Saturday, July 9, 2016

Saturday Night Radio Drama - Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe - Counterfeit For Murder

Having never read a Nero Wolfe novel until after I watched the movies made of them about fifteen years ago,  Nero Wolfe will always be as played for TV by the wonderful actor Maury Chaykin and Archie Goodwin will always be the equally wonderful creation of the role by Timothy Hutton.  I watched an interview that Chaykin did in which he said that A&E network cancelled that really fine series which, from what I can gather, was very popular so it could run crumby re-runs of cable trash fare.  Such is the idiocy of cable TV, in the end. 

But if I'd heard them first, the excellent versions done by by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation done in the early 1980s. Mavor Moore playing Nero Wolfe and Don Francks as Archie Goodwin, they'd have been my idea of the roles.   Moore and Francks in real life were much older than the roles when they played them so well for radio are a good illustration of why radio drama is such a great medium.   I'm tempted to post the publicity photo that can be found online but I'm not going to violate the magic of the medium.

Sadly, the really excellent CBC radio drama unit which produced lots of really fine stuff and lots and lots of really good stuff, was dissolved in 2012 due to budget cuts under the stinking Harper regime. Just another reason to hate the Tories. 

I read a lot about Rex Stout who was a pretty interesting guy with lots of admirable qualities.  

Without Some Leavening It Just Sits There Like A Lump

I did a lot of transplanting this week so I listened to a lot of different things to decide on what I'd post. There are thousands of radio plays online, I could post one every night and not run out of things worth listening to for a long time. 

For those who might be interested, I found a trove of radio plays by Harold Pinter.   I listened to a couple which I hadn't seen done before and found my only reaction was to wonder if Pinter ever created a likable character.   It is so relentlessly depressing that I felt it was superfluous, the news providing enough of that stuff with the characters being real.  I don't see that Pinter ever felt anything like an inclination to try to figure out something better.  It was just sourness relieved by bitterness, which made me wonder what he had to be so morose about.  His life wasn't exactly wretched.  But, then, that was true of so many of the angry young men who came to fashion in that period.   When you don't present anyone as likable it's no wonder, you just feel like throwing up your hands and giving up.  Which seems to be what so much 20th century British literature replaces any kind of profundity or fresh insight with.   But it doesn't seem to me to be any kind of thing that is sustainable.  I have to add it is odd as I genuinely liked Harold Pinter and used to find some of his work quite watchable, if not exactly compelling.   And it's so unrealistic.  There are nice people in the world who aren't motivated by either base, selfish, cynical motives.  I've known Brits like that, though maybe they didn't make it into Pinter's class.

By comparison the radio plays by Samuel Beckett I listened to were often quite depressing and dispiriting but, the extent to which he had characters which were at all developed, I found some of them likable.  These days there has to be someone I like in something for me to listen to it, watch it or read it.    I mean, I can listen to the radio-ized Philip Marlowe, with all of that self-indulgent cynicism and I at least find him and a few of the others likable, in the end.   Though I don't think he's someone I'd like to have a drink with.  Not more than once.  Not without grabbing him by the lapels and saying, "Snap out of it, guy."

Listening to them, I decided to go with something a little more fun.

Update:  Well Stupy, I wasn't talking about those productions of Philip Marlowe, I was talking about those from much later which were far superior.  If you don't know about those, that's not my fault.

Update 2:  "link or shut up"  Well, for example, there are these produced by the BBC Radio 4. Only I heard them elsewhere.  You'll have to wait for them to come round on the BBC Player.  You should really try to take advantage of the resources revealed by the internet, there is so much more to the world than what you learned in your little universe in the lesser NYC area in your infancy, which you might want to leave behind.

And that's only an example. There are the ones dramatized by Bill Morrison in which Ed Bishop played Marlowe, which were quite good.

Philip Marlowe was excessively cynical but he had a moral core that extended past himself, his self-interest, his advantage.   Anyone who re-wrote or played him as a sadist was distorting the character.

Update 3:  You know, Stupy, you've been doing this long enough and I've been responding to your attempts at discrediting what I've said long enough - regularly kicking your ass - that someone would expect a smart person would realize I don't just say stuff without being able to back it up.   You're not a smart person. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Found Poetry - Two Fortune Cookies And The Order They Were Opened This Evening

First cooky -


Second cooky -

What are you waiting for?

