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December 25, 2019

Song of the Day #1739

Song of the Day: What Will Santa Claus Say (When He Finds Everybody Swingin')?, written and recorded in 1936 by Louis Prima, is a fun and jazzy song that encompasses the joy of the holiday season, and its message of peace on earth, goodwill to all. Cali (below) and the Sciabarra family wish folks a very Merry Christmas. As you can see, we have to create a large space for her under the tree, and in front of the creche and the village, because she demands to be the center of attention! But she's trying not to be naughty... and is tracking Santa on NORAD, awaiting her gifts! Check out this holiday favorite [YouTube link]!

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December 23, 2019

Gaslighting? Watch the Films Today on TCM --- From Which That Word Derives

For years, I have heard lots of folks use the phrase "gaslighting," especially in a political context, which describes, as Stephanie Sarkis observes, "a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn't realize how much they've been brainwashed." Wikipedia tells us:

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim's beliefs. ...
The term originated from the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play Gas Light and its 1940 and 1944 film adaptations (both titled Gaslight), in which a character tries to make his wife believe that she has gone insane to cover his criminal activities.

Now, I don't own shares of stock in Turner Classic Movies, but for those of you who have never seen the 1940 or 1944 film adaptations of the Hamilton play, especially the latter, for which the great Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for Best Actress---please turn on your televisions today (or, if you have a DVR, set it up to record!). TCM is showing both films back-to-back in its monthly feature, shining a spotlight on the original and remade versions of films over the years.

The 1940 British version is on at 1 pm (ET) and the 1944 remake is on at 2:30 pm (ET). You owe it to yourself to discover the original context from which this common political term derives. And you'll be entertained twice as much.

Enjoy!

December 22, 2019

Ayn Rand and the Dialectics of Liberty

I was asked on Facebook about my thoughts concerning the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, about whom I wrote a book (now in its second edition) called Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. I replied:

In brief let me at least answer the questions you ask: Yes, Ayn Rand was a philosopher and a novelist, and I think there is much value in her writings. I do not agree with everything Rand ever wrote; I do not consider myself an Objectivist. But I do believe that she offers a model for interpreting and critiquing the social, cultural, and political context in which we live, providing a more full-bodied defense of freedom than one strictly centered on the "political" and the "economic" to the exclusion of the personal and cultural factors that are both preconditions and effects of the political and economic structures predominating in any particular society.
Now Rand was not an academic philosopher and did not present her ideas with the rigor of a typical academic philosopher. As I argue in my book, her work emerged from a particular time and place and should be understood within that context. I go to considerable lengths in Part One of that book (and its three appendices in the second edition) in spelling out the context within which her ideas emerged (the Russian Silver Age) and I spend a lot of time analyzing the ideas that were current at that time---ideas that shaped how she looked at the world. I also spend a bit of time analyzing the ideas and methods that she was exposed to in her college education---and my book remains the only book available that provides a detailed discussion of every course she took, as well as the professors with whom she most likely studied and the texts she most likely read.
In essence, I argue that she rejected much of the substance of Russian thought (in both its Marxist and non-Marxist varieties), while embracing the dialectical methods endemic to it. By "dialectical method," I mean that she thought in grand, systemic terms, analyzing every social problem as part of the larger context in which it was embedded, and as it related to every other social problem. My book focuses more attention on Rand as a social theorist (in Part Three), rather than as strictly a philosopher---even though it presents (in Part Two) an overview of her take on the various branches of philosophy.
But I should add that my book on Rand is part of a trilogy that sought to reclaim dialectical method (properly understood) as an analytical tool that can be used to mount a better understanding and defense of the larger context upon which the achievement of human freedom depends. That trilogy began with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (Act I, if you will), followed by the book on Rand (Act II), and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism as the finale (Act III).
Here is a link to a brief essay, written on the tenth anniversary of the completion of my trilogy (2005) and published in The Freeman: "Dialectics and Liberty" [pdf format]. Some of that essay is reproduced in The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, which I co-edited with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins. The essay should give you a better idea of what I find of value in Rand's thought (and the thought of others in the libertarian tradition).
Ultimately, I think one must approach Rand's work with a scalpel and not with a sledgehammer (something that she often didn't do with regard to her views of other thinkers). One must have the courage to give credit where credit is due, and to criticize those aspects of her approach that were problematic, in some instances, highly problematic. One must also be careful to distinguish between those ideas of hers that were "essential" to her approach from those views that were expressions of her personal aesthetic or even sexual tastes (views that I don't believe were "essential" to Objectivism, and were sometimes in conflict with her broader commitment to the integrity of individual or "agent-relative" judgment, so essential to human flourishing).

There was, of course, discussion of this post, and I made a few other remarks, which I reproduce here for Notablog readers:

Well, whatever her ideas were on "masculinity" and "femininity" (which i regard as personal views, rather than ideas essential to her philosophical system of thought), it is also the case that she forged a path in which she was the main bread-winner of her own home, and she provided us with many strong female protagonists, including Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged---who has inspired more than a few feminists along the way. Excuse this commercial break, but if you've never read the remarkably diverse anthology featuring many Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand---check it out. It is a part of the Penn State Press "Re-reading the Canon" series, co-edited by Mimi R. Gladstein and myself.

