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June 30, 2005

Reason Papers Online

Aeon Skoble has announced at L&P that Reason Papers is now online with a new website. Check it out here.

Fine job! It's still one of my favorite publications. I look forward especially to dipping into its rich archives.

Comments welcome.

Iranian Death Throes?

Having seen various recent blog posts on Islam and secularization (including this one by Jason Pappas), I found this morning's NY Times essay by Abbas Milani of the Hoover Institution an interesting read. In "The Silver Lining in Iran," Milani argues, in essence, that the tightening of reactionary forces in Iranian politics is actually a sign that the reigning mullahs are in their death throes. For Milani, the ruling "cabal of conservative mullahs and Revolutionary Guards who have absconded to ivory towers with their dogma and greed for power" have ignored "serious signs of crisis [as] they masterminded Mr. Ahmadinejad's victory." This is the same President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that is being fingered by former US hostages of the 1979 embassy crisis as one of their captors.

Milani continues:

Nevertheless, contrary to the common perception, this election is not so much a sign of the Iranian system's strength as of its weakness. Last week's presidential election is only the most recent example of the tactical wisdom and strategic foolishness of Iran's ruling mullahs. ... In the process they may have unwittingly opened the door for democracy - because their hardball tactics have created the most serious rift in the ranks of ruling mullahs since the inception of the Islamic Republic. The experience of emerging democracies elsewhere has shown that dissension within ruling circles has often presaged the fall of authoritarianism.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's presidency will force a crisis not only in Iran's political establishment but also, and even more important, in its economy. Only a huge infusion of capital and expertise, along with open markets, can even begin to address the country's economic problems, which include high unemployment, a rapidly increasing labor force, cronyism and endemic corruption.

And only an "infusion" of "security and the rule of law" will help, says Milani. But the president-elect is too busy opining "that the stock market is a form of gambling with no place in a genuine Islamic society. Not surprisingly, Mr. Ahmadinejad's election brought about the single greatest plunge in the Iranian stock market's history. The day is already known as Black Saturday, and the president-elect has been scrambling to undo the damage since." As the ruling clique turns to "the old populist slogans of revolutionary justice, economic autarky and pseudosocialism, ... they have helped bring Iran one step closer to democracy."

When certain groups are threatened, it is only natural that they will fight that much harder to retain or expand their influence. I think an argument can be made that this is indeed the case in Iran, but the regime still has a lot of mileage left in its gas tank and can do a lot of damage to the growth of opposition forces.

I know that it's comparing apples and oranges to some extent, but I wish I could be as optimistic on the home-front, especially with regard to the US's own home-grown reactionaries among the religious right. One would like to think that in their successful attempts to bolster their own political power, their influence too is waning.

In any event, it will be very interesting to see how the anti-mullah, more "democratic" movement among Iranian youth (noted here in a number of posts) will proceed.

Cross-posted to L&P.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #316

Song of the Day: System of Survival, music and lyrics by Skylark, was performed with gusto by Earth, Wind, and Fire. Social commentary has rarely been so danceable: "A plastic face on satellite TV says 'Life is filled with give and take.' He's takin' and I'm givin'. So I dance. It's my system of survival." While the original version of this hit is good (audio clip here), I confess that the 12" house remix by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero burns. Check out the cover design of that classic vinyl release here.

June 29, 2005

Song of the Day #315

Song of the Day: Too Hot features music, lyrics, and performance by George "Funky" Brown and Kool and the Gang. It's a cliche but it's true: A "hot" song for a summer's day never sounded this cool. Listen to an audio clip of this mid-tempo classic here.

June 28, 2005

Forthcoming Work

Readers may notice that I've had a lot of songs posted to my Notablog recently. I keep the music flowing, daily, even if circumstances sometimes get in the way of regular, more "substantive" posting (though I do encourage readers to take a look at my "Song of the Day" listings, like the one today that marks the Stonewall Riots.)

Among the circumstances currently preoccupying me: My editing of the Fall 2005 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS), which will include a new essay by me detailing the results of my investigation of new material unearthed from Russian archives on Ayn Rand's secondary school and university education. It is entitled "The Rand Transcript, Revisited," and is a sequel both to "The Rand Transcript" and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. And it has a few interesting historical curiosities and surprises...

It is only natural that I've been spending a bit more time on Rand Studies over the past year or so, given my own scholarship in this area, the Rand Centenary, the JARS Centenary issues (I and II), and the upcoming tenth anniversary (in August) of Russian Radical, for which I've authored several reflections that will appear in such publications as Liberty, The Freeman, and The Free Radical. Also forthcoming: my essay, "Atlas Shrugged: Manifesto for a New Radicalism," in Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion, edited by Edward W. Younkins (Ashgate, Spring 2007); and my essay on "The Growing Industry in Rand Scholarship," in Philosophers of Capitalism, also edited by Edward W. Younkins (Rowman & Littlefield, Spring 2006). In addition, I've authored a brief encyclopedia entry on Rand for The Encyclopedia of the Counterculture and separate entries on Rand and Nathaniel Branden for The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Finally, I'm writing a rather comprehensive critical essay on James Valliant's book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics; the essay, which will most likely be pubilshed in July as a Notablog exclusive, will deal with larger issues of historiography, biography, and Rand scholarship.

In the midst of all this, I've been interviewed by French researcher Sébastien Caré, who is preparing a doctoral dissertation on the libertarian movement in the United States; Caré has given me permission to post our exchange on Notablog. It will most likely be published here during the week of August 14th.

August 14, 1995 is actually the date that the second book of my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, was published... ahead of my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, which was published on August 18, 1995. It's a long story how this came to be; I discuss aspects of it in the various aforementioned reflections, which will be featured online in due course.

Other interviews are also scheduled, including one that will be published in Ama-Gi, the Hayek Society Journal of the London School of Economics. The interview, of course, is Hayek-centered, dealing with my own "dialectical libertarian" approach, which is the focus of the "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy that culminated in 2000 with the publication of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.

Other forthcoming publications include essays on "Karl Marx" and "libertarianism" that will appear in the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology.

Finally, for those who have checked my "Forthcoming" page, and who have asked me for a progress report: My research and study of Aleksandr Blok, the great Russian Symbolist writer whom Rand named as her favorite poet, is a long way off from completion. And my continuing work with Bertell Ollman on the history of dialectical thinking is ongoing. I don't anticipate any publication of either of these projects in the near future.

I want to thank my Notablog readers for their continuing support. I value the comments I receive publicly and privately. Given ongoing complications from a serious life-long illness, however, it takes me a bit longer to respond nowadays. Because of these limitations, I've cutback rather dramatically on my posting to other Internet and Usenet forums and other blogs. And I will be unable to offer my Cyberseminar in the 2005-2006 academic year. I hope to offer that long-distance learning class again at some point in the future, and will post an update when the time comes.

Just know that I'm working very hard and doing the best that I can.

Thanks again for your warm wishes.

Comments welcome.

Paul Winchell, R.I.P.

