Monday, December 22, 2008

The New Clarion

I accepted an invitation to join a group of Objectivist bloggers, at The New Clarion (link in the sidebar). So my political and cultural observations will be found there in future.

Edelweiss will continue to be the home of my more personal interests, such as music and sports.

Friday, December 19, 2008

'Tis the Season

Merry Christmas in Love
by Marrow & Renis

Things that tremble tingle like a bubble full of rainbows . . . then crack
Sizzle, sing and whisper, when the shadows lace the moonlight with black
Things with silver linings, sparkling tinsel, twinkle shining with . . .
Waving wispy willow wings that breathe a song of Christmastime dreams . . .

Things that glow and glisten, eyes of children when they listen . . . then burst
Things that touch the wistful wish of watching someone else succeed first
Days that dingle dangle with a million parts untangle to
Satin stars that spangle and those Christmas bells that clangle out . . . dreams . .

I'm dreaming of Christmas
To you, Merry Christmas

Dreaming . . . of a Merry Christmas
To you, Merry Christmas

Galloping and gliding, Santa Claus' sleigh we're riding and
Bringing joyful tidings to the dreamers who are lying below . . .

I'm talking of daydreams
Wishes and moonbeams

Then I tremble tingle like a bubble full of rainbows and light
When you came to wake me and to wish me Merry Christmas in love . . .

Christmas in love . . .

I can tremble tingle like a bubble full of rainbows and light
When you came to wake me and to wish me Merry Christmas in love . . .

Merry Christmas in love . . .

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Until You Come Back to Me

I've always loved this old Motown tune by Stevie Wonder. I especially like this lively version by Miki Howard:

It is the joie de vivre that makes this version so magnificent, in spite of several mistakes (or deliberate changes?) in the lyrics. You wouldn't expect such an ebullient joy of living to be expressed in a song about having lost someone's love. But, the emphasis is not on the losing, but on the confidence and determination to get it back. I absolutely love the joy expressed not only by the lead singer, Miki Howard, but by the two joyous background singers, as well. A very uplifting performance, a great way to start the day.

Until You Come Back to Me

Though you don't call anymore
I sit and wait in vain
I guess I'll rap on your door
Tap on your window pane
I want to tell you Baby
The changes I've been going through
Missing you.
Listen you

'till you come back to me
That's what I'm gonna do

Why did you have to decide
You had to set me free
I'm gonna swallow my pride
I'm gonna beg you to (please
baby please) see me
I'm gonna walk by myself
Just to prove that my love is true
Oh, for you baby

'till you come back to me
That's what I'm gonna do

Living for you my dear
Is like living in a world
of constant fear
Hear my plea, I've got to make you see
That our love is dying

Although your phone you ignore
Somehow I must explain
I'm gonna rap on your door
Tap on your window pane
I'm gonna camp on your step
Until I get through to you
I've got to change your view baby
'till you come back to me
That's what I'm gonna do

Saturday, December 13, 2008

We Want You Big Brother

Did you exchange
A walk-on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?

Pink Floyd

This seems to be the choice Americans are making in droves today. It is evidently going to take a cataclysmic event to shake them out of their willingness to live as wards of the state. Will a great depression do it? Or, like the last depression, will it only make them more susceptible to some brave Apollo?

Please saviour, saviour show us
Hear me, I'm graphically yours
Someone to claim us, someone to follow
Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo
Someone to fool us, someone like you
We want you Obama, Obama.

David Bowie (With a slight change in the last line.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Economics in One Lesson, or That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen

In the economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause---it is seen. The others unfold in succession---they are not seen: it is well for us if they are foreseen. Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference---the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse. Hence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good, which will be followed by a great evil to come, while the true economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil. (from That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen, by Frederic Bastiat, published in 1850)

. . . the whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence: The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups. (from chapter one of Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt, published in 1946)

This basic lesson has never been more obviously ignored than in President Elect Obama's plan to begin a massive new public works program. According to a New York times article :

President-elect Barack Obama committed Saturday to the largest public works construction program since the creation of the interstate highway system a half-century ago as he seeks to put together a plan to resuscitate the reeling economy.

Applying Bastiat's lesson, as supplemented by Hazlitt,

Alan D. Viard, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, told Congress recently that public works spending should not be authorized out of “the illusory hope of job gains or economic stabilization.”

“If more money is spent on infrastructure, more workers will be employed in that sector,” Mr. Viard told the House Ways and Means Committee. “In the long run, however, an increase in infrastructure spending requires a reduction in public or private spending for other goods and services. As a result, fewer workers are employed in other sectors of the economy.”

Is this lesson too difficult for liberals to understand? Are they really that short sighted? Or are they simply too weak to stand short term pain for long term health?

Or, as seems most likely, is it simply a matter of power lust? They want to stay in power, and giving away money to those who vote for them is the best way of retaining their support. Call it cynical, but this observation seems to describe the Democrats - and, increasingly, the Republicans - very well:

"A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

· From bondage to spiritual faith;

· From spiritual faith to great courage;

· From courage to liberty;

· From liberty to abundance;

· From abundance to complacency;

· From complacency to apathy;

· From apathy to dependence;

· From dependence back into bondage."

- Lord Woodhouselee (Alexander Fraser Tytler) 1747-1813

Scottish-born, British lawyer and writer

Friday, December 5, 2008

This Is America? These Are Americans?

obsequious: marked by or exhibiting a fawning attentiveness syn see SUBSERVIENT (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition)

I caught a portion of the testimony of the Big Three CEO's before Congress yesterday. In a previous appearance, the CEO's had been criticized for travelling to Washington DC in private jets, thereby showing that they "don't get it," according to their Congressional critics. They were simultaneously asking for a financial bailout, and spending money on "luxuries," like private jets.

In the portion of testimony I witnessed, this same issue was being discussed. This time the CEO's, in their most ingratiating voices, fell all over themselves to say they had driven to Washington in cars. And not just any cars, but the politically correct type of cars, hybrid, electric, green vehicles. For this is what Congress, the central planning authority, has opined is the way to go.

And when Congress is holding the purse strings, it gets what it wants.

It is so embarrassing to see American businessmen reduced to grovelling for money from the government. How they can bring themselves to do such a thing is difficult to understand. If their business model has failed, they should admit it and take their medicine: bankruptcy. If Congressional interference has caused their problems, they should state that and demand all such interference cease immediately.

The one thing they should not do is get down on their knees and beg Congress to take taxpayer money to bail them out, when no one, evidently, is willing to lend it to them of their own free will.

And yet that is what they have chosen to do, to their everlasting shame.

Would their bankruptcies cause a great depression, as they have darkly hinted? I don't know. I doubt it. But even if it did, does that excuse theft on a grand scale? It does not. If we, as a society, have been running on a failed business model - namely, the welfare state (for both individuals and corporations) - then perhaps the chickens have finally come home to roost. Are we going to take our medicine, a possible depression?

Or are we simply going to pass the buck, and let someone else suffer the consequences for our own mistakes?

There was a time when Americans were proud enough to do the right thing, no matter how dire the risks involved. Those were the Americans of the Revolutionary Era.

Now we have the revolting spectacle of Americans begging shamelessly, and putting off the reckoning for someone else to finally resolve.

Shame on America.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Spend and Spend, Then Cry for Help

This AP story today informs us that several cities, including Phoenix, where I live, are bellying up to the taxpayer feed trough for handouts:
Three big city mayors asked the federal government Friday to use a portion of the $700 billion financial bailout to assist struggling cities.

The mayors sought help with their pension costs, infrastructure investment and cash-flow problems stemming from the global financial crisis.

The mayors—Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, Shirley Franklin of Atlanta and Phil Gordon of Phoenix—made their request in a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
[Emphasis added.]

