Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Republican Fools

President Bush gave a State of the Economy speech.

In his address, Bush took aim Wednesday at lavish salaries and bonuses for corporate executives, standing on Wall Street to issue a sharp warning for corporate boards to “step up to their responsibilities” and tie compensation packages to performance.

This is the kind of socialist crap I expect from Barbara Boxer or Barney Frank. It is not the government’s business to lecture people about making too much money. Individuals should make as much money as the market will allow. Corporate executives have no gun at their disposal to force people to pay them too much money.

George W. Bush, on the other hand, does have a gun and in this speech he took the butt out of his shoulder holster a few inches just to show corporations that the gun is there.

George W. Bush is a fool. With this gross misuse of the bully pulpit, he has taken America one step further to tyranny. A small step, yes, but small steps add up over time.

Speaking of fools, I heard on the radio today murmurs of a recall effort against Governor Schwartznegger. I would support this recall. He has expanded environmentalist regulations and socialized medicine in California. The elitists would wring their hands and moan that California voters are weakening government by recalling their Governor every few years. Screw ‘em. The recall would put RINO’s on notice that when they act like Democrats they suffer.

I will not blog any more until Friday, starting… now!


I'm swamped at work. No blogging until Friday at the soonest. And I mean it! I will not blog...I will not blog...I will not blog...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Self-Righteous Ignorance

Senator Kennedy apparently screamed on the Senate floor, "What is it about it (the minimum wage) that drives you Republicans crazy? What is it about working men and women that you find so offensive?"

I have not watched the video. I can’t stomach the man. He manages to combine ignorance of economics with love of state power and then he is self-righteous about his ignorance and power-lust.

I will only ask, what is it about individual rights that drives you Democrats crazy? What is it about freedom that you find so offensive?

Submit Or Die?

Diana Hsieh received a letter from an unintelligent Muslim threatening her with eternal damnation if she does not submit to Islam. The letter is of marginal interest in that it exemplifies how faith and force go together -- in this case, force administered by Allah beyond the grave. You don’t hear proponents of reason screaming “Accept my belief or die!” Quite the contrary, Leonard Peikoff once asked those who do not fully understand or agree with Objectivism not to call themselves Objectivists.

But Islam wants more than just belief. The word Islam means submission. From the beginning of its history Islam has been about forcing people to submit to Islam or die. The religion has a political program, Sharia law, that makes it more than just a matter of personal faith.

No religion is rational, but I do not believe they are all equally bad or bad in the same ways. Buddhism is a religion of passivity on Earth, which is bad and anti-life, but as far as I know Buddhists do not have a history of forcing conversion at swordpoint. (I could be wrong, as I have little interest in the history of religion.) Islam strikes me as a particularly pernicious and disgusting religion. From everything I have heard about Mohammed, he just sounds like a gangster to me who used religion as an ideology to aid him in his quest for power. It was a highly successful strategy in the Dark Ages. Whether or not Islam is worse than other religions or just as bad, totalitarian Islam is currently in our face and something must be done about it.

It is beginning to look more and more as if the central task of our time is to demonstrate to Islam in terms every Muslim can understand that America will not submit to Islam. Instead of letting their force and threats of force break our will, we must use force in self-defense to break their will. Pragmatic appeasement, multiculturalism and leftist anti-Americanism only weaken our will and embolden the enemy’s.

Someday the sleeping giant will awake. And then, to mix metaphors, a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

How John Kerry Is Right

John Kerry’s latest:

"When we walk away from global warming, Kyoto, when we are irresponsibly slow in moving toward AIDS in Africa, when we don’t advance and live up to our own rhetoric and standards, we set a terrible message of duplicity and hypocrisy,” Kerry said.

“So we have a crisis of confidence in the Middle East — in the world, really. I’ve never seen our country as isolated, as much as a sort of international pariah for a number of reasons as it is today.”…

Kerry is arguing that because America has not enchained our economy as the environmentalists would like and has not massively increased our self-sacrifice for the rest of the world, we are hated by the world. The implication is that our foreign policy problems are caused by our lack of altruism.

Republicans might respond that Kerry is just part of the blame America crowd. Let me shock my readers by suggesting that Kerry is right in one respect. The “rhetoric and standards” of the Bush administration are compassionate conservatism. Bush does embraces the idea that America should sacrifice altruistically for the rest of the world. As the President just announced in his State of the Union speech,
To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger, and poverty, and disease — and that is precisely what America is doing.
As long as the American government accepts the morality of the Democrats, then America is hypocritical to the extent that we don’t commit suicide. If we had a president who offered different rhetoric and standards – one who rejected altruism and forthrightly stated that America has a right to exist without sacrificing for the rest of the world – then Kerry could wallow in his loathing of America and capitalism all he wanted, but he could not call us hypocritical.

Bush and the Republicans will never appease the blame America crowd by debasing America before the world and accepting the premise that we have a duty to help other nations. The Democrats will always find their efforts lacking in sacrifice and the Republicans will always be helpless before their arguments from morality. The Republicans help give moral legitimacy to those who would destroy America.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Radio Dismuke

A commenter to this blog, Dismuke, introduced me to his web site, which has an internet radio station that plays music from 1925-1935. The recordings of the early ‘30s are my favorite of all time because they have that ‘20s bounce but also have a string section. Some of the ‘20s jazz combo recordings can sound too rinky-dink, and then the recordings in the late ‘30s and ‘40s get too sleepy. The big bands lost the string section in the late ‘30s – a string section is expensive – giving rise to the Glenn Miller/Tommy Dorsey sound that most people associate with swing. This sound is okay, but it doesn’t send me like that early ‘30s sound. ‘40s swing has neither the snappy hot beat nor the beauty of strings. Nothing can top a string section bouncing along an upbeat, syncopated melody.

(Along with arrangements, songwriting deteriorated greatly in the ‘40s. The rise of boogie woogie made the melodies less interesting. The stage was set for Rock’n’Roll and the backbeat juggernaut.)

Another great thing about ‘30s recordings is that the singers perform the songs at the upbeat tempo they were written to be sung at. Modern cabaret singers drive me crazy because they slow down the songs in order to show off their voices. This often destroys the songs. Take George and Ira Gershwin’s “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” for example. It was done on Broadway as an upbeat song. I would bet that if you listened to 100 modern cabaret singers do this song, not one would do it at the right tempo. They slow it down and make it a torch song. You lose so much when that happens, especially with Gershwin, who was the most kinetic and danceable of composers. (Harry Warren, in my opinion, has the second best dancing drive in his melodies. He is not as famous as the Broadway songwriters because he worked in Hollywood and the East Coast intellectuals used to turn their nose up at the movies.)

Also, the ‘30s singers sing the melody right, with the exception of Billie Holliday, who was constitutionally incapable of singing a song straight. When singers do a Sarah Vaughan and change the melody, I think, “Well, this singer considers himself a better songwriter than Jerome Kern (or whoever).” I prefer melodies sung the way they were written.

There was a long period in the 1980’s when I listened to nothing but ‘30s music. I found myself writing ‘30s songs in my head. I remember when I was around the age of 30 walking up Lexington Avenue in New York City with this Gershwin-like bouncy tune in my head. I decided I had to learn how to write music so I could get it down and not forget it. I bought books and learned (just barely) to write a lead sheet. I had long talks with a conservatory-trained composer at my day job and picked up some great tips for harmonizing. I then wrote the book, lyrics and music to an unproduced musical comedy in the ‘30s style.

Nowadays I’m writing songs in an early ‘60s style that I want to record in a studio in a fellow’s garage in Riverside, California. (It’s the Army of Davids scenario. I can do things in a garage that pros could not do 30 years ago.) I fear that listening to Radio Dismuke will screw up my songwriting, because when I listen to too much ‘30s music, I start writing it. After hearing just a few songs I have that sound running in my head right now. Lou Reed says it’s fun living with a radio in your head. I know what he means.

But it might not be so bad getting reacquainted with ‘30s songs. I have noticed that if you take ‘30s melody and harmony and put a backbeat to it, the result sounds like something from the late ‘50s or early ‘60s. Those Brill Building songwriters had roots in the pre-rock tradition. And some pre-rock songs have been quite successful in the rock era: “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” “Dream A Little Dream of Me,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” “Summertime.” And who can forget Paco’s rendition of “Puttin’ On the Ritz”? I wish I could.

UPDATE: Dismuke’s myspace page has three fabulous recordings that play when you click on the page. The recording of “As Time Goes By” is a perfect example of what I mean about songs sung at the right tempo. For the last 60 years I don’t think anyone has recorded that song at the pace of the Columbians here. When you slow the song down, I tell you, it becomes dreary and dull. Why, oh why can’t singers get it right?

In the original production of Show Boat in 1928, believe it or not, both "Old Man River" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine" were uptempo happy songs. Those repetitive, syncopated melodies are infectious toe-tappers when done moderately fast. Imagine trying to get a singer to do one of those songs with some pace today! I don't know if Paul Robeson was the first singer to slow "Old Man River" down, but it would be nice if he was -- then I could call slow tempos a commie plot.

