« May 2020 | Main | July 2020 »

June 29, 2020

Celebrating the Ray Harryhausen Centenary

Today marks the centenary of the birth of master special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen---born on this date in 1920. Turner Classic Movies is celebrating tonight with a line-up of some classic films that feature his remarkable stop motion animation.

I can't even begin to put into words what Harryhausen's films meant to me growing up. So it's best to let his genius speak for itself! From the 1963 film, "Jason and the Argonauts," augmented by a superb score from Bernard Herrmann.

June 28, 2020

Song of the Day #1794

Song of the Day: You've Made Me So Very Happy features the words and music of Berry Gordy, Frank Wilson, Patrice Holloway, and Brenda Holloway, who recorded this song in 1967 [YouTube link]. The song barely cracked the Top 40 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B Singles Chart. But it was a featured selection on the jukebox of the Stonewall Inn, which, on this date, was subject to a police raid, something that was typically aimed at private establishments catering to same-sex clientele. Such bars were often denied liquor licenses or harassed simply because it was illegal for same-sex couples to hold hands, kiss, or dance together ("lewd behavior"). This particular bar was owned and "protected" by the Genovese crime family, which paid off police officers from the Sixth Precinct to look the other way. Corrupt cops would often get payola to tip off the bar if there were any impending raids. But no tip offs came on this night. The police entered the bar, roughed up employees and patrons, and even arrested people for not wearing "gender-appropriate clothing" (something that was actually against the law at the time). The patrons had had enough. They pushed back and touched off six nights of rioting, fighting for their very right to exist and to pursue their own happiness. Though there were many other precipitating events prior to 1969 involving many brave activists, Stonewall remains the singular "nodal point" that gave birth to Pride Day celebrations the world over (today, to the date, is, in fact, the fiftieth anniversary of the first Pride March in 1970 that marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall uprising). In the end, however, this date celebrates the birthright of every human being to pursue their own vision of personal happiness, without fear of state or social oppression. In keeping with our Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition), we mark this occasion with several jazz-infused versions of this song, chief among them the classic Blood, Sweat, and Tears jazz-rock rendition [YouTube link], released the same year as the Stonewall Rebellion, rising to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. And check out renditions by song stylist Nancy Wilson, pianist Ramsey Lewis, clarinet legend Benny Goodman, the Lasse Lindgren Big Constellation and trumpeter Chet Baker [YouTube links] (from his very commercial album, with the clever title of "Blood, Chet and Tears").

June 27, 2020

Song of the Day #1793

Song of the Day: A Little Less Wonderful [YouTube link], words and music by my dear friend Roger Bissell, is highlighted today in honor of his birthday! This song, written in 1982, features vocals by Roger's kids (Charlie, Rebecca, Andrew, and Daniel) and gospel singer, Mike Allen. Roger provides the scat-singing, whistling, finger snaps, and "mouth percussion" (sounds perverse, I know). This is a sweet track from the 2010 album, "Reflective Trombone." And for a loving twist on the tune check out this George Smith-produced video version [YouTube link]. To my brother from another mother: Many more happy and healthy returns, with love! Keep bringing more wonderful music (and many more wonderful ideas) into our world!

June 26, 2020

Song of the Day #1792

Song of the Day: Captain Senor Mouse, composed by jazz keyboardist extraordinaire Chick Corea, made its debut on two 1973 albums: "Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy" with Return to Forever (featuring Bill Connors on guitar, Stanley Clarke on bass, and Lenny White on drums) and with vibraphonist Gary Burton on the duet album "Crystal Silence" (and in the 2008 Grammy Award-winning live set, "The New Crystal Silence"). Check out this Chick composition in all its wonderful renditions: with Return to Forever and with Gary Burton in studio and live settings, as well as covers by guitarist Al DiMeola, guitarist Martin Taylor and bassist Peter Ind, guitarist Kevin Eubanks, and Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band [YouTube links].

June 25, 2020

Coronavirus (27): Majority Rules NY

As coronavirus cases ebb in NY, and are spiking elsewhere in the country, I had a chance to catch up with my friend Pasquale Cascone (who lives downstairs from me!), and his "Majority Rules NY" crew [YouTube link], which describes itself as follows:

Follow us on Instagram @majorityrulesny ... Message us some topics you’d like us to address. Check us out on iTunes, Spotify, TuneIn radio, iHeartradio, Google podcasts for more episodes from before we went to video and audio. We are a show that relates to all of us in between the full blown adult phase of life and the last ounce of youthfulness and trying to find the perfect balance.

This video made on 26 April 2020 is just a bunch of neighborhood guys who will bring a smile to your face. Pasquale's discussion of living as an essential worker during a time of "f&c*ing chaos" will give you a chuckle, even in the midst of a world turned upside down. This is no Theatre of the Absurd---since you'll find some nuggets of wisdom, and lots of laughs, while listening to these guys thrash it about.

Song of the Day #1791

Song of the Day: ABC is credited to "The Corporation"---that Motown group of musical creators who included Berry Gordy, Freddie Perren, Alphonzo Mizell, and Deke Richards. This song was the second of four consecutive Jackson Five songs to hit #1, and alphabetically, it is at the beginning of Billboard's all-time #1 hits. Eleven years ago today, Michael Jackson died tragically. Last year, I wrote an essay addressing his legacy and controversial life; this year, I mark this anniversary with memories of a happier time. Check out the original J5 single and the Jackson Five appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on 10 May 1970. But in keeping with the theme of our Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition), check out this big band arrangement by Jim McMillen from the album, "Swingin' to Michael Jackson: A Tribute".

June 21, 2020

On Statues, Sledgehammers, and Scalpels

As protests in the wake of the recent murder of George Floyd have spread throughout the United States (and even throughout the world)---something I addressed in my essay, "America: On Wounded Knee"---I've been participating In several Facebook discussions, nearly all of which have been unpleasant. Nevertheless, I wanted to add this postscript to a very heartfelt post for the record, most of it drawn from these various Facebook threads.

