February 15, 2019

Song of the Day #1669

Song of the Day: Home Room ("Going Home") [site link] was composed by my colleague and friend, Michael Gordon Shapiro, for a 2002 film, starring Erika Christensen, Busy Phillips, and Victor Garber, dealing with the traumatic psychological effects in the aftermath of a school shooting. It is a phenomenon that continues to haunt American society (yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting), and Shapiro brings to it an understated poignancy that reflects the tragic, numbing sense of loss that one would expect in a score of this nature.

February 14, 2019

Song of the Day #1668

Song of the Day: Dr. Zhivago ("Lara's Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Maurice Jarre for his Oscar-winning soundtrack to the 1965 film, remains one of the most famous, sprawling romantic melodies to emerge from the cinema. From the David Lean-directed epic, starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie and based on the Boris Pasternak novel, with the Russian revolution as backdrop, the theme can also be heard with accompanying film clips and in a jazz arrangement by the Harry James Band [YouTube links]. But it was by request of singer Connie Francis that a vocal version (with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster) materialized as "Somewhere My Love" (nominated in 1967 for Grammy Song of the Year). It was recorded first by Ray Conniff and the Singers (who took it to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100), and also by Connie Francis and Andy Williams [YouTube links]. Whatever melancholy one might find in the lyrics, I want to wish a Happy Valentine's Day to all!

February 13, 2019

Song of the Day #1667

Song of the Day: Two for the Road ("Something for Audrey") [YouTube link], composed by Henry Mancini, is only one of the lush, romantic tracks from the utterly gorgeous score for this 1967 film, starring Audrey Hepburn, with whom Mancini had a musical love affair. Mancini received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Score, and long considered the title song [YouTube links] from the film his all-time favorite and it's one of my all-time favorites too!). The film also stars the late Albert Finney, who passed away on February 7, 2019 at the age of 82 [YouTube links from one of Finney's best moments in "Erin Brockovich," for which he received one of his five Oscar nominations]. The Stanley Donen-directed flick was experimental for its day, since it told its story of a twelve-year marriage (the principals played by Hepburn and Finney) in a nonlinear fashion. This was Hepburn's third Donen-directed film (the others were "Funny Face" and "Charade," the latter featuring another great Mancini score [YouTube link]). Today's Film Music February entry is just preparing you for a romantic tomorrow.

February 12, 2019

Song of the Day #1666

Song of the Day: Soldier in the Rain ("Love Theme") [YouTube link], composed by Henry Mancini, is one of the maestro's most beautifully orchestrated film themes. It can be heard in this 1960 film starring Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen, an unlikely pair, indeed. Adapted from the William Goldman novel by Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin, the film has a lot to say about the special bonds of friendship that can be forged between folks who often march to a different beat. Today begins a two-day appreciation for Mancini's melodic movie music.

February 11, 2019

Song of the Day #1665

Song of the Day: The Adventures of Robin Hood ("Main Title") [YouTube link] is the rousing opening composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold for the truly wonderful 1938 film, starring the great swashbuckling Errol Flynn and his steadfast co-star Olivia de Havilland, with whom he appeared in eight films. She is still going strong at 102 years of age. I highlighted a classic cue from this Korngold Oscar-winning soundtrack back in 2007, but the Main Title still shines as memorable movie music.

February 10, 2019

Objectivist Contributions to Discussions of Education

In another Facebook thread, Jack Criss discusses Leonard Peikoff's course (turned into an edited, transcribed book), "Teaching Johnny To Think: A Philosophy of Education Based on the Principles of Ayn Rand's Objectivism." I commented on the course and on other Objectivist contributions to discussions of education and pedagogy:

I remember the audio lectures (of Peikoff's Education course) from years ago. [They are a] good companion piece to Rand's essay on "The Comprachicos" and Barbara Branden's lectures on "Principles of Efficient Thinking" (published as "Think as If Your Life Depends On It").

Whatever your views of Barbara as a person (and she and I were dear friends), that course was an authorized course under NBI and is pure gold. I also wrote the foreword to its print version. Though the Objectivists don't speak the language of "dialectics", I think the course offers gems on how to think dialectically (that is, contextually). It is really a terrific book to finally see in print. I think Barbara made a very real contribution. It is really the first book ever written on Objectivist psycho-epistemology, an area of study that she brought to the attention of both NB and AR.