Ventriloquist Paul Winchell passed away the other day (June 24th). He was known as the voice of Tigger in "Winnie the Pooh," but I remember him best as the voice of Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff, two TV "puppets" who brought enchantment to my childhood, along with Lamb Chop and Company (Shari Lewis) and the Great Farfel (who sang "N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestles makes the very best, CHOC-laaaate!," courtesy of his master, Jimmy Nelson; hat tip to Lowell V. Noel).


Comments welcome.

Update I: Aeon Skoble also notes the passing of the Voice of Piglet: John Fiedler. RIP.

Update II: I just discovered one classic Farfel commercial online at Vent Haven Museum. Watch it in lo-fi or hi-fi.

Update III: I was also a big fan of "Kukla, Fran, and Ollie."

Song of the Day #314

Song of the Day: The Man That Got Away, music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, is an Oscar-nominated song from the 1954 film, "A Star is Born," starring Judy Garland and James Mason. It has also been performed by everybody from Ella Fitzgerald (listen to an audio clip here) to Jeff Buckley (heard in his "Live in Chicago" concert and in an audio clip here from "Mystery White Boy") to Joanne Barry. But the Garland version is most famous and today it is worth noting especially in honor of those "Friends of Dorothy." On this date in 1969, the Stonewall Riots began. Some say that the patrons at the Stonewall Inn were in no mood to be harassed by yet another cop raid on their establishment after mourning at the Manhattan funeral of Judy Garland the day before. Connections real, coincidental, or poetic, gay icon or not ... listen to an audio clip of this great song from the film's soundtrack here. And Long Live the Spirit of Stonewall!

June 27, 2005

Song of the Day #313

Song of the Day: Sweet Georgia Brown, music and lyrics by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard, and Kenneth Casey, is a 1925 gem that still sounds fresh today. Perhaps best known for its Brother Bones and His Shadows version, it became the theme song for the Harlem Globetrotters. It has been performed by countless artists, including the Quintet of the Hot Club of France (with Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grappelli), Stephane Grappelli & David Grisman, Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and Johnny Mercer, and even in films, such as "Sweet and Lowdown" (audio clips at each link). The guitarist who recreates the ol' swing sound in that film is Howard Alden. But one of my favorite versions is by my pal, writer, trombonist, and Birthday Boy Roger Bissell (on "The Art of the Duo," audio clip here). Happy Birthday, Roger!!!

June 26, 2005

Song of the Day #312

Song of the Day: Midnight Sun features music by the great vibes player Lionel Hampton and composer Sonny Burke and lyrics by the great Johnny Mercer. Listen to an audio clip of a lovely June Christy version here and a Sarah Vaughan-Joe Pass jazz collaboration here.

June 25, 2005

Song of the Day #311

Song of the Day: Summer Lovers, music and lyrics by Dennis Matkovsky and Michael Sembello, who performs this title track for the menage a trois 1982 film, starring Peter Gallagher. I like the 12" vinyl "long version" best.

June 24, 2005

Song of the Day #310

Song of the Day: Summertime, performed by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (aka, Will Smith), is one of those really laid-back rap tracks, a perfect groove for a lazy summer's day. The Grammy-winning track makes use of a sample from a Kool and the Gang song called "Summer Madness" (which is why the song's music and lyrics are credited to nearly a dozen people!). Listen to audio clips of "Summer Madness" and of "Summertime."

June 23, 2005

Song of the Day #309

Song of the Day: Summertime features the music of George Gershwin and the lyrics of Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. Heyward wrote the novel Porgy and the libretto for the folk opera in which this classic song is performed: "Porgy and Bess." The production made its debut in 1935; it has been revived many times and was even made into a very rarely seen 1959 film, which the Gershwin estate has disowned. I have enjoyed many vocal and instrumental performances of this song, including one by Miles Davis and Gil Evans (audio clip at that link). The 2004 "American Idol" winner, Fantasia, performed it in competition, and recorded it as well (listen to an audio clip here). I also possess a wonderful duet by Ray Charles and Cleo Lane, from their 1976 Grammy-nominated "Porgy and Bess" tribute. Mel Torme sang this song to open a medley from the musical; it was performed on the old Merv Griffin Show, in which Torme also sang with Sarah Vaughan. Just terrific. Torme was also featured on the 1956 studio cast album; Betty Roche sings the song on that album here.

June 22, 2005

Song of the Day #308

Song of the Day: Summer Breeze, music, lyrics, and performance by James Seals and Dash Crofts, is a quintessential "soft rock" classic. Makes me feel fine... Listen to an audio clip from a collection of Seals & Crofts Greatest Hits.

June 21, 2005

Song of the Day #307

Song of the Day: Summer in the City, music and lyrics by Mark Sebastian, and John Sebastian and Steve Boone of The Lovin' Spoonful, hit #1 in the Summer of 1966. It's a wonderful way to kick off the start of Summer in New York City. Listen to the full length track here.

June 20, 2005

Song of the Day #306

Song of the Day: This Time I Know It's for Real features music and lyrics by Matthew James Aitken, Michael Stock, Peter Alan Waterman, and vocalist Donna Summer, who performs the song. Standing on the precipice of Summer, what better way to kick off the season than with a fine dance track by Summer. Listen to an audio clip here.

June 19, 2005

Song of the Day #305

Song of the Day: Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra, composed by Chick Corea, was performed with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on the album "Concerto." The composer found inspiration in the work of Mozart. The piece features an improvised piano introduction and an improvised cadenza, enveloped by composed orchestrations. Listen to various audio clips here.

June 18, 2005

Derek Jeter, Yankee

From the very first moment that he took the field in 1995 to his full Rookie of the Year season in 1996, from his naming as MVP of the 2000 All-Star Game and 2000 World Series to his naming as Captain of the Yankees, from his stellar Gold Glove play as shortstop to his clutch hitting, Derek Jeter has been my favorite Yankee player for over a decade now.

But his greatness will never be captured by raw statistics, which, no matter how good they might be simply do not express the consummate professionalism or remarkable talent and passion of this wonderful ballplayer. As older generations looked to the Ruths and the Gehrigs, the DiMaggios and the Mantles, this generation gets to see Jeter, Number 2, leaping into the stands to catch a foul ball to save the game or hitting a walk-off homer to win the game. This generation gets to see what it hopes will be another retired number, another Yankee great, whose image will someday grace Monument Park.

And yet, in his 11 years as Yankee shortstop, Derek Jeter has never hit a Grand Slam home run. 135 at-bats with the bases loaded, he's hit for a .333 average, but has never hit a home run to clear the bases.

Until today. Live on Fox. Game of the Week against the Chicago Cubs in a regular season interleague contest. First time the Cubs have been in for a series at Yankee Stadium since 1938. And he hit a second solo homer for good measure to power the Yanks to an 8-1 victory over the NL team.

Now if only the Yanks could get themselves together this year.


Either way, I'm in awe of The Captain.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #304

Song of the Day: Falling Alice features music and lyrics by Chick Corea and vocalist Gayle Moran (who performs on the track). The theme is played at both the midpoint and conclusion of one of my favorite jazz concept albums, "The Mad Hatter" (audio clip at that link). I saw Corea perform the entire album, along with so many other classic compositions, on his remarkable 1978 concert tour.

