety of levels; I may, for example, find a particular film distasteful in some grand sense (like, say, "Sin City"). But even "Sin City" was remarkable to ~look at~. And, like Technomaget, I may not care for some of the "artistic problems" of a film like "Nixon" (or innumerable others), but I can still appreciate excellent performances (which is why I singled out Hopkins and Allen for their roles in that film).
In truth, I'm a film fanatic. And I also have the capacity, as a friend of mine once said, to find the one rose petal sitting in a pile of manure. :)
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 14, 2005 11:22 AM
Cogent and inspiring, Chris--as usual!
Of note, from Margaret Talbot, "The Candy Man," New Yorker, July 11-18, 2005:
"[Roald] Dahl�s personal reputation is justifiably tainted, but his work has been unfairly assailed. When it comes to literature for adults, we�ve mostly stopped judging a work by its author�s personal morality. Why should we hold children�s writers to a stricter standard?"
Posted by: Jonathan Rick | July 13, 2005 02:52 AM
That's a good quote from Talbot, Jon. Thanks for sharing it!
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | July 14, 2005 08:25 PM
Song of the Day: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, music and lyrics by Green Day, is a song from the album "American Idiot" (audio clip at that link). It's an anthem to alienation, with a nice pulse and memorable hook.
MAY 07, 2005
Song of the Day: Reminiscing, written by Graham Goble, is a staple of Adult Contemporary radio, performed by the Little River Band. Any song that mentions Glenn Miller and Cole Porter, and that has a memorable hook and a lyrical trumpet solo has earned its way onto my list. Listen to an audio clip here.
MAY 06, 2005
Over at SOLO HQ, somebody resurrected a year-old thread entitled, "ARIans Strike Again: SOLOists Count Your Blessings." I made a follow-up comment on that thread, which is worth repeating here.
Comments welcome, but readers might wish to join the conversation at SOLO HQ.
Without getting into all the conflicts and complexities of this particular incident (which is over a year old), I'd like to make a couple of observations, especially in response to Tom Rowlands' concern for "overgeneralization." Even when I made the initial statement of this thread, I was careful to point out that these criticisms applied to some associated with the Ayn Rand Institute "but by no means all, thank goodness." And I should add, today, a year later, that there are some encouraging signs that the culture surrounding ARI is changing. Aside from the fact that I very much value some of the scholarship being published by ARI-affiliated scholars (in such books as Essays on Ayn Rand's We the Living; Robert Mayhew's Ayn Rand and Song of Russia: Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood; and the forthcoming Essays on Ayn Rand's Anthem, among others), I am also very encouraged by the fact that the Institute itself has shown a capacity to highlight internal dissent on such issues as the Bush presidency and the war in Iraq. I think these are healthy developments; perhaps some of those associated with the Institute are themselves responding to the kinds of criticisms that have been made over the years, and to the kinds of developments�like SOLO�which have filled an obvious need in the marketplace. I think that any organization that is not sensitive to the developments in that market is condemning itself to utter irrelevance.
Finally, without getting into a full discourse on the meaning of dialectics (and thus providing a "zillion hyper-links" :) ), let me just say that "dialectics" is what I call a "methodological orientation," and its essence is "the art of context-keeping." Context-keeping asks us to understand an issue from different vantage points, on different levels of generality, and in relationship to other issues, their past and present preconditions and potential future implications. (This often translates into an investigation of relationships insofar as they constitute a system that evolves over time.)
My attempts to reclaim dialectical method hark back to the first theoretician of dialectics: Aristotle.
I am in the process of authoring a short introduction to what I call "dialectical libertarianism," one which is concerned, fundamentally, with the conditions that make freedom possible and the different levels on which freedom is manifested. If you'd like to read a scholarly discussion of this subject, let me not disappoint Linz: "Dialectical Libertarianism: All Benefits, No Hazards."
Dr. Diabolical Dialectical
Update: My pal Chip Gibbons has some interesting things to say on the subject of dialectics at The Binary Circumstance here. Additional SOLO HQ comments of mine may be found here.
Hm. This Notablog entry (shouldn't it be NotaBeneBlog?) fails utterly to link to my article at the ISIL site, "So Here It Is, Ayn Rand on Nathaniel Branden, Circa 1968." (And why can't I install a link, Chris? Anyway:
Okay, I'll go now.)