I wish I could listen to this music while I work, but unfortunately my day job involves listening FM radio stations. Instead of Radio Dismuke, I have to listen to Hip-Hop, which is rather like saying instead of visiting John Galt I have to spend time with Charles Manson.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Lost Causes

I’m not a conservative, but it is accurate to call me a linguistic conservative because I want to conserve the standards of the English language. Here are three controversial and related stands that are lost causes.

1. I don’t use the word gender. The right word is sex. There’s a male sex and a female sex. The New Left, in its ongoing and highly successful quest to reshape Western Civilization according to the values of egalitarianism and collectivism, decided the word sex was out. They replaced it with gender, a grammatical term.

Why the change?

Snooping around the internet I found this explanation from the American Psychological Association, titled Removing Bias In Language:

Use of gender instead of sex. The terms "sex" and "gender" are often used interchangeably. Nevertheless, the term "sex" is often confused with sexual behavior, and this is particularly troublesome when differentiating between sexual orientation and gender. The phrase "it was sexual orientation, rather than gender, that accounted for most of the variance" is clearer than "it was sexual orientation, rather than sex, that accounted for most of the variance."

In the latter phrase, "sex" may be misinterpreted as referring to sexual activity. It is generally more precise to use the term "gender."

Notice that sexual orientation is important to their argument. The word sex brought with it the traditional connotation of heterosexuality. This presented problems to the New Left, because talking about the male sex and female sex implies that heterosexuality is normal and homosexuality is abnormal. Gender is a value-neutral term without any connotation of sexual preference.

Now, before I go any further, I should make clear that I do not oppose homosexuality. I do not believe it is immoral. Moreover, I don’t think it a psychological illness, as psychiatry did up until 1972, if I remember the date right. I even support gay marriage. Who cares if two people of the same sex marry?

I do, however, believe that homosexuality is abnormal. Heterosexuality is normal sexuality. Male and female bodies are built by nature for heterosexual sex. If people choose to be homosexuals, or are oriented that way by psychology or whatever, that’s fine -- but it is not normal.

My understanding is unacceptable to the New Left. They do not want a distinction between normal and abnormal sexuality. Heterosexuality and homosexuality must be equal not only before the law but by nature. The New Left is fighting for egalitarianism, even on the metaphysical level.

2. I don’t use the word sexism. I believe it is an invalid concept because -- unlike races, which are different only superficially -- there are metaphysical differences between men and women. They are built different, they think different, they are different. Egalitarians want to wipe out the differences or at least train people to act like the differences do not exist.

Feminists use sexism to mean men treating women unfairly. Historically, men have had more power than women; the concept sexism is meant to attack that power. Women are never sexist. As always with altruism and egalitarianism, the bad things are only committed by the strong, not the weak.

There is term for men treating women unfairly: male chauvinism. Or you could call it men being idiots. Either way gets the point across more clearly than using the term sexism, which is a package deal that smuggles in the egalitarian premise that men and women are metaphysically identical.

3. I try to avoid the term Ms., but this is difficult because feminists take the word Miss as an insult. Using Miss in a business letter is futile, as it raises questions and suspicions that cannot be answered in the letter. (“You see, I called you Miss because Ms. is a tool of the feminists intended to obscure the metaphysical differences between men and women…”) Philosophic education is not the purpose of a business letter.

Those are three lost linguistic causes. I considered calling them quixotic, but I won’t because I do not admire idealism detached from reality or practicality, as personified by Don Quixote, from whom the word comes.

Maybe in some distant future when our culture embraces reason, these causes will rally and the words gender, sexism and Ms. will be retired. Maybe young people in a generation yet unborn will look at the New Leftist culture they inherited and think, “This all comes from those smelly, ridiculous looking hippies in the 1960s and ‘70s. Let’s return to the standards of the era before that.” And the counter-revolution will have begun.

UPDATE: Grant Jones points out this piece by Keith Windschuttle, called “Language Wars.” He makes some great points about politicized language. Dr. Windschuttle must be a pariah in academia.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Brief Notes

1. Via Right Wing News I found this leftist screed against Christmas. Here’s a taste:

American Capitalism is a malignancy that permeates our economic, social, and political systems and institutions. This untreated cancer ravaging the body of civilization is spreading like an unchecked conflagration in a munitions factory. Feudalism didn’t die; it simply evolved. Corporatism, Consumerism, wage slavery, debt slavery, free trade agreements, deregulation, and privatization condemn most of the global population to varying degrees of slavery, serfdom or indentured servitude.
Isn’t it amazing how leftists can go through life getting everything exactly wrong? They think a free market leads to “varying degrees of slavery, serfdom or indentured servitude,” so they want the state to take control and tell everyone what to do at the point of a gun and that would be freedom.

2. Mike Bahr has a fascinating post about a job interview that turned into a coaching session. Networking can pay off big down the road, so as he notes, both parties stand to benefit from this encounter.

3. If I ran a classical repertory theatre company, maybe I would schedule the following season:

Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus
Philoctetes by Sophocles
The Phoenissae by Euripides
Plutus by Aristophanes
Perikeiromene by Menander
Pseudolus by Plautus
Paphnutius by Roswitha
Pericles by Shakespeare
The Poetaster by Ben Jonson
Philaster by Beaumont and Fletcher
Perkin Warbeck by John Ford
Polyeucte by Corneille
Phaedra by Racine
Psyche by Moliere
Pandora by Goethe
Penthesilea by Heinrich von Kleist
Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen
Platonov by Anton Chekhov
Paracelsus by Arthur Schnitzler
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

I would call it “the season of strange names that start with P.” And I am certain these plays would drag tired businessmen away from “American Idol” for an entertaining night at the theatre.

4. I love ABBA. "Dancing Queen," "SOS," "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do," "Waterloo," and "Take A Chance On Me" are all fabulous songs.

I'm straight.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of the Sacrifice

I missed the SOTU speech, as I was at rehearsal, but I doubt I missed much. The speech has become a ritual of the mixed economy/welfare state. The President assures various pressure groups that they will get their share of the loot, but rarely sums up the state of the union with any wisdom or literary style. The state has grown so vast that the speech can become a tedious laundry list of programs that does not just bust the crow, it blows the crow out of the air with a double-barrel shotgun. (“The crow” is Objectivist talk for the fact that human consciousness is limited. The mind can only keep track of three or four different things before one’s eyes glaze over.) In my more suspicious moments I think Clinton’s mind-numbing SOTU speeches were actually meant to make people stop thinking and just accept his leadership with the faith and worship he thought he was due. Whatever you say, Glorious Leader, we will follow you with blind obedience!

Hopping around the internet I’m finding surprisingly positive reactions to the speech, but also a sense that it doesn’t matter much. I wouldn’t call Bush a lame duck yet, but he is close. Following Reagan and Clinton, Bush will be the third two-term president who was weak in his last two years. Big change is difficult to effect in American government at any time, but especially so in a President’s second term.

Looking at the transcript, I see that President Bush takes on earmarks and entitlements. This is nice, but talk is cheap. Let’s see Congress actually vote away their pork and reform entitlements.

On health care, he says,

When it comes to healthcare, government has an obligation to care for the elderly, the disabled, and poor children and we will meet those responsibilities.

Now, how can Republicans be horrified by the Democrats’ socialized medicine schemes but ignore this? If the government takes care of the elderly, the disabled and poor children, then the principle of free market health care is gone and the road is paved for socialized medicine. Once you expand the state to cover the weakest, then the next to weakest look like they deserve it too and sooner or later America’s health care looks like Canada’s. The Republicans will get us to Hillarycare, just not as fast as Hillary would have done it.

I don’t know if Bush’s tax deduction plan will pay for the expanded coverage or enlarge the deficit. Are the details of Bush’s plan a step forward, backward or sideways? I will look to such experts as Richard Ralston in the next few days for answers.

On immigration, I have never understood why the right gets so excited about this issue. I suspect that people’s fears that our culture and our country are out of control and careening toward disaster are being scapegoated onto illegal immigrants. (Is there a better way to write what I mean than “being scapegoated onto”?) I have no particular problem with amnesty. Most illegal immigrants are still coming here to work, which helps the economy – at least, I hope that’s why they’re coming. The welfare state makes the issue of immigration, like it makes most issues, more complicated and worse.

The alternative fuels section of the speech just looks to me like another foolish government program. Get the government out of energy and then supply and demand, market competition and the pricing system will take care of things much better than all the geniuses in Washington, D.C. ever could. Of course, this principle could be applied to every aspect of the economy.

Bush says some interesting things on the war. He restates the neoconservative vision that democracy leads to security. As the history of Athens shows, democracy does not guarantee liberty, so I’m dubious, to say the least.

And ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East ... to succeed in Iraq ... and to spare the American people from this danger.

This is where the President is tragically wrong. Succeeding in Iraq is not winning the war. Eradicating all states that sponsor terrorism would be cheaper and easier than bringing democracy to Iraq, and is the only guarantee of our safety.

We went into this largely united — in our assumptions, and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq — and I ask you to give it a chance to work.

What constitutes failure in Iraq? How long must we be there to succeed? Must we become something of a neocolonial power guaranteeing Iraq’s security for the long term? Look at how Bush begins the very next paragraph:

The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others.

Here again, Bush is tragically wrong. How is it that we eradicated fascism in four years, but must struggle for a generation against Islamofascism? Only because George W. Bush and the rest of the establishment lack the will to fight a real war.