Marilynne Robinson On Fear - BBC World Service

Marilynne Robinson's interview from several months ago is full of interesting ideas, starting with her identification of Barack Obama as a deep and sincere believer and Christian.  What she has to say about the rise of Donald Trump as Republicans reaping the whirlwind they've sown is far more constructive than the usual explanations of him.

Answer To Objections On What I Said Around The 4th

Democratic governments and, even more importantly and harder to achieve and maintain, democratic societies, depend on the moral choices of individual people.   A democratic society can be promoted by political institutions but a democratic government has to be the product of informed, moral choices by individual voters.  The number of people who make the right decision for democracy to happen won't be unanimous or by consensus but it has to achieve an effective margin of voter to happen.

I don't think that will reliably happen unless voters knowingly choose to sacrifice their own, possible advantage to the good of other people, most of those people personally unrelated to them and I don't think that will happen, reliably, in general society unless people feel that they have a real, consequential moral obligation imposed on them by their Creator.   The demand for equality is made equally for yourself and all others or it is an empty pose which has selfishness as a real motive.

The mere habits of courtesy allegedly common among entirely secularized intellectuals (speaking for anyone who has ever observed university faculties in real life, HA!) or among people who write for a living (again HA!) or by mere human convention or that weakest of all potions, societal mores, won't do it.  Among themselves and for themselves there has never been a human grouping which, absent a belief in those consequential moral obligations, or the kind of permission we are so apt to grant ourselves, the most savage cruelties, oppression and murder have been and are allowed to be visited on other groups and individuals for the rankest of material gain by theft.

The old superstition that democracy was a product of natural forces is one of the stupidest of the ideas of the so-called enlightenment.  Democracy doesn't just happen, it won't just arise as a result of the workings out of physical laws.  Democracy, in the real meaning of the word in the modern world is as a product of a belief in equality and a moral obligation to respect rights held by everyone.  In the places it arose those were contained in the Mosaic Law, the Hebrew prophets and the Gospels. Those are why democratic goverment arose where it arose.  I see it as a very gradual, very slow shedding of the habits of pagan feudalism, not of the triumph of science over religious belief.   As was pointed out in Marilynne Robinson's treatment of the passage from Thomas More's Utopia, the cruelty of late medieval English law was not found in the Bible.

As Jurgen Habermas, himself an atheist and a Marxist, admitted that there is nothing else that feeds modern, egalitarian democracy, there is no other source of sustenance for it as a social and, so, political reality.    That remains the case no matter which issue of equality under discussion.  If there are other, possible sources for it, in, example, Islam, is certainly worth investigating and pursuing because a persuasive Islamic egalitarian, democratic movement gaining hold over more than a billion and a half people would certainly be a good and great thing.  It is not possible in any system, religious, philosophical or scientific, which features assertions of inequality.  It is certainly not achievable through atheist materialism and in a society which is governed by either overt philosophical and scientistic materialism or the vulgar materialism which de-religionied secularism drifts in the most unsurprising manner.   I believe the decrease in actual democracy in the past fifty years is a product of that drift.  I doubt it is an accident that the height of American democracy achieved in the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act came during a period of increased religious observance in the country or that it was among very serious Christians that the abolition movement arose and became powerful enough to overturn slavery.

The 18th century, so-called enlightenment concept that, somehow, democracy or, more minimally, a tolerably decent society would be the product of "enlightened" self-interest, is such transparent nonsense that it should have always been considered a fraud and a means of the self-interested "enlightened" men who invented it to gain advantage for themselves.   If there is no controlling and effective belief that such "enlightened" men are not to use their supposed superior faculties to set themselves up above those not so endowed to their own material and social adventure and their own preening self-regard.   The wiser of the exploiter class would manage "the masses" for their own advantage more wisely than the stupider and less "enlightenedly" self-interested and if you think they would manage to maintain that wise management as their property and power went to their spoiled children and grand children, I question your knowledge of human nature.  It's hard enough when that requirement is imposed by God through consequences of what happens when powerful-selfish people and classes get out of control, when it is based on something more easily managed or ignored, there is no chance of it being any better than a hypocritical mouthing of piety.   Thomas Jefferson, who was, in fact, a sort of unitarian deist who didn't choose to believe in consequences nearly as much as he felt confident in his own cleverness, grew more attached to slavery in the decades after the United States gained independence, as his high sounding Declaration was turned, immediately, into a mockery.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Process Liberals Have Learned Nothing In the Past Decade They Are A Dead Hand On Progress

I have read that some of the people who were there refute the charge that some of the Democratic House members who met with Bernie Sanders booed him when he said this, but I certainly would have objected to it.