I recently saw for the umpteenth time the 1991 Oliver Stone-directed film, "JFK", which opened with this quote from American author and poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men.

A more prescient observation in these times would be hard to find. It is unacceptable to be silent in the face of injustice; standing by the courage of our convictions---and protesting against tyranny anytime we see it---is a necessity for any of us who care about human freedom and dignity.

But as my previous essay made clear: the means of protest often make all the difference moving forward in terms of the shape of things to come.

Much has been made of the tearing down of confederate statues that pepper the states of the former confederacy; I have discussed this several times before, most notably in this post. I think that these symbols of oppression are reprehensible. One important point has been obscured in the discussion of the statues of the confederacy in particular. Most of those statues were not built in the wake of the Civil War to commemorate the "heroes" who fought in the "war of Northern aggression." They were built during times of extreme civil rights distress, with the clear purpose to intimidate African Americans who were getting too "uppity" in their struggles for human freedom.

Nevertheless, the historian in me sees the controversy over these statues as "teachable moments." As relics of a bygone age, their preservation in some form---a museum or some other gallery---can provide people of different walks of life an opportunity to understand the cultural narratives embodied in these symbols of hate.

As protests have spread, so too has the ire of the protesters, who turn toward statues of such figures as Christopher Columbus, striking at the heart of the brutality of the European "discovery" and colonization of the Americas and the destruction of indigenous peoples. I understand the anger and actions of protesters with regard to Columbus and what follows is not an apologia for any of his misdeeds. It is, however, an attempt to contextualize the push-back that inevitably follows when different narratives collide.

Statues, like all symbols, convey different meanings to different peoples, giving rise to conflicting narratives. Knowing something about the Italian American experience, I fully understand the attitudes of many Italians, especially of an older generation, who came to America, viewing Columbus as having opened up a "New World" to which they could emigrate, in search of greater opportunities. No matter how incorrect their perception of Columbus was, it still remained a powerful symbol for that group of immigrants, among them my paternal grandparents.

As I have observed here, Italian immigrants were met with ethnic prejudice of a sort that made them second only to African Americans in terms of the number of lynchings they experienced in the years between 1870 and 1940. It was a "murderous spree" that spanned states from Colorado to Mississippi to Illinois to North Carolina to Florida. And when they weren't being lynched by those who saw them as dangerous "others", harboring a "foreign" religion (Catholicism) and "anarchist" tendencies (Sacco and Vanzetti, anyone?), they were targeted by their own people. The so-called Black Hand extorted "protection" money from residents and businesses alike (that is, protection against Black Hand thugs who would target any Italians who refused to buy into the form of "protection" they offered, in the face of indifference from the predominantly Irish police force in NYC.) The shift away from outright extortion to more subtle forms of extortion (through oaths of mutual loyalty) came with the rise of Mafia organizations---something accurately portrayed in the story of the rise of the young Vito Corleone in "The Godfather, Part II".

So given the symbolism of Columbus to many Italian Americans, I can understand the predictable push-back toward those who have targeted statues of the explorer. It will probably take a generational shift in the culture of Italian Americans before anyone could entertain even the possibility of dismantling that statue reigning over Columbus Circle in NYC (which has had that name since the late 1800s). But what some folks don't understand is that the annual Columbus Day Parade is, essentially, an annual Italian American Day Parade, in the same way that there is a Greek Independence Day Parade, a Puerto Rican Day Parade, a St. Patrick's Day Parade, and a Pride Day Parade. Each of these parades may be rooted in an historical event, culture, or person(s), but ultimately, they become extensions of the groups and traditions they are meant to celebrate. I don't think I've watched a single Columbus Day parade where the Grand Marshall extolled the "virtues" of Columbus, colonialism, or Native American genocide. It's always focused on the Italian American contribution to American culture and life... and I don't think this will change, at least not in my lifetime.

Nevertheless, the practice of taking sledgehammers to statues has now moved from symbols of the confederacy and symbols of European colonization to symbols of the founders of the American republic, most of whom were, indeed, slaveholders. The toppling of statues of George Washington has been met with applause from many of my libertarian friends and colleagues. Even the NYC City Council is considering removing the statue of Thomas Jefferson, another American revolutionary who owned slaves in his lifetime.

Jefferson surely was an imperfect, flawed human being, a man who owned slaves and may have fathered children with one of them. But he was also the author of these words in the founding document of the American republic:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

That these words would ultimately serve as the inspiration for those seeking to abolish the very institution that Jefferson the man sustained is, in itself, a testament to his enduring intellectual legacy. Even Jefferson would have understood the need for people to rise up, protest, and rebel against injustice. "The tree of liberty," he famously declared, "must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure."

Ironically, even a thinker as far left as Slavoj Zizek has emphasized the importance of treating Jefferson as qualitatively different from, say, Robert E. Lee. As he wrote in Like A Thief In Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity (H/T to my pal Eric Fleischmann):

The point is not just to debunk the War of Independence as fake: there undoubtedly is an emancipatory dimension in the works of Jefferson, Paine, and so on. In spite of being a slave owner, Jefferson is an important link in the chain of modern emancipatory struggles, and one is justified in claiming that the struggle for the abolition of slavery was basically the continuation of Jefferson's work. Jefferson was a different kind of man from Robert E. Lee, and the inconsistencies in his position just demonstrate how the American revolution is an unfinished project (as Habermas would have put it).

It was this project that led Benjamin Tucker to identify anarchists as "unterrified Jeffersonian democrats."