June 17, 2005

Song of the Day #303

Song of the Day: Cappucino (audio clip at that link) is a Chick Corea composition that made its debut on the phenomenal album "Friends." It's an intense track with superb solos and ensemble playing, featuring saxophonist Joe Farrell, bassist Eddie Gomez, and drummer Steve Gadd.

June 16, 2005

Skoble on Pop Culture & Philosophy

Aeon Skoble makes some good points about popular culture and philosophy at L&P in his post, "I Forgot My Mantra." I added a brief comment here.

Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to join the discussion at L&P.

Explanation v. Justification

Technomaget is "Reading Atlas Shrugged" again, and it led to a very interesting thread on compassion. I added my two cents in a subheading entitled "Explanation v. Justification," that uses Osama Bin Laden and Darth Vader as examples.

Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to join the discussion at Technomaget's Live Journal.

A New Yankee Stadium?

I watched the whole YES Network press conference, with all those self-congratulating politicians, as the Yankee brass unveiled their plans for a new Stadium, this one a retro-design that harks back to the original 1923 cathedral of baseball. Okay, so the team foots the entire $800 million price tag. But ... the stadium will no longer be located on its original hallowed sports ground. It will be built across the street on the land of Macombs Dam Park and John Mully Park.

They're playing with "the House that Ruth built." This will no longer be the ball field of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, or Berra. I'm sure it will be pretty. And I'm glad it's staying in the Bronx.

But I got the jitters already.

If you've not seen the original, you've got till the 2009 season.

Comments welcome.

Pro Musica Sana #61

For those who don't know about the Miklos Rozsa Society or its wonderful periodical, Pro Musica Sana, there is a real treat in the new issue (#61): A superb and detailed analysis of Miklos Rozsa's film score to "Ben-Hur." I left a brief comment at The Rozsa Forum singing the praises of the new issue.

Comments welcome.

Song of the Day #302

Song of the Day: Armando's Rhumba (audio clip at that link) was composed by Chick Corea for the album "My Spanish Heart." The featured soloist is the wonderful Jean-Luc Ponty on acoustic violin. Chick also recorded this for solo piano on his album "Expressions," with vibes player Gary Burton for "Native Sense: The New Duets," and with vocalist Bobby McFerrin for "Rendezvous in New York" (listen to audio clips at linked titles).

June 15, 2005

Songs of the Day #295 to #301

Songs of a Lifetime: I Love You the Same Old Way (a sweet music-box waltz), All for You (with wonderful modulations), Please Don't Make Me Cry (too late... it does it to me every time I hear it), the lovely Don’t Play Around With My Heart and Trade Winds, the ever-charming Foxtrot and Melody III (full audio clips at each link) are only seven of the many terrific compositions of Robert "Bobby" Kuttner, who celebrates his 90th birthday today. Ironically, I was first sent these melodic midi files back in February 2005 as a birthday present from my pal, Eric Kuttner (Bobby's son). It was a heart-warming gift that I've wanted to share with the rest of the world, so I'm glad to be able to do so today. Bobby Kuttner was once called a "natural" by songwriter Al Dubin and it's easy to understand why. He grew up in New York, and sold papers on the subway as a kid just to help support his family. Back in the 1930s, his own orchestra played on cruise ships going to South America and Cuba. He got to know Vernon Duke, Peter DeRose, and Jimmy Van Heusen before going on tour with the USO during World War II. During the war, he was stationed with the 3rd Air Force Band at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, playing clarinet and sax. Kuttner gave up composing thereafter, and stored this material in a suitcase in a closet for years. Then, in 2003, his son had the music transcribed (the seven sample tracks featured here were transcribed by musical theatre composer John Clifton and orchestrated by Clifton and Eric). And some of these songs have wonderful lyrics too. So, Happy Birthday, Bobby Kuttner. And thank you for your gift of music.

Song of the Day #294

Song of the Day: Humpty Dumpty (audio clip at that link), composed by Chick Corea, is a blaring, blazing straight ahead tune from one of my favorite Corea albums: "The Mad Hatter." This musical journey into Wonderland features superb solo and ensemble work by saxophonist Joe Farrell, bassist Eddie Gomez, drummer Steve Gadd, and, of course, Chick on piano. Chick also recorded an alternative live version with his Akoustic Band (audio clip at that link). Breathtaking.

June 14, 2005

Song of the Day #293

Song of the Day: La Fiesta, composed by Chick Corea, has been featured on a number of albums, including the debut Return to Forever album (audio clip at that link), a live album duet rendition by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, and, my favorite version, from a pulsating Stan Getz-Corea album, called "Captain Marvel" (audio clip at that link).

June 13, 2005

Song of the Day #292

Song of the Day: 500 Miles High is another wonderful Chick Corea composition (co-written with Neville Potter) first heard on his Return to Forever album, "Light as a Feather" (audio clip here). This version features the vocals of Flora Purim, and a band that included the late Joe Farrell, Stanley Clarke, and Airto Moreira.

June 12, 2005

Song of the Day #291

Song of the Day: Spain is a Chick Corea composition that, in its introduction, makes use of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. Aside from the famous Return to Forever version (from the album "Light as a Feather," audio clip at that link), Corea has recorded the song many times, including a version with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring his group Origin (listen to an audio clip of that Grammy-winning instrumental arrangement for "Sextet and Orchestra" here), and in separate duets with Bobby McFerrin and Gonzalo Rubalcaba on "Rendezvous in New York" (audio clips at that link). Today is Chick's birthday. No better time than now to kick off a few days of favorite Chick tracks. Happy birthday, Chick!

June 11, 2005

Song of the Day #290

Song of the Day: Dream a Little Dream of Me, music by Wilbur Schwandt and Fabian Andre, lyrics by Gus Kahn, has been performed by many artists, from Louis Armstrong to Mama Cass Elliot (audio clips at those links). It's a song my Dad used to sing, accompanying himself on guitar; he would have been 88 years old today (he passed away in 1972). Sweet memories.

June 10, 2005

Wilson Lives

I am way behind in my reading but finally had the opportunity to read Barry Gewen's interesting review essay from the NY Times Book Review (5 June 2005), "Forget the Founding Fathers." Gewen's focus is on "the constantly change narrative of American history" and the move toward "a globalized history of the United States." He discusses, among other books, Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, which I have not read. Though I don't agree with Gewen on many points, his comments on how "American idealism can go wrong" are worth repeating:

MacMillan's focus is on Woodrow Wilson at the end of World War I. A visionary, an evangelist, an inspiration, an earth-shaker, a holy fool, Wilson went to Paris in 1919 with grand ambitions: to hammer out a peace settlement and confront a wretched world with virtue, to reconfigure international relations and reform mankind itself. Freedom and democracy were ''American principles,'' he proclaimed. ''And they are also the principles and policies of forward-looking men and women everywhere, of every modern nation, of every enlightened community. They are the principles of mankind and they must prevail.'' Other leaders were less sure. David Lloyd George, the British prime minister, liked Wilson's sincerity and straightforwardness, but also found him obstinate and vain. France's prime minister, the acerbic and unsentimental Georges Clemenceau, said that talking to him was ''something like talking to Jesus Christ.'' (He didn't mean that as a compliment.)