Sanders also stunned some of the Democrats in attendance when he told them that winning elections isn’t the only thing they should focus on. While they wanted to hear about how to beat Donald Trump — and how Sanders might help them win the House back — he was talking about remaking the country.

“The goal isn’t to win elections, the goal is to transform America,” Sanders said at one point, according to multiple lawmakers and aides in the room.

If he said that in the context of an election year, an election year in which the Republican candidate is Donald Trump!, Bernie Sanders has lost his marbles.  It would explain why he has enabled the fantasies of so many of his die-hard, dead-headed, dead-enders, as can be read all over lefty comment threads, still, a week into July.  His elevation of process fights over symbolic junk like the party platform over winning elections, taking control of the government is, literally, delusional.   I wrote about that early in my blogging.  

Winning this election is the only means of doing anything,  in the end.   All of the process reform crap that such lefty puritans have and could dream up will be overturned by anyone appointed to the Supreme Court as other process liberals in the "free speech- free press" industry file briefs in favor of overturning it.  They've learned nothing at all and they don't because, obviously, they believe it's all supposed to just happen by magic*.  Nothing else could account for such thinking.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


You have to admit some liberals are strange. Some get up on a soap box and that turns into their whole universe. One of the oddest of these ducks is the process liberal. You can tell one by it's call, "I'm not interested in the outcome, I only want the process to be honest,". And so it's time to rip out another weak plank from the platform of The Code of Liberal Ethics before someone else steps on it and gets hurt.

This might pinch some toes but Fred Wertheimer is the great example of process liberalism. Some of you know that I've got a bone to pick with him over his teaming up with Newt Gingrich to get Jim Wright ousted, ending the only real opposition that the Reagan-Bush administration ever faced. In the most supreme political irony of our age, Fred and Newt sank him over a BOOK DEAL that by Gingrichean standards was chump change. Even if Wertheimer's motives were pure, in theory, this act marks him as the archetype process liberal due to it's pettiness, the enormous benefit it brought to Republicans and the damage it did to Democrats. You remember, Wright was replaced by the tragically ungifted Tom Foley who obsessed over marble floors in the elevators and lost the house to Newt Gingrich. I don't believe that was what Wertheimer wanted but it wasn't any surprise when it happened.

Process liberals bask in their own purity knowing that they are welcome on any talk show in the country and will seldom be asked a tough question or get pinned down on anything they say. They go on and answer all of the reverently posed questions about the latest sins of Democrats. They predictably bleat out their dismay over these venial sins which, they decree, must carry the penalty of eternal damnation. In the process they sell out the real progressive agenda that doesn't end in process, it ends in results, in making peoples' lives better.

They say "the ends don't justify the means" on the rare occasion someone questions their judgment. But that phrase was invented to counter people who wanted to use means that involved killing people and doing serious injury. Dictators' ends don't justify their means. But the left in the United States won't start doing that, no matter what the temptation. The left will use the untidy and imperfect process of government to defeat Republicans' lies and theft. If there is some minor naughtiness involved it's a small price to pay for child nutrition, healthcare, jobs creation, Social Security and other such benefits to humanity as the notably impure Democratic majorities of the past have produced. Remember the "post office scandal"? Looks penny ante after Bush II, doesn't it.

The sentimental attachment we have for these process liberals is rather strange itself since they haven't produced much and they've prevented much good. That the Republican media values them isn't any surprise, it should be an indictment against them. They wouldn't be asked on if Republicans didn't like the results.


I did actually get flack for that - at the height of the Bush II regime - from the kind of people who are financially secure and have an interest in the kind of nonsense that Bernie Sanders was quoted as spouting in that meeting. Considering the criticism of him from some of those who have been in the House and Senate who were skeptical of his achievements, you would think that Sanders would know better than to confirm that he has so little appreciation of the realities of making laws and policies that change real life.

Bernie Sanders' reputation as a serious person is one of the casualties of his presidential campaign. One of the biggest Bernie or Busters I know is a woman who is quite wealthy,  it will be no skin off of her if Trump is elected.  I suspect that it would turn out that Sanders' support comes heavily from the financially comfortable, the kind of people who make donations to those groups that supported Fred Wertheimer's career.  It will be quite different for most of us.  I suspect a lot of them were also Nader voters in 2000.