So if we're going to view every flawed eighteenth century individual through the 20/20 hindsight of 2020, at least let's get some corrective lenses to help us grasp more fully the nuances of the larger historical and systemic context. With the use of every sledgehammer to bring down every statue, it is essential to retain the intellectual scalpels required for a more delicate, surgical dissection of America's past: its flaws and its virtues, its injustices and its promise.

Ironically, there is an historical figure that is, in many ways, more flawed than Jefferson, and yet, in the narrative of American history, that figure looms large over the emancipation of African Americans from slavery: Abraham Lincoln. On almost every level, Lincoln was neither a model President nor a model libertarian. And yet, despite his nationalist economic policies, his suspension of habeas corpus and his odious racialist views, his soaring rhetoric of freedom rang clear to generations of African Americans. Before his assassination in 1865, he fought hard to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that would forever abolish slavery in the United States. It led many to view him as The Great Emancipator, and gave the vast majority of African Americans a reason to vote Republican until the New Deal era.

And so, in Washington, D.C., there sits a huge memorial to Abraham Lincoln---one that overwhelmed me when I saw it as a five-year old kid who toured the historic district for the first time. When opera singer Marian Anderson was denied the opportunity to sing at Constitution Hall because she was blocked by the Daughters of the American Revolution, she sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and made history. When Martin Luther King, Jr. marched on Washington in 1963, he gave his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech in the shadow of that same memorial. Given the history of that memorial in the struggle for civil rights, and despite the terribly flawed man to whom that memorial was erected, one has to ask: Do we burn it down to the ground because of the flaws of the man, or keep it as part of our historical memory precisely for its evolving significance to generations of people yearning to "breathe free"? ("I can't breathe" is indeed far more symbolic here than a mere call for simple survival: it is the very negation of life and liberty in every meaningful way.)

When the sledgehammer is wielded without any consideration of the larger context of American history, the wider cause of justice for all cannot be served.

Over the last century or so, we have seen the atrocities committed by "top-down" canvas cleaning, from the Nazis to the Soviets to the Maoists to the Taliban. "Bottom-up" canvas cleaning is an entirely different species. It is an understandable reaction against systemic and institutionalized oppression. But in cleaning the soiled canvas of the American experience by toppling the statues of flawed men, a transcendence is required, or we risk toppling the ideals that some of these men---especially the American founders---extolled. These ideals, if followed to their logical conclusion, are the most potent weapons in fighting injustices around the world.

My friend Roderick Tracy Long recently quoted Michel Foucault, and it's worth repeating here:

My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy but to a hyper- and pessimistic activism. I think that the ethico-political choice we have to make every day is to determine which is the main danger. ("On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress," afterword, in Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).

This is a call to focus on the main dangers that surround us, challenging them radically, at their fundamental roots, with all the courage demanded of us in the face of injustice. Destroying statues is easy; the truly Herculean task before us is to build alternative statues, symbols, and structures of meaning that do not replicate the injustices of the past, and that move toward the realization of the very ideals of freedom, equality, and social justice embraced by some of those flawed fellows who pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to defeat the tyrannies of their time.

Postscript (22 June 2020): Some discussion of these issues took place on Facebook, and I reproduce some of my comments from the various threads here. My dear friend Ryan Neugebauer remarked: "Imagine thinking society should be a giant museum where you have to preserve everything as it is for all times and places. No change, you must always see the past wherever you go. I would not want to live under such thinking. It's ridiculous also because every era ends up replacing previous ones. Even the ones you think you are preserving replaced ones before them."

I replied:

I agree, and this is is why we have museums---where relics of the past might sit and be more properly contextualized. But I do think a greater context needs to be grasped here (and I'm not suggesting that the current folks tearing down monuments are on a par with the Taliban or the Maoist cultural revolutionaries). Nevertheless, massive social change is not going to be achieved by the kind of "canvas cleaning" that would demand the dynamiting of Mount Rushmore (the way the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamyan) or some Maoist-like cultural revolution, which tried to wipe out every last vestige of the past as if it didn't happen, taking thousands of lives along with it.
We don't have to forever preserve the past in temples glorifying bad acts or bad people. It is easy to bring down a statue or a monument with 20/20 hindsight and 2020 sensibilities; the more difficult task is building new monuments that take on greater meaning and symbolism for a new generation in affecting the kind of cultural change upon which any radical political change must ultimately depend.
Look, all I'm saying is: The whole goddamn country's history is drenched in blood "from sea to shining sea." And there probably isn't a society on earth that isn't drenched in blood. Here alone we have seen massive systemic violence directed against indigenous populations, "imported" populations (as in slavery), immigrant populations, or populations of marginalized people (LGBTQ+). Ultimately, you can't turn back the clock; you can try to topple symbols or contextualize them, but the really demanding project is in building alternative, parallel, more powerful symbols to supplant the older ones---without necessarily destroying everything from the past. Folks can make this a "teachable moment"... creating anew, without aiming to destroy every last vestige of the past. It does not work. It never has. It never will.
Social change is always messy---but thank goodness it's not a "top down"- dictated social change that we are currently witnessing. We are far more likely to see a better outcome even from messy "bottom-up" and "spontaneous" excesses than anything we would witness if "change" were dictated by folks in high places with guns and gulags.

On another thread was reproduced the famous Lord Acton passage that, in full, states:

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.

... to which I responded:

Mostly applicable to politicians and rulers. Not to comedians, like, say, "The Great One" (Jackie Gleason). All depends on the context. :)

Jeez... even that got push-back! When one reader suggested that maybe it applied to Gleason as well, since his oft-repeated line---"One of these days, Alice ... pow!"---glorified "domestic violence for laughs", I replied:

Except that in the end, Alice always proved to be the wiser one. She was practically a feminist hero, way ahead of her time, who was ultimately always right. Not to mention the number of laughs Alice got, which far "outweighed" anything Ralph Kramden could ever say, since she targeted his "weight" for more laughs than any "Bang, Zooms" that came out of Ralph's mouth. More than that, her put-downs of him were far more biting and riotous than anything he could ever say. If somebody ever really did an examination of those "Honeymooners" scripts and saw how Alice handled "the King of the Castle", they'd easily see just who was really the "king" of that castle. I'd go one step further: Show me one other 1950s sitcom that portrayed a stronger woman than Alice Kramden. In an era dominated by "Father Knows Best" and such, she was truly in a class by herself.