As a committed American democrat, Wilson affirmed his belief in the principle of self-determination for all peoples, but in Paris his convictions collided with reality. Eastern Europe was ''an ethnic jumble,'' the Middle East a ''myriad of tribes,'' with peoples and animosities so intermingled they could never be untangled into coherent polities. In the Balkans, leaders were all for self-determination, except when it applied to others. The conflicting parties couldn't even agree on basic facts, making neutral mediation impossible. Ultimately, the unbending Wilson compromised—on Germany, China, Africa and the South Pacific. He yielded to the force majeure of Turks and Italians. In the end, he left behind him a volcano of dashed expectations and festering resentments. MacMillan's book is a detailed and painful record of his failure, and of how we continue to live with his troublesome legacy in the Balkans, the Middle East and elsewhere.

Yet the idealists—nationalists and internationalists alike—do not lack for responses. Wilsonianism, they might point out, has not been discredited. It always arises from its own ashes; it has even become the guiding philosophy of the present administration. Give George W. Bush key passages from Wilson's speeches to read, and few would recognize that almost a century had passed. Nor should this surprise us. For while the skeptics can provide realism, they can't provide hope. As MacMillan says, the Treaty of Versailles, particularly the League of Nations, was ''a bet placed on the future.'' Who, looking back over the rubble, would have wanted to bet on the past?

Little has changed in our new century. Without the dreams of the idealists, all that is on offer is more of the same—more hatred, more bloodshed, more war, and eventually, now, nuclear war. Anti-Wilsonian skeptics tend to be pessimistic about the wisdom of embarking on moral crusades but, paradoxically, it is the idealists, the hopeful ones, who, in fact, should be painting in Stygian black. They are the ones who should be reminding us that for most of the world, history is not the benign story of inexorable progress Americans like to believe in. Rather, it's a record of unjustified suffering, irreparable loss, tragedy without catharsis. It's a gorgon: stare at it too long and it turns you to stone.

Take a look at the whole review essay here.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted at L&P, where comments are here and here.

Grinder and Hagel at L&P

I was delighted to see a contribution today from Walter Grinder and John Hagel, whom I welcomed to L&P last August. Grinder and Hagel, whose works have influenced my own understanding of political economy, discuss a book entitled Liberty for Latin America. Read the post here; I left a brief comment.

Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to read and comment on the Grinder-Hagel entry, "South of the Border."

Song of the Day #289

Song of the Day: Softly as in a Morning Sunrise, music by Sigmund Romberg, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, debuted as part of the 1928 Broadway musical, "The New Moon." It has been performed by many artists, including Mario Lanza and Angelique Beauvance (listen to audio clips at the links), and, my favorite version, by jazz guitarist Chuck Wayne on his magnificent album, "Tapestry."

June 09, 2005

Mutual Admiration Society

I was very touched by Vid Axel's tribute to me today at his Living Action site. Being listed in the "Love" category says it all; I've known him for years and I too am honored to be his friend. (And I left a comment too.)

Shine On, Vid!

Comments welcome, but go visit Vid's site!

Song of the Day #288

Song of the Day: Brooklyn Bridge, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, is featured in the 1947 film, "It Happened in Brooklyn." What a lovely song of tribute today... on Brooklyn-Queens Day. And speaking of the Brooklyn Bridge, I was there on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade on 24 May 1983 to commemorate the structure's 100th anniversary when the Grucci Family put on one of the most spectacular fireworks displays I've ever seen, with fiery "waterfalls" coming off the span and magnificent, colorful rockets launching from the cathedral-like towers. Listen to a Frank Sinatra audio clip of this song from the film here.

June 08, 2005

Anne Bancroft, R.I.P.

Actress Anne Bancroft passed away this week. She was 73.

Whatever I saw her in, be it her-Oscar winning turn as Annie Sullivan in "The Miracle Worker" (reprising her Tony-winning stage role) or as Harvey Fierstein's Ma in "Torch Song Trilogy," she was wonderful.

I liked the NY Times obituary, despite its sword swipe at "Demetrius and the Gladiators," in which Anne Bancroft starred in a minor role. I took notice of her in that role too. That's how memorable she was.

Her husband Mel Brooks survives her; she will be missed.

Comments welcome.

Welcome to Vid Axel

Just a note to welcome my pal, Vid Axel, to the world of websites and weblogs. I've known him for years, and I've long enjoyed our correspondence. Left him a welcome message on his site here.

Song of the Day #287

Song of the Day: I Can't Get Started, music by Vernon Duke, lyrics by Ira Gerhswin, was heard in the Broadway production, "Ziegfeld Follies of 1936" (listen to an audio clip here from a reconstructed soundtrack of the show). It has been performed by many singers through the years, but the definitive version is by Bunny Berigan, whose vocals and famous trumpet solo are heard as "source" music in the classic 1974 film, "Chinatown." Listen to an audio clip of that recording here.

June 07, 2005

Reflections on "Most Harmful Lists"

With regard to my objections (here and here) to Ralph Luker's placement of works by Ayn Rand and Herbert Spencer on a list of "most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries," reader Sergio Mendez, asks in this comments thread:

Ok Chris, but then why don´t you show the same outrage with Freud´s inclusion on Ralph´s list? Was Freud a mass murderer like Hitler or Lenin? Aren´t his writtings taken VERY seriously, inspite of the hatred his works inspire on certain anglo saxon philosophic circles?

I took issue with the people and works on Ralph's original list who were from the libertarian orbit—and with whom I was familiar. In all honesty, in all my years, I have read exactly one short book by Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents, and I'd hardly have considered that among the most "harmful" books. That, however, was not among the Freud books listed by Ralph. (It occurs to me that I probably need to get crackin' on that list of books over which I am supposed to be embarrassed for not having read, as suggested by Aeon Skoble and Will Wilkinson.)

Because of my unfamiliarity with other books on his original and revised lists (see here), I didn't comment. I try to work by a certain principle... not to comment about books (or even authors) one way or the other if I've not actually read them (or read them fully ... reading excerpts or dust jackets doesn't count).

In fact, I didn't comment on the Thomas Woods book (The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History) either—which is very popular in libertarian circles—because I've not read it and had no way to offer any kind of assessment. So, clearly, my response was not "knee-jerk" in favor of all "libertarian" authors.

Still, I have a very real problem with this whole "ten most harmful books" list, as I stated at the outset. Now, it seems, on the various threads provoked by this listing (see here, for example), people are arguing over whether "harmful" is to be judged by original intent, or by the fact that the books have been "misinterpreted" or "misunderstood" in the wake of their publication.

And that is a very real issue, in my view. I have long held that there is a distinction between "intended" and "unintended" consequences, not only in a social context, but in a textual sense as well. (The study of the unintended consequences of a text has long been a focus of those trained in the methodology of "hermeneutics," which began in the realm of Biblical interpretation and scholarship.) No author can possibly know all the interpretations and misinterpretations, applications and implications, that might result from his/her writing—given that the context of knowledge changes and that different people coming from different perspectives will engage that writing differently. This does not mean that "objectivity" is impossible in the assessment of a given work. It just means that as analysts, we need to be very careful to distinguish between original intent and unintended consequences (be they good or bad).