*  I have been becoming more interested in the superstition exhibited in such thinking among the enlightened, the sciency and the materialists.  More on that later.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Dave Holland Quintet - Last Minute Man

Dave Holland - bass
Robin Eubanks - trombon
Chris Potter - saxophones
Steve Nelson - marimba, vibraphone
Nate Smith - drums

Update:  How's Never 

The bass, trombone and drum solos are some of the most incredible I've ever heard.  Nate Smith and Robin Eubanks are astonishingly good and creative players, all of them.  This is one of the best jazz groups in history.

On Looking At A Link

Slavoj Zizek is proof that you can sell ignorant people trained on TV ad pitches the idea that nonsense on a large range of topics is philosophical wisdom as long as the bull shit artist talks fast, preferably in some European accent or other, throwing in words, names and phrases about things the mark doesn't understand but doesn't want other people to think he doesn't understand.  If Zizek is fuller of crap than Camille Paglia is hard to say but mostly because it's so painful to sample them for even a few minutes at a time that it's like giving yourself permanent brain damage to sample it in longer doses.  His relative ubiquity is the pseudo-intellectual equivalent of the blanket coverage that the American media gives Donald Trump.  Both are, in the end, consumer products. Sort of like melamine tainted formula for the chronologically adult child. 

I'll go with Walter Brueggemann, Marilynne Robinson, James Cone, etc.  

Hate Mail - Luckily, I've Already Asnswered That

The good thing about choosing to directly confront the secular, atheist orthodoxy is that it is an unchanging series of misrepresentations and lies that started many decade ago, so the refutation of it is pretty much the same series of truths that can be repeated but which the atheists can never answer. Here is a passage from one of the times I stated them.

I have come to suspect that unless a society is primarily influenced by some absolute metaphysical holding that is the equivalent to the egalitarian economic and justice teachings founded in the Mosaic Law and the teachings of the Jewish prophets, they will not either achieve or sustain democracy.  I don't think anything but a holding that equality is the endowment of our Creator will be sufficient to overcome the depravity of natural selfishness.  Any society in which a majority of people do not have that sense which governs their choices and actions will be an oppressive, unequal society.  What people think leads to what they do and what they do is the substance of which a society and its character are made.  The extent to which people can deny or wiggle out of or ignore that inequality is wrong, that it is evil, that to participate in it is a sin which produces pain and disaster is the extent to which egalitarian democracy is made impossible or is destroyed.  I think that is the reason we are losing everything gained in the past two-hundred years in the United States and reverting to the country which produced the evils that liberalism exists to abolish and stop. 

The proposed atheist replacements of morality, such as the current one based on an idiotic and self-contradicting evolution of morals under natural selection exacerbates instead of inhibits assumptions of inequality and all of the evils that inequality gives birth to.  The notion that natural selection, BASED ENTIRELY IN NOTIONS OF INEQUALITY  could be turned around to create equality is proof that you have to be wiling to be dishonest to try to replace morality with that.  The earliest proponents of natural selection were notable for being opposed to the idea that all people were equal, using natural selection to argue for inequality and advocating the "goodness" of even the most obviously evil practices arising from that.  I have mentioned their almost immediate assertions for the benefits of infanticide, murder of those deemed unfit, allowing them to starve and die of disease and everything up to and including imperialist genocide.  All of which I've documented in the very words of those who invented natural selection.  And the same is true for any other atheist or secular replacement for the Jewish conception of morality contained in The Law and the prophets.  There are things that could be cited, such as the morality taught by The Buddha, though it presupposes that in any generation there will be inequality as people and other beings work out their fate under karmic forces.  The same is true for various Hindu schools of thought.  While, under some of Buddhism and Hinduism there is a very high degree of morality asserted, unless there is also a call for equality within every generation then those will not produce a durable and truly egalitarian democratic government.  Such a government begins as an ideal which we will find it almost impossible to even approximate and even coming to that approximation will take enormous self-denial and self-restraint, of people doing what they would rather not do, of sacrificing their own self-interest when they could, easily, treat other people as they would not want to be treated in both small and large ways.  I think such an effort to achieve what can be takes enormous effort and anything that hampers it will be an enormous danger to it.