Posted by: David M. Brown | May 9, 2005 05:38 PM
I turned off the hyperlink feature because I was getting spam that was installing easily-reachable "human-animal sex" hyperlinks in the comments section.
I didn't include any link to your ISIL piece because I do hope to actually finish the Valliant book before offering any substantive thoughts on it. My preliminary comments on the Valliant book are linked here, however:
On the "nota bene blog" reference... well, yes! See here:
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 9, 2005 05:55 PM
Song of the Day: Falling Grace was composed by bassist Steve Swallow. It's a touching jazz standard that has been performed in fine duets by guitarists Jim Hall and Pat Metheny, and pianist Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton (listen to audio clips at those links).
MAY 05, 2005
Song of the Day: Un Bel Di, Vedremo is Giacomo Puccini's famous aria from the opera "Madama Butterfly." The first time I ever heard this was as a child, listening to an old 78 r.p.m record that featured the singing of Jeanette MacDonald. My Uncle Sam wasn't sure who it was and asked my mother: "Who is that? Tiny Tim?" We had a laugh, but not at the expense of this soaring aria. Listen to an audio clip of a magnificent rendition by Maria Callas here or here. And a happy and healthy birthday to a great Callas fan. You know who you are.
MAY 04, 2005
ABC World News Tonight (in conjunction with BeliefNet.Com) is running a series called "Under God," and it is a revealing look at the cultural impact of evangelical Christianity on contemporary America. In the first report (aired on Monday, 2 May 2005), correspondent Erin Hayes told us about the growth of specifically Christian cheerleading camps. Founded in reaction to the "sexually suggestive" forms of cheerleading that are in vogue, Christian cheerleaders incorporate the "Holy Spirit" into their spirited routines. This means "no lewd dance moves, no bare midriffs and no routines that would embarrass parents." And it's becoming popular: 25,000 students attend Christian cheerleading camps each year. They are taught routines that demand gymnastic prowess, but they are also taught to honor the Lord. "We represent not only our selves, but the Lord," says one cheerleader.
In 1983, there were only 59 Christian camps and clinics in the country. Today, there are more than 500, and the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders has also started camps and clinics in the Czech Republic and Russia. And the smaller Christian Cheerleaders of America is watching its attendance grow by about 25 percent a year.
The growth in Christian camps, like the growth in Christian literature, Christian music, and Christian radio, is viewed as a "faith-based alternative" to the "spiritual limitations" of a "coarsening," "secular," "popular culture." The aim is to help young people to understand that "God is not just one aspect or compartment of my life; He is my life."
The second segment of the ABC series focused on "tough-love parenting." Polls tell us that 65% of American adults approve of spanking to punish children; certain evangelicals have taken that practice to a higher, "spiritual" level, arguing that "Scripture clearly endorses, even encourages, the practice." Out of "faith and love," these evangelicals "regard corporal punishment as a religious and parental duty." The Old Testament book of Proverbs declares: "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly." As one parent puts it: "The bottom line is: people who do not think it is OK to paddle their children do not believe God's word."
Joey Salvati of New Kingston, Pennsylvania is one "carpenter who makes paddles and gives them away online," along with instructions as to how many swats each offense merits�as long as the swatting is never done in "anger."
Some Methodists and Catholics have responded negatively to this growing evangelical "spanking" crusade; they seem to draw different lessons from the son of another carpenter. "Jesus, for instance, said children are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven," says one dissenter. "And you don't treat people like that, like they're circus animals."
Ultimately, it's all a struggle over Biblical interpretation and the very "direction of Christianity itself." Al Crowell, director of the San-Francisco based advocacy group Christians for Nonviolent Parenting, asks: "Why don't we also keep slaves now? Stoning our daughters who may be gotten pregnant before marriage? All that is in the Bible [Old Testament] too."