The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran, and made it clear that the world will not allow the regime in Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons. With the other members of the Quartet — the UN, the European Union, and Russia — we are pursuing diplomacy to help bring peace to the Holy Land, and pursuing the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security.

So the Quartet is America and… the UN, the EU and Russia? Will we have to get those three to approve of anything we want to do in the Middle East? This is a recipe for appeasement and failure. This is a recipe for eventual war, not peace. (Russia just sold anti-aircraft weapons to Iran. Do you think they will agree to any attack on that country?)

To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger, and poverty, and disease — and that is precisely what America is doing.

And after this statement of altruism follows a list of programs in which the money of hardworking American taxpayers will be thrown at third world hellholes. Those countries need freedom – individual rights and capitalism – not handouts. But really fixing the problem is not the point. Bush believes that sacrifice is the moral ideal:

When America serves others in this way, we show the strength and generosity of our country. These deeds reflect the character of our people. The greatest strength we have is the heroic kindness, and courage, and self sacrifice of the American people.

Kindness, courage and self-sacrifice – not exactly life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Bush and Jefferson have two radically different visions of America.

For the rest of the speech Bush gives examples of his altruistic vision of the moral ideal, hoping to end in loftiness and inspiration. Such demonstrations of loyalty to values can be inspiring, but only in a context of life on Earth and rational self-interest, Jefferson’s context. To Bush sacrifice is an end in itself. And this is why Bush is tragically wrong in our current war. When America wiped out Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, we acted with neither kindness nor self-sacrifice.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Jimmy Carter Negotiates Peace In Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth of the rock supergroup Van Halen announced that they would finally tour together after Jimmy Carter negotiated peace between them. It took five grueling 10-hour days of negotiations, but finally a 74-page agreement was hammered out between the two parties who have long hated one another.

“Van Halen is too important to the world for this conflict to have continued without resolution,” President Carter said. “It was not an easy negotiation as the two parties have a long history of mutual loathing. I’m proud of this peace agreement. It is the second best thing I have done. Only the Camp David Accord is greater than this."

Carter said the negotiations got off to a bad start that almost scuttled the talks when Mr. Roth discovered brown M&M’s in a candy bowl on the table. The volatile singer was so upset at the brown M&M’s that he began trashing the furniture and even heaved a chair through a plate glass window. President Carter had to work patiently for several hours to calm down Mr. Roth.

Guitarist Eddie Van Halen said in a press release, “When Jimmy Carter asks you to the negotiating table, it’s hard to say no. The man is a warrior for peace. I guess I’ll have to tour with Dave even though he is a d**khead.”

Singer David Lee Roth said, “Rock’n’Roll, baby! We gonna get some leg tonight! No more Van Hagar, dude! Awoooooo!”

When asked if he enjoyed Van Halen’s music, the former president said, “Personally, I prefer Winger.”

[Note: This post is satire.]

The Enemy At Home

Dinesh D’Souza discusses his new book, The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11. Wow! This book looks like a bombshell that will expose the real problem in American foreign policy.

I hope he starts with that hideous Democrat betrayal of the west when we forced the Brits and the French to give up the Suez Canal to Middle East thugs and… oh, wait. That was Eisenhower. Eisenhower was a Republican.

Well, how about the left’s monstrous appeasement of the worst mass murderer in history, Chairman Mao, when a Democrat president went to Red China and… oh, wait. That was Nixon. Nixon was a Republican.

But how about when the left showed Islamic terrorists that we are a paper tiger by doing nothing about the killing of 241 American servicemen in Beirut, a non-response that paved the way to 9/11 and… oh, wait. That was Reagan. Reagan was a Republican.

But surely the left must be blamed for the most idiotic, harebrained scheme of appeasement, the Iran-Contra scandal that… darn it. Reagan again.

I guess I’ll have to check out D’Souza’s book to see what it’s about. It should be a short book.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hillary Clinton: Joan Of Arc?

Ron Rosenbaum likes Hillary because she’s mean:

…none of the Democratic candidates has demonstrated the vision or the courage to offer a foreign policy that recognizes and responds intelligently and coherently to the spread of theocratic terror. That’s why, of all the candidates so far, I’ve favored Hillary Clinton. Because she’s a woman and because she’s mean. Even if she doesn’t have a 16 point foreign policy plan, I feel her heart is going to be in the right place when she looks at the aggressive worldwide spread of a vicious and murderous medieval theocratic movement (jihad) that promotes the “honor killing” of rape victims, denies all the hard-won rights of women (not to mention gays, and liberals, and dissidents of all religious and political stripes). A culture that essentially wants to lock women up in the home, deprive them of the right to vote, to an education, to a full life as human beings.

I can see his point. The men leading us have been miserable failures so far. Maybe it’s time for a Joan of Arc to save America. Women are meaner than men. And what poetic justice if a woman defeated militant Islam, a culture that treats women like dogs.

(One remarkable result of our current crisis is how little the left cares about Islam’s backward treatment of women. Their opposition to America trumps everything else.)

Intellectual Property and the Internet

Google and Microsoft are scanning books.

Himalayas of information are still waiting to be conquered. And the highest peaks of all are the great libraries of the world, the repositories of the 100m or more books that have been produced since Johann Gutenberg invented movable type in the 15th century.

In December 2004, Google announced its assault on these peaks. It had made a deal with five libraries — with the NYPL and at the universities of Stanford, Harvard, Michigan and Oxford — to scan their stocks, making their contents available online via Google Book Search ( Ultimately, it is thought, some 30m volumes will be involved. Microsoft, meanwhile, has made a deal with the British Library to scan 100,000 books — 25m pages — this year alone. Google has now scanned 1m books.

The first thing to be said is that Google Book Search, though still in its “beta” or unfinalised form, is an astonishing mechanism. Putting my own name in came up with 626 references and gave me immediate access to passages containing my name in books, most of which were quite unknown to me. Moreover, clicking on one of these references brings up an image of the actual page in question.

But the second thing to be said is that I could read whole passages of my books of which I own the copyright. At once a huge intellectual property issue looms. The Americans are ploughing ahead with this, scanning in material both in and out of copyright. The British — at Oxford’s Bodleian Library and the British Library — are being more cautious, allowing only the scanning of out-of-copyright books. This may, of course, mean nothing, since the big American libraries will, like the Bodleian and the British Library, contain every book published in English, so they will all ultimately be out there on the net.

American publishers are not happy. Before its 2004 announcement, Google had been doing deals with individual publishers to scan their books. But digitising the libraries would seem to render these deals defunct. Furthermore, since Google is acquiring copyright material at no cost, it seems to be treating books quite differently from all other media. It is prepared to pay for video and music, but not, apparently, for books. The Google defence is that their Book Search system is covered by the legal concept of “fair dealing”. No more than 20% of a copyright book will be available, the search is designed to show just relevant passages, and it will provide links to sites where the book can be bought.

Unimpressed, the Authors Guild, supported by the Association of American Publishers, has started a class action suit against Google. A deal may yet be done, but neither side sounds in a compromising mood, and it looks likely that this will go all the way to the Supreme Court, whose ruling on this case may prove momentous.

I’d be interested in what the lawyers think of this. My personal reaction is that I’m excited about getting all the books since Gutenberg on the internet. For the first time in history, everyone with a computer will have access to all knowledge. Anyone with initiative and ability will be able to pursue scholarly studies.

At the same time, if an author does not want his book scanned, Google and Microsoft should respect his decision. Perhaps in the future books will be published for a short period, maybe five or 10 years, then they will go online. Surely having a book in Google’s database is preferable to it going out of print and never being heard of again. And they should set it up so that readers pay Google something to read anything more than a short excerpt. That way an author’s book is available to those who want it and the author still makes some money from his intellectual property.

At some point a book should go into public domain, but when?

(HT: Polipundit)

Our Gutter Culture

Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen”:

Way back when in 67
I was the dandy
Of Gamma Chi
Sweet things from Boston
So young and willing
Moved down to Scarsdale
And where the hell am I

Hey Nineteen
No we can't dance together
No we can't talk at all
Please take me along
When you slide on down

Hey Nineteen
That's 'Retha Franklin
She don't remember the Queen of Soul
It's hard times befallen
The sole survivors
She thinks I'm crazy
But I'm just growing old

Hey Nineteen
No we got nothing in common
No we can't talk at all
Please take me along
When you slide on down

The Cuervo Gold
The fine Colombian
Make tonight a wonderful thing

We can't dance together
No we can't talk at all

This song is saying, “Hey, nineteen-year old girl, we have nothing in common – you don’t even know who Aretha Franklin is – but with the help of tequila and cocaine we can have sex.” (I’m assuming “fine Colombian” means cocaine, but it might be marijuana.)

Steely Dan is the name of a vibrator that Becker and Fagan got from a William Burroughs novel. This group is an excellent example of how the New Leftist subversion of traditional values has now become the status quo. If anything, Steely Dan seems like a staid, tightly produced Classic Rock band now, but they were daring back in the ‘70s.

What did Steely Dan and the rest of the cultural revolution pave the way for? Here are two lines from a current Hip-Hop song as I found them on the internet:

it'z like romeo and juliet
hot sex on a plattah juss to get you wet
I don’t want to come off as a prude, but rhyming Juliet with get you wet disgusts me. (Becker and Fagan, I should note, never disgust me because they do what they do with intelligence and style. Their integration of jazz harmonies with pop is as sophisticated as anything you'll hear in the rock era. I find their lyrical content often regrettably questionable.)