And then there was a Facebook reader who claimed that Rand was financially dependent on her husband to gain success, a so-called "boss babe"... I replied:

Rand came to America in 1926, and found employment as a waitress, and then made her way to the Studio Club, where she stuffed envelopes, and later sold newspaper subscriptions, living on about thirty cents a day. She married Frank O'Connor, who was also struggling financially, in 1929.
Ironically, the one thing that Rand depended on her husband for above all other things was her U.S. citizenship. She met him on the set of Cecil B. DeMIlle's "The King of Kings" (in fact they are both "extras" in the crowd scenes of that classic epic), and was married to him just in time to avoid deportation. But she was soon working in the RKO wardrobe department, and within six months, according to Barbara Branden's biography The Passion of Ayn Rand, she was head of the department, making about $45 a week. This job solved the financial problems that both Frank and Ayn were having. So, if anything, Rand established herself quite early as the bread-winner. The Depression hit, but by 1932, Rand had sold her original screen story, "Red Pawn", to Universal, for $1,500. She would then go on to write a play that debuted on Broadway in September 1935 as "Night of January 16th"---and it gave her substantial royalties, even before she published her first novel (We the Living) in 1936, and her first best seller (The Fountainhead) in 1943 (a work for which she also wrote the screenplay for its 1949 adaptation with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal). She wrote other screenplays, including one for "Love Letters" in 1945, a film which received four Oscar nominations, including a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Jennifer Jones. So she was no boss babe, imho.
Her family certainly helped her get to America, but by the time she left Russia, her father's pharmacy had been confiscated by the Bolsheviks, and the family was reduced to poverty. She got help from extended family members in America, but she did work hard to succeed.

And someone else questioned her attitudes toward conservatives; I replied:

I know nothing about Rand being bisexual, but she was an atheist, and though many conservatives have liked her support of free markets, she was extremely critical of conservatism---its ties to religion, institutional racism, and its support of wars in Korea and Vietnam, wars that she opposed. She voted for neither Carter nor Reagan---and opposed Reagan for, among other things, his stance on abortion. Rand said that she was trying to appeal to those on both the left and the right: "the 'non-totalitarian liberals' and the 'non-traditional conservatives'."

Song of the Day #1738

Song of the Day: A Week and a Day, words and music by I Have No Clue, made its debut on the 19 December 2019 "Late Late Show with James Corden." A parody of 90s-era boy bands, the song was performed in a music video setting by "Boyz II Menorah," featuring Zach Braff, James Corden, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Josh Peck and Charlie Puth. For years, the only Hanukkah songs we could rely on were "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel" [YouTube link] and, of course, Adam Sandler's "The Hanukkah Song" [YouTube link]. So check out this funny, good-natured celebration [YouTube link] of the Jewish festival of lights and a Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends! And a Happy Solstice, especially to all those who live in the Northern hemisphere, as we now march toward the light!

December 17, 2019

All I Want for Christmas Is ... A #1 Single! Wow!

I'm sure many of you are probably tired of hearing this 25-year old song, and it's not even a Song of the Day, since I featured it way back on December 28, 2008. But today, with its sales and streaming combined, Mariah Carey's perennial ol' time song ("All I Want for Christmas Is You") has finally ascended to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first Christmas song to hit #1 in sixty-one years! The last Christmas song to hit #1 was "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" [YouTube link] (which I featured on December 28, 2005). Mariah's song was a true original from her 1994 holiday album, "Merry Christmas."

That gives Mariah nineteen #1 singles (first among solo artists and only one behind the all-time Beatles record twenty #1 singles)! Check out three different videos to the song [YouTube links]. And while you're at it, check out Mariah's appearance on "The Late Late Show" with James Corden and her brand new video celebrating the song's ascent to #1 [YouTube links], where the production gives a wink to Busby Berkeley. And check out this chat with Mariah Carey about the song [YouTube link].

Plenty of folks have said that the song has a 50s or 60s vibe, but don't kid yourself: You could easily do a Lindy Hop (or, if you prefer, a Jitterbug) to this song with no problem---and that sound goes all the way back to the swing era, which is why "All I Want for Christmas Is You" has been embraced by children of all ages!

So, we're decorating for the holidays---there's no "war on Christmas" in this house---and cranking up the volume, mixing those great traditional carols and popular songs delivered by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Diane Reeves, Henry Mancini, Donny Hathaway, Joe Pass, Bobby Helms, Brenda Lee, Jose Feliciano, Paul McCartney, Karen Carpenter (speaking of which, unrelated to Christmas, check out this remarkable duet of Karen and Ella), Vince Guaraldi (with the "Peanuts" gang), Wham!, and, yes, Mariah Carey too [YouTube links]! It's time to Deck the Halls (and the windows and every other room in the apartment)!