This is not just about the direction of Christianity, of course; there may be a deeper issue at work: There is this portion of the evangelical movement that revels in the imagery of violence. It may even explain the fetishization of violence in such films as "The Passion of the Christ," which attracted both evangelicals and conservative Catholics in droves. As I wrote in my article, "Caught Up in The Rapture":
A blockbuster film such as "The Passion of the Christ"---which was condemned initially as "anti-Semitic" by some critics---has now grossed nearly $400 million. That figure does not include director Mel Gibson's cross-promotional merchandising efforts---sales on such items as metal replica crucifixion nails and thorn-adorned necklaces and bracelets. The extremely violent content of the film seems to have inspired some churches to more realistically dramatize the redemption through most precious blood. Some of these dramatizations express forcefully a wrath for the secular "pagan" symbols of the Easter holiday. As the Associated Press reports, in one instance, at an Easter show in Glassport, Pennsylvania, children were traumatized as the actors whipped the Easter bunny and crushed Easter eggs on stage. Performers declared: "There is no Easter Bunny." One 4-year old child cried hysterically, asking his mother "why the bunny was being whipped." "It was very disturbing," said another parent. The youth minister at Glassport Assembly of God said that they were only trying "to convey that Easter is not just about the Easter Bunny. It is about Jesus Christ."
The key here is this: We are dealing not only with a political problem (one which Jason Pappas summarizes well here, where I have left a comment as well). We are dealing primarily with a cultural problem. And it is one that goes far beyond the growth of cheerleading camps or the use of corporal punishment.
Many religious people are, no doubt, reacting against what they perceive as the triumph of subjectivism, relativism, and nihilism in various aspects of popular culture. But in celebrating their own isolation from that culture, they make possible the further alienation of young people from a world that demands their rational engagement. Worse: the embracing of instrinsicism, which inculcates a faith-based adherence to moral "absolutes" regardless of context, is no genuine alternative. Humane values are passed on to children and young people by appealing to their growing, yet delicate, rational faculties. Reason is the only legitimate alternative to faith and force. And teaching children to use their minds is the surest way to raise healthy and happy adults.
P.S.: Be sure to check out Arthur Silber's post, "Why You Should Protest the Torture and Abuse of Children." He offers some provocative thoughts about the long-term psychological (and, in some cases, physical) damage done to children by some of the child-rearing practices at issue here.
Your penultimate paragraph sums up the significance of the great cultural divide growing in our country. Excellent! I believe our fellow secularists, those that tout �subjectivism, relativism, and nihilism�, are discrediting secularism in general. The great philosophical tradition that championed ethical knowledge, starting with the Ancient Greeks and represented in our times by Ayn Rand, is being ignored or marginalized. Just yesterday I read another conservative conflation of secular and materialistic/nihilism . And Tibor Machan reports on another at a libertarian meeting .
This false alternative (which David Kelley refers to as the pre-modern vs. the post-modern) leaves room in the middle for the solution to the problem. I�m sure there are many puzzled people in the middle ground. Now to cash-in on this market ...
Posted by: Jason Pappas | May 4, 2005 12:01 PM
I hear a loud sound out of Charlottesville--the sound of Thomas Jefferson spinning in his grave.
These evangelicals are not true conservatives, they are theocrats.
Posted by: Peri Sword | May 4, 2005 09:53 PM
The problem, of course, is that "conservatism" has become so fractured that, like other intellectual traditions, it has become a shadow of its former self. From paleocons to neocons, religious conservatives to "libertarian" conservatives, it's very difficult to navigate through these choppy waters. Can't say it's uninteresting, though.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 5, 2005 10:46 AM
BTW, thanks for the good comments Jason.
I do have one minor observation to make, however, concerning the "pre-modern" versus "post-modern" false alternative. It would, of course, place the "modern" in a crucially important "transcending" position. But there are serious problems with the "modern" paradigm as well. On this point, I recommend Roderick Long's discussion, "Two Cheers for Modernity," which tries to stake out a "dialectical" alternative that transcends the limitations of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern models:
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 5, 2005 10:52 AM
Ah, yes, I remember Long's article. Of course, I believe Kelley opts to use the words Enlightenment and Modern not so much as comprehensive historical categories but essentialist notions of the dominant or distinctive components of the period. In each period, the back and forth between those reviving reason and those weary of reason is an interesting drama. The popular book, "Aristotle's Children," shows there are many interested in that drama. Thus, I sense a broad untapped market for a way of avoiding the false alternative[s].