Augustinian Christianity hates everything in this world, most especially sex, and that’s wrong. But contemporary pop culture errs in the opposite way by reducing sex to physical processes. Notice that both religion and moral relativism separate sex and spiritual value. One celebrates spiritual value without sex, whereas the other celebrates sex without spiritual value.

We now have a culture that is mindless, brutish and crass. Hip-Hop, Heavy Metal, Howard Stern and Hollywood (lots of H’s) give us a vision of the lowest aspects of our nature without ideals. The vision of man they project is of a flawed, stupid creature who lives in the gutter and mocks those who aspire to anything greater.

I'm not saying that all traditional values were good. Some of them needed to go. But the New Leftist cultural revolution was a wide assault on standards as such in the name of egalitarianism, and this has left us much worse off.

The most depressing thing about our mindless culture is that young people grow up spiritually crippled without a vision of heroic, intelligent man. It's life without soul-inspiring ideals. The right's notion of ideals, religion, is a metaphysical fantasy; the left's notion of ideals, altruistic service to the collective, substitutes duty to others for rational self-interest. In neither case is man given values to pursue on this earth.

This value-deprivation, I fear, will contribute greatly to changing the American character so that people become more passive, obedient, unthinking and collectivist. I don’t want to get into any John Birch-like conspiracy theories, but maybe the New Leftist assault on traditional values was not entirely coincidental. It is amazing how the cultural change reinforces the political change as the New Left works to replace capitalism with statism. Such is the power of philosophy.

UPDATE: Slight revision.

Lakers: Halfway Point

After playing 41 of 82 regular season games, the Lakers are 26-15 (.634). They are in fifth place in the Western Conference. They are also fifth best in the entire NBA since the top six records are in the Western Conference. The best teams in the East are the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards at 24-16 (.600). (Each of those teams has a superstar, Lebron James and Gilbert Arenas, respectively. Great players matter in basketball. The Detroit Pistons are unusual in that they won the championship with a lot of good players and outstanding defense, but no bona fide superstar.)

The Lakers have stayed in fifth place despite missing their second best player Lamar Odom as well as Kwame Brown (not to mention that their starting center Chris Mihm is out for the season).

The Lakers are clearly not as good as the Dallas Mavericks 33-8 (.805) and the Phoenix Suns 31-9 (.795), two teams that score like Warren Beatty at a party in Laurel Canyon. However, they’re pretty damn good and once they get Lamar and Kwame back, they have a chance against anyone in a seven-game playoff series. Kobe can win one game all by himself in a playoff series, which might be enough to make the difference between winning and losing.

To say they’ll get in the playoffs is something of a joke because in the Western Conference more teams make the playoffs (8) than don’t (7). Right now all the teams in the West with winning records would be in the playoffs and all the teams with losing records would not. In the East it looks like one or two teams with losing records will make the post-season. You have to be really bad to miss the playoffs.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Remembering the Good Old Days

Reading Ronald A. Cass’s piece on Sandy Berger’s document theft, these paragraphs made me reminisce about the Clinton Presidency:

Politicians never like to admit mistakes. They see legitimate inquiries as politically inspired, which they often are. Changing the subject or shifting blame to others aren't tactics peculiar to the Clintons.

The Clintons, however, take the game of deny-deceive-and-distract to a new level. Their relentless personal attacks on Ken Starr were designed to undermine the credibility of information about Bill Clinton's perjury, to deflect attention from his own failings. Clinton's excessive reaction - complete with hyperbole, finger-wagging, and scolding - to a simple question from Fox News' Chris Wallace about his response to al-Qaeda is in the same vein. Something here touches a nerve.

This month marks six years without a Clinton Presidency. If the fates are kind to us, we’ll have another Clinton Presidency in a few years. It might not be good for America, but it would be a gold mine for talk show hosts and bloggers. Instant content!

The first and perhaps last Clinton Presidency made history in a few ways. Clinton was the first president never to stop campaigning and begin governing; it was the presidency of the permanent campaign. In fact, the campaign did not end with the presidency. Clinton is spinning his legacy now and will continue to campaign until he dies.

The Clinton Presidency set up a permanent war room to fight Republican attacks. If Clinton had set up a war room to wage war, he might have been a good president.

Clinton was the social metaphysician as President. Social metaphysics is a psychological problem in which a person places the opinions of other people above reality. What is true or good does not matter as much as what other people think. What Clinton actually accomplished was not as important as what he could make people think he accomplished. Polls became a metaphysical standard: if enough people approved of something the President did, then it was good.

It makes for an entertaining show if you can get past your initial disgust at a President so psychologically twisted that he can’t tell the difference between reality and the lies that come out of his mouth. How many normal people could say the following with a straight face?

It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the--if he--if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not--that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement....Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.

The entertainment is intensified when the media decide their job is not to report the facts objectively but to serve as the propaganda arm of the Democrat Party. Hey, with Rush Limbaugh and Fox News propagandizing for the right, it's only fair if the New York Times and CBS pitch in for left.

An interesting question for the philosophers: how is this political culture of subjectivity related to modern philosophy? Certainly, postmodernism, with its idea of truth as “narrative” fits Clinton well. Multiculturalism’s idea of different ethnic groups and sexes having different ways of thinking is a development of Marx’s idea of different classes having different logics. Marx was a Hegelian, Hegel was influenced by Kant…

But I’m over my head now, as I’ve read very little German philosophy other than Nietzsche, and I’m too old to start. I just turned 50, you know, and some things are foolish for a 50-year old man to pursue, such as 19-year old girls. With my time on earth dwindling, surely it would be foolish to attempt to read German philosophers. That’s my excuse, anyway. Maybe I should take a poll to see if I’m right.

Papa's Got A Brand New Bodybag

James Brown’s body still has not been buried.

James Brown's body was moved Thursday from a guarded, climate-controlled room at his Beech Island, S.C., home where it had been since Dec. 30, said Buddy Dallas, the late entertainer's estate trustee and longtime counsel. Brown died Dec. 25 of heart failure in Atlanta at 73.

Dallas would not why the body was moved, but said no decision has been made on where Brown's final resting place will be.
This is happening because his family wants to make money off of the corpse.

Brown's six adult children are planning to put the body in a mausoleum, perhaps turning the singer's home — about 9 miles east of Augusta — into a museum that would include his grave. Family members plan to consult with Elvis Presley's family on how they opened Graceland, Presley's mansion in Memphis, Tenn., which attracts 600,000 visitors each year.

Welcome to the Big Leagues, Senator Obama

Gotta love it:

"Are the American people ready for an elected president who was educated in a Madrassa as a young boy and has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage?

This is the question Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's camp is asking about Sen. Barack Obama.

An investigation of Mr. Obama by political opponents within the Democratic Party has discovered that Mr. Obama was raised as a Muslim by his stepfather in Indonesia. Sources close to the background check, which has not yet been released, said Mr. Obama, 45, spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia.

"He was a Muslim, but he concealed it," the source said. "His opponents within the Democrats hope this will become a major issue in the campaign."

When contacted by Insight, Mr. Obama's press secretary said he would consult with "his boss" and call back. He did not.

Sources said the background check, conducted by researchers connected to Senator Clinton, disclosed details of Mr. Obama's Muslim past. The sources said the Clinton camp concluded the Illinois Democrat concealed his prior Muslim faith and education.

"The background investigation will provide major ammunition to his opponents," the source said. "The idea is to show Obama as deceptive."

As John Hawkins notes,

In a way, this reminds me of the way that the Kerry campaign handled the "Mary Cheney issue" during the 2004 campaign. Democrats always claim that conservatives hate gays, but during the campaign, the message was, "Think twice before you vote for Bush because Dick Cheney's daughter is a lesbo!"

Now it's, "Conservatives hate Muslims and foreigners, but did you know that Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim foreigner! Watch out or he'll amend the Constitution to make the burqa mandatory and put 'In Allah We Trust' on the back of the dollar!"

Why can Democrats get away with a personal attack that would be denounced as hate-mongering character assassination if a Republican tried it? Because Democrats have goodness in their hearts; they have altruist ends that make them moral. Yes, they can be a bit rough in the pursuit of power, but politics ain’t beanbag, you know.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mayhew vs. Tracinski

Robert Mayhew demolishes part five of Robert Tracinski’s “What Went Right?” series.

Tracinski’s thesis is, in my words, history moves philosophy. As evidence he offers the history of ancient Greece, in which Aristotle follows the cultural efflorescence of the 5th century. Aristotle used the achievements of Greek culture that came before him inductively in forming his philosophy.

Actually, ancient Greece shows the opposite of Tracinski’s point -- the power of philosophy. The glories of 5th century Athens make no sense outside the context of a robust philosophic culture that went from Thales in the 6th century through the Sophists. As Dr. Mayhew explains, the ideas in the great plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides come from contemporary philosophy.

Tracinski seems to have been led astray by the fact that ancient philosophy peaked with Aristotle in the 4th century, after Greek culture peaked. But the fact that the 5th century Greeks were not influenced by Aristotle does not mean they worked in a philosophic vacuum.