[It is true that] every person who gave lectures at NBI had to get the approval of Rand, which is why Rand made it a point of saying that all the works, lectures, etc., given by the Brandens prior to 1968 were still among the only "authorized" sources on Objectivism. But to my knowledge, Barbara authored that course, certainly with Rand's editorial oversight. Let's not forget, however, that Barbara did earn a graduate degree in philosophy under Sidney Hook, the same NYU philosopher who was the mentor to Leonard Peikoff. Barbara's graduate thesis on free will was a gem. (I also remarked that Peikoff's doctoral thesis under Hook was "a fine dissertation--though LP distanced himself from it, unnecessarily in my view. While we are on the subject, I think the best course Peikoff ever gave was his "Understanding Objectivism.")

The NB "Basic Principles of Objectivism" course was the first systematization of Rand's philosophy and on that basis alone is of prime historical interest. But it also offers some very fine material that is not covered in Peikoff's "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" presentation, especially the material on self-esteem. BTW, the sad part about the "Understanding Objectivism" book is that it is edited; Edith Packer gave two very good lectures in that course, but given Peikoff's falling out with George Reisman (and Packer, his wife), none of that material is in the book. And the book, of course, lacks the interesting Q&A discussions.

Unfortunately, the online course that is currently available cuts out those two lectures by Packer. I don't know if it also cuts out the Question and Answer sessions, but Peikoff does a very good job of discussing the various problems that emerge within Objectivism when it is infected by "empiricist" or "rationalist" elements; he even makes a good case against the split between emotion and reason, and against the use of moralizing and psychologizing in Objectivism. (Unfortunately, as the years have gone by, I don't believe the important points he made quite sunk in; and in many respects, some of his comments with regard to the errors that some Randians make in their application of Objectivism were first examined by Nathaniel Branden in what was, perhaps, his finest post-Randian work, "The Disowned Self.")

Dispensing Advice on Relationships

No, I'm not the next Ann Landers or Dear Abby, but I figured I'd pass on this advice, given on a Facebook thread, to Notablog readers as well. My friend Nick Manley who started a Facebook discussion on the difficulties of being in relationships when one is a "radical political type" who tends "to categorize whole groups of people as friends or enemies to a degree that more centrist and less conflictual minded political types generally don't." I dispensed a little personal advice (which pertains to friendships as much as it does to romantic relationships):

All I can say is that I have rarely been in relationships with folks who agreed with me ideologically (it's not as if there is a multitude of "dialectical libertarians" out there); I tend to have a live-and-let-live attitude in this area. There are many areas where people can find commonality: "sense of life", likes and dislikes on a wide palette that goes from food to film to music, etc.

So, being "dialectical" about it: Don't 'reify' any single aspect of any single person and let it represent the whole person. Look at the person's whole context in conjunction with your own; I tend to look for commonality on a very wide scale. Life does not have to be an intellectual dog fight. If you are going to make friends or enemies on a strictly ideological litmus test, you'll be a very lonely person---for absolutely no reason at all. Complementary or even deep ideological differences should not be "deal-breakers" in human relationships; people are much more than what they believe (or claim to believe). Why seal yourself off from folks just because you disagree over politics?!

A Green "New Deal"?

In New York, our very own "Democratic Socialist," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has been a vocal proponent of a so-called "Green" New Deal, aimed at solving the problem of "climate change" with massive government intervention. I replied to a Facebook question on the issue, and will share what I said with Notablog readers:

I think there are two very real issues that need to be examined with this climate change question. Let us assume that every point by those who argue for the validity of climate change is correct.

With regard to pollution issues, why assume that the government has any more "knowledge" in resolving the issues than actors in a competitive market system in which there are different players acting on their differential "know how" of the market for clean energy? Central planning didn't work for any other issue, so why assume it will do anything but shift billions of dollars in taxpayer money to industries created or favored by a government-sanctioned scientific and technological elite? Typically, the only "products" that governments have been been good at "creating", in league with scientific and technological elites, are weapons of mass destruction.

And secondly, folks who advocate stronger government involvement in this area should focus on the so-called "tragedy of the commons" (which has been a principal cause of much pollution) and the need to allow courts to take on class action suits against corporate polluters (many of them already politically-privileged monopoly energy utilities).

To simply hand over billions of dollars of taxpayer money to favored industries allegedly committed to resolving the problems caused by climate change is to think that, somehow, government will change its stripes and not be what it has always been: a dispenser of privilege to those who are most adept at grabbing and using political power. That's what happened with the New Deal (which was based on the corporativist model of "War Collectivism" from World War I and was praised by Benito Mussolini for its fascistic character); why will it be any different with a "Green" New Deal?"

With regard to the view that "government has only been good at 'creating' weapons of mass destruction," one reader asked: "What about the space program, interstate highway system, NIH. the internet, etc.? I responded:

It is very good at socializing the costs for building large projects that are typically related to 'national defense': typically, it takes market actors to take these projects and to develop them for the benefit of consumers.

And with regard to the issue of fossil fuels and oil, it has had a primary role in developing a foreign policy of war and interventionism to benefit Big Oil, whether it has been in propping up "friendly" autocratic regimes, like that in Saudi Arabia, or in benefiting ARAMCO, with which Exxon-Mobil has always been intimately involved.

I added the following point when a reader proposed that a government, freed of corporate power, could act in the public interest:

But in my view, the government will always be captive to corporate power. On this point, I think Hayek was right when he said that the more politics comes to dominate economic and social life, the more political power will be the only power worth having---which is why those most adept at using political power get the most privileges. Which is "why the worst get on top."

Another reader rejected my view as a libertarian article of faith, to which I responded:

[Giving the government the power to make decisions about climate change] still does not solve the essential knowledge problem or class problem. Talk about an article of faith: Why would you put faith in a single institution (the state) to come up with the necessary knowledge (which is not simply "data" but both articulated and tacit, and tied to differential contexts) to introduce a whole "Green New Deal" that would cost trillions of dollars and benefit specific industries?

And if we are living in a state capitalist-corporatist system, how do we avoid the central problem of state-generated privileges being handed over to whole industries invested in "alternative" energies (if you actually believe that the energy industry wouldn't just seek to cash-in on the newly generated expropriated funds to take advantage of the instituted changes)?

P.S. - And I didn't say central planning never works; I just said that it is typically best at producing weapons of mass destruction or socializing the costs and risks of a political economy in a way that does not take into account the tragedy of the commons.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for example, where the government subsidized the great expansion of "infrastructure" long before any private investment would have taken the risk, some of that expansion didn't really work out. The railroads "benefited" from this kind of subsidization but were, of course, eventually undermined by the lack of market support. The results were fairly typical: eventually these railroads went bankrupt and were 'nationalized'.

Typically, "crony" state capitalists are at the forefront of getting the government to make the big "infrastructure" investments because it does socialize the costs of their expansion. But it doesn't always work out in the long run. (The experience of World War I was also typical in this regard; see my article on "Government and the Railroads During World War I.")

The reader rejected my reasoning and argued that the state was the only institution available that could make the changes required to save the planet from climate catastrophe. To which I replied:

Well, then all I can say is we'll have to agree to disagree. I don't see how effective it will be to institute the kind of massive shifts you envision in the current state-capitalist context, whose class character will be fundamentally the same. No change of the sort you envision comes to this country without a massive amount of under-the-table deal-making where the worst seem to always get on top and profit the most.

I don't think of this as a libertarian article of faith; I think of it as a simple fact of reality.

The discussion continued and I shared a link to a post by my dear friend and colleague, Steve Horwitz, on the timeline of the thread:

Steve Horwitz['s post] ... speaks to the effects of such a massive state expansion, which is what would be required to achieve the kind of change that is being advocated here. These kinds of expansions amount to the militarization of the economy, and given what we have seen in other such militarizations (from the War Collectivism of World War I to the original New Deal to the War Collectivism of World War II, and so forth), I do not see how a Green New Deal avoids the problems inherent in the proposed 'solution'. As Steve puts it:

The irony of the supposedly anti-militaristic Left selling the Green New Deal as the economic equivalent of the mobilization for World War II is not lost on me, anyway.
Whenever you hear the rhetoric of "We need a war on X" or "this is the moral equivalent of war," run the other way. That rhetoric is just a mask for a grab for power reflecting the common belief on both the left and right that we can only accomplish great things when we have a collective end and structure society from the top down to achieve it. That belief is the most fundamentally anti-liberty argument there is, whether the war rhetoric is about actual or metaphorical war. Replacing the market with economic planning has always been about replacing freedom with militaristic and hierarchical rule by an elite. Both actual and metaphorical wars require that we give up pursuit of our preferred ends united by agreement on means for a society where any means are justified for the common end.
As Don Lavoie wrote 34 years ago: "Planning does not accidentally deteriorate into the militarization of the economy; it is the militarization of the economy....When the story of the Left is seen in this light, the idea of economic planning begins to appear not only accidentally but inherently reactionary. The theory of planning was, from its inception, modeled after feudal and militaristic organizations. Elements of the Left tried to transform it into a radical program, to fit it into a progressive revolutionary vision. But it doesn't fit. Attempts to implement this theory invariably reveal its true nature. The practice of planning is nothing but the militarization of the economy." (National Economic Planning: What is Left?, p. 230)

I should add that Don Lavoie's work, especially his Rivalry and Central Planning and his National Economic Planning: What is Left, is among the most radical and highly dialectical work in the Austrian tradition. His integration of hermeneutics, his use of Hayek's work on knowledge (especially the Polanyi-Ryle 'tacit' dimension of knowledge), and a dialectical understanding of the interrelationships of politics, economics, and culture, make his contributions all the more significant and worthy of study. He was a fine scholar and a dear friend, and Steve's quoting of him is "spot on" indeed!

Song of the Day #1664

Song of the Day: The Wind and the Lion ("Love Theme") [YouTube link] composed by Jerry Goldsmith, is a highlight from the Oscar-nominated and Grammy-nominated Best Original Score, from this 1975 film, starring Sean Connery and Candice Bergen. Tonight the Grammy Awards will present yet another Original Score award. Today would have been Goldsmith's 90th birthday and it is only fitting that he is among the illustrious composers who have been honored by the Recording Academy with nominations in this category.

February 09, 2019

Song of the Day #1663

Song of the Day: The Detective ("Main Theme") [YouTube link] was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, the 90th anniversary of whose birth we honor over the next two days. This cue opens the 1968 neo-noir film version of the Roderick Thorp novel. It stars Frank Sinatra, and the title theme has a touch of that Sinatra swagger.

February 08, 2019

Song of the Day #1662

Song of the Day: The Post ("The Presses Roll") [YouTube link] was composed by John Williams for the 2017 Steven Spielberg-directed film, focusing on the controversial publication of "The Pentagon Papers," which revealed the extent to which the U.S. government had engaged in a systematic policy of disinformation in its conduct of the Vietnam War. Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (as Katharine Graham) give fine performances as the principals who published these classified documents in The Washington Post, which, with The New York Times, went on to win its First Amendment case in a 6-3 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Today, our birthday boy, John Williams, turns 87 years old. He is the consummate maestro whose cue, here, can make even the functions of a printing press sound heroic.

February 07, 2019

Song of the Day #1661

Song of the Day: Cactus Flower ("The Time for Love is Anytime"), words and music by Cynthia Weil and Quincy Jones, is delivered with sass by Sarah Vaughan. This song opens the 1969 film starring Ingrid Bergman, Walter Matthau, and Goldie Hawn, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Check out the Divine One's vocals for the film's main theme [YouTube link].

February 06, 2019

Song of the Day #1660

Song of the Day: The Firm ("The Death of Love and Trust") [YouTube link], composed by pianist Dave Grusin, is one of the jazziest, most sensual cues from the Oscar-nominated soundtrack to this 1993 film, directed by Sydney Pollack and based on the John Grisham novel. The film stars Tom Cruise and a strong supporting cast.

February 05, 2019

Song of the Day #1659

Song of the Day: The Red Shoes ("Ballet of the Red Shoes") [YouTube link] was composed by Brian Easdale, who went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Score for this highly stylized 1948 film, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Easdale was the first British composer to win in this category. The film also earned a well-deserved Oscar for Art Direction. The wonderful Moira Shearer plays the role of Victoria Page [YouTube link from "The Birdcage"], and her dancing in this particular ballet, choreographed by Robert Helpmann, influenced a generation of people who were inspired to become professional dancers. An adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson tale, this iconic film underwent a magnificent restoration in 2006, and has been praised by directors as diverse as Brian DePalma and Martin Scorsese.

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