If there is any other proposal for producing the equivalent of the Jewish-Christian basis for egalitarian democracy, I'd very much like to know it and would support its morality as equal to it.  I suspect that it is quite possible to do so under Islam though I am not a scholar of Islam to any great extent.  Some writers calling for a society governed by the ideal equality of conduct of those making the Hajj seem to me to be calling for something like that.  Any previous faith that I had that that could be done in secular and non-theistic terms is dead.

My former faith in such stuff didn't ever include taking Michel Foucault seriously, I have never thought he was much of anything but an intelligent but essentially dishonest peddler of bull shit.  I seem to recall reading that, after a debate with him, Noam Chomsky seemed to be rather astonished at how utterly amoral he was, which is characteristic of so much of the secular, atheist left, at bottom.  It accounts for how they can talk about the lives of millions of people in terms that reduce them to a natural resource to manage and channel instead of the possessors of real, durable, rights which any person and the government must treat as important and, in fact, inalienable.

You can read the exchange that flowed from my dissing one of the gods of atheism, Monsieur Arouet, who, I have to confess, I always did think was a bit of a fat-head, too.  When I read his racism, his antisemitism, it didn't come as anything like a shock to me.  But, then, I'd read him, some in the original, some in translation.  It wasn't through him that I came to distrust the kind of talk about people that turned, in the fullness of secular, atheist academic discourse into the sociological transformation of human beings into resources to pin down in description and managed but, looking back, that's the direct inspiration of much of it.  It is entirely compatible with 19th century racism and eugenics and, in the fullness of time, the mass extermination of groups based on their economic utility or lack of it and the national efficiency of the state.  Marx and Engels spoke that same language, translated.  So did the Nazis and the Stalinists and Maoists.

It is notable, in the contexts of other things I've posted here, that Foucault died as a result of his indulgence in casual, anonymous sex in the gay sex clubs.   Some of the people who knew him speculated it was during his period of indulging in and promoting sado-masochism as found in the San Francisco bay area, even into the period when anonymous, casual sex had already, scientifically, been identified as the likely transmission of AIDS.  What is to be made of someone whose intellectualism is loosely enough defined to include that kind of grotesquely anti-scientific and irresponsible violation of rights of other people.  AIDS was already known and had been suspected even longer, of being spread through sexual promiscuity even as so many even established intellectuals were promoting and praising it as some kind of manifestation of liberty.  Though, in the case of Foucault, sado-masochism is a negation of the liberty of the weaker as it creates a privilege for the stronger over the mentally ill.  It is a total negation of equality and love, even that degraded expression of it called "fraternity".   And such total crap as Foucault wrote on the topic of sex, including the promotion of his own, homicidal and suicidal practices,  is taught in universities and considered to be some kind of intellectual product worthy of promotion.  There is absolutely nothing liberal about that, it is fascist decadence.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Why Do We Not Know This Yet?" Definitive Break - A Contrast Between A Real Left And The Official Left Which Will Never Work

As I was reading this article at In These Times, Michel Foucault, Neoliberalism and the Failures of the Left, I suddenly realized that I didn't believe any of it, not Foucault's vision of the left nor the various strands of left which it presents him as having come to oppose, pretty much the entire European intellectual left - the same kind of stuff that the American intellectual left was and, in its ruins, still is made of and which the official American left is still guided by.  

The entire thing, not only the Marxist content of it was something I used to read respectfully, though I never found it very convincing or compelling but which I had some vague feeling that I should consider because so many wise voices of the left took it seriously, now looks to me to be the very reason that the left has been such a notable failure and why any left which starts out with the attitudes of that "left" will never go anywhere.  I would invite anyone to read that article and then read the essay by Marilynne Robinson,  The Fate of Ideas: Moses, that I linked to Sunday, which talks about the real radicalism of the Mosaic Law and tell me which vision of reality is more likely to speak to real people, their real experience and the facts, exigencies and vicissitudes of their own lives.  

Read the discussion of Foucault, Marx, Maoists, neo-liberals, governing Socialists, etc. consideration of that very condescending, dehumaized view of human beings, the "lumpenproletariat" and how various lefties moved them around as if they were talking about a raw material resource to channel instead of real people and contrast that to the Mosaic consideration of people as beloved by God, conscious beings who are set beyond consideration as part of a system of material commerce.  Consider this point made by Robinson, noting Thomas More's observation:

In his Utopia, Thomas More, the 16th century statesman and scholar, notes one great difference between the regime of Christian England and the laws laid down by Moses. English thieves were hanged in great numbers, sometimes twenty on a scaffold, whereas “to be short, Moses’ law, though it were ungentle and sharp, as a law that was given to bondmen, yea, and them very obstinate, stubborn and stiff-necked, yet it punished theft by the purse, and not with death (italics mine). And let us not think that God in the new law of clemency and mercy, under the which He ruleth us with fatherly gentleness, as his dear children, hath given us greater scope and license to the execution of cruelty upon one another.” More wrote his book in Latin, and the learned could not be hanged (if they were male) — this is the actual meaning of the phrase “benefit of clergy” — so those to whom his thoughts would have been of pressing interest would not have been among his readers. But a very valuable point is made here, which is seldom made, and which, if we were honest, would force us to consider many things.