It also means that we are probably doomed to argue eternally about the legacy of any given writer. I've taken to arguing in favor of Ayn Rand's dialectical "radical" legacy, for example... but I'm also of the belief that there are nondialectical aspects in Rand's work that need "transcending," as it were. And, mind you, Rand is one of the more consistent writers; the problems of interpretation and misinterpretation are multiplied exponentially when we look at writers whose work is replete with "mixed premises." That's one of the reasons I would take issue with putting Nietzsche's books on a list of "harmful works"—though I do this with full knowledge that misinterpretations are quite possible in his case, in particular. How much we "blame" Nietzsche for these twists and turns of interpretation is another question entirely.

I talk a lot about this in an essay sparked by a critical reading of my monograph on Objectivism & Homosexuality—and it's why I've long taken to calling myself a "post-Randian." But I'm just as much of a "post-Hayekian" too. With all this debate, maybe my use of the phrase "dialectical libertarian" is best, after all. I discuss some of these labeling issues in a recent SOLO HQ thread here. In answer to the question "What do you call yourself?" I write, in part:

I voted for "None of the Above," though as Bill Perry puts it in response to Pete, at least in the current context "post-Randian" is good. I confess that I like Matthew Humphreys' suggestion about "Sciabarraite"... but that would make me the founder of Sciabarraism, whether I like it or not. How pretentious! hehe
I accept all the key fundamentals of Rand's Objectivism, but have gotten so tired of arguing over the meaning of Objectivism—a debate which starts to resemble those over who is the true Christian or who is the true Muslim—that I just gave up. I've also taken to calling myself a "dialectical libertarian"... because I got just as tired arguing over who is the true libertarian. But that label has successfully alienated me from both "dialecticians" and "libertarians," and generally, people who have no clue what on earth I'm talking about. Ugh. I'm just doomed... hehe

Comments welcome. Noted at L&P.

Song of the Day #286

Song of the Day: I Don't Care Much, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, is a dramatic musical highlight that comes from the revival of the Broadway production of "Cabaret." Listen to a clip of star Alan Cumming from the cast album here.

June 06, 2005

Song of the Day #285

Song of the Day: Seasons of Love, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson, is from the Broadway musical, "Rent" (and the 2005 film too). The original Broadway cast album also includes a soulful rendition featuring Stevie Wonder. Listen to that clip here from Disc #2 of a 2-disc collection.

June 05, 2005

Song of the Day #284

Song of the Day: Speak Low (When You Speak Love), music by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Ogden Nash, was featured in the original 1943 Broadway musical, "One Touch of Venus" (listen here to an audio clip from the original cast album, starring Mary Martin). The theme was omnipresent in the hilarious 1948 film version, starring Ava Gardner. Listen to an audio clip of a Barbra Streisand rendition here.

June 04, 2005

Luker and Rand

Ralph Luker posts his reply to my criticisms of his list of the ten most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries. A few other people have gotten in on the discussion too, including fellow HNN'er Irfan Khawaja and Grant Jones.

Luker titles his reply, "Listmania and Maturity," and then goes on to express surprise at my use of the word "obscene" to describe his inclusion of Rand's Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead on a list that includes Mein Kampf and Protocals of the Elders of Zion. He also expresses disapproval of a comment left at my blog by Technomaget, who calls Luker, in no uncertain terms, a "moron."

Let me clarify a few things.

First, I am not calling Luker "obscene" and I have not called him a moron either. What I thought was "obscene" was placing a pair of works by Rand on a list that includes titles written by mass murderers. I use "obscene" as a synonym for "offensive" and find that particular coupling of Rand and Hitler very offensive.

If Luker had called his list a list of the ten worst books he'd ever read, or a list of the ten most annoying books, or the ten most useless books, or the ten most immature books, I probably would never have noticed it. But "harmful" carries with it a certain stigma, as I explained in my L&P/Notablog post. Strictly defined it means "causing or capable of causing harm." And on those grounds, I just don't see any reasonable criterion by which to equate Rand's novels with Mein Kampf. As Grant Jones puts it succinctly: "Has any reader of her works built Death Camps?" (brings back memories of Whittaker Chambers' cry, upon reading Atlas: "To a gas chamber—go!") As we say here in Brooklyn: "Fuhgedaboudit! You gotta be kiddin' me!"

Luker states: "In a moment of weakness (it just seemed like years of agony), I read Ayn Rand and I don't worship at her shrine! My lack of admiration for Ayn Rand is well known." Well that's fine. I admire her work but I don't worship at her shrine either. And, again, I would have had little problem if Luker had simply said: "These books suck." But suckitude is not the criterion for "harmfulness," especially when one is drawing up a list of books that crosses the line into Hitler territory.

As for Rand's work being serious or unserious, I'm afraid there's nothing in Luker's post that would give me a clue as to the nature of his assessment. Luker may not like Rand's philosophy, but let me assure him that it is not a "so-called philosophy," as he puts it. It may not be a philosophy with which Luker agrees, but it's a systematic philosophy, with integrated positions in ontology, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. It is a philosophy that includes a commitment to realism, ethical egoism, individualism, and capitalism. And it is being taken seriously by people on every end of the political and philosophical spectrum, not only in the pages of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies but in a growing list of professional scholarly journals (see here).

If Luker would like to broaden his realm of toleration to include a few of us who were at least moved by Rand's work, let alone influenced, and who don't manifest "immaturity" or a "cult-like psychological disorder" or "delayed adolescent omnipotence," maybe we could talk more seriously. Ad hominem masquerading as psychological diagnosis is no substitute for discussion.

Comments welcome.

Cross-posted to L&P, and mentioned at SOLO HQ here. I also left comments in a thread at Cliopatria here.

Update: I'm glad to see a few comments here, but wanted to mention that Luker has raised a number of important questions that I answer here (see here, here, here, and here as well). I republish it here because I think it's worth repeating. Luker asked: "Do you object to the appearance of Freud on the list with Hitler? Harm is done in different ways and on different levels. I said that and, yet, the Rand defenders continue to act as if I didn't. Why the Rand defenders and not the Freud defenders or the Mahan defenders?"

I replied:

Ralph, let me answer that question; it's a legitimate one. If you had listed Mises's Human Action or Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, I would have had the same reaction, and not out of any desire to defend "sacred texts." And, in fact, I also defended Spencer in my original post, but that point seems to have been lost. Mises left behind his library to escape from Nazi tyranny. Both Mises and Hayek were furiously opposed to Nazism, fascism, communism, and socialism (though there are differences of degree, I think, between Mises and Hayek concerning their positions on certain welfare-state regulations). So, any list that would have included Mises or Hayek along with Adolf Hitler would have ruffled my feathers as well. (And, apparently, you cite fellow "Cliopatriarch" Hugo Schwyzer, who came up with an "if only" mock list of banned books, and placed Hayek's works on that list.)

Libertarians have been defending against the charge that they are apologists for fascism for eons now. In the light of the fact that many libertarian theorists have developed a radical critique of fascism and contemporary neofascism, the charge is especially nonsensical.

Still, certain writers have been trying to pull this slipshod intellectual package-dealing of libertarianism and fascism for years. I've heard the same refrain for so long but I've never become anesthesized to it. So I speak up.