... and the beat goes on ...

Cali Turns 3: Long Live the Queen!

Back on May 17, 2018, our little Cali the Cat entered our lives, only to celebrate her first birthday with us on June 21st of that year. She has been a source of joy, mystery, entertainment, hilarity, and love.

We celebrated the Terrible Twos last year, but we've been warned by child psychologists that the Threes can be Just as "Terrible", with observations that are obviously just as applicable to cats as they are to kids!

For kids, "at two, they can barely talk. At three, they never shut the hell up." Well, Cali hardly meowed when she was younger. Now she has a variety of sounds that tell you exactly what she means.

For kids, "at two, they are distracted by a box of Gerber Puffs at the grocery store. At three, they want to dictate your entire food list." Clearly applicable to cats.

For kids, "at two, manipulation is the last thing on their minds. At three, they own you. And they know it." Yep!

And that's why she's gone from a Diva to the Queen of this Castle!

Happy birthday to our baby! Many more happy and healthy returns, with mucho love from all of us!

CaliBirthdayThreeCropped2.jpg

Finally, this proud Daddy is happy to say that his baby daughter wished him Happy Father's Day after I kissed her belly... from which I escaped unscathed! (And a Happy Father's Day to all the other Dads out there!)

CaliChrisKiss1A.jpg

June 20, 2020

Song of the Day #1790

Song of the Day: What is this Thing Called Love?, words and music by the great Cole Porter, was featured in the 1929 Broadway musical "Wake Up and Dream," where it was introduced by Elsie Carlisle [YouTube link]. At 5:44 pm, today, the Northern hemisphere enters the Summer Solstice. And so begins the Fifth Annual Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition). This entire summer, I'll be spotlighting jazz recordings---from artists past and present. Ironically, long after my playlist was set in stone for the festival, I discovered that TCM has been running a wonderful series of "Jazz in Film" (Mondays and Thursdays in June). This festival was also planned long before recent events, but it is a celebration of a genre that owes so much to the African American experience---while transcending the divisions of social life through the universality of music. Fortunately, for today, I get to highlight one of the great contributions to the Great American Songbook. Though this is going to be a Jazz Summer, I won't be posting many jazz standards, since my ever-growing list of "Favorite Songs" has been featuring such standards for sixteen years! But today's song asks one of the most enduring questions of the human condition. Musicians from every walk of life---every race, every ethnicity, every gender---have explored their answers to that question in a variety of ways over the years, including stride pianist James P. Johnson, Fred Rich and his Orchestra (featuring jazz violinist Joe Venuti and both Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey), twice by jazz guitar giant Django Reinhardt and legendary jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, the Artie Shaw Big Band, guitarist Les Paul, pianist Dave Brubeck and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderly, soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet and trumpeter Charlie Shavers, jazz guitarist Joe Pass, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and pianist Kenny Barron, trumpeter Clifford Brown, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, and drummer Max Roach, jazz violinist Thomas Fraioli, New York Swing (with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, pianist John Bunch, bassist Jay Leonhart, and drummer Joe Cocuzzo), the McCoy Tyner Quartet (with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Al Foster), and pianist Danny Zeitlin [YouTube links]. One of my favorite instrumental renditions comes from jazz pianist Bill Evans [YouTube link] from his 1960 album "Portrait in Jazz"---with its trailblazing interplay between a trio of co-equal improvisers, which included bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. The album was recorded eight months after Evans's collaboration with Miles Davis in creating the best-selling jazz album of all time, "Kind of Blue." That revolutionary album was largely based on the pianist's impressionistic, harmonic conceptions and modal approach, which led many to view Evans as "the principal creator of [the] album." There have also been some wonderful vocal renditions of this Porter classic by such artists as Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day, Keely Smith, and Bobby McFerrin (with Herbie Hancock on piano) [YouTube link].

June 18, 2020

Song of the Day #1789

Song of the Day: Scoob! ("Summer Feelings"), words and music by Lennon Stella, Charlie Puth, Invincible (Producer), Alexander Izquierdo, Charles Brown, Simon Wilcox and Lowell, can be found on the soundtrack to the 2020 animated flick "Scoob!" (short for Scooby Doo). This duet, featuring Lennon Stella and the deeply jazz-influenced Charlie Puth, is a precursor to our Fifth Annual Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition). This year has been a transformative one in so many ways and on so many levels; I've seen things that I could never have even remotely predicted when I toasted the New Year as the ball dropped in Times Square. I have refused to stay silent and have spoken out about so many issues over these many months; so I don't want to be accused of being a modern-day Nero, fiddling while our own Rome burned. This song has little to do with jazz, but everything to do with those "summer feelings"---and I can think of fewer ways to express such feelings than by celebrating one of the most significant cultural gifts bestowed upon world music, emergent from the African American experience, and taking a distinctive form through the blending of African and European idioms. This was something I planned long before the events of the day. But before we start the newest installment in our annual Summer Music Festival, on June 20th, indulge those "summer feelings": check out the original studio recording of this song, the official video, the Quarantine Video Version, the Bassboosted Remix, and the Nightcore Whore Remix [YouTube links].

More Volts (Not Votes) For Politicians!