Posted by: Jason Pappas | May 5, 2005 12:03 PM
Song of the Day: O Grande Amor, music by Antonio Carlos Jobim, lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, is as lushly romantic as the "Big Love" of its title. My favorite version is the one featured on the "Getz/Gilberto" album; listen to an audio clip here.
MAY 03, 2005
I call it my "homonograph" (as in "homosexuality monograph") and it has gotten a little press the last couple of days, thanks to comments by Arthur Silber here and here.
So let me take this opportunity to recommend to your attention that short book, Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation; it is sold at the site of SOLO HQ (which includes a group called SOLO Homo) and Laissez Faire Books. (In addition, check out my comments at SOLO Homo here, here, and here.)
Update: A little discussion has bloomed at SOLO HQ on the topic of sexuality, feminism, and identity politics. I've added a comment here.
Good manners required that I start over there, but I've come to your defense, Chris... er, ah, I think I have, over at The Autonomist forum.
Posted by: Jim Valliant | May 5, 2005 10:14 AM
That was a bold, and in some respects, shattering statement, Jim. The story of your brother was inspiring.
Thanks for sharing it.
Readers may wish to follow that discussion here (cut and paste):
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 5, 2005 10:54 AM
Song of the Day: Somebody to Love, composed by Darby Slick, was performed by Jefferson Airplane. It is one of my favorite 60s-era rock tracks. Listen to the sounds of lead singer Grace Slick in an audio clip here.
MAY 02, 2005
Song of the Day: Do Ya Wanna Funk? features the words and music of Patrick Cowley and the singer Sylvester, who performs this R&B-laced hi-energy dance classic. Some have called this "GDM," which has been interpreted to mean "Guido Disco Music" (a link that refers to an old pal of mine, the late Bobby "DJ" Guttadaro) or "Gay Disco Music" (take your pick). Some films, such as "Kiss Me, Guido," have satirized the commonality here, playing with the equally ambiguous acronym "GWM": "Guy With Money" v. "Gay White Male." Either way, it's classic dance music!
MAY 01, 2005
What an Easter story this is: That mallard duck who was sitting on her eggs in front of the Treasury Department, finally hatched her ducklings yesterday. The little ones are adorable. Check out story and photos here and here.
I'm a sucker for ducks. I feed them regularly at our local duck ponds here in Brooklyn. What!? Duck ponds!? In Brooklyn!?? Yes. At Poly Prep Country Day School ... and Prospect Park ... and many other duck hot spots.
Update: The ducklings have been led to the water at Rose Creek Park. See follow-up photo and story here.
How adorable! Ducks are almost like people. They always have something on their mind and they're not afraid to express what it is.
Posted by: Mick Russell | May 1, 2005 02:44 PM
I agree, Mick: They are adorable.
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 2, 2005 06:38 AM
And they taste great as well!!
Posted by: Ducklover | May 3, 2005 03:04 AM
Now, how did I know that a comment like this would be left on this thread? I'm not a Vegan, but there will be no talk of eating ducks on this thread: no Roast Duck, not even Duck Sauce, or Duck Soup. :)
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 3, 2005 06:33 AM
No "Duck Soup"? But I love the Marx...BROTHERS! :-)
I won't eat duck, though...Love my ducks!
Posted by: Peri Sword | May 4, 2005 09:50 PM
I'm glad ~somebody~ mentioned the Marx brothers here. Granted, I talk more about Karl than Groucho, but I prefer Groucho. :)
Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | May 5, 2005 10:42 AM
Song of the Day: Man of Galilee [audio clips at that link], composed by Alfred Newman, with additional lyrics and orchestral and choral arrangements by Ken Darby, is actually a cantata that draws from two prime Newman film scores: "The Robe" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told." What better way to celebrate the Eastern Orthodox Easter holiday (as I do with my family) than with the debut recording of this piece, which features Nuala Willis (alto) and Roberto Salvatore (baritone), as well as the Crouch End Festival Chorus and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The reverent pieces are integrated on Disc 2 of this collection and they are entitled: "Prologue," "The Promise of the Holy Spirit," "Rejoice," "The Great Journey," "Miriam's Song," and "Sunrise of the Third Day."