Now it's true: You did not say that you were necessarily comparing libertarians or Objectivists to Nazis, and you've made it clear that "Harm is done in different ways and on different levels." But the lack of any stated criterion or any reasoning for the inclusion of Rand, Spencer, etc., left this reader with a big Question Mark as to the nature of your assessment. And since I know too many people who are ready to declare that Mises, Hayek, and Rand were all fascists anyway, I decided to blog about it.

If this makes me especially defensive because my "sacred" authors are being attacked... well, fine. But sometimes I find it necessary to speak up when positions are not made clear, and comparative implications to Nazism are left dangling in the air like some lethal gas.

Song of the Day #283

Song of the Day: Lullaby of Broadway, with words and music by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, has been recorded by countless artists. It won the Oscar for "Best Song," from the film, "Gold Diggers of 1935" (sung by Winifred Shaw here). It was also a highlight of the Broadway musical, "42nd Street" (listen to clips from the 1980 cast album, with the late Jerry Orbach singing here and the 2001 revival here). Also check out an audio clip of Doris Day's version here, from the 1950 film, "Young Man with a Horn."

June 03, 2005

The Fountainhead... Most Harmful?

Cliopatria HNN'er, Ralph E. Luker, gives us a list of the "Ten Most Harmful Books." I have to admit that I've got a real problem with the whole category of "harmful books," not because I believe that no book can do harm, but more because I think "harmful" comes with a stigma attached to it ... that perhaps such books should not be read. But it is the books that are most "harmful" that often require the most study.

Some of Luker's books are predictable: Hitler's Mein Kampf, Lenin's What Is To Be Done?, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and so forth. But on that list, Luker mentions Ayn Rand's two mega-novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Jonathan Rees chimes in and thanks Luker for including Rand on that list, since her books offer "a philosophical excuse for extraordinary selfishness."

Rand's work has been an inspiration to people of all different walks of life, including individualist feminists, libertarians, conservatives, and even a few liberals, those who see in architect Howard Roark, protagonist of The Fountainhead, an exemplary model of artistic integrity, self-esteem, and authenticity. These same liberals may not like Rand's advocacy of laissez-faire capitalism, but not even they would suggest that those who have emulated Roark will be predisposed to go out and blow up public housing projects.

To be fair, I personally know a few people who were deeply harmed by some of the more "cult-like" aspects of the Objectivist movement, and by some of the brutal comments that Rand made on such subjects as homosexuality. I'm not in any way belittling the real hurt and damage that some have experienced in that context.

But all this is a far cry from the mass murder of the Nazis, Soviets, and Maoists. If the most significant policy-maker to come out of the Randian movement is Alan Greenspan---who, himself, has departed fundamentally from his earlier Randian views in favor of the abolition of the Fed ... can't we have a sense of proportion here?

Even poor Herbert Spencer, whose Evolution of Society [ed: I was wondering about that title] also makes Luker's list, wasn't the "Social Darwinist" his critics make him out to be. Roderick Long, where are you?

Mr. Luker, at the very least, couldn't you provide us with the reasoning behind your list? Right now, I find it unreasonable. For this Rand-influenced libertarian scholar, I find it obscene, quite frankly.

Cross-posted to L&P here, and noted at Cliopatria here.

Comments welcome, but readers are invited to participate in the L&P and HNN discussions.

Aquaman's Entourage

I don't watch the HBO series "Entourage," but I took an interest in David Bianculli's comments this morning in his 3-star review of the second season's premiere episode. Bianculli writes:

As the second season begins, Ari is trying to persuade Vince to accept the studio's offer to star in a new comic-book action franchise blockbuster, based on the DC Comics character Aquaman. Vince is wary of being typecast—but Ari, pleading his case while sitting courtside with the boys at a Lakers game, points across the arena and says, "There's the Joker! There's Batman! There's Spider-Man! They're all typecast—as rich guys!" We don't see Jack Nicholson, Tobey Maguire or whichever Batman Ari is pointing out—but the scene does play out on the Lakers' floor seats. ... For the gorgeous (and often naked) women and freebies to keep coming, Vince and his friends shortly will have to make certain sacrifices—including, perhaps, starring as Aquaman. It sounds like fun, and the second season of "Entourage" certainly starts out that way.

Now, I hope I'm misreading this... but is Bianculli actually suggesting that "starring as Aquaman" is a "sacrifice," in the "conventional" sense of doing something of a lesser value in order to achieve something of a higher value?

Well, of all the nerve!

I suppose this means that I must finally bust open the closet doors and admit it to the hearing of the world. Growing up... my favorite superhero ... was ...


And I mean the original Aquaman! (Okay... the Alex Ross depiction is cool too...)

Go ahead. LAUGH. Laugh all you want! But he was. It probably had something to do with the blond hair (I love blonds) or maybe because I was born an Aquarian. Whatever the reason... I picked a superhero to like that almost everybody else disses. And clearly the dissing continues till this day.

It's time to stop feeling like a fish out of water, fellow fans! Aquaman Admirers of the World, Unite!

Comments welcome. But be afraid. Be very afraid.

Rand in The Encyclopedia of New York State

My reference entry on "Rand, Ayn" has been published in The Encyclopedia of New York State, just out from Syracuse University Press. I have posted a background summary and an image of the cover and the article here.

I have several other encyclopedia articles on the way on Rand, Marx, and libertarianism; keep abreast of all things "Forthcoming."

Comments welcome. Noted also at SOLO HQ.

Update: See discussion at SOLO HQ here, where I state here, here, and here, among other things, my displeasure over the lack of capitalization of "Objectivism":

... when I submitted the piece to Syracuse University Press, I did, in fact, capitalize "O" in Objectivist. It is capitalized in all of my published work, and it is a matter of stylistic policy in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies to capitalize the "O"--so that we don't confuse it with the more generic "classical objectivism" in philosophical discourse, which Rand actually renamed "intrinsicism." Alas, I never saw proofs on this article---so that stylistic change was made without my knowledge, or approval. Small price to pay, I think.

History Matters

Rather than clutter up previous Notablog posts (here, here, and here) with endless updates, I'm republishing today's SOLO HQ comments (from here) as a separate entry.

This has been an interesting discussion for me, because I'm in the midst of writing quite a few articles on the occasion of the tenth anniversary not only of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, but of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia as well. Both books were published in August 1995, and revisiting these themes, which touch upon important issues in historiography, has been refreshing for me. The anniversary material will extend into the Spring of 2006, when I publish in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies an article revisiting the issue of Rand's college transcript based on ongoing archival research (which I have not yet completed).

Read on...

From SOLO HQ ...

A couple of points in reply:

1. To Michael Montagna: Precisely. Rand says it and said it better than I ever could.

2. Adam [Reed] is, of course, entirely correct about the Hellenistic impact on the Arab world—the impact of Averroes and Avicenna, and others—a lost legacy in many ways, I'm afraid.

3. Rick Out: J Lo is from Da BRONX. NOT Brooklyn. Some good things come from the Bronx... like, say, the New York Yankees, the winningest sports franchise in history. But we've had many other stars born in Brooklyn and the vast bulk of Americans who trace their lineage to immigration—trace their lineage to Brooklyn. So have some respect for Brooklyn, or I'll have to do my De Niro impression!