Another gem from the anarchic "Pearls Before Swine" comic strip by Stephan Pastis:

Politicians.png

June 06, 2020

Lists, Lists, and More Lists

Back on May 5, 2020, I was first tagged by my friend Daniel Bastiat (on Facebook) to engage in a book challenge: To post the covers of seven books over a seven-day period that had an effect on you, with no explanation. I listed the following seven books (and tagged other people with this, and subsequent challenges):

1. "Dialectical Investigations", by Bertell Ollman
2. "A New History of Leviathan: Essays on the Rise of the American Corporate State", edited by Ronald Radosh and Murray Rothbard
3. "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal", by Ayn Rand
4. "National Economic Planning: What is Left?", by Don Lavoie
5. "The Disowned Self", by Nathaniel Branden
6. "Nationalism and Culture", by Rudolf Rocker
7. "The Libertarian Alternative", edited by Tibor Machan.

This was followed by a ten-day "Album Challenge", posting key albums that affected you throughout your life:

1. "Ben Hur" (1959 soundtrack)
2. "Concierto de Aranjuez" (Julian Bream)
3. "Concierto" (Jim Hall)
4. "Intuition" (Bill Evans)
5. "The Mad Hatter" (Chick Corea)
6. "Thriller" (Michael Jackson)
7. "Ultimate Sinatra" (Frank Sinatra)
8. "At the Close of a Century" (Stevie Wonder)
9. "I Wanna Be Around" (Tony Bennett)
10. "Getz/Gilberto" (Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto/Astrid Gilberto/Antonio Carlos Jobim)

And that was followed by the final challenge: List ten films and ten TV shows that had an impact on your life or tastes or that loom large in your memory (they need not even be ranked among your all-time "favorites", though clearly they may very well be). So here were my choices for that challenge:

Day 1:
Film: "King Kong" (1933)
TV: "Looney Tunes Cartoons" (1930-1969)

Day 2:
Film: "The Wizard of Oz" (1939)
TV: "The Honeymooners" (1956)

Day 3:
Film: "North By Northwest" (1959)
TV: "The Twilight Zone" (1959)

Day 4:
Film: "Ben-Hur" (1959)
TV: "The Fugitive" (1963)

Day 5:
Film: "Inherit the Wind" (1960)
TV: "I, Claudius" (1976)

Day 6:
Film: "Planet of the Apes" (1968)
TV: "Jesus of Nazareth" (1977)

Day 7:
Film: "The Exorcist" (1973)
TV: "The Winds of War" / "War and Remembrance" (1983/1989)

Day 8:
Film: "The Godfather: The Complete Epic, 1901-1959" (1977)
TV: "The X-Files" (1993)

Day 9:
Film: "The Deer Hunter" (1978)
TV: "The West Wing" (1999)

Day 10:
Film: "Alien" (1979) / "Aliens" (1986) - I know, it’s cheating, but I can’t pick one without the other!
TV: "24" (2001)

And that's all folks! Next up will be the Fifth Annual Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition), which will begin when summer arrives in the Northern hemisphere and conclude on the day of the autumnal equinox.

June 05, 2020

JARS: Our Twentieth Anniversary Celebration Begins!

I am delighted and deeply honored to announce the publication of the first of two issues celebrating the twentieth anniversary of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Tonight, it made its debut on JSTOR; print subscribers should expect the first of these two historic issues within the next couple of weeks.

JARS_20_1_cover-front.jpg

The following excerpt is from the Introduction I wrote to Volume 20, Number 1:

Welcome to the first issue of the twentieth anniversary volume of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.
If someone had told me that I'd even be writing that introductory sentence twenty-plus years ago, when the very first issue of the journal was in the planning stages, I would never have believed it. But here we are, commencing our celebration of the twentieth volume in our history with the first of two issues that will feature reviews and discussions of works relevant to Rand studies that have never been formally examined in our pages.
JARS began as a fledgling independent periodical in Fall 1999, the brainchild of Liberty magazine editor Bill Bradford (1947-2005). He enlisted Stephen Cox and me as founding co-editors, with a founding advisory board of only three (Robert L. Campbell, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, and Larry Sechrest). By our second issue, the advisory board had expanded to include Douglas J. Den Uyl, Robert Hessen, John Hospers, Lester H. Hunt, Eric Mack, and Douglas B. Rasmussen. With the passing of our dear friends, Bill, John, and Larry, we expanded our Editorial Board to four (Stephen Cox, Robert L. Campbell, Roderick T. Long, and me) and our Advisory Board to a dozen (with the 2013 additions of David T. Beito, Peter J. Boettke, Susan Love Brown, Hannes H. Gissurarson, Steven Horwitz, and David N. Mayer).
Sadly, David passed away on 23 November 2019; we dedicate this first issue of our twentieth anniversary volume to his memory.
It should be noted, however, that our editors and advisors provide only a hint of the astounding interdisciplinary character of the journal, which has published essays in such fields as anthropology, economics, English and theater arts, history, law, literature, philosophy, politics, and psychology. Starting with the July 2013 issue, the journal began a new phase as a Pennsylvania State University Press print-published periodical. Now we are indexed by nearly two dozen abstracting services, are available to thousands of public, private, not-for-profit, business, and institutional libraries worldwide, and are published electronically by both JSTOR and Project MUSE. Our visibility and accessibility have grown enormously, as has our subscription base. Our total electronic downloads alone have gone from 7,922 in 2013 to 14,515 in 2019. I expect a sharp jump in those figures with the debut of these two very special JARS issues.
We have published important symposia on remarkably diverse topics, including Rand’s aesthetics (Spring 2001), Rand and progressive rock (Fall 2003), Rand’s literary and cultural impact (Fall 2004), Rand among the Austrians (Spring 2005), and Rand’s ethics (Spring 2006). We brought out two issues celebrating our tenth anniversary, including one devoted to Rand and Nietzsche (Spring 2009); a 2016 double issue (and our first published Kindle edition) devoted to an examination of "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy"; and a December 2019 issue marking the sixty-plus-year career of Atlas Shrugged. With this thirty-ninth issue in our history, we will have published 366 articles by 173 authors.