Perhaps if these cities restricted themselves to their only legitimate role, that of securing our rights from violation, they wouldn't need any bailouts. Instead, they pay hordes of public bus drivers $20+ per hour, and here in Phoenix, build a shiny new Light Rail system, for a cool $1.4 billion - so far. There are extensions planned. That's why they've gone begging to Uncle Sam, who will gladly steal it from the taxpayers across the country to pay for Phoenix's unjustified extravagances.

The solution is a return to a legitimate form of government, which has no role beyond the protection of individual rights. Not more bailouts and stealing from taxpayers.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Quote That Should Live in Infamy

Little Green Footballs linked to a website called Office of the President-Elect. This is presumably an official website of Barack Obama. The page is titled "America Serves," and begins with this quotation:

"When you choose to serve -- whether it's your nation, your community or simply your neighborhood -- you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. That's why it's called the American dream."

The quote is not attributed to anyone, but my assumption is that it is from the President-Elect, Barack Obama. And I have never seen a more disgraceful statement from an American President in my life. He takes perhaps the most heralded statement of the American political ideal, that man has certain inalienable rights, and among these are the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and he turns it on its head.

According to this statement, life, liberty, and happiness are no longer inalienable rights, they are simply something we "want." And instead of pursuing our own happiness, we are now to live for "everyone's" happiness. That he calls the American dream. So the Declaration of Independence's statement of unabashed rational self-interest is transformed by Obama into a call to serve others. A complete perversion of the American dream. And if you think I misinterpret this quote, the rest of that webpage will show that I understand it all too well:

The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year. Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.
[Emphasis added.]

Here, again, we have the infamous double speak statement of "mandatory voluntarism." Obama wants to require community service of high school students and college students. Note in the original quotation about the American dream, he began with "When you choose to serve . . . " When you are required to serve, choice doesn't enter the equation.

It is Obama's intention to bind all Americans over into involuntary servitude, thus undoing the XIII Amendment to the Constitution, which states:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Calling involuntary servitude "voluntary" doesn't make it so. As I stated in my previous blog entry, public education is merely a propaganda arm of the government. And the government is flexing that arm's muscle.

Update: 11-08-08

The Change.Gov website has changed the original statement I quoted yesterday (again, hat tip to Little Green Footballs). Where yesterday it said it would require community service of high school and college students, today it says:

Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free.

[Emphasis added]

So he has changed from involuntary servitude to paying students for community service. By my calculations, that's $40 per hour, of taxpayers money, to pay students to pick up trash or whatever make work they devise for these students. And of course there will be tremendous peer pressure on all students to participate in such programs. Will teachers grade students who don't participate differently than those who do?

Reason number 10,001 to abolish public education.

The Election

There was no good candidate for President this year, as there hasn't been for many years. Not surprisingly, the candidates get worse with every passing year. There are many causes for this, but the one that sticks out for me is public education.

Public schools are a propaganda arm of the government. They teach the "virtues" of statism, of the welfare state, of political correctness, and of environmentalism, while they demonize capitalism and Western Civilization. Is it any wonder that the products of this so-called education elect statists and environmentalists, and become such candidates themselves?

This gradual decay from freedom to the paternalistic state would be an interesting phenomenon to study in historic archives, or in some other nation. Unfortunately, it is happening here, in the United States, and we have to live through it. We have to watch freedom being tossed overboard, in favor of the all-encompassing state as daddy and mommy, since we poor, helpless children cannot take care of ourselves. We cannot be trusted with freedom. We aren't strong enough, we aren't intelligent enough. We are simply pathetic morons who need to be cared for by our betters.

There have been a few periods of American history with sudden plunges down the road to serfdom. FDR's New Deal, LBJ's Great Society, were two of them. George Bush's addition of prescription coverage to medicare, and his colossal bailout of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the other hundreds of billions he is throwing to private financial institutions, with government strings attached, is a third.

Now we will see what Obama's contribution will be. Having a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress will surely pave the way for further erosions of freedom. Will he inflict socialized medicine on us? We're already more than half way there.

Maybe the Republicans, having been trounced in the elections, will learn to support laissez-faire capitalism, and will obstruct all of Obama's attempts to further undermine American freedom.

But I doubt it. They're too far gone. They don't even know what capitalism is anymore, or individual rights. And they are undercut by their religious morality, which sees altruism as the ideal, and selfishness as evil. No such people can ever support capitalism morally. Until they learn the necessity of the separation of church and state, they will remain hopelessly unable to defend capitalism.

The moral of the story? Public education must be abolished, razed to the ground, the earth underneath it salted, so that it is never allowed to blight the land - and the minds of American children - again.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Once Upon a Time in America

Continuing to read Garret's The People's Pottage, and found this gem of how Americans used to think, used to be.

[Americans] were deeply imbued with the traditions and maxims of individual resourcefulness---a people who grimly treasured in their anthology of political wisdom the words of Grover Cleveland, who vetoed a Federal loan of only ten thousand dollars for drought relief in Texas, saying: "I do not believe that the power and duty of the general Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering . . . A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people. . . . Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our National character."

Which was only one more way of saying a hard truth that was implicit in the American way of thinking, namely, that when people support the government they control government, but when the government supports the people it will control them.
(The People's Pottage, p. 55)

Americans used to take pride in supporting themselves, in freedom. Today, they can't give away their freedom fast enough, and crave the paternalistic protection of the government. Just compare America's embarrassing reaction to Hurricane Katrina, in which many shamelessly demanded Federal aid.

We have become a nation of beggars. And self-righteous beggars, at that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The People's Pottage

The People's Pottage is a book by Garet Garrett, about what the New Deal meant for America. I'm just starting to read it, and if the Forward is any indication, it is going to be an outstanding book. From the Forward:

A time came when the only people who had ever been free began to ask: What is freedom?

Who wrote its articles---the strong or the weak?

Could there be such a thing as unconditional freedom, short of anarchy?

Given the answer to be no, then was freedom an eternal truth or a political formula?

Since it was clear to reason that freedom must be conditioned, as by self-discipline, individual responsibility and many necessary laws of restraint; and since there was never in the world an absolute good, why should people not be free to say they would have less freedom in order to have more of some other good?

What other good?


What else?


And beyond that?

Beyond that the sympathies of we, and all men as brothers, instead of the willful I, as if each man were a sovereign, self-regarding individual?

Well, where there is freedom doubt itself must be free. You shall not be forbidden to interrogate the faith of your fathers. Better that, indeed, than to take it entirely for granted.

So long as doubts such as these were wildish pebbles in the petulant waves that gnaw ceaselessly at any foundation, perhaps only because it is a foundation, no great damage was done. But when they began to be massed as a creed, then they became sharp cutting tools, wickedly set in the jaws of the flood. That was the work of a disaffected intellectual cult, mysteriously rising in the academic world; and from the same source came the violent winds of Marxian propaganda that raised the waves higher and made them angry.

Even so, the damage to the foundations might have been much slower and not beyond simple repair if it had not happened that in 1932 a bund of intellectual revolutionaries, hiding behind the conservative planks of the Democratic party, seized control of government.

After that it was the voice of government saying to the people there had been too much freedom. That was their trouble. Freedom was for the strong. The few had used it to exploit the many. Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, boom and bust, depression and unemployment, economic insecurity, want in the midst of plenty, property rights above human rights, taking it always out of the hide of labor in bad times---all of that was what came of rugged individualism, of free prices, free markets, free enterprise and freedom of contract. Let that be the price of freedom, and who would not say it was too dear?

Sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it? The same excuses are being used to sell further curtailments of freedom today, by both parties now.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

The lovely, wonderful actress, Irene Dunne, with a magnificent performance of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, followed by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing, from the movie Roberta. This is how movies used to be.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

When the Government Intervenes in the Economy: Unmerciful Disaster Follows Fast and Follows Faster

Until now I haven't written about the sudden, precipitous descent into socialism that America is undergoing. But with every failed attempt to "stabilize" the economy, the government has pushed further and further into the mire of socialism, until one day I woke up and found the financial system--which was already strangled by regulations--nationalized. These actions are to be "limited and temporary." Naturally. If there is one thing government is good at, it is maintaining power, once it has acquired it.

According to an article on
banks are being coerced into accepting the government's "limited and temporary" assistance:

The opposition [to the plan] suggested that the government may have to continue to press banks to participate in the plan. The first $125 billion will be divided among nine of the largest U.S. banks, which were forced to accept the investment to help destigmatize the program in the eyes of other institutions.
[Emphasis added.]

Here we see the government openly admitting the immorality of this scheme, such that they must force banks to pretend to like it, in order to get other banks to like it. Faking reality, in broad daylight.

"We will encourage institutions to apply," said John C. Dugan, the comptroller of the currency, who oversees most of the nation's largest banks.

In return for its investments, Treasury will receive preferred shares of bank stock that pay 5 percent interest for up to five years. After that, if the companies haven't repaid the government's initial investment, the interest rate goes up to 9 percent.

Participating banks cannot increase the dividends they pay to shareholders without federal permission, they must accept some limitations on compensation for their executives, and Paulson said the government would press companies to limit mortgage foreclosures.
[Emphasis added.]

As if government interference with the mortgage process hadn't been disastrous enough, already. And the friendly element of government "encouragement." How does the government encourage anything? Persuasion? Or force? Telling banks what dividends to pay, what salaries to pay, not to foreclose mortgages: it all adds up to socialism, of the fascist variety.

Also yesterday, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said it will create, essentially, two new insurance programs.

The basic insurance program still guarantees all bank deposits up to $250,000. A new supplemental program guarantees all deposits above $250,000 in accounts that don't pay interest. The program basically covers accounts used by small businesses.

Some European governments had already guaranteed deposits, creating a competitive advantage for banks in those countries. Banking regulators also were concerned that small businesses were transferring deposits from community banks to larger institutions perceived as less likely to fail. Finally, small businesses contributed to the failure of Washington Mutual and the collapse of Wachovia by pulling uninsured deposits from those banks.
[Emphasis added.]

This is a textbook example of the government causing problems, and then blaming them on the free market. What caused the failure of Washingtonn Mutual and Wachovia was not small businesses pulling out their deposits. It was the government's decision to insure other banks that ruined the uninsured banks. How can any business compete with the limitless power and money (the printing press) of the federal government? Either toe the party line, i.e., take government protection (kind of how the mafia works, isn't it?), or try to compete with the omnipotent state. It can't be done.

If this trend continues, how will America be better than any other country? How can I support any military action the US might take, when we aren't any better than whatever country we might do battle with? That is how desperately bad these measures are, if they stick.

If they don't stick, they will merely have been a colossal injustice to all the taxpayers who were forced to bailout all the banks and other companies that failed due partly to their own incompetence, but mainly due to government interventions in the economy.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dae Jang Geum on the Value of Purpose

Episode Seven of Dae Jang Geum addresses the value of purpose in man's life, and the awful state of men without purpose. Having decided to dramatize this issue, how to proceed?

The wonderful writer of DJG solved the problem in this way. First, Jang Geum got into trouble for going outside of the palace, which was strictly forbidden without special permission. The Head Lady decided to expel her from the palace, the standard punishment for that transgression. Everyone is appalled, knowing as they do that Jang Geum is one of the best among them, if not in fact the best. Finally, the Head Kitchen Lady, named Lady Jung, and Jang Geum's mentor, Lady Han, offer to forgo three year's worth of their salary if the Head Lady will allow Jang Geum to stay in the palace. This shows how highly the best and the brightest of the palace women value Jang Geum. The Head Lady greedily accepts their offer, but still banishes Jang Geum to the lowliest section of the palace grounds - the herb garden. It is a place to which loafers, miscreants, drunks and criminals are sent, and no one expects to return to the palace proper from the herb garden. It is essentially a place of exile and abandonment.

At the herb garden, the workers are supposed to be growing herbs. But none of them do any gardening, or in fact any kind of work, at all. When Jang Geum arrives, she finds the workers - and even their supervisor - lying in the fields, asleep. When she asks them what she is supposed to do, the supervisor tells her not to do anything, unless she wants to drink. No one expects any work to be done in the herb garden, and all the people there are content to do nothing, wasting away their existence drinking, eating, and sleeping, without purpose. These men are clearly going to pot, their minds and bodies atrophying from lack of use. It is against this background that we are able to contrast the behavior of Jang Geum.

Jang Geum finds their behavior incomprehensible. She literally goes to bed weeping at the apparent purposelessness of life in the herb garden. Finally, she tells the supervisor she cannot "do nothing," as it would drive her crazy. So she begins collecting all the assorted herb seeds she can find in the storehouse, none of which have any identifying lables attached to them. Those she recognizes, she labels accordingly, for those she cannot identify she bothers the supervisor until he identifies them for her. Soon she has them all identified, and she begins clearing some of the weed infested field and planting some of the herbs.

The other workers, and the supervisor, watch her and laugh at the "futility" of her actions. They begin taking bets on how soon she will give up - or worse. The last court lady sent to the herb garden had committed suicide. But Jang Geum persists in her methodical categorizing and gardening.

One day she comes to the workers and asks them for better gardening techniques. One of them mentions a particular herb that no one has succeeded in growing, though they had been trying for 20 years. Immediately, Jang Geum's face brightens, and she says: "Good! I will use that!" When they ask what she means, she explains that she will use that as her goal, as a purpose toward which to strive while in the herb garden. But why that particular goal? "Because you said it was hard!"

After a methodical trial and error period, Jang Geum succeeds in growing the rare herb - and finally the other workers, and the supervisor, begin to admire Jang Geum, and to want to bring some purpose back into their own lives, as well. They all recognize, once they have seen it again, the ennobling, uplifting value of purpose.

Jang Geum taught them that, though it was not her intention. She simply wanted purpose in her own life. But her good example had a salutary effect on all those around her.

And not coincidentally, Jang Geum's success in growing the rare herb brings about the thing she most desires at the moment: she is allowed to return to the palace as a court lady in training, her status fully restored.

Thus did the writer of Dae Jang Geum - Kim Yeong-hyeon - dramatize the value of purpose in man's life. This is but one wonderful episode in a magnificent, 54 episode series called Dae Jang Geum.

I paid more than $200 for the full three volumes of this series and it was worth every penny - and would still have been worth it at ten times the cost. It's that good.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Men of Harlech, Lie Ye Dreaming?

Men of Harlech is a traditional Welsh song, which has many different versions of its lyrics. It tells the story of a Saxon invasion of Wales, and the Welsh defending their land and freedom. It's a rousing song to hear performed. If only the West still exhibited the spirit immortalized in this song. Unfortunately, we still lie dreaming.

In this Charlotte Church rendition, the first part is sung in Welsh, but it switches to English when the male choirs joins in. Here is the English portion of the lyrics:

Hark, I hear the foe advancing
Barbed steeds are proudly prancing
Helmets in the sunbeams glancing
Cymru fo am byth
Men of Harlech, lie ye dreaming
See ye not their falchions gleaming
While their pennons gaily streaming
Cymru fo am byth.
From the rocks resounding
Let the war cry sounding
Summon all at Cambria's call
The haughty foe surrounding
Men of Harlech, on to glory
See your banner famed in story
Waves these burning words before ye,
Cymru fo am byth!

That line in Welsh, Cymru fo am byth, means something like "Cambria ne'er can yield!"

And here are two other versions of the song, which I like even better. The first one, I think, has the best poetry. The second one is the best philosophically.

Men of Harlech, lyrics by John Oxenford

Men of Harlech! In the Hollow,
Do ye hear like rushing billow
Wave on wave that surging follow
Battle's distant sound?
Tis the tramp of Saxon foemen,
Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen,
Be they knights or hinds or yeomen,
They shall bite the ground!
Loose the folds asunder,
Flag we conquer under!
The placid sky now bright on high,
Shall launch its bolts in thunder!
Onward! 'tis the country needs us,
He is bravest, he who leads us
Honor's self now proudly heads us,
Freedom, God and Right!

Rocky Steeps and passes narrow,
Flash with spear and flight of arrow
Who would think of death or sorrow?
Death is glory now!
Hurl the reeling horsemen over,
Let the earth dead foemen cover
Fate of friend, of wife, of lover,
Trembles on a blow!
Strands of life are riven!
Blow for blow is given
In deadly lock, or battle shock,
And mercy shrieks to heaven!
Men of Harlech! young or hoary,
Would you win a name in story?
Strike for home, for life, for glory!
Freedom, God and Right!

Version 2

Men of Harlech, march to glory, Victory is hov'ring o'er ye,
Bright eyed freedom stands before ye, Hear ye not her call?
At your sloth she seems to wonder, Rend the sluggish bonds asunder,
Let the war cry's deaf'ning thunder, Ev'ry foe appal.

Echoes loudly waking, Hill and valley shaking;
'Till the sound spreads wide around, The Saxon's courage breaking;
Your foes on ev'ry side assailing, Forward press with heart unfailing,
Till invaders learn with quailing, Cambria ne'er can yield.

Thou who noble Cambria wrongest, Know that freedom's cause is strongest
Freedom's courage lasts the longest, Ending but with death!
Freedom countless hosts can scatter, Freedom stoutest mail can shatter,
Freedom thickest walls can batter, Fate is in her breath.

See they now are flying! Dead are heaped with dying!
Over might has triumphed right, Our land to foes denying;
Upon their soil we never sought them, Love of conquest hither brought them,
But this lesson we have taught them, Cambria ne'er can yield.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Great Movie Lines

Some memorable lines or short scenes from movies I like.

John Russel: "If it's all right with you, lady, I just didn't feel like bleeding for him. And even if it isn't all right with you." Hombre

Sgt. Murdoch: "I'm going to miss Lt. Holloway."
Cpl. Gilchrist: "Ah, that's a lot of talk, Murdoch. If the truth were known, you're probably glad that Holloway got killed. It just gives you another chance to apply for a commission."
Sgt. Murdoch: "Huh. I'll never get a commission as long as Lance is around."
Cpl. Gilchrist: "And would you say that was his fault -- or your fault?" Only the Valiant

Lady Bracknell "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness." The Importance of Being Earnest

Cpl. Miller: "I'm not anxious to kill anyone. You see, I'm not a born soldier. I was trapped . . . No, I prefer to leave the killing to someone like you, an officer and a gentleman, a leader of men."
Cpt. Mallory: "If you think I wanted this, any of this, you're out of your mind, I was trapped like you, just like anyone who put on the uniform!"
Cpl. Miller: "Of course you wanted it, you're an officer, aren't you? I never let them make me an officer! I don't want the responsibility!"
Cpt. Mallory: "So you've had a free ride, all this time! Someone's got to take responsibility if the job's going to get done! You think that's easy?" The Guns of Navarone

[the boys watch the burning model ship in the "Viking funeral"]
Beau at age 12: "There. That's what I want when my turn comes. I'd give anything to have a Viking's funeral... with a dog at my feet and 'last post' blown for me. If it weren't too much trouble."
Digby at age 12: "Beau, it isn't too much trouble. I'll give you one whenever you like." Beau Geste

[after she reads the letter Beau had written to explain what happened to the jewel - he has signed the letter with his name - she reads... ]
Lady Patricia Brandon: "Beau Geste"
Lady Patricia Brandon: [to John] "Beau Geste... gallant gesture. We didn't name him wrong, did we?" Beau Geste

Rick: "I congratulate you."
Victor Laszlo: "What for?"
Rick: "Your work."
Laszlo: "I try."
Rick: "We all try; You succeed!" Casablanca

Cyrano: "I had never known
Womanhood and its sweetness but for you.
My mother did not love to look at me--
I never had a sister-- Later on,
I feared the mistress with a mockery
Behind her smile. But you--because of you
I have had one friend not quite all a friend--
Across my life, one whispering silken gown!"
Cyrano de Bergerac

Mu Bai:"Shu Lien."
Shu Lien: "Save your strength."
Mu Bai: "My life is departing. I've only one breath left."
Shu Lien: "Use it to meditate. Free yourself from this world . . . as you have been taught. Let your soul rise to eternity . . . with your last breath. Don't waste it for me."
Mu Bai: "I've already wasted my whole life. I want to tell you with my last breath . . . I have always loved you. I would rather be a ghost, drifting by your side . . . as a condemned soul . . . than enter heaven without you. Because of your love . . . I will never be a lonely spirit." Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


What can I say about Harriet Wheeler, singer/songwriter of The Sundays. Beautiful girl, beautiful voice, beautiful sense of life. Here is a YouTube video of her singing Summertime:


Do some people wind up with the one that they adore
in a heart-shaped hotel room it's what a heart is for
the bubble floats so madly will it stay sky-high?
Hello partner, kiss your name bye-bye

ooh sometimes...

romantic piscean seeks angel in disguise
chinese-speaking girlfriend big brown eyes
liverpudlian lady, sophisticated male
hello partner, tell me love can't fail

& it's you and me in the summertime
we'll be hand in hand down in the park
with a squeeze & a sigh & that twinkle in your eye
& all the sunshine banishes the dark

do some people wind up with the one that they abhor
in a distant hell-hole room, the third world war
but all I see is films where colourless despair
meant angry young men with immaculate hair

ooh sometimes...

Get up a voice inside says there's no time for looking down
only a pound a word & you're talking to the town
but how do you coin the phrase though
that will set your soul apart
just to touch a lonely heart

& it's you & me in the summertime
we'll be hand in hand down in the park
with a squeeze & a sigh & that twinkle in your eye
& all the sunshine banishes the dark
& it's you I need in the summertime
as I turn my white skin red
two peas from the same pod yes we are
or have I read too much fiction?
Is this how it happens?

How does it happen?
Is this how it happens?
Now, right now

The Silver Lining

One good thing the worldwide economic slowdown is achieving is the reduction in the price of oil - and the consequent trouble this causes for the governments of Russia, Iran, and Venezuela. Couldn't happen to a nicer group of dictators.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

No Apologies

(Russian RT-2PM Topol ICBM, on display at the 2008 Victory Parade in Moscow)

The Bush Administration insists that the missile defense systems being stationed in Poland and the Czech Republic are

"designed to protect against what it says are threats from rogue countries, such as Iran"
They make these claims in order not to "provoke" Russia. If the missile defense system isn't designed to protect against Russian missiles, it ought to be.

Russia is as unstable and rogue a nation as Iran or North Korea. There is no rule of law under Putin, no property rights, no free speech. There is only the law of Putin, ex of the KGB. As Russia's recent invasion of Georgia and virtual annexation of two of Georgia's provinces demonstrates, the country is hungry to reassemble its broken empire, even if it has to do it one little piece at a time.

Russia has potential conflicts brewing all over the place, from the Baltic Republics ( ) to the naval port of Sevastopol in the Crimean peninsula ( ). Putin is a loose canon who knows only one law: the lust for power.

If we aren't taking active measures to protect ourselves from this lunatic, there's something wrong with us. Putin's Russia is helping the Iranian theocracy develop nuclear technology, and strengthening Iran's air defense system
( ).

Putin's Russia has resumed long range bomber patrols over the Atlantic, their bombers are buzzing our aircraft carriers, and their joint naval and air exercises are targeting NATO countries
( and ).

Now Putin's Russia is scheduling joint naval exercises with Venezuela, the country headed by the militantly anti-American Hugo Chavez ( ).

Why aren't we deploying a missile shield against Putin's Russia? We should do so asap, with apologies to no one.

Monday, September 8, 2008



by Alfred Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge, like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port: the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads - you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Analysis of this great poem would be superfluous. It is not complicated, merely beautiful, heroic, and inspirational. They don't write them like this anymore.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Another Nail in the Coffin of Free Speech

Europe can always be counted on to provide leadership - on the road to the nanny state. In an article ( ) today, reported that
MEPs want TV regulators in the EU to set guidelines which would see the end of anything deemed to portray women as sex objects or reinforce gender stereotypes.

And furthermore:

Swedish MEP Eva-Britt Svensson . . . said: "Gender stereotyping in advertising straitjackets women, men, girls and boys by restricting individuals to predetermined and artificial roles that are often degrading, humiliating and dumbed down for both sexes."

These assertions are obviously false. Advertising is incapable of restricting anyone from doing anything. Only the government has the power to restrict people's actions. Advertisers can only try to persuade.

How does an advertisement of a woman wearing lingerie, for example, restrict any woman from becoming an engineer? It doesn't. Eva-Britt Svensson and her fellow EU busybodies simply don't like what some women do, and therefore wants to restrict them by law from doing such things. It is the government, as always, that is "restricting" women and men alike by curtailing their right to decide for themselves what to do with their own lives.

It's been said before, and it bears repeating: the road to totalitarianism is paved with good intentions.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Black and White Movies

This is a still frame, or a publicity photo, from the movie Laura, starring Gene Tierney and Vincent Price, among others. I love this photograph because it exemplifies the elegance and stylishness of black and white movies of the 1940s.

Also the photograph tells a story in itself, with these two beautiful people sizing each other up, the man looking suave and a little too relaxed, the woman, Laura, sure of herself but still unsure of the man she's with, trying to penetrate the facade he seems to present to the world.

At least the photograph suggests all of this to someone who has seen the movie.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Word and Its Meaning

I recently purchased the booklet called Glossary of Objectivist Definitions, which includes definitions by Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, and Harry Binswanger. Having a solid grasp of the meaning of the words one uses is obviously important. I thought it would be a good exercise to occasionally take one of the definitions, and then give an example of it in action, either in the real world or the world of art.

Here is the Glossary's definiton of integrity:

"Integrity" is loyalty in action to one's convictions and
values. (Glossary of Objectivist Definitions, p. 25.)

As given, this definition is open to misinterpretation. It leaves open the question of whether one's convictions and values are rational. Being loyal in action to irrational values is not an example of integrity. And as I suspected, when I turned to the original passage from which this definition was taken, the chapter on Virtues in Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, he does indeed qualify integrity to mean loyalty to rational values:

Like independence, integrity is a derivative of rationality and precludes any form of emotionalism. It does not mean loyalty to arbitrary notions, however strongly one feels they are true. Adolf Hitler acting faithfully to carry out his hatred of the Jews is not an example of virtue. Integrity means loyalty not to a whim or delusion, but to one's knowledge, to the conclusions one can prove logically. Like every other virtue, therefore, integrity presupposes a mind that seeks knowledge, a mind that accepts and follows reason. (Leonard Peikoff, OPAR, p. 261, paperback edition.)
There are countless good examples of integrity in the Korean drama, Dae Jang Geum. Integrity is one of Jang Geum's distinguishing characteristics, which separates her from most other people of that time, or any other.

A good example that comes immediately to mind is an episode in which a high ranking Chinese envoy comes to visit the Korean King, and Lady Han and Jang Geum are chosen to cook for him. At first, they begin preparing the tastiest dishes a healthy man could wish for. The Head Eunuch had told them that: "We can't allow even a hint of fault in formalities or food. The senior envoy is a well known epicure in China. If it's not the best of delicacies, he won't even touch it. So show your best talent."

But then they learn that the Chinese envoy has diabetes, and is in poor health after his long journey. So Lady Han instead prepares the healthy foods, mostly vegetables, that are best for a diabetic, without telling the Head Eunuch.

When this food is served to the envoy, the Korean dignitaries are horrified, and so is the Chinese envoy. Lady Han tries to explain. Both she and Jang Geum believe that a cook's purpose is to prepare food that is both palatable, and proper for the person who will be consuming it. A diabetic must be served healthy food, even if he is too shortsighted to choose to eat it himself. "I dare to say the greasy food of Ming is very detrimental to his health."

The result of this conflict is that Lady Han is arrested and put in confinement until a decision is made on her ultimate punishment. In the meantime, Jang Geum steps in for Lady Han. Here she could, as most people would do, simply substitute some tastier, less healthy food for the Chinese envoy, which is exactly what he and the Korean dignitaries specifically order her to do. But she refuses. "We cannot possibly bring food that is harmful for the person."

In the face of threats of her own arrest, and very possibly being executed, Jang Geum insists on serving the same healthy food that Lady Han had planned to serve. The Chinese envoy is struck by her courage, but still does not want the healthy food. Jang Geum reasons with him, explaining that within as few as five days he will begin to feel better if he only eats the healthy food she plans to serve. Finally, the envoy agrees to eat it. But he does so with this proviso: "Will you receive any punishment I order - even if it means your life [if I am not satisfied with the food]?"

Jang Geum accepts the terms. She has confidence in her knowledge of food and its effect on a person's health, and more importantly, she refuses to go against her conviction that a cook must serve food proper to the person consuming it, in this case a diabetic.

Meanwhile, the Head Eunuch, who is generally a good person, but not as courageous as he might be, goes to Lady Han and asks her "How could you prepare such a meal?" He knows the envoy has diabetes, but is only concerned with giving him what he wants. Lady Han responds perfectly, by saying: "Then are you telling me to do the same thing to the King as well?" In other words, is he telling her that she should serve the King unhealthy food also, even if it kills him? The Head Eunuch is unable to respond to this point, because he knows Lady Han is right.

In stark contrast to the integrity of Jang Geum and Lady Han, their arch enemies, Lady Choi and Keum Young, begin preparing a feast of royal proportions for the Chinese envoy, confident that he will not be satisfied with the plain, healthy food Jang Geum will be serving. The meals Lady Choi prepares are the very greasy Ming dishes that are worst for a person with diabetes, but they are exactly the kind of foods that the Chinese envoy enjoys eating.

After the five days of eating Jang Geum's healthy food are up, Lady Choi immediately serves the envoy her lavish meal of tasty - but unhealthy - dishes. The envoy samples several of the dishes and is obviously delighted with their taste. Lady Choi smiles, anticipating a decisive victory over Lady Han and Jang Geum. But then the envoy stops eating her food, and says that although it is very tasty, he now realizes the healthy food is the better choice. He does indeed feel better after five days of Jang Geum's healthy food, which she managed to make tasty enough to satisfy the finicky envoy.

So Lady Han is realeased from confinement, Jang Geum is praised for doing the right thing (by all the same people who would have condemned her, if she had not satisfied the envoy), and Lady Choi is mortified by her loss of face. The actions of Lady Han and Jang Geum are a perfect example of loyalty in action to one's convictions and values, a perfect example of integrity.

And that example could be multiplied by anyone who watches Dae Jang Geum, for Jang Geum, along with Lady Han, Lady Jung, and Min Jeong Ho, are all heroic characters distinguished for their integrity throughout their entire lives.

[Edited 09-01-2008]

Watching, Listening

The movie reviews will contain spoilers.

Last night I watched Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. It was Audrey Hepburn's first starring role in a movie, and she was already - perfect. What a lovely, perfectly feminine woman. Watching and listening to her is such a pleasure that she can make even a movie with a boring plot worth watching, just to see her. The story is about a princess who breaks away from her handlers for a day to live like a normal human being. Gregory Peck is the reporter who is fortunate to be the one she falls in with for the day. The movie ends with the princess going back to her royal duties, wiser and more self-confident, but also sad for having to give up her budding relationship with the American reporter. She sacrificed her happiness to her duty.

I suppose if she considered being the princess of her country a higher value, this would not be a sacrifice. But through most of the movie it was made clear that she considered her duties as princess to be boring and unimportant. So I see her decision as sacrificial. The movie was based on a story by Dalton Trumbo, a blacklisted writer. Perhaps he considered sacrifice a good thing. I don't. The princess should have pursued her own happiness, and abdicated her title in favor of living for herself.

Recently I watched The Deceivers (Merchant Ivory, 1988), a movie set in India during the period of British rule. It is about the attempts of the British to eradicate the criminal Thuggee sect that committed ritualistic murders by strangulation of travellers, and then robbed them of all valuables. Supposedly this was done in the name of the Goddess Kali, the four armed goddess of death and destruction. The movie stars Pierce Brosnan as a British officer who disguises himself as a native to infiltrate the group to gather evidence against them. While he succeeds in getting the evidence, the movie ends with Brosnan throwing away a cross, the symbol of his own faith, and repeating a Thuggee mantra about worshipping Kali. In other words, he seems to have succumbed to the "ecstasy" of strangling people for Kali. Which makes this a very stupid movie.

A few weeks ago I watched a better movie on the same subject, called The Stranglers of Bombay, from Hammer Studios, 1960. Hammer is known mostly for horror movies, but they also produced some straight adventure films, of which this is one. It is basically the same story as The Decievers, except that the British officer does not succumb to mysticism, and upholds rational justice. Which makes it a vastly superior story.

I've been listening to a lot of WWII era music, especially Helen Forrest singing for Harry James and His Orchestra. Easily my favorite is I've Heard That Song Before. She has a very personal way of singing that makes the song seem like it is about her own life (even though she didn't write the song), and she means what she's saying. I Had the Craziest Dream and It's Been a Long, Long Time are also beautiful songs she sings perfectly.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


My favorite duet from my favorite opera. Sull'aria, from The Marriage of Figaro, by Mozart. The ladies are Kiri Te Kanawa and Ileana Cotrubas.

Sull'aria . . .
On the breeze . . .
Che soave zeffiretto . . .
What a gentle zephyr . . .
Zeffiretto . . .
Zephyr . . .
Questa sera spirera!
Will sigh this evening!
Questa sera spirera . . .
Will sigh this evening . . .
Sotto i pini del boschetto.
Beneath the pine grove.
Sotto i pini?
Beneath the pines?
Sotto i pini del boschetto . . .
Beneath the pine grove . . .
Ei gia il resto capira.
He will understand the rest.
Certo, certo il capira.
Certainly, he'll understand.
Ei gia il resto capira.
He will understand the rest.
Canzonetta sull'aria . . . etc.
Little tune on the breeze . . . etc.

The Democratic National Convention

I confess I am unable to watch the Democratic National Convention. I am not a glutton for punishment. I know exactly the kind of anti-American poison they will be preaching. I see it every day of my life in Congress, and in the left wing media. I refuse to watch this disgusting gathering of collectivists congratulating each other and smiling in gleeful anticipation of more statism to come.

I cannot see these people for an instant without being reminded of Shakespeare's line: "A man can smile and smile - and be a villain." The only thing that separates American Democrats from Hugo Chavez is that they don't have the power, yet, to do what Chavez is doing to Venezuela. They are simply constrained to go about it with more devious methods, by regulating the free enterprise system to death. They are more than half way there, already.

I literally would not vote for a Democrat if you held a gun to my head. To do so would be a betrayal of everything the Foundning Fathers fought for - and everything I believe in. I would rather be dead than assist in the victory of the worms of the Democratic party over the giants who founded our nation.

None of which is meant to imply any endorsement of Republicans. They are awful, too, especially with regard to the mixing of religion and government. Which means I probably will have to abstain from voting altogether. When you are offered a choice between the party of Torquemada and the party of Stalin, you sign your own death warrant, and that of your nation, by voting for either one.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Escapism aka Fantasy

Some remnants of Romanticism may still be found in the popular media---but in such a mangled, disfigured form that they achieve the opposite of Romanticism's original purpose . . .

Under the pressure of conformity . . . today's Romanticists are escaping, not into the past but into the supernatural---explicitly giving up reality and this earth. The exciting, the dramatic, the unusual---their policy is declaring, in effect---do not exist; please don't take us seriously, what we're offering is only a spooky daydream. (Ayn Rand, What Is Romanticism?)

I use the above quote not to suggest that Ayn Rand would agree with my assessment of modern fantasy, but to show that she saw the perils inherent in the genre, to which some had already succumbed. My view is that virtually all modern fantasy has descended into escapism.

And I am sick to death of it. In literature, in tv shows, and in movies, fantasy is flooding the marketplace. In modern history fantasy was little more than a blip on the radar screen, until Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings was published. After that, the deluge.

First it wormed its way into the science fiction section of book stores and grew like a weed until there was little if any science fiction left that was worthy of the name. Just a lot of fantasy masquerading as science fiction.

I'm not sure what started the craze for fantasy shows on television. There were a few mild ones in the 60s, such as Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. Now they are everywhere. And instead of it being something to laugh at, as it was with the two aforementioned shows, we are expected to take it seriously in shows like Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, The X-Files, Lost, etc.

What makes a blockbuster movie these days? Fantasy and comic book heroes. The Lord of the Rings. The Chronicles of Narnia. The Golden Compass. Spiderman. Batman. Harry Potter. The Mummy. Hellboy. Ironman. Etc., ad nauseum.

Now the big seller among fiction books, after the fantasy Harry Potter phenomena has died down a bit, is what? A series about vampires, The Twilight Saga, by Stephenie Meyer. It's selling like hotcakes.

Why do authors want to set their stories in unreal worlds? Anti-rational worlds? Why do they want their characters to have magical powers? What is it about real life that so bores them, that they have to imagine a different world where A is not A. In order to be heroic, why must a man have unreal superpowers? Why do readers want to read this stuff, instead of stories about heroes in the real world, who have only their human mind and human body to use in dealing with the problems that beset them? Why do people want to escape the real world, and run away into fantasy?

The impression all this escape into fantasy worlds leaves is that heroism isn't possible in the real world. Heroes are only possible in some other, fantasy world. In this sad vale of tears we actually inhabit, we must simply accept that there are no heroes.

Is the real world perfect? Far from it. But heroes don't run away and hide in little fantasy worlds. They fight to make their world better with what they have: their rational mind, their physical courage, their integrity. Wherein is there any need for fantasy here? There is nothing magical about it. It's not superhuman, it is simply man, the paragon of animals, man the hero, living up to his potential.

If you want to see what real literature can and should be like, watch Dae Jang Geum. Thank goodness someone is still creating great, realist art.

[Edited 8-13-08]

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Music Man

Till There Was You

There were bells on the hill
But I never heard them ringing,
No, I never heard them at all
Till there was you.

There were birds in the sky
But I never saw them winging,
No, I never saw them at all
Till there was you.

And there was music,
And there were wonderful roses,
They tell me,
In sweet fragrant meadows of dawn, and dew.

There was love all around
But I never heard it singing
No, I never heard it at all
Till there was you!

This is one of the best songs from one of the best musicals ever, The Music Man, lyrics and music by Meredith Willson. The scene in which this song appears, below, is the key to the whole story. Taken literally, Robert Preston's music man character is a charlatan. He says he can teach children to play music, and the citizens of the town pay him to do so. But he cannot actually teach music at all. The people do not get what they paid for.

But they get something else, at least as valuable. For the Music Man brings the town and its people to life. He makes them happy and excited, he makes them sing and dance, he even brings love, if only fleetingly, to one who had never known it before. He instills in them the courage to do what they never dared to do before. He makes their lives worth living. And that is an enormous gift to bring to anyone, let alone a whole town.

Only one person, the mayor, is so dour as to take the Music Man literally, and see him as simply the charlatan that he appears to be on the surface. He suggests the people tar and feather the Music Man. But everyone else in town - even the mayor's wife - supports the Music Man against the mayor. In spite of having been conned about his music teaching ability.

In addition to Till There Was You, there are several other wonderful songs in The Music Man. Lida Rose, Marian the Librarian, Seventy-Six Trombones, just to name a few. Robert Preston and the lovely Shirley Jones give magnificent performances, and the Buffalo Bills quartet will make you understand the beauty of the barbarshop quartet.

Watch the YouTube clip below for a taste, then buy or rent the DVD and enjoy the whole wonderful story. We need more Music Men in the world.

Till There Was You

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Renee Olstead - Merry Christmas In Love

Merry Christmas in Love

Lyrics by Marva Jan Marrow, music by Tony Renis, performed by Rene Olstead

Things that tremble tingle like a bubble full of rainbows . . . then crack
Sizzle, sing and whisper, when the shadows lace the moonlight with black
Things with silver linings, sparkling tinsel, twinkle shining with . . .
Waving wispy willow wings that breathe a song of Christmastime dreams . . .

Things that glow and glisten, eyes of children when they listen . . . then burst
Things that touch the wistful wish of watching someone else succeed first
Days that dingle dangle with a million parts untangle to
Satin stars that spangle and those Christmas bells that clangle out . . . dreams . .

I'm dreaming of Christmas
To you, Merry Christmas

Dreaming . . . of a Merry Christmas
To you, Merry Christmas

Galloping and gliding, Santa Claus' sleigh we're riding and
Bringing joyful tidings to the dreamers who are lying below . . .

I'm talking of daydreams
Wishes and moonbeams

Then I tremble tingle like a bubble full of rainbows and light
When you came to wake me and to wish me Merry Christmas in love . . .

Christmas in love . . .

I can tremble tingle like a bubble full of rainbows and light
When you came to wake me and to wish me Merry Christmas in love . . .

Merry Christmas in love . . .

Friday, July 4, 2008

It's a Good Life

Over the Fourth of July weekend the Sci Fi channel was having one of their periodic Twilight Zone marathons. One of the episodes I watched was "It's a Good Life," (season 3, episode 8 of that season) starring the child actor Bill Mumy, who plays Anthony Fremont, a boy with the power to turn people into anything he wanted, or send them "to the cornfield," meaning kill them off. He could do pretty much anything he wanted, and could read people's minds.

So everyone had to think happy thoughts, especially about Anthony himself, or it was off to the cornfield with them. Anthony didn't like singing, so no one could sing, or play any records with singing. Once Anthony decided to make it snow, thereby ruining much of that season's crops, it being the growing season. Anthony's father was initially horrified, but quickly recovered his senses, and admitted that it was good that Anthony made it snow. "That's a good thing you did, Anthony."

Anthony had turned the little town of Peaksville, Ohio into his own little kingdom, of which he was the absolute monarch and God. No one could leave the town, no one else could come in. The rest of the world had, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist. The population was shrinking, since he occasionally got angry with some of the residents and sent them to the cornfield, whence no one returned. The crops suffered from his whims, as did the livestock and other domestic animals, like dogs.

I've seen this episode before. But this time it struck me as an excellent description of life under an absolute ruler, whether a modern dictator, or a traditional monarch. Historically, such rulers had, and the modern ones continue to have, absolute power, including the power of life and death over all of his or her subjects, which could be, and often was, exercised at whim. So the subjects must all live in fear of the ruler, and pretend to be happy and agree with any whim of the ruler, lest they be sent to the cornfield.

So, for example, if a King wanted to levy a huge new tax on "his" people, in order to build a colossal new luxury palace, what could the hapless subject say? "That's a good thing you did, your Majesty."

And if a dictator wants his farmers to stop farming and melt their "extra" pots and pans, and anything else they can find that is made of iron, to increase the country's steel production statistics? And this will cause thousands to die of starvation, since the crops are being neglected? Students, too, and their teachers, must spend all their time searching for scrap metal to melt down, and forget about classes? "That's a good thing you did, Chairman Mao. I'm very happy!"

That last example was something that actually happened in China under Mao, circa 1957. In describing it, Chinese author Jung Chang wrote:

This absurd situation reflected not only Mao's ignorance of how an economy worked, but also an almost metaphysical disregard for reality, which might have been interesting in a poet, but in a political leader with absolute power was quite another matter. One of its main components was a deep-seated contempt for human life. (from Wild Swans, by Jung Chang)

That's a perfect description of Anthony, absolute ruler of Peaksville, Ohio. And also of Kim Jong-il. And it represents everything Hugo Chavez aspires to be, as well.

The episode also shows one character who refuses to submit to this pathetic slave existence. He starts singing in Anthony's face, and telling him exactly what a monster he is. Anthony begins threatening him with the cornfield. The rebel then pleads with the other victims to take advantage of Anthony while he is distracted by this rebellion, and attack him. But no one else does, and the rebel is sent to the cornfield. This also is similar to life under a dictatorship. The bravest ones are the first to die, or end up in prison, because they agree with Patrick Henry. But most people simply submit like sheep, and go on living as slaves.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Democracy: The Modern Idol

The Stimulus:

In a post ( ) to his blog on June 18, Carl Icahn wrote about "the myth" of corporate democracy. He complains that "many corporate boards and managers are doing an abysmal job." He believes this is a result of poor corporate governance, and claims that "the average shareholder can do nothing about it." Further, "It is the board’s responsibility to hold a CEO accountable, and remove the CEO if he or she is not producing results," but this often does not happen, writes Icahn, because "boards are often too lazy and/or passive to rock the boat, especially since the company will continue to pay and pamper and even indemnify them under almost any circumstances."

"Worst of all," he writes, "the board itself is not made accountable because corporate board elections are generally a joke." This is because " . . . in corporate America there are no true elections. It is tyranny parading as democracy . . . Perhaps, with enough public support, the lawmakers and regulators will take note." (Emphasis added.)

Icahn also quoted Winston Churchill, implying that political governance and corporate governance are one and the same: "To paraphrase Winston Churchill, 'democracy might not be the greatest system there is but it is the greatest system mankind has invented so far.' "

And the Response:

In politics, democratic elections allow the citizens to choose representatives to run the day to day business of the government. What those representatives may do, however, is strictly limited by the US Constitution. We live in a Republic, not a Democracy. In a Democracy, a majority could vote to do anything under the sun. It is mob rule. In a Republic, the rights of the individual are protected from violation by majorities. Thank the Founding Fathers we live in a Republic, and not a Democracy.

A corporation, however, is not the same as a political government. It does not exist to protect individual rights. It exists to make a profit. It draws up a business plan to do so, and anyone who wants in can buy shares of the company's stock, assuming there are shares for sale, at a price they can afford. In buying the company's stock, the investor agrees to abide by the company's rules. Including any rules about electing boards of directors. There is no guarantee he will make money on his investment.

No doubt there are CEOs and boards of directors that do abysmal jobs. But Icahn's claim that the average shareholder can do nothing about it is not true. At the very least, if a shareholder does not like what the board or CEO are doing, he can sell his shares in the company. If he prefers not to sell, he can vote (either in person, or by proxy) for directors he thinks will do a better job. The fewer shares he has, the less voice he has in such elections. Which is what he agreed to when he bought the shares in the first place. That is contractual justice.

Evidently Icahn is not satisfied with contractual justice, but instead wants government interference in the economy, like any statist. Odd, for a man whose blog is headed by a statement about fighting tyranny.

It is not clear exactly what Icahn wants the government to do in this particular intervention. His statement that "in corporate America there are no true elections. It is tyranny parading as democracy," suggests that he doesn't like how boards are elected. If that is so, he should either not have bought stock in those companies in the first place, or he should sell his shares, or he should work, in accordance with the company's rules, to get the rules changed. The one thing he should not do is appeal to the government to interfere in a business enterprise. That is not within a government's rightful sphere of influence. It is a common tactic, though, of people who can't get what they want legitimately, to try to get it illegitimately - through the government.

At the end of his post on corporate democracy, Icahn wrote "I will discuss in future entries how simple it [removing terrible management] can be and what has constrained us from taking action." Perhaps in these future entries he will suggest legitimate ways, and leave the government out of the equation. Let us hope so, at any rate.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Secretariat: A Hero of a Horse

In the late '60s and early '70s, America was embroiled in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. Quoting Ayn Rand's paean to Apollo 11: "For thirty years or longer, the newspapers had featured nothing but disaster, catastrophes, betrayals, the shrinking stature of men, the sordid mess of a collapsing civilzation; their voice had become a long, sustained whine, the megaphone of failure . . . Now, for once, the newspapers were announcing a human achievement, were reporting on a human triumph, were reminding us that man still exists and functions as man," (from Apollo 11, in The Voice of Reason, page 167).

I was a seven year old child at the time of Apollo 11. It is still one of the earliest and fondest memories of my youth. A less pleasant memory was the televised hearings about the Watergate scandal, some years later.

Then, in 1973, along came Secretariat. I knew nothing of horse racing. I was unaware there hadn't been a Triple Crown winner in a quarter of a century. But there was a buzz about this horse that was impossible to ignore. In 1972 he had won "Horse of the Year" as a two year old, a highly unusual feat. As a three year old in 1973, he would be competing for the Triple Crown, awarded to a horse that wins the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes.

And what a beautiful horse. Chestnut hued, dubbed Big Red, he was admired as often for his beauty as for his strength, speed, spirit, and endurance.

Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness by two or three lengths each. He would generally start slow out of the gate, and then blow past the other horses with a burst of speed that made it look like the other horses were standing still.

But the Belmont Stakes is the test of champions. It is longer than the other two legs of the Triple Crown, and calls for speed and endurance, as well as an intelligent strategy. Secretariat, as usual, was slow out of the gate. But he quickly recovered, and was galloping neck and neck with the leader, Sham, the horse that had come in second place in both the Kentucky Derby, and the Preakness. After jockeying back and forth for a while, Secretariat finally left Sham behind, and continued stretching his lead until, by the end of the race, he was fully 31 lengths ahead of the next horse- a feat immortalized in the photograph at the head of this post.

America had its first Triple Crown winner in a quarter of a century. Before the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat appeared on the cover of Time magazine, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated, all in the same week. Everyone loved Secretariat. Once again, the media were filled with stories of a glorious achievement, pushing the doom and gloom stories off the front page, if only for a while.

Secretariat was the product of careful breeding, and was trained, groomed, managed, and ridden to be the best that he could be. He was a magnificent animal, and his greatness was guided and enhanced by human intelligence. We admired him for his achievements, his desire to excel, to be the "first among equals," to be the best.

No one ever suggested he should slow down so as not to embarass his brothers. We were free to admire his superiority over his peers. For those of us who love a hero, Secretariat was living proof that they could exist, and glory in their own existence.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Suicide by Environmentalism

Our dependence on Middle East oil is a common object of ridicule. The critics of this dependence are generally the same people who caused the dependence in the first place - environmentalists. They have placed so many areas of America off limits to drilling - ANWAR, coastal waters, etc. - that we are left with no choice but to import oil from elsewhere.

But logic was never a strong suit among environmentalists. Consider the recent vote to continue restrictions on off shore drilling. The Democrats trotted out one of their standard excuses for not allowing more drilling:

"We are kidding ourselves if we think we can drill our way out of these problems," said [House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis], noting that no matter how U.S. oil sources are pursued “we still have a tiny portion of the world (oil) supply.”

Suppose for a moment that everyone, everywhere, took that attitude. Then no one would ever drill for oil except Saudi Arabia, and everyone would be 100% dependent upon them for their oil. That is the "logic" underlying the Democrat/environmentalist restrictions on drilling for oil. By that twisted logic, Americans should never have extracted any oil in this country at all, since we were never going to have more than a small percentage of the world supply.

But even that is giving the Democrats too much credit. There are enormous amounts of oil available from oil shale in this country, over and above all the oil waiting to be tapped off shore.

But environmentalists would rather fantasize about alternative energy sources like wind and solar - when they are not obstructing even those sources of energy, as eyesores. Last I heard, no one is stopping them from developing those energy sources themselves.

The free market could provide us with all the energy we need. If we had a free market.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Red Wings in Action

Just a few pictures of the current group of Red Wings on the ice, plus one of Vlad for auld lang syne . . .




Datsyuk and Zetterberg:


Vladimir Konstantinov, the warrior:

Friday, June 6, 2008

Detroit Red Wings

For the fourth time in the last eleven years, the Detroit Red Wings have won the Stanley Cup, awarded to the champion of the National Hockey League. Since 1990, when Sergei Fedorov joined a lineup that already included Steve Yzerman, the Red Wings have been among the most skilled teams in the NHL.

Although Fedorov is no longer a Red Wing, he is indicative of the success of the franchise. The draft that netted Feodorov for the Red Wings is one of the greatest drafts in NHL history. That same draft for the Red Wings included Center Mike Sillinger and Defenseman Bob Boughner, who both went on to solid NHL careers. It included Winger Dallas Drake, who started with the Red Wings, was traded, and finally returned to the Wings as a free agent this season. It included Vladimir Konstantinov, a magnificent Defenseman who helped the Wings win the Stanley Cup in 1997, alongside his defense partner, Nicklas Lidstrom, who was also part of that same 1989 draft. Lidstrom and Fedorov will be in the Hall of Fame. Konstantinov almost certainly would have been too, had his career not been cut short by a tragic car accident, right after the Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997. Picking three Hall of Famers in one draft is a good way to rejuvenate a franchise.

Eventually the Wings added three more skilled Russians to their lineup: Slava Kozlov, a skilled young Winger; Slava Fetisov, an aging but skilled defenseman, and Center Igor Larionov, a puck control specialist, as so many Russians were. Coach Scotty Bowman put these five together as a unit, the Russian Five, and they were amazing to watch. They played the same puck control game of the old Soviet national teams.

Eventually, all five of the Russian Five were lost to the Wings, to free agency, retirement, or career ending injury. But the Wings continued to play a puck control, or puck possession game, unlike any other team in the NHL. Because the Wings were so consistently good, they always ended up in poor drafting position. They haven't had a top ten pick since about 1991. Normally they pick at the very bottom of the round, about 20th or lower. So they never have the opportunity to draft the "can't miss" prospects like the Crosby's, the Malkin's, the Ovechkin's, etc.

That doesn't mean they don't draft great players, however. They do. They just have to look harder and smarter to find them. But find them they do. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, all selected in the third round or later, all star players in the NHL. Datsyuk and Zetterberg, in my opinion, are the two most complete forwards in the NHL. And Nicklas Lidstrom is the best defenseman.

There are now seven Swedes on the Red Wings roster, with more on the way. The Wings are a heavily European weighted team. This is one of the results of having to pick lower in the draft, when all the best North American prospects are already gone. But it is also a result of a deliberate policy of favoring skill over size, which is the opposite of how most teams draft.

The results speak for themselves. Four Stanley Cups in eleven years. People used to accuse the Wings of buying the Stanley Cup, since they had one of the highest payrolls in the league. But when the salary cap was put in place, and the Wings' payroll was cut in half, they continued to be the class of the NHL, consistently finishing first in their division, and advancing well into the playoffs. And now, winning the Stanley Cup again.

The Red Wings are the model franchise of the NHL.