As for this larger issue: It's not a question of giving philosophical value to biography. It's all a question of placing ideas in a larger context, which is not merely biographical, but historical. It's just another vantage point from which to understand the relevance of an idea. For example, there are all sorts of things that are utterly illogical in the Bible. But Bible studies don't begin and end with the illogic of its text. Now, you might say: "Oh, yes it does." Fine. But we do have an intellectual division of labor; nobody is holding a gun to your head to delve more deeply into history. Those of us who find it interesting, however, pursue it. The Bible can be understood as an extension of a certain culture, and studying its teachings in that context gives us important clues into the nature of that culture and the possible relevance of those ideas to that culture.

As a student of history, Rand herself understood this without falling into the abyss of cultural relativism. For example, in her essay "Requiem for Man," she quotes the anti-wealth views of Saint Ambrose. She concludes: "St. Ambrose lived in the fourth century, when such views of property could conceivably have been explicable, if not justifiable. From the nineteenth century on, they can be neither." In terms of the pure logic of Ambrose's argument, Rand most assuredly would have dismissed it. But she chose, instead, to place Ambrose in an historical and cultural context to help explain the origin and relevance of his ideas.

I've done the same for Ayn Rand in my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. But in Russian Radical, there are 13 chapters. Exactly one chapter (Ch. 4) centers on Rand's biography, but that chapter is in the four-chapter arc of Part I—which focuses more generally on the historical and cultural context within which Rand was born and which had an impact on her early intellectual development. Part II moves away from historical exposition into a structured exposition of Objectivism as an integrated whole. Part III focuses on Rand's radical social critique. So, clearly, even for a student of history like myself, biography plays a part in the formulation of an idea, but it is quite apart from an exploration of the inner logic of the ideas themselves.

Biography can be hagiography but it doesn't have to be. Biography can be focused on prurient interests, and the study of Rand's sex life is no aberration (you mention Wittgenstein, Rick... nowadays, Queer Wittgenstein studies are almost as voluminous as studies of his philosophy proper). And cultural studies can be reduced to "determinism," but they don't have to be.

I learned from Ayn Rand the importance of context to everything. I have applied those lessons to the study of the development of Rand's ideas in one quarter of Russian Radical. But my book and my work didn't begin and end with that development. The bulk of the book is, in fact, a study of the ideas themselves. And in the end, the essence of my work is methodological: an exploration of what I take to be the "dialectical" (context-keeping) methods at work in Rand's philosophy, and in classical liberalism and libertarianism more generally.

Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to read the full discussion at SOLO HQ.

Update: In reply to comments by Michael Stuart Kelly, I state here:

Michael, thanks very much for your comments. In all truth, I am currently working on many articles (and giving a few interviews as well) dealing with the tenth anniversary of Russian Radical and Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, which both came out in the same week of August 1995. If I had been preoccupied with work not connected to the current thread, I probably would have made one or two comments and left it at that. But this thread has had its utility because it got me into "1995 Mode" once again... perfectly in sync with the essays and interviews I'm currently involved with. So, in a way, it's been a bit refreshing revisiting some of the controversies that surrounded the publication of my books back then. At this stage, with all honesty, I think the interlocutors here will probably have to agree to disagree. :) I'm sure we'll revisit some of these themes again soon enough.

Update: Check out my follow-up post here at SOLO HQ, wherein I recommend Stephen Cox's superb book, The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America.

Song of the Day #282

Song of the Day: On Broadway, music and lyrics by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil has been performed by The Drifters (audio clip here) and George Benson, whose version I like the most ... 'cause I love when he plays "this here guitar." Listen to an audio clip of Benson's version, which expresses the gritty struggle of making it ... on Broadway.

June 02, 2005

Oui to French Soul

I left a few comments here and here, praising the contributions of Berlioz, Debussy, Ravel, Offenbach, Legrand, Grappelli, and Reinhardt, in response to Lindsay Perigo's SOLO HQ article, "The French Paradox, American Angst ... and NOSA."

Song of the Day #281

Song of the Day: My Favorite Things, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is from one of my favorite musicals of all time: "The Sound of Music." The film version celebrates its 40th anniversary this week, as noted here and here. And I love this song so much that I paid tribute to it in the title of this popular website page. I've seen many Broadway and off-Broadway productions of this musical, and have enjoyed so many wonderful recorded versions of this song. Listen to Mary Martin from the original 1959 Broadway cast album, Julie Andrews from the terrific 1965 film version, Rebecca Luker from the 1998 Broadway revival, and for a jazz twist, several clips from one immortal John Coltrane rendition (examined here) and a tour de force by my jazz guitarist brother Carl Barry and jazz singing sister-in-law Joanne Barry here (audio clips at each link).

June 01, 2005

Welcome Stan Rozenfeld to the Blogosphere!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to welcome my friend Stan Rozenfeld to the blogosphere. He's always a fine source of recommendations and insights; take a look at Stan Rozenfeld's Journal. I welcomed him here too.

Context Matters

The discussion of Rand's intellectual beginnings continues at SOLO HQ (previous comments are here and here). In response to various comments by Rick Giles, I reproduce my post below. Its theme: Context matters.

Rick asks: "We know what a philosopher believes, and why he claims to believe it, so why give a damn for who else besides ourselves believe it?"

In essence, if you want to change a society, you better care "who else besides ourselves believe it." :)

Now, you can get away with calling Romano a sissy—I don't agree with his article in general—but you're lucky you didn't call me one! I'm from Brooklyn. Enough said. :)

In truth, all that Romano says boils down to his conclusion: "When philosophers share the details of their lives, the impact extends to the reader." I do think that when we grasp the struggles of an Ayn Rand or the struggles of a Thomas Paine or the struggles of a Martin Luther King, Jr., it does help to contextualize "where they were coming from." And to that extent, at the very least, it does help us to appreciate where they may triumph, and where they may fail.

Rick states that in intellectual matters:

'Reasoning' is the final word on arriving at those conclusions. No further means are required or desired. ... Philosophical investigations do not require philosophical transactions with other thinkers nor extractions from the peculiar human conditions of one's lifetime. The 3 axioms of Objectivism are self-evident, at least in so far as we can transcend the distractions of our own personal life. All you have to do to grasp them is think for about 2 seconds. Trouble is, it can take hours or days of 'soul-searching' before one is rewarded with those life-changing 2 seconds. Likewise, the remainder of Objectivism may be derived from these axioms without inspiration from social or biological circumstances. It doesn't matter what galaxy you come from, what race you are, where in the timeline you come from—all that matters is that you have body and soul (though an ivory tower, armchair and some coke needn't be refused if available). Objectivism is the birthright of all rational animals everywhere and everywhen who are 'big enough' to claim it.

Then why didn't people prior to 1957 grasp it? In the wide scheme of human history, were human beings in the dark prior to 1957?

Even Ayn Rand herself argued that Objectivism would not have been possible without the Industrial Revolution—because it took that revolution to demonstrate the practical efficacy of the human mind, and to smash entirely the notion that philosophy was the realm of mere contemplation. Moreover, while what you say makes sense from a logical point of view—who here would argue fundamentally with the "logical structure of Objectivism"—it does lay waste to the whole inductive side of philosophy. Objectivism is most definitely not a Leibnizian deductive system, whatever logical connections one may find among its principles.