The introduction continues with a list of acknowledgments to all those who have made this achievement possible. We remain the only double-blind peer-reviewed interdisciplinary scholarly periodical published by a university press devoted to the study of Ayn Rand and her times. I conclude my introduction by acknowledging our most important debt:

In the end, however, we thank our readers above all, because they are the key to our phenomenal success. Here’s to another two decades and beyond of JARS triumphs . . . two decades, or until such time as Rand studies have so penetrated the literary and philosophic canon that specialized journals of this nature are no longer required.

So... what do readers have in store for them in this twentieth anniversary celebration? As mentioned above, we decided to devote two issues to reviewing those works in the general area of Rand studies, which have never been critically appraised in our pages. The list of works reviewed in this first issue of volume 20 are:

Understanding Objectivism, by Leonard Peikoff

How Bad Writing Destroyed the World: Ayn Rand and the Literary Origins of the Financial Crisis, by Adam Weiner

Perspectives on Ayn Rand's Contributions to Economic and Business Thought, edited by Edward W. Younkins

Equal Is Unfair: America's Misguided Fight against Income Inequality, by Don Watkins and Yaron Brook

Selfish Women, by Lisa Downing

Ayn Rand and the Posthuman: The Mind-Made Future, by Ben Murnane

A New Textbook of Americanism: The Politics of Ayn Rand, edited by Jonathan Hoenig

Independent Judgment and Introspection: Fundamental Requirements of the Free Society, by Jerry Kirkpatrick

The Unconquered: With Another, Earlier Adaptation of "We the Living", by Ayn Rand (edited by Robert Mayhew), and Ideal: The Novel and the Play, by Ayn Rand

Who Is John Galt? A Navigational Guide to Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged", by Timothy Curry and Anthony Trifiletti, and So Who Is John Galt, Anyway? A Reader's Guide to Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged", by Robert Tracinski

Anthem, by Ayn Rand (adapted by Jennifer Grossman and Dan Parsons, illustrated by Dan Parsons); Anthem, by Ayn Rand (adapted by Charles Santino and Joe Staton); The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality, and the Financial Crisis, by Darryl Cunningham

What's in Your File Folder? Essays on the Nature and Logic of Propositions, by Roger E. Bissell

***

As is the case with every issue, we have introduced at least one new contributor to the JARS family. This issue brings debut pieces from Roger Donway and David Gordon. Here is our Table of Contents for Volume 20, Number 1 (the abstracts can be found here; contributor biographies can be found here):

What Ayn Never Told Us - Dennis C. Hardin

How Bad Scholarship Destroys Literary and Economic Analysis - Peter J. Boettke

Promethean Commerce and Ayn's Alloy - Roger Donway

Misguided Arguments - David Gordon

Ayn Rand: Selfish Woman - Mimi Reisel Gladstein

Ayn Rand and Posthumanism - Troy Camplin

Textbook of Americanism 2.0 - Neil Parille

The Psycho-Epistemology of Freedom - Steven H. Shmurak

Posthumous Publications - Stephen Cox

Who John Galt Is - Roger E. Bissell

Illustrated Rand: Three Recent Graphic Novels - Aeon J. Skoble

File Folder Follies - Fred Seddon

Those seeking to subscribe to the journal should visit the sites linked here. And---as we march into the third decade of this remarkable journal---those wishing to submit manuscripts for consideration should follow the instructions here.

Once again: My eternal gratitude to every person who has made this day possible.

June 02, 2020

America: On Wounded Knee

When I started to compose this essay, I couldn't get three images out of my mind. The first image is of former NFL quarterback, Colin Rand Kaepernick, who took to kneeling during the national anthem, in protest against police brutality and racial inequality in this country:

Colin-KaepernickSmaller.jpg

Some folks expressed great moral indignation at Kaepernick's "disrespectful" behavior; Donald Trump himself called on NFL owners to fire anyone who "disrespects our flag." At the time, he said: "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired! ... That's a total disrespect of our heritage. That's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for." The NFL was so petrified by the public outcry that it adopted a league policy, allowing teams to fine any players who exhibited such behavior "an unspecified sum"---demanding further that such players be relegated to the locker room rather than exhibit disrespect for the flag on the field, for all to see. When all was said and done, Kaepernick went unsigned after the 2016 season, and filed a grievance against the NFL, accusing owners of colluding to keep him out of the league. He later reached a confidential settlement with the league, and withdrew the grievance.

Alas, the technicalities of NFL ownership of teams didn't make this a clear-cut issue that might fall under free speech guidelines; players employed by the NFL either play by the rules or get another job. The fact that most of them play in stadiums that have been built with taxpayer dollars or through the use of eminent domain didn't mitigate the circumstances in favor of free expression.

Next to that image of an NFL player taking a knee during the national anthem, and all the hoopla that surrounded it, there is the harrowing image of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, handcuffed, face down, pinned to the ground by a white policeman, Derek Chauvin, whose knee was also bent---grinding into the back of Floyd's neck, even as he pleaded with Chauvin that he couldn't breathe, that he was going to die.

george-floyd-homicide_smaller.jpg

Fortunately, the moral outcry over this nightmarish injustice seems to have eclipsed the umbrage expressed by so many when they saw an NFL player kneeling during "The Star-Spangled Banner"---in protest of police brutality.

But there is now a third image that haunts me. It is the image of another man, George Floyd's brother Terence, who traveled from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, to the spot in Minneapolis, where his brother was killed. Terence tried to kneel, but the wounds in his soul ran so deep, that they crippled his ability to balance himself. He collapsed in tears.

