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May 31, 2005

Fear and the Sith Sense

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.

More on Rand's Development

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 #279

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

How Did Ayn Rand Become Ayn Rand?

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:

Hi Phil,

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.

Comments welcome.

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:

Hey, Rick, 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.

Song of the Day #278

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

A Mothers' War

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 #277

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 #276

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

"Ben-Hur": A Tale of a New DVD Release

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!

Comments welcome.

Update: I mentioned this at the Miklos Rozsa Forum as well.

John T. Flynn

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.

The Serenity of Total Freedom

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!

Comments welcome.

Songs of the Day (Master List)

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. :)

To Post or Not To Post

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.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #275

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

Another Winner Last Night

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. :)

And the Winners Are...

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.

Comments welcome.

To Publish or Not To Publish

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.

Comments welcome.

The Ayn Rand Centenary: Taking It Personally

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.

Song of the Day #274

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

Henry Mancini

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."

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #273

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

Subway Series Slopfest

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.

Comments welcome.

Classic TV: "24" and "The Fugitive"

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.

Comments welcome.

Update: This post was noted at LFB by David M. Brown. See also here.

Song of the Day #272

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 #271

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 #270

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

Darth Vader and Altruism

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 Padmé 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.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #269

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

Bird City

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.

Comments welcome.

American Idol Smackdown

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.

Comments welcome.

What's in a Brooklyn Name?

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!"???

Comments welcome.

Irritable over Iran and Iraq

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 communiqué 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

Song of the Day #268

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 #267

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 #266

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

Another Blogosphere Welcome

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.

Of Podcasts and Periodicals

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."

Comments welcome.


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.

Comments welcome.

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."

Song of the Day #265

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 #264

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 #263

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

Political Economy & Liberal Democracy

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.

Bill Bradford: Get Well Soon

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 #262

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 #261

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

Happy Birthday, Yogi!

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!

Comments welcome.

12 Books, 12 Articles

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).

Song of the Day #260

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

Separated at Birth?

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!

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #259

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 #258

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 #257

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

Taking the Ad Hominem Out of Art Appreciation

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.

Comments welcome.

Update: This post has been noted by me at Liberty & Power Group Blog, and also, by Chip Gibbons at The Binary Circumstance.

Song of the Day #256

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 #255

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

Turning a New Leaf on an Old Discussion

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.

Song of the Day #254

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 #253

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

The Evangelical Crusade Marches On

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.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #252

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

Homonograph Cited

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.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #251

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 #250

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

Ducklings Hatch!

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.

Comments welcome.

Update: The ducklings have been led to the water at Rose Creek Park. See follow-up photo and story here.

Song of the Day #249

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."