Understand too that I nowhere and never claim that "philosophical transactions with other thinkers nor extractions from the peculiar human conditions of one's lifetime" are the basis of philosophical truth. But I do think historian Andrew Collier is right when he says: "No philosophy exists in a vacuum; there are always particular opposing philosophies which coexist in any historical period, and every philosophy engages, implicitly or explicitly, in controversy with its opponents. Philosophy may seek truth, but it seeks it in an adversarial as well as in an investigative manner." From the time of Socratic and Platonic dialogue in ancient Greece through the engagement of Aristotle with his critics, and all the way up through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and modern philosophy, this "adversarial" process coexists with the "investigative" one, and they are not mutually exclusive.

As original as Rand was, she was still responding to the context in which she lived, hence her comment that she was "challenging the cultural tradition of two and a half thousand years." That doesn't mean you have to study every nook and cranny of those two and a half thousand years. But knowing something about it, and about the context in which she was born, and over which she triumphed, does help us to appreciate, I think, the depth and breadth of her accomplishment.

Rand claimed, in essence, that context matters. Well. It matters no less in the study of intellectual history.

Comments welcome, but readers are encouraged to read the full discussion at SOLO HQ.

Update (1): I made an additional comment at SOLO HQ here. I state:

In response to my question, Mike wrote:

The writings of Ayn Rand resonate VERY strongly with a percentage of people, numbering in the millions, on the first read. While not being able to explicitly state their philosophy before reading AR, these people are already objectivists, don't you think? How does one account for human progress up to the twentieth century without attributing it to an undercurrent of belief, in certain people, in the very principles explicated by Ayn Rand and objectivism?

I think that one could make an argument, as Ayn Rand did, that there was an implicit Aristotelianism in that progress, and on this, I would agree wholeheartedly. But it's quite a different proposition to claim that those who participated in human progress were Objectivists. Objectivism, as such, didn't exist prior to Rand's explication of it, even if certain ideas connected to Objectivism (realism, egoism, individualism, capitalism) existed in some form as part of other systems of thought. One can argue that many people, prior to Rand's explication of the philosophy, had a certain tacit adherence to some "Objectivist" principles. And, in the 20th century, those who had that tacit adherence may have been predisposed toward her work.

But all of this is fundamentally different from saying that people were "Objectivists" in the specific way that Rand meant it. If anything, I'd say most people---prior to 1957 and even today---are people of mixed premises. The only difference is that now, we have the benefit of having in Rand a philosopher who checked those premises fundamentally and who pointed to a thoroughly integrated and radical alternative.

Update (2): I made an additional comment at SOLO HQ here. I state:

Before this veers off-topic in a consideration of Linz's blasphemy :) ... just a quick note. Mike said:

Evidence for the fact that Ayn truly expressed man's nature is the attraction of Ayn Rand across the whole ethnic and cultural spectrum. People of intelligence are drawn to Ayn Rand's philosophy regardless of their background. The underlying nature of man, made explicit by Ayn Rand, has driven human progress from the very beginning.

There is evidence that Rand is gaining in popularity in the United States and maybe a few other countries (primarily in the West), but she is still primarily an American writer appealing to an American audience. I don't see her as being especially known or popular in, say, the Middle East or Russia or Asia or Africa, where, Lord knows, her influence is sorely needed.

That said, I'm not entirely sure one can also make the claim that "[t]he underlying nature of man, made explicit by Ayn Rand, has driven human progress from the very beginning," except in the implicit Aristotelian sense that I've suggested. And to a certain extent, that's pretty much what Rand herself claimed in For the New Intellectual:

If we consider the fact that to this day everything that makes us civilized beings, every rational value that we possess---including the birth of science, the industrial revolution, the creation of the United States, even the structure of our language—is the result of Aristotle's influence, of the degree to which, explicitly or implicitly, men accepted his epistemological principles, we would have to say: never have so many owed so much to one man.

I have made additional comments at SOLO HQ here, here, here, and here, where I state the following:

Rick says: "On the contrary sir, concerning human understanding there is only one judgement that matters and only one mind charged with the responsibility for that judgement- one's own."

You'll get no argument from me about the need to rely on the judgment of one's own mind as a primary responsibility. But Objectivism is not solipsism. There's a world out there, and much injustice, as I'm sure you would agree. And that's a "concrete" that very much calls out for understanding, application, and alteration.

I think we're talking over each other's heads here on the issue of appreciating biography. I agree with you that the conclusions have a life of rightness or wrongness independent of the biography of the person who formed them. But ideas are not disembodied creations. And history is not the unfolding of a Hegelian Idea. It is made by real flesh and blood, thinking individuals. All I've said is that we can enrich our appreciation of an idea if we situate it within the context in which it was born, and to which it speaks. And on one level, this is a crucially important aspect of our analysis, because it will tell us if the idea is relevant only to that context, or if it can be celebrated for its universal character.

In addition, the adversarial process that you believe is mere stimulus has also compelled philosophers and scientists alike to "go back to the drawing board" because the process itself revealed certain weaknesses in the logical implications of their arguments. I don't see why we need to place the adversarial and investigative processes in mutually exclusive, hermetically sealed, containers. Nothing exists in a vacuum.

Mike, I agree with you completely that there are properties in "Human Nature that have allowed individuals to overcome the mistakes of whatever culture they are born into and advance human progress, at least in their own lives." No disagreement on this at all. My point is that it is illegitimate to impute "Objectivism"---which has very specific philosophical implications for metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics---to those people in the past who have exercised their rational faculties and, in so doing, have advanced human progress. I agree completely that there is an implicit pro-life standard entailed in their actions, and that pro-life standard has been apparent from the very earliest steps in the evolution of the human species. But that doesn't make those who exercised their rational faculties into "Objectivists" in the way that Rand identified it. These same people who thought and produced may not have relied on the tenets of mysticism to flourish, but many of them thanked the gods for bestowing such blessings. And even though they may have implicitly accepted a rational standard of value, they often embraced an explicitly irrational ethos of altruistic duty or service to justify their actions. One of Rand's achievements is that she checked the mixed premises at work, seeking to make apparent the contradictions of moral convention, so that she might overturn them once and for all.

Finally, and most importantly, to Rick: Brooklyn may not have won a Super 12, but it's only because uttering "Brooklyn" and "rugby" in the same sentence is an oxymoron.

Update (3): See additional Notablog comments here.

Song of the Day #280

Song of the Day: How About You?, music by Burton Lane, lyrics by Ralph Freed, is from the 1941 Busby Berkeley film musical "Babes on Broadway," starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. This Oscar-nominated song has also been recorded in a live swinging version by jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. Listen to a Sinatra audio clip here or three different audio clips from a 1956 Stan Getz album, "The Steamer" (audio clips at that link). Today kicks off a multi-day tribute to Broadway—music from, or inspired by, The Great White Way, in honor of the American Theater Wing's Antoinette Perry Awards. The Tony's! "I like New York in June, how about you?" It's one of my favorite months of the year!