TerenceFloyd.jpg

These three images tell different stories---but they are all united in some way. They tell the story of protest---both after and before, before and after, the ongoing murder of unarmed black men throughout our country by police officers. They tell the story of what happens when taking a knee in prayer morphs into using a knee as a weapon to snuff out the life of another human being. They tell the story of what happens in the aftermath of that death, when a kneeling man can barely steady himself in an effort to pay tribute to his fallen brother.

America is now under siege, not by rioters, but by what these three images project: protest, death, and remembrance. And if what we are seeing on the streets of America is a war of sorts, I can only quote Herman Wouk: "The beginning of the end of war lies in remembrance."

***

Over these last three months, I have lived in a home town that has lost nearly 30,000 human beings to a pandemic. I've posted twenty-six installments on the Coronavirus. It is typical of funeral processions around these parts for the hearse carrying a person's remains to pass that person's home on the way to the cemetery. So, every morning, over the past few months, as I get on my stationary bike to work out in the front room of my home, I look out the bay window of my apartment, which faces the street below, and I've seen---day-in, day-out---one funeral procession after another. A part of you becomes numb to the vision. Until it doesn't.

The morning after Memorial Day, I heard of yet another nightmarish tragedy taking place in an American city. It was the day after George Floyd was killed on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota by police officer Derek Chauvin, whose knee was pinned to the right side of Floyd's neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, even as the victim pleaded that he could not breathe---and onlookers screamed for the officer to stop [warning: graphic YouTube link].

When I first heard this news report, I found myself just as numb. Numb not because it was yet another death in a time of unending mass death, devastation, and destruction. Numb because it was the death of one more African American man, in a long list of such atrocities, by a police officer. These senseless brutalities have become so common over the years. But the outrage expressed in their aftermath has become so predictable---and so ineffective---that as I watched the news, all my overtaxed brain could manufacture as a response was: "Another one."

I shook my head in despair, I felt my eyes well up with tears, but I was confident that, once again, people would express their anger for a few days, the politicians would get in their potshots at each other, as they did in the aftermath of Charlottesville, and life would return to "normal"---whatever the hell that term means nowadays.

But I was wrong. By Friday night, May 29th, the protests were spreading from coast-to-coast. And when I turned on the television at around 11 pm, and saw the streets of my home town, Brooklyn, aflame, in front of the Barclays Center, and down Flatbush Avenue, I could not contain the depths of my sorrow. I just began to cry. Night after night, I have watched peaceful protests punctuated by violence and looting, with the typical push-back from police.

I'm not going to sit here and pontificate about how violence is not the answer. For a person who has celebrated the riotous response of the Stonewall Rebellion fifty-one years ago, I certainly appreciate how a violent reaction against a corrupt police force attempting to destroy the lives, liberties, and property of a marginalized group can have a revolutionary effect. Those rebellious souls in 1969 directed their anger specifically at a corrupt police force that routinely raided the Stonewall Inn and arrested its peaceful patrons to clamp down on "lewd behavior" (that is, same-sex folks who were holding hands and kissing in the confines of a private establishment). Those raids were almost predictable---especially if the police didn't get their timely payola from the Mafia owners of the bar. This singular violent event has been marked ever since that fateful late June day not with further violence, but with annual parades, in which police---some of them out and about, walk arm-in-arm with their same-sex partners and friends.

The current violence that has punctuated otherwise peaceful mass protests across the country might be chalked up to spontaneous outbursts from those who feel the sting of poverty and institutional inequality, magnified further in the wake of lockdowns and high unemployment during a period in which a pandemic has taken the lives of over 100,000 Americans (many of them Latino and African American, in percentages disproportionate to their populations).

In many instances, the violence, however, has not been spontaneous at all, since it does appear that outside groups have infiltrated these protests specifically to cause mayhem---provocateurs from the left or the right, perhaps. The looting of a Target store in Minneapolis, known for its collaboration with the police, might seem justified to some. But mob action sustained over these many days must, by necessity, degenerate over time. It is not about striking a blow for equality or against oppression; it is not about looting luxury stores in midtown Manhattan or Macy's on 34th Street or the swanky shopping districts in SoHo [YouTube links] as a symbol against "excess" [Twitter link]. The mob does not distinguish; it ultimately aims its wrath even at small neighborhood businesses and stores like those along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx [YouTube link], which directly impact the very communities that have been victimized by police brutality. Their store owners have struggled to keep afloat throughout this pandemic, and now they have no businesses left to open.

Terence Floyd, George's brother, who traveled from Brooklyn to pray at the site in Minneapolis where George was murdered, collapsed in agonizing grief when he arrived there. You could hear him praying---"I need you and Pops to watch over me"---as he cried uncontrollably.

But then he turned to the crowd: "I understand ya'll upset. But ... I doubt y'all are half as upset as I am. So if I'm not over here wilding out, if I'm not over here blowing up stuff, if I'm not over here messing up my community---then what are y'all doing!? What are y'all doing? Y'all doing nothing! Because that's not gonna bring my brother back at all. ... You all protest, you all destroy stuff. And they [the powers that be] don't move. You know why they don't move? Because it's not their stuff. It's our stuff. They want us to destroy our stuff." He implored them to find "another way." "My family is a peaceful family," he exclaimed. He asked the protesters to use their anger as a tool for peaceful, nonviolent change. He urged them to exercise their power at the ballot box and implored them to an even higher cause: "Educate yourself," he said. "It's a lot of us. And we still gonna do this peacefully."

This has been a mantra among long-time civil rights advocates. Even Al Sharpton, an "imperfect vessel" if ever there was one, has also expressed an urgent moral indignation: "Don’t use George Floyd and Eric Garner as props," he declared. "Activists go for causes and justice, not for designer shoes. New York should set the tone, because the first time we heard, 'I can't breathe,' it was not in Minneapolis. It was on Staten Island, six years ago, and we did nothing."