Moses (by whom I mean the ethos and spirit of Mosaic law, however it came to be articulated) in fact does not authorize any physical punishment for crimes against property. The entire economic and social history of Christendom would have been transformed if Moses had been harkened to only in this one particular. Feudalism, not to mention early capitalism, are hardly to be imagined where such restraint was observed in defense of the rights of ownership. Anyone familiar with European history is aware of the zeal for brutal punishment, the terrible ingenuity with which the human body was tormented and insulted through the 18th century at least, very often to deter theft on the part of the wretched. Moses authorizes nothing of the kind, nor indeed does he countenance any oppression of the poor. Thomas More is entirely conventional, as he would be still, in describing the law of Moses as “sharp” beside the merciful governance of Christ. But how could Europe have been more effectively Christianized — understand the sense in which I use the word — than by adherence to these laws of Moses? Granting the severity of the holiness codes in the Torah, they do not compare unfavorably with laws touching religious matters in More’s England. More himself called for the burning of William Tyndale, the great early translator of the Bible into English, who was in fact burned. It is often said that Europeans learned religious intolerance from the Old Testament. Then how did we happen to skip over the parts where the laws protect and provide for the poor, and where oppression of them is most fiercely forbidden? It is surely dishonest to suggest we learned anything at all from the Torah, if we have not learned anything good from it. Better to say our vices are our own than to try to exculpate ourselves by implying that our attention strayed during the humane and visionary passages. The law of Moses puts liberation theology to shame in its passionate loyalty to the poor. Why do we not know this yet?

Read the meandering, academic discourse on Foucault and "the left" with its beloved, academic, pseudo-scientific language, read the remarkable intersection between that atheist-secular left and the neo-liberalism of Milton Friedman and consider how insufficient an alternative that left is as compared to the radicalism of the Mosaic Law and any attempt to, seriously, follow it.  Then consider the political and social discourse of abolition and civil rights which spoke the language of Exodus and Deuteronomy, the Hebrew prophets, the Gospels and the Epistles and their actual achievements in politics as opposed to the decades, turning into centuries of impotent ineptitude of the academic leftists of this sort.   Marxism is, if anything, deader than any part of the religious left.  Not even the ruling Communists take Marx seriously anymore except as a cultural icon emptier than Uncle Sam.  I can just about guarantee you that even if everyone masters the ridiculous academic mazes necessary to understand what is said in the article, it and its ideas will produce nothing good in laws and policies.

The secular left is a dead end.  The academic left is as dead an end.  It is a guaranteed political failure.  It isn't radical, at all, it is a variation on the same system that hanged thieves in late medieval England instead of considering them children of God.  Look up George Bernard Shaw speaking on the topic of gassing unproductive members of society like unwanted domestic animals if you want another view of the same thing.  That left is no left and it never was.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Charles Ives: Impression of the “St. Gaudens” in Boston Common (1915)

Donald Berman, piano

Donald Berman was a student of the great pianist John Kirkpatrick whose work with both Charles Ives and Carl Ruggles may be unique in its closeness over decades of hard, dedicated work.*  Both composers depended heavily on Kirkpatrick to put some of their most important work into a form which was both faithful to their vision and, also, performable.   Donald Berman was a part of that work in the period when Kirkpatrick carried on after their deaths and his performances of those pieces are astonishingly good.   The CDs of his performances of the music of both are among the finest ever issued or likely to ever be issued.  As mentioned the other day, you have to hear the CDs to get the full impact and range of subtle treatment.   You get the feeling and sound of direct transmission of the visions of both of those great American composers though Kirkpatrick.