December 16, 2019

Song of the Day #1737

Song of the Day: You're No Good, words and music by Clint Ballard, Jr., was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick [YouTube link] in 1963. Other renditions of this song by Betty Everett and The Swinging Blue Jeans [YouTube links] charted in 1963 and 1964, respectively. But it wasn't until 1975 that Linda Ronstadt [YouTube link] took this song to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was one of the highlights on her #1 breakthrough fifth solo studio album, "Heart Like a Wheel." Last night Ronstadt was among the honorees at the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors, where Trisha Yearwood [YouTube link] delivered this song in tribute to the artist. Though retired since 2011 due to ill-health, Ronstadt was in attendance and clearly moved by the tribute to her remarkably diverse musical legacy [YouTube link]. Other honorees included Michael Tilson Thomas, Sally Field, Sesame Street (which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year), and Earth, Wind & Fire. A tribute to that seminal group served as the rousing finale to this year's festivities, with some wonderful performances by John Legend, Cynthia Erivo, Ne Yo, the Jonas Brothers, and an all-cast performance of "September," which brought down the house [YouTube links]. It was a really entertaining night. Bravo to all the recipients! But, note to the committee: I'm still waiting for Chick Corea to become a Kennedy Center Honoree!

December 12, 2019

Song of the Day #1736

Song of the Day: Day In, Day Out, music by Rube Bloom, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, has been recorded by countless artists since its first appearance in 1939. Our birthday boy, Frank Sinatra, who would have been 104 today, recorded the song three times himself in wildly different arrangements, from his albums, "The Point of No Return" [YouTube link] (recorded in 1953, but featured in a 2002 expanded edition of the album, as a ballad arranged by Alex Stordahl); "Come Dance with Me" [YouTube link] (1959, in a swinging Billy May arrangement); and finally on "Nice 'n' Easy" (1960, in a distinctively Nelson Riddle orchestral arrangement). Amazing how different arrangers could allow Ol' Blue Eyes to explore the different nuances of a single song. All part of the genius that was Frank Sinatra and the wide influence [YouTube link] he continues to have.

December 10, 2019

Song of the Day #1735

Song of the Day: Demolition Man, words and music by Sting, was first recorded by Grace Jones as part of her 1981 album, "Nightclubbing." The Police would record their own version of the song on their 1981 album, "Ghost in the Machine," as would Mannfred Mann's Earth Band for their 1983 album, "Somewhere in Afrika." Sting himself would release his own version as part of a 1993 EP in support of the Sylvester Stallone/Wesley Snypes film of the same name. I put this song up today with a little tongue-in-cheek (and with a hat tip to my friend, Brandon). For those who don't know why I've made this the Song of the Day, no explanation is possible; for those who do, no explanation is necessary. :) Check out the various versions: Grace Jones, The Police studio version and performance video, Mannfred Mann's Earth Band, and the Sting solo rendition [YouTube links].

December 05, 2019

Song of the Day #1734

Song of the Day: Pneuma features the music of Maynard James Keenan and the lyrics of Keenan [YouTube interview link], Adam Jones, Danny Carey, and Justin Chancellor of the progressive metal band Tool for their fifth studio album, "Fear Inoculum." Hat tip to Richie! The word "pneuma" comes from the ancient Greek for "breath"---and this track certainly breathes. It captures the notion of "becoming"---in Stoic thought, the emergence of the vital spirit, soul, and creativity of both the individual and the cosmos. Check out this piece from their critically acclaimed #1 album on YouTube.

December 01, 2019

Sassy, Mel, and Merv

I was a senior in high school, and one night I caught a showing of the "Merv Griffin Show" that was absolutely splendid. I pulled out my trusty audio cassette recorder [a Wiki link for those who don't know what that is] and immediately hit the record button. On the show that night were two of my all-time favorite singers: Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme. Each did a solo spot (Sarah did "Someone to Watch Over Me" and Mel did a stupendous "Porgy and Bess Medley" [YouTube link to his studio version of it]). But then, the two jazz greats joined forces for "Lady Be Good" and an impromptu version of "I Got Rhythm." All these years, all I had to go on was the audio cassette version of this wonderful musical TV moment.

And then, just the other day, I was having a chat with a friend, mentioning one of the lyrics to "Lady Be Good" and I did a haphazard search on YouTube and---lo and behold, I found a clip from the "Merv Griffin Show" of Sassy and Mel doing the version that has been emblazoned in my mind due to my audio cassette recording of it back in the 1970s. And watching it, I was practically able to sing along and "scat" along with every note the two traded in their exhibition of the art of vocal improvisation.

So this is not a song of the day, since I featured "Lady Be Good" on---believe it or not---November 30, 2006 (where I referred to this Sass-Mel duet!), the very date (yesterday) that I shared with my friend one of the lyrics to the song. But for those who have never heard or seen this wonderful duet, check it out on YouTube [YouTube link]. If for nothing else, you will see on display the pure joy of two giants trading in a currency unique to them, which can be appreciated by anyone who trades in the universality of music.