I have always understood the horrific structural issues at work, the broader, tragic context of historic and systemic brutality that breeds violent responses such as we've seen over the past week. I have addressed these issues countless times over the past three decades, including essays, in recent years, on subjects as varied as the war on drugs and the problems of mass incarceration, the trouble with Trump and Antifa, and the reciprocal relationship between the growth of state power and racism as a cultural and political phenomenon. I refer readers to those highlighted links because this is just not the time to say: "I Told You So."

Nevertheless, understanding why violence often punctuates protests does not mean that I subscribe to the view that nonviolent resistance is somehow deficient or protective of the status quo.

For a person, like me, who has dedicated his life to exploring the context of human freedom, who has upheld the libertarian ideal of a free society, the status quo is a system that is the embodiment of violent brutalization. Violence is a way of life in this country. It is the means by which a genuinely political economy redistributes wealth to those who are powerful enough to wield the mechanisms of state. They have been wielding those mechanisms at home and abroad for eons, especially through the apparatuses of "national security," designed to sustain a policy of "perpetual war for perpetual peace." It sometimes astonishes me that so many folks who are understandably threatened by these newest displays of violence on the streets of America's cities and who call upon their government to "dominate" the rioters, have rarely given thought to how such "domination" has given the United States the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the entire world---higher than both China and Russia, and the even more horrific distinction of being, historically, among the most powerful forces for instability throughout the globe, given sustained policies of interventionism abroad.

On the importance of using strategies of nonviolent resistance---not to be confused with pacifism---I highly recommend the work of Gene Sharp, a man of integrity whom I met and with whom I had a 25-year correspondence. The author of such books as From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation, Social Power and Political Freedom and a three-volume work, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Sharp did more to champion various strategies by which to overturn the status quo in ways that tend not to reproduce the patterns of brutality that its practitioners seek to end.

Over this past week, there have been remarkable displays of how nonviolent protest---in some profoundly symbolic gestures---can change the dynamics between protesters and those to whom their protests are typically directed. Yes, we have seen burning neighborhoods, but we have also heard stories and seen images marked by an extraordinary depth of humanity. From Bellevue, Washington, where the Police Chief declared "We are with you. We are not against you"---to Miami, Florida [YouTube links], where a highway trooper hugged a protester, who told him "I love you"... from Foley Square in Manhattan, where police officers kneeled to the applause of the protesters, a young African American man reaching out, telling them: "I really appreciate you doing that. Thank you very much. I hope you all stay safe and have a great night" to images of protesters in Louisville, Kentucky forming a human barrier to protect a police officer who had been separated from his unit, from violent attack. White women standing in a line, to separate and protect protesters from police and police from protesters. Police chiefs from New Jersey to Wisconsin walking side-by-side with protesters. Chief of Department of the New York City Police, Terence Monahan, hugging an activist as protesters paused in Washington Square Park, the same park where I once protested myself---against the reinstatement of selective service registration for the draft by President Jimmy Carter---telling protesters that he was with them standing against police brutality.

And then there was an unforgettable video that went viral [YouTube link] of Flint Michigan, Genesee county sheriff Chris Swanson [YouTube link], who confronted a gathering of protesters and spoke to them from his heart. He assured the crowd that he meant them no harm. He took off his riot gear, put down his baton, and yelled out to the crowd: "We want to be with you all … I want to make this a parade, not a protest. ... These cops love you." The crowd chanted: "Walk with us!" And he did. "We will protect you. We are with you," he said. Later, he observed: "I knew that the benefit far outweighed the risk. And when you show action of, listen: I'm going to make myself vulnerable in order to come into your circle and show you that I want to be that solution. That was the change maker right there. It was beautiful. Not a single arrest. Not a single injury. Not a single fire."

As much as these stories and images uplift and inspire, Kumbaya is not going to cut it. (Indeed, in some instances, the same police who knelt with the protesters were later involved in tear-gassing the folks with whom they expressed solidarity.) Nor is the opposite tendency among those who simply call for the outright abolition of the police going to cut it. Why stop there? Abolish the state!

To my principled anarchist friends (not the "bomb-throwing" kind),** who see the state and its police functions as the distillation of evil in the modern world, I am compelled to ask: If you were capable of "pushing the button," what do you propose to replace it with? This is the danger of thinking undialectically, of dropping the context of the conditions that exist in the real world. We are dealing with structural racism that permeates not only our political institutions but our very culture. Certain measures can be taken (from ending qualified immunity to challenging the militarization of the police force) but a genuine cultural transformation is a necessary precondition for any genuinely radical social and political change.

***

Despite all these mixed messages in an age of mixed premises, I must end this essay where it began---with images. Images of many police officers who have now taken to one knee, one wounded knee, the position of the Colin Kaepernicks of this world---in opposition to the brutality in their own ranks and the racial inequality it perpetuates. [Ed.: This practice has continued in earnest even weeks after the riots have subsided... to the credit of people on both sides of a crumbling blue wall.]

NYPDKnee_smaller3.jpg

ChiefOfDepartmentMonahansmaller.jpg

--
Notes
** In a recent study group discussion for the anthology, The Dialectics of Liberty, I had the occasion to quote from a Spring 1980 article I wrote, while an undergraduate at New York University for The New Spectator: The NYU Journal of Politics:

Anarchism has had a long and negative conceptual history. Traditionally, the image of the anarchist has always been one of a bearded, bomb-hurling immigrant attempting to violently overthrow the social order in a revolutionary and bloody battle against authority. It is quite ironic that skeptics will see anarchism as a ridiculous, idealistic, floating abstraction without realizing that the present-day situation is in essence, one of international anarchy among monopoly governments, which have considerably refined the practice of bomb-throwing beyond what any anarchist would have dreamed. In this context, the real issue seems to be what kind of "anarchy" we want---governmental or voluntary.