The St. Gaudens' is, of course, The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial relief on the Boston Common.   Robert Lowell, in his most famous poem, also meditated on the St. Gaudens monument.  His vision, brought up to date in the Vietnam era, is bleak, it would be even bleaker if he had seen the next half century.   I'd rather think about that on the 4th of July than that document of, by and for aristocratic  slave owners, Indian killers and land thieves worshiped by the secular and decaying empire we have allowed the country to devolve into.

*  If one of my enemies had been a more careful reader he'd have kicked up some hay over something I posted yesterday.   If he had, I had the answer.

A Pressing 4th of July Question

Is there anything less funny than The Capitol Steps?  

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A long and happy retirement, Mr. Keillor.  I will miss your show but I have a lot of respect for someone who knows when to end even a good thing, even perfect, at times.  You did a great last News segment.   

Eugene O'Neill - Hughie - Another 4th of July Post

Though it was written as a stage play, since everything that happens in Eugene O'Neill's Hughie happens in the recounting of the down-on-his-luck gambler Erie with a little bit contributed by the night clerk Charlie Hughes, it works pretty well perfectly as an audio-drama.   Some people believe it was written as a more optimistic view of life than the great and entirely depressing The Iceman Cometh.  It has become my favorite O'Neill play.

Here, since I just found out I'm going to be out, tomorrow, too, is a recording of a really great performance of the play with the great Jason Robards as Erie and Jack Dodson as the night clerk.

See you on the 5th.

Carl Ruggles - Men and Mountains

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Lukas Foss, conductor

More On Ruggles From The Authority On Him

I found this interview by Bruce Duffie with the fine composer, teacher and the biographer of Carl Ruggles, Marilyn J. Ziffrin who I took some classes with many years ago and who introduced me to Ruggles' music.  I'd like to post the entire interview because Marilyn Ziffrin is such a fascinating and strong and unforgettable person, herself but here is part of what she said about Ruggles.


BD:    Let’s talk a little bit about your friend, Carl Ruggles.  What kind of a guy was he?

MJZ:    In some ways he was a very charming man, and in some ways a very difficult man.  He was a very stubborn, irascible guy.

BD:    How long did you know him?

MJZ:    He died in 1971, and I knew him from 1964.  I spent a year with him in about 1967, and then went back to visit him about every six weeks until he passed away.  So I knew him very well the last seven or eight years of his life.  Of course he was a very old man when he died.  He died at 95, and a lot of people thought he was senile.  That was one of the great tragedies because he was not senile at all.  He was very hard at hearing, and you had to take the time to make him hear you because he refused to wear a hearing aid.  This was an example of his stubbornness, and so you simply had to sit there and shout at him to make yourself heard.  But if you did, he was very lucid and quite bright, and not at all senile.  The last years of his life he spent a great deal of time alone, in isolation, and a nursing home.  But he always knew me, and we always had great conversations when I would come over and talk to him.  He was, I think, a marvelous painter, which he always felt was of less value than his compositions.  He felt much more secure as a painter than he did as a composer, but he was determined to be known as a composer, and made it!

BD:    So he was a success in the end?

MJZ:    Yes.  At least he was recognized, but only partially so.  

BD:    There are so many composers who are not that much recognized.

MJZ:    That’s true, but he wanted to be really recognized.  He wanted the world to think that he was the great American composer.

BD:    He wanted to stand along Ives?

MJZ:    At least, if not above!  Ives was the only American composer that he really was willing to admit was his equal, if not his superior.  They were very close friends, and Ives was a wonderful benefactor to him.  Ives sent over money for extra rehearsals when his Sun-Treader was done in Europe.  And after he died, Mrs. Ives gave him the secretary that Charlie had used, and Carl was very proud of it.  They worked in his school house home for many years.  He always said that he and Ives were the two great American composers, but the world didn’t think that.  The world thought that Ives was, but they weren’t quite sure about Carl.  There was always this doubt.

BD:    Is the world reassessing Ruggles now?

MJZ:    No, I really don’t think so, I regret to say.  He has had some performances lately, which is very nice.   The New York Philharmonic recently did the Sun-Treader.  They did it on a program with Ives, Wallingford Riegger and Henry Cowell, and they called them ‘The American Eccentrics’.  [See program shown below.]  I’m not sure Carl would have been pleased about that at all, although he’d have been delighted to be on the same program with Ives.  I since learned that the Cleveland Orchestra is going to do some of Ruggles, but I don’t think there’s any resurgence that he’s going to be played a lot all over, suddenly, forever, and all that sort of thing.  On the other hand, I don’t feel that his music is ever really gone out.  It’s just that it would get played rarely, but it would continually get played rarely.  His paintings, on the other hand, are in major museums.  Most are in private collections, but the Detroit Institute has some and the Brooklyn Museum has some.  He had well over three hundred paintings but he only had ten compositions.  That’s pretty good, you know!