Tracinski is not yet done with “What Went Right?”, but so far it looks like a failure.

UPDATE: I went back and reread part five of Tracinski's series to make sure I understand his point. He writes:

The role of the philosopher, historically, is not as the sole motor of all progress, but rather as the observer, defender, promoter, and intellectual amplifier of that progress.
Philosophy is not the sole motor of progress, therefore philosophy and other factors are the motors of progress. But what is the most important, fundamental cause of progress, ideas or something else? What are the other factors? And what causes the other factors?

I want to note here that I respect Robert Tracinski and I value TIA. I think he is mistaken here, but he has not made a breach of morality. We should criticize his mistakes without getting hysterical.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Anti-Progress Coalition

Last January I wrote:

One realignment I fear is that the religious right will make a deal with the environmentalist left. They both oppose freedom and want to take society back -- the right wants to take us to the middle ages and the left wants to take us to the Pleistocene. I fear they will make a deal saying, essentially, “The right can have its way on abortion if the left can have its way on the economy. The right can enchain man’s spirit, whereas the left enchains his body.” Such a realignment would put America into two clear-cut camps, individualists and collectivists.

Secular Foxhole posts on evangelicals signing onto global warming.

Also of interest is a story from the February 6, 2005, called “The Greening of Evangelicals.” If the religious right accepts environmentalism, then the Republicans in power will follow. Republican politicians would be able to please both the MSM and a huge part of their base. How many of them could resist that?

The coming together of religion and environmentalism is an important trend to watch. It makes sense that the two would unite because they are both, fundamentally, anti-science and anti-progress in this world. The two movements strengthen each other: environmentalism gives religion a veneer of practicality in this world (however specious); religion gives environmentalism moral justification (however wrong). Furthermore, with faith religion gives environmentalism an alternative epistemology to reason, which can be unkind to the woozy, emotionalist thinking of environmentalists.

UPDATE: Also see Edward Cline’s God Goes Green.

And the word is that George Bush will make an environmentalist proposal in his State of the Union Speech, something about global warming. We’ll have to wait for the speech to hear exactly what he says, but I will speculate now that this could be an ominous development.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Random Thoughts

1. I don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh much anymore. Conservative talk radio bores me now because it’s the same old thing over and over. When they focus only on the inadequacies of the liberals, they miss a story that is at least as important: the failure of conservatism. I’m glad to hear from Dithyramb that Rush has finally read Atlas Shrugged and is promoting it. I heard him mention the book twice back in the ‘90s, both times commenting with some reservations on how small the print was. I got the impression he’s not one who reads hard books; he picked up his conservative knowledge from his father, life experience and National Review. I hope for his sake he bought a large-sized copy instead of the little mass market paperback and a nice pair of reading glasses.

This is great news because Rush has a huge audience, far bigger than anyone on cable TV news channels.

2. Harry Binswanger commented on his private email group that plastics have become so strong that it’s hard to open wrappers even with your teeth. I keep a steak knife on the kitchen counter at all times; between packages that come in the mail and plastic wrappers, I use that knife daily. It seems kind of stupid to make wrappers that you have to fight to open.

3. The Dougout has lots of bloggy goodness, such as an astonishing comparison of the sizes of celestial objects. Antares is one big mutha. Also he discusses Just War Theory as applied to the Civil War.

By the way, you can easily see Betelgeuse in our northern hemisphere sky; it is the lower armpit of Orion. You can actually see its red color compared to the white of other stars.

4. My guard goes up whenever I hear the words “the community,” and I hear them every day. They are always said in hushed, pious tones, for here is the altruists’ moral ideal: other people. Altruism distorts what is important in life. A man can work like a slave educating himself, starting a business and putting in 70-hour weeks producing wealth, but none of that is of moral worth because it is selfish. But if this same man wastes his valuable time picking up scraps of trash on the roadside, simple work that would bore a retarded teenager, that is held as moral and important because it is for “the community.”

Is it any wonder people give up to cynicism and passivity when everything that is colorful and interesting and productive is ignored or even sneered at and doing relatively unimportant community service is glorified?

5. In a recent post I said things were getting better. In a subsequent post I said that only the spread of a rational philosophy can turn around the downward course of civilization. Isn’t this a contradiction? If we are on a downward course, how can things be getting better?

Let me clarify. I think Objectivism is in the process of spreading throughout our culture right now. If America continues in our current welfare state without crises, then the economy should continue to grow and reason should continue to spread. I think Objectivism is spreading faster than Aristotelianism did in the Middle Ages because of the speed of modern communications and the Information Revolution. In the 13th century monks were still copying books by hand.

At the same time, both the nihilist left and the religious right are getting worse. And the state will continue to grow as it has for over a century. I am not optimistic about how our mixed economy will respond to any crises in the near term. (Within 10 years? 20 years?)

I see civilization in a kind of philosophical horse race. (If you knew my luck at the race track, you wouldn’t have much confidence in my bets.) This is the best I can do in assessing how our culture is changing. I don’t have a crystal ball.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Round Two From Noumenalself

Noumenalself makes some good points in his second post on Tracinski’s series.

Tracinski is impressed that in the field of economics there are a few people such as Julian Simon and Manmohan Singh who got it right and changed the world for the better, and they acted in today’s culture with its bad philosophy.

How do we explain their achievement? I would say man has free will and some individuals can think about reality first-hand and get it right. These remarkable individuals are the exceptions in our bad culture that prove the rule.

It is true that many people do good work every day and even advance civilization. Remember, it is impossible to be consistently anti-life without immediately committing suicide. Every breath is taken on an implicit pro-life premise. So irrational philosophies are inconsistent and contradictory. In assessing a culture’s philosophical trend, one has to make sure to understand what is fundamental and what is a contradiction. The fact that religious people continue to live on earth and enjoy the modern world instead of locking themselves in medieval-like cells does not make their philosophy any better. (The more consistently religious our culture becomes, then the more we will see people actually becoming monks and hermits and renouncing the pleasures of this world.)

We are grateful for the contradictions among those who hold irrational philosophies; their lack of seriousness buys us time for a rational philosophy to spread.

The world is still, as Ayn Rand put it, perishing in an orgy of self-sacrifice. Only the spread of a philosophy of reality, reason and rational self-interest will turn around the downward course of civilization.

UPDATE: Revision.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Apologist For Terror

The New York Post has found an outrageous passage in Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid:
"It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel." (Emphasis added.)
There is no other way to read this sentence but as a justification of suicide bombings and terrorism if Israel does not accept “international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace.”

A man who has spent his post-Presidency preening about his role as a peacemaker has become an enemy of peace. But then, as one who appeased our enemies during his Presidency, he never was a true friend of peace. Certainly, his thumb-twiddling in response to the Iranian hostage crisis did not lead to peace.

Just One Example

In my last post, I lamented the wealth that is wasted and destroyed by the mixed economy/welfare state. Let me give one example to make it more real to you.

In 2007 the budget for the Department of Agriculture is $19.7 billion. All of that money is wasted. A free market with competing producers would deliver food that was better and cheaper.

Agriculture is a pressure group. Politicians in farm states buy votes by assuring farmers that money will continue to be stolen from the rest of American taxpayers and given to them. Any politician in a farm state who refused to guarantee this theft would not be elected.

Complicating the waste is environmentalism, which erects regulations prohibiting individuals from using their property as they see fit.

This vast exercise in state power results in taxpayers paying $19.7 billion to a system that makes food more expensive and of lower quality.

I repeat, we’re paying $19.7 billion so that we can pay more for inferior food in the supermarket.


But the damage done by the Department of Agriculture goes beyond wasting almost $20 billion a year to make food worse. State intervention in agriculture destroys the self-respect of farmers by making them wards of the state. Instead of proud, productive individuals, farmers are parasites living on stolen goods. Instead of practicing such virtues as productiveness, honesty and integrity, farmers mooch handouts and play the game to get benefits from the state. The state spreads cynicism and guilt among farmers who know the subsidies they receive are unearned.

The one proper function of the state is to protect the individual from the initiation of force, but in the mixed economy the state becomes the initiator of force. The state, which should protect justice, becomes a source of injustice. The rule of law is weakened by state intervention, which further weakens individual Americans’ respect for the law. Statist institutions such as the Department of Agriculture are not just impractical, they are immoral.

State intervention in the economy spreads the rule of force and destroys the use of reason. Civilized standards are necessary when men use reason with one another in a free society, but these standards erode when reason is supplanted by force. The more the state intervenes in the economy, the less civilized America becomes.

The welfare state is destroying the American character and the American way of life. As collectivism waxes and individualism wanes, so goes the “can do spirit” that developed when America was a free country. America is becoming less a nation of individuals who are expected to use their initiative to better themselves and more a nation of passive wards dependent on the group for survival. America is becoming more like the nations of Europe with their traditions of authoritarianism and state worship. Once our heritage of individualism is gone, it will be difficult to return to freedom. A nation of trembling parasites is unlikely to embrace self-reliance.

To return to the realm of the practical, the spiritual destruction in America further destroys wealth because individuals give up trying to better themselves and passively accept mooching off the group like everyone else. Instead of producing wealth, individuals become accustomed to receiving redistributed wealth. We lose far more than $20 billion a year in a statist institution such as the Department of Agriculture. We can never know how much wealth is not created as individual Americans lose the fire in their soul and give up.

As the state intervenes in the economy, America loses its future.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Better Or Worse?

Noumenalself addresses Robert Tracinski’s series, What Went Right?, in a post called “Tracinski on the Non-Collapse of Civilization.” Although Noumenalself does not state outright that civilization is collapsing, he gives examples of how things are getting worse: the anti-globalization movement, the spread of socialism in South America, militant Islam and authoritarian dictatorships in places such as Russia.

I wrote about the non-collapse of civilization in a post called Good News. I credited two things: 1) the remarkable power of even a hampered free economy; and 2) the invention of the computer.

The rule of law, which protects property rights, is a powerful economic force. Statists can enchain half an economy and the free half will still cause so much economic growth that the chains feel light.

( Digression. When I see how much wealth is created in our semi-free economy, I lament what might have been. If America had a laissez-faire capitalist economy, the wealth created would be… well, it’s unimaginable. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to suppose that major diseases such as heart attack, stroke, cancer and alzheimer’s would be cured or at least prevented better. Man would live longer. Middle-sized cities would have ballets, symphonies and regional theatres. People would be living on the Moon and Mars.

If you want something far out, try this:

Recently in his book The Sun as a Gravitational Lens: Proposed Space Missions, Claudio Maccone, a space scientist at Alenia Aerospazio in Turin, Italy, suggests implementing the sun’s gravitational lensing effect (as predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity) in a telescope. In other words, the Sun could be used as a lens producing an aperture the diameter of the sun. Its focus is at about six hundred astronomical units away. If the proper equipment were placed at the Solar focus, extremely detailed images of extra-solar planetary surfaces could be captured.

Someday we could have a telescope that sees planets around other stars. It won’t happen in our lifetime, but who knows what might have been in a free economy.

The more wealth that is made, the more wealth there is for medical research, science and the arts. We’ll never know what we’re missing because such geniuses as Barbara Boxer and George W. Bush would rather control part of the economy for our own good. End of digression.)

The second thing keeping us afloat is the invention of the computer, which makes every aspect of the economy more efficient. Remember when stores had to do inventory? Retailers had to work overtime counting everything on their shelves. Today computers keep inventory automatically and order replacements as soon as goods leave the shelves. That is just one example out of millions of the stunning power of computers.

There is a third factor I might speculate about: the influence already, today, of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. How has it changed the world? What would the world be like without it? Martin Anderson credited the Reagan Revolution to free market ideologues who had read Rand in their youth. The libertarian movement would be even more insignificant than it is now without people who have read Rand. The self-esteem movement in psychology would not exist. I would be a liberal.

How many people read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged and did not pursue the philosophy further, but were inspired by Rand's picture of achievement enough that they thought, "I will go back to school and get that MBA" or "I should move to that city I've always wanted to live in"? Their lives changed in little ways that spread more change in the lives they affected positively like ripples in a pond.

It’s hard to measure the impact of philosophy on anything less than the scale of centuries. Right now Objectivism is still too far underground to tell, but I think it has made some difference already. We’re dealing with another might-have-been like laissez-faire capitalism, but in reverse: the world would be better with capitalism and worse without Objectivism.

So where do I come down? Is the world getting better or worse?

Here is the x factor, the question that must be answered before we will know for sure: Is the welfare state stable? Both Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises said the mixed economy/welfare state is an unstable transition phase between freedom and dictatorship. In the laboratory of history exhibit A was the first welfare state that began in Bismarck’s Germany and deteriorated within two generations into the Nazi dictatorship.

Mises explained a process in which the state intervenes a little, creates a crisis, blames the crisis on the remaining element of freedom and finally takes over total control. The only problem with this theory is that the American welfare state is now 70 years old and we are still semi-free.

Could it be that the computer has been such an enormous boon to the economy that it has kept crises from crashing down and thus stalled the process that leads to dictatorship? Could the statists in Washington, D.C. continue intervention to the point that they catch up with the good computers have done and finally create a crisis? Are we just living on time borrowed by the silicon chip?

Or is it possible that our heritage from the Enlightenment of individualism and freedom and the rule of law written in the Constitution are so powerful that an American welfare state might muddle along in semi-freedom for centuries? If so, then there is hope that Objectivism will spread and the culture will change before America collapses in dictatorship.

I have noticed one thing: America’s politicians don’t show much lust for nationalizing industry. Hillary wanted to sink her fangs into health care, but that power grab failed. The thing is, if the state owns industry, then the state is responsible for it and the state gets the blame when things go wrong. Perhaps we should say a quiet word of thanks that our politicians are spineless cowards who are afraid to take over the whole show. They want property to remain in private possession; they just want to tell people what they can and cannot do with their property.

As long as we stay semi-free, a hampered free market with computers will probably continue to create wealth.

Better or worse? I’ll guess better, but no one can predict the future. A series of crises such as retiring baby boomers sucking wealth from younger workers, President McCain mandating two years of service to the state by every young person, an exotic virus killing tens of millions, China attacking Taiwan, and totalitarian Islam attacking everyone else could easily plunge us into dictatorship. And the growth of religion is another x factor.

It’ll be close.

(On Tracinski’s theory of history, I’ll wait until he is done. I’m not sure about it yet.)

UPDATE: I forgot to note that today, January 14, 2007, is my 50th birthday. I was born the year Atlas Shrugged was published. 1957 was also the peak year of the Baby Boom; lots of people my age. I'm surprisingly optimistic about the future for someone who is almost dead.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Slight revision.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Exiles From Ibsenism

Exiles (1919) is the only play written by James Joyce (1882-1941). Joyce was a great admirer of Henrik Ibsen and he wrote this play in his idea of the Ibsen manner. The chief value of the play is that it shows how great a playwright Ibsen was by comparison.

Joyce’s play is about an Irish writer, Richard Rowen, who is a self-portrait of the author. Richard Rowen’s first and last name begin with the same letter, just like James Joyce. Richard’s neurotic relationship with his wife, Bertha, is supposedly based on Joyce’s relationship with one Nora Barnacle. If so, I feel sorry for Nora (but then, no one forced her to marry James Joyce). Richard lived on the continent, but has returned to Ireland when the play begins; Joyce did the same thing in real life.

I will summarize the entire plot in the next three paragraphs. Custom demands that I warn of spoilers, although I doubt that anyone will go through the trouble of reading this obscure, dreary play.

Act I opens with Richard talking to Beatrice, his best friend Robert’s cousin and sometime lover, a woman Richard had an affair with when he lived in Italy. Beatrice has been giving Richard and Bertha’s eight-year old son Archie piano lessons. Their dialogue gives a lot of exposition, but is otherwise pointless. When Richard hears Robert Hand coming, he leaves because dredging up the past and his tortured relationship with his recently deceased Mother has upset him. Robert enters with roses intended for Bertha. Robert and Beatrice engage in small talk, then Robert chats with Archie. More small talk until Beatrice and Archie leave, then Robert pursues his real purpose of seducing Richard’s wife Bertha. He kisses her and makes an appointment for her to come to his house at 8pm that night. She is noncommittal and unenthusiastic, but she does not say no. Richard comes in and and Bertha leaves. (Entrances and exits are a frustrating technical problem for the dramatist. Characters need important and logical reasons to enter and exit. Joyce handles this problem clumsily throughout the play.) Robert and Richard talk about Richard’s past and about women. Robert tells Richard that the vice-chancellor has invited Richard to dine at his place at 8pm. After some business with Archie and Beatrice, Robert leaves with them. Richard and Bertha have the last scene of the act together. Bertha tells him everything that happened between her and Robert. She asks if she should go to Robert. Richard says it is up to her.

Act II is at 8pm that night at Robert’s house. Robert is in evening dress, expecting Bertha, when Richard arrives. Robert is remorseful and glad that Richard has stopped him from having an affair with Bertha. Richard talks about his guilt over cheating on Bertha. When they see Bertha coming, Richard says he will leave Robert and Bertha alone here. Robert leaves to get an umbrella (another clumsily handled exit). Richard tells Bertha to love Robert, then leaves. Robert and Bertha have the last scene of the act. Robert wants Bertha to love him, but she is still noncommittal and unemotional. Robert knows she loves Richard, but he asks if she also loves him. The act ends with the stage direction “She does not answer. In the silence the rain is heard falling.”

Act III is back at Richard’s house the next day. After business with the maid and Archie, Bertha and Beatrice talk in veiled terms about Richard, the man they both love (God knows why). They reach an understanding to be friends during the act. When Bertha and Richard are alone, she accuses him of destroying three women with his neurotic games, Beatrice, Bertha and Richard’s Mother. Robert comes and tells Richard that he failed with Bertha and is leaving for Surrey. Some confusing business with Archie, with implications that Robert might be the father. In the last scene Richard tells Bertha he has “a deep, deep wound of doubt” in his soul about her. “I have wounded my soul for you – a deep wound of doubt which can never be healed. I can never know, never in this world. I do not wish to know or to believe. I do not care. It is not in the darkness of belief that I desire you. But in the restless living wounding doubt. To hold you by no bonds, even of love, to be united with you in body and soul in utter nakedness – for this I longed. And now I am tired for a while, Bertha. My wound tires me.” To which Bertha responds, “Forget me, Dick. Forget me and love me again as you did the first time. I want my lover. To meet him, to go to him, to give myself to him. You, Dick. O my strange, wild lover, come back to me again!” And then she closes her eyes and the play ends.

Naturalism, as Ayn Rand explains in The Romantic Manifesto, is based on the premise that man does not have free will. This is clearly the case with Richard. He is wracked with guilt about his past, but unable to do anything about it. He is hopelessly trapped in his guilt-ridden existence. The only thing he can think of to ease his pain is to urge his best friend to have sex with his wife, a neurotic solution at best. Because he has no goal, no plan of action, the play has no plot. The play ends with Richard moaning about an unhealable wound of doubt in his soul. There is no hope of happiness for Richard and Bertha.

Many of Ibsen’s characters are guilt-ridden like Richard, but they form a plan of action, sometimes a last-ditch effort to change. (Hedda Gabler, Ibsen's most horrifying monster, acts out of envy to destroy the joy she cannot know.) Ibsen’s plays have a plot that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat wondering what will happen next. Even Ibsen’s tragic characters have a larger than life quality that makes them fascinating to contemplate.

Just as Aristotle was not served by the medieval Aristotelians, Ibsen has not been served by the Ibsenites. He must be the most misunderstood playwright in history. He is a romantic realist who, because his plays are about middle-class people in drawing rooms instead of Spanish dons flashing swords, has been considered a naturalist. Ibsen complained that the actors in his day did not act his characters with enough passion because they were misled by the realism to think they had to make the characters life-size and subdued, the way most people act in their living rooms.

Chekhov, a real naturalist, was one of the few people intelligent and perceptive enough to understand Ibsen. During a rehearsal at the Moscow Art Theatre one day, he commented about an Ibsen play that real people did not act like that. By Chekhov's naturalistic standards, Ibsen's characters are unrealistic. Ibsen's characters are not statistical averages; they are not the girl next door; they are concretes that embody wide abstractions, like the characters of Schiller, Hugo and Dostoyevsky.

The thesis play that flourished in the early 20th century among second-rate playwrights such as Hervieu and Galsworthy is another misunderstanding of Ibsenism. These playwrights would take a concrete bound idea, such as “a mother’s love can be destructive” or “poverty leads to crime” and make a play proving that point. Ibsen’s plays deal with wider philosophical themes and are not built to prove a narrow political point. Feminists claim A Doll’s House for their own, but really the play is about individualism and free will; it is more than a feminist tract.

Joyce takes Ibsen’s style and fills it with naturalistic content. On the surface Exiles is Ibsen-like: tortured souls discuss their past in realistic interior settings, with much of the talk about individual freedom vs. a parochial, judgmental society. But the differences between Joyce and Ibsen demonstrate the fundamental importance of plot (or lack thereof). Ibsen’s characters do not just talk, they have goals and act to achieve them; Joyce’s characters have little else but talk because they are trapped in their guilt. Like the characters in Sartre’s existential play, there is no exit.

One passage, I believe, reveals James Joyce’s sense of life and his view of man:

Robert: You will give me a headache of you make me think today. I cannot think today. I feel to natural, too common. After all, what is most attractive in even the most beautiful woman?

Richard: What?

Robert: Not those qualities which she has and other women have not but the qualities which she has in common with them. I mean… the commonest. I mean how her body develops heat when it is pressed, the movement of her blood, how quickly she changes by digestion what she eats into – what shall be nameless. [Laughing.] I am very common today. Perhaps that idea never struck you?

According to Robert, and probably to Joyce, what is most attractive in a woman is not her beauty or character or any spiritual qualities, only the fact that she shits.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Suburban Populism

Rahm Emanuel talked to David Ignatius about Democrat strategy for the next two years.

Emanuel believes that the November election voiced a deep public frustration with Republican leadership, and opened the way for what could be a long-term realignment, if the Democrats are smart. A key trend was what he calls "suburban populism.'' Middle-class voters are angry because they feel that their standard of living -- from education to health care to retirement -- is under assault.
Might less government and lower taxes help these middle-class voters? Or is the solution to redistribute wealth from the rich to the middle class? I think the real Democrat goal here is make the middle class dependent on government.

For a generation, GOP strategists encouraged these suburban voters to focus their anxiety and resentment on urban minorities, but Emanuel argues that isn't working anymore.
This is a Democrat smear. Opposing the welfare state does not mean resenting urban minorities. If Rahm Emanuel believes this, then his strategizing is not based on clear thinking but on leftist propaganda. Not a good sign for a political strategist.

"Today, the new welfare queen is corporate America,'' he says. Suburban voters, like those in the inner cities, "are angry at powerful citizens who are getting a better deal than they are.''
Corporations depend on making a profit for their survival, not on government handouts, so they are not really welfare queens. Democrat strategy is to whip up envy and hatred of corporations in order to justify expanding the welfare state so that the suburbs are as dependent on government as the urban areas are. Dependency on government = Democrat votes.

The secret for the Democrats, says Emanuel, is to remain the party of reform and change.
That will be harder in ’08 with the Democrats in control of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The country is angry, and will only get more so as the problems in Iraq deepen. Don't look to Emanuel's Democrats for solutions on Iraq. It's Bush's war, and as it splinters the structure of GOP power, they're waiting to pick up the pieces.
The Democrats want Iraq to remain a mess that they can use to club the Republicans with in ’08.

Big business is, as Ayn Rand said almost 50 years ago, America’s most persecuted minority. The Democrat plan for the next two years is to continue the persecution.

A Vision of Sacrifice

Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship. But victory in Iraq will bring something new in the Arab world -- a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people. A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them -- and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and our grandchildren.

(From the President’s speech last night)

Will a democratic Iraq make our children and our grandchildren at all safer? As Bill Quick writes,

There is absolutely no hope of anything like this coming to fruition for at least a full generation, twenty to thirty years, minimum, and that is under the best of circumstances.

Absent the removal of armed subversion from the Mullahs of Iran, the Baathists of Syria, and the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia, there is no hope at all of achieving this victory.

If we had left Saddam Hussein alone and not invaded Iraq, would we be safer, less safe or about the same? I say about the same because we must destroy the states that sponsor terrorism to end terrorism. Iraq is a distraction, a side show. At best – and this is speculative – it is a strategy that will take a generation to work. That’s a generation of Americans dying in Iraq. That’s a generation of taxpayer’s money going to Iraq – trillions and trillions of dollars. (How much would it cost to bomb Iran into the stone age?)

America might be marginally safer without Saddam Hussein, but removing him must be separated from the subsequent mission of bringing democracy to Iraq. Imagine that we had invaded Iraq, shot Saddam in his spider hole, then departed the country, taping this note to the rubble: “If you threaten us again, we will destroy you again.” Would we be safer, less safe or about the same? Well, Saddam would be dead and dictators such as Qaddafi would still get the message. It would have been a boost for American morale and a blow to the enemy's morale, but in the long run we would be about as safe because Iraq has never been the fount of militant Islam.

The war in Iraq is not about America defending itself, it is about America sacrificing for the weak. Here are the final three paragraphs of the President’s speech:

In these dangerous times, the United States is blessed to have extraordinary and selfless men and women willing to step forward and defend us. These young Americans understand that our cause in Iraq is noble and necessary -- and that the advance of freedom is the calling of our time. They serve far from their families, who make the quiet sacrifices of lonely holidays and empty chairs at the dinner table. They have watched their comrades give their lives to ensure our liberty. We mourn the loss of every fallen American -- and we owe it to them to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.

Fellow citizens: The year ahead will demand more patience, sacrifice, and resolve. It can be tempting to think that America can put aside the burdens of freedom. Yet times of testing reveal the character of a nation. And throughout our history, Americans have always defied the pessimists and seen our faith in freedom redeemed. Now America is engaged in a new struggle that will set the course for a new century. We can, and we will, prevail.

We go forward with trust that the Author of Liberty will guide us through these trying hours. Thank you and good night.

The burdens of freedom? This is a vision of America as a nation that must sacrifice to bring freedom to Iraq. The Author of Liberty (God) gave us liberty and now it is our duty, “the calling of our time,” to do God's work and bring freedom to Iraq.

It's a package deal of altruistic sacrifice and self-defense. The self-defense part serves to make the moral ideal of sacrificing for Iraq seem practical. The sacrifice part serves to give killing the enemy a moral justification. This package deal is necessary in our confused culture because Americans would not accept pure sacrifice for Iraqis without some idea that it is in our self-defense; at the same time, Americans do not understand that a non-sacrificial self-defense is moral.

Bush’s mystical-altruistic neoconservative vision has many flaws, among them the idea that democracy is freedom. A democratic Iraq will not be a nation of individual rights. If this nation of muslims elects Islamic radicals, then individuals, especially women, will lose rights.

In “The Lessons of Vietnam,” Ayn Rand wrote,

In compliance with modern politics, the war was allegedly intended to save South Vietnam from communism, but the proclaimed purpose of the war was not to protect freedom or individual rights, it was not to establish capitalism or any particular social system – it was to uphold the South Vietnamese right to “national self-determination,” i.e., the right to vote themselves into any sort of system (including communism, as American propagandists kept proclaiming).

The right to vote is a consequence, not a primary cause, of a free social system – and its value depends on the constitutional structure implementing and strictly delimiting the voters power; unlimited majority rule is an instance of the principle of tyranny. Outside the context of a free society, who would want to die for the right to vote? Yet that is what American soldiers were asked to die for – not even for their own vote, but to secure that privilege for the South Vietnamese, who had no other rights and no knowledge of rights or freedom.

The same thing is happening in Iraq. Instead of bringing freedom to Iraq, we are bringing a consequence of freedom, the right to vote. Without capitalism and without the philosophical premises that make capitalism possible, the right to vote will not bring freedom to Iraq. If muslims vote in Sharia law, then Americans are sacrificing to bring religious dictatorship to Iraq.

Bush and the neoconservatives have turned Iraq into another Vietnam, an altruist tragedy. We are unnecessarily sacrificing American lives and fortune because our leaders have neither the philosophical understanding nor the moral confidence to effect a foreign policy of rational self-interest. Sacrifice is held as a moral ideal, so Bush has set America on a mission that will see American men and women butchered for a generation in order to bring democracy to Iraq, instead of doing the one simple thing that would really ensure the safety of our children and our grandchildren: destroying the enemy.

UPDATE: Slight revision.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Prerogative of the Philosopher-Kings

Republicans are having fun as Democrats evade their campaign promises to withdraw from Iraq. As Tony Blankley puts the Democrats’ predicament:

(1) The Democrats cheerfully campaigned all last year on "re-deploying" our troops out of Iraq, (2) now that they are in charge, many of their voters want and expect them to legislate their campaign promise, and (3) the Democrats want to continue to express their unflinching determination to oppose the war and bring the troops home.

Their problem is that many Democratic Party leaders don't want to actually cut off the money necessary to fight the war for fear that if things go badly, they might be held responsible by the voters in 2008 for a Middle East catastrophe.

Cassandra at Villainous Company examines Joe Biden’s lack of seriousness when he says cutting off funding would be “unconstitutional.”

…the political cost of continued carping is nonexistent, while the cost of actually doing something about the problems Democrats are complaining about may be unacceptable to them.

As Rich Lowry puts it, the Democrats are not being "straightforward" when they do not admit what they really believe, that the war is lost.

So the Democrats are being evasive and less than forthcoming. Normal people (meaning people who are not politicians) call this behavior lying. The Democrats want to criticize the war to please their base, but they also want to support the troops to please the rest of American voters. They want to blame Bush, but they don’t want any responsibility for which they might be blamed in ’08.

Will the Democrat base mind that their leaders lie? The far left might grumble a little, but in the long run, most of the base will accept the lying. Here’s why.

In the liberal imagination America is a nation of sheep who are easily deluded by capitalism/corporations/patriotism/ racism/greed/Rush Limbaugh/Fox News/Teflon presidents, etc. Wave the flag or a wad of dollars before these sheep and they become hypnotized and will follow any lies their corporate masters tell them, even if it is to their own harm. We would have socialized medicine in America were it not for greedy corporations manipulating the sheep.

Liberals, on the other hand, are America’s Platonic philosopher-kings who see the true reality because they have goodness in their hearts and are not corrupted by greed. As long as America’s contemptible sheep have the right to vote, liberals have the right to lie to them in order to get elected and hold power over the sheep for their own good.

Liberals are used to their leaders lying. They have heard their leaders lie all their life. Will they mind lies about Iraq now? No. Quite the contrary, they expect it.

UPDATE: The inevitable slight revisions.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Class Envy Shtick Is Getting Old

From Real Clear Politics:

Desperate to compete with Barack Obama before a black audience in Harlem yesterday, Hillary came up with a doozy: "It is not rich people who made this country great," she said. "It is hardworking Americans who have worked hard to lift themselves and their children up."

Why does Hillary assume rich people have not worked hard to lift themselves and their children up? Maybe she is introspecting about how she was given $100,000 in cattle futures because she was the Governor of Arkansas’s wife and the local businessmen knew who they had to buy off.


From Pajamas Media:

The al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic Courts Union’s (ICU) rapid retreat in the face of Ethiopia’s military campaign in Somalia has puzzled many observers. How could the Ethiopians roll up the jihadists so quickly? Pajamas Media has learned that one significant factor is that U.S. air and ground forces covertly aided the Ethiopian military since its intervention began on Christmas day.

U.S. ground forces have been active in Somalia from the start, a senior military intelligence officer confirmed. “In fact,” he said, “they were part of the first group in.”

So, right after the Democrats are elected to power over widespread unhappiness about our stalled out non-war in Iraq, we expand the war, invading another country, a country where we had suffered a miserable defeat and pullout during the Clinton Presidency.

Am I the only one who finds this remarkable? It’s encouraging, too. Would a Democrat President have done this?

For all of Bush’s faults, and they are many, he has to get credit for this one. It looked like the Islamicists were advancing in Somalia and we were just going to watch it happen, as we did for the previous two or three decades – and as the State Department and the left wish we still would. I didn’t hear one angry word from our government. Instead, we quietly and efficiently did the job with the Ethiopians and rolled back totalitarian Islam in Somalia.

This sends a powerful message to the bad guys: the election of the Democrats has not taken the fight out of us, at least not yet. I'm not claiming the war is won or is being fought well, but this battle is a victory for America.

If this report is true and my interpretation is right, then this is big story.

(HT: Kriegsegefahrzustand)


Brussels - The European Commission on Tuesday criticised the reported United States airstrike against a suspected al-Qaeda cell in southern Somalia, calling it counterproductive to peace efforts for the war-torn African country.

Wrong, Euroweenies. Killing terrorists is highly productive of peace.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Is It A Joke?

From Kriegsgefahrzustand we learn about the Beard Liberation Front. I can’t figure out if it’s a joke or not. They should have ZZ Top perform at one of their rallies.


For anyone interested in the art of songwriting, Tunesmith by Jimmy Webb is essential. Webb wrote “Up, Up and Away,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Worst That Could Happen” and “Wichita Lineman,” among others. In the late ‘60s Webb was the most famous songwriter in the world. He has been called the last great American songwriter of the 20th century, but Burt Bacharach might disagree.

The book has sound advice on every aspect of an art that can drive you nuts trying to master. Simple tunes such as “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin or “Dancing Queen” by ABBA sound like pop fluff, but achieving such perfect integration of words and music is nothing to sneeze at.

Webb’s wisdom comes from a lifetime of sitting at the piano writing songs. He has spent those agonizing hours struggling to find the perfect line to fit a melody. There’s nothing rationalistic or “ivory tower” about his advice; he learned it the hard way.

Songwriting is not an epic art. Webb compares it to Swiss watchmaking. It’s an art of small details that must be fitted together to make a thing of beauty. 32 bars does not give one time to say much – just one point that evokes feeling, makes people laugh or maybe makes them think.

Among Webb’s gems of advice, he warns songwriters against excessive, schmaltzy chromaticism in the melody. This is moving the notes by half-steps, as was common in the 19th century. Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” has a lot of half-steps. The first three notes of “Ain’t She Sweet” move in half-steps. In the rock era half-steps must be used with care and taste or they can sound cloying. (This is something I have to watch out for because I love romantic music. Rodgers and Hart's "Isn't It Romantic," for instance, sends me. But I admit, chromatic intervals can easily get sleepy or sickeningly sweet.) He also warns against going too far in the other direction and writing huge intervals that are too hard to sing.

Webb’s chapter on harmony (that’s the chords) has some great tips. You’ve heard about rock songs with only three chords – Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” for example. Those chords are a I-IV-V progression. The other ubiquitous progression in pop music is I-VI-IV-V, which is “Heart and Soul,” “Blue Moon” and a million other songs. In the key of C, I-VI-IV-V is C-Am-F-G. I don’t know how many times I’ve come up with a melody in my head and picked up a guitar to find that the harmony was I-VI-IV-V. This progression is so natural and inevitable that it’s hard to escape.

Webb shows how to get out of the I-VI-IV-V rut by finding substitution chords. All you need is one note in common. For instance, you might substitute I-II-IV-V, which in the key of C is C-Dm-F-G (probably the most common substitution for I-VI-IV-V). This can lead to some unusual sounds, especially if you get into intense jazz chords, but sometimes experimentation finds that perfect chord that sounds fresh and new but also right.

In his chapter on lyrics, Webb writes, “The amateur songwriter’s greatest single failing and one that is immediately obvious to the listener is that the writer does not know where the song is going.” The song starts out with an interesting idea maybe, but comes to nothing.

In my experience lyrics are much harder than music. Music is one or two ideas that might come to you in five minutes, but finding words for that music can take hours of agony. You want to find an idea or images that are fresh but not idiosyncratic. You look for concretes that express an abstraction, which is hard enough, but fitting them to a melody can be brutal.

Webb’s prose style has its pretentious moments. (What do you expect from the man who wrote “MacArthur Park”?) Sometimes he comes off as a half-educated man trying to sound smart by using big words he doesn’t understand. He even quotes Immanuel Kant, but weirdly writes prolegomena as “Prolem Gamara.” But this is a minor drawback in a book that is rich with good instruction. If the novice songwriter can’t get anything of use from this book, maybe he should try some other field of endeavor.