BD:    Why didn’t he want to be known for his paintings?

MJZ:    He always felt that it came too easily to him.  He found out that he could make money at it, which he did, whereas composition was tough.  That made it more valuable because you fought over it, and he’d been trained as a musician.  He’s not here to speak for himself, so you have to understand I’m trying to put myself into his mind.  But he loved Beethoven and Wagner.  He used to say Wagner made them burn, and the music touched him more deeply than any painting ever could.  And because it touched him that way, he wanted to do that to other people.  That was his great goal.  He wanted to write great music.  He wanted to make people burn the way Wagner made him burn, and he would be satisfied with nothing less.

BD:    Is it a pity that he didn’t give more attention to his painting?

MJZ:    I think so because he was a very fine painter.  On the other hand, the pieces of music that he wrote are chiseled out of granite.  He worked over them and worked over them.  His whole method was trial and error, and you really had to pull his music away from him because he would never let go of the pieces.  He wrote Angels back in 1922, and in 1966 I was writing a musicological article on that work, including some of the history and so forth.  I was with him at the time and I was telling about the article, and he still wanted to change some of the notes!  I told him it was ridiculous!  It was forty-some-odd years later, but he still wanted to make some changes.  So the pieces that are extent which, as I say, are ten, are really chiseled out of granite.

BD:    Is the music all available?  Does the two-record set have everything?

MJZ:    Everything that is available, yes.  Having said that, I should say that somewhere between 1910 and 1920 he decided to destroy all of the pieces that he had written previous to that.  They had been written in the late nineteenth century parlor song tradition, and he quite literally tore them up.  What he didn’t realize was that there were a couple of songs that had been published by Gray & Company, and copies were in the Library of Congress.  They are indeed nothing but parlor songs; they’re really not good at all.  So they are the only ones that still exist that are not on those two records.

BD:    Does the recording do his music justice?

MJZ:    [Hesitantly]  Yes, I think so.  There are two versions of the Evocations on there including the one that John Kirkpatrick did, and of course he’s the definitive interpreter of those pieces.  The recording that Judith Blegen did of Toys is magnificent.  Michael Tilson Thomas has since recorded the Sun-Treader on DGG and it’s out on CD.  It may be a slightly different version but, of course, he recorded it on the two record set, too.  So yes, I would say the performances are very good.  

BD:    Should we treat the music of Ruggles with kid gloves, or should we throw out there and let it be heard?

MJZ:    Oh, I’d say throw it out and let it be heard, absolutely!  I’d say that for any music.  What do you mean by playing music with kid gloves?

BD:    Playing it with over-reverence.

MJZ:    I don’t think any music should be treated that way.  Just throw Carl’s music out and play it and let the people respond.  It’s certainly not that dissonant anymore.  The modern day ear would find it acceptable, if not moving.  There will be some who will say it’s dreadful because it’s so tense and so tight, but there will be others who’ll wonder why they haven’t heard this before.  It would probably generate some controversy.  I don’t mean people would fight, though I guess they did when the pieces were first performed.  But that’s fine!   Carl would like that!  The more people fought about his stuff, the more he liked it.

BD:    He would rather have that than universal accolades?

MJZ:    I think probably so.  He loved fights!  He would take one side, and if he had the feeling that you agreed with him, something was wrong, so then he would take the other side.  He was sort of a natural antagonist, and he could take either side because it didn’t matter to him, just as long as there was some sort of controversy going on.  He loved controversy.

BD:    But he wanted an outcome?

MJZ:    Oh, yes, he wanted you to hear his music.  That was important, absolutely important.  Hear the music and then fight about it afterwards, and continue to hear the music.  But you need a fight.


I can't help smiling when I read this because I can hear the frank, no-nonsense voice, the never far off smile and humorous delivery of Marilyn Ziffrin in that.  Thinking back, she probably was the strongest influence on me of all the musicians and teachers I knew.   I notice her 90th birthday is coming up in a little over a month.  I might spend a lot of it on her music, as I find it available for posting.  She is a very fine composer and a strong one.

Update:  Here is something M.J.Z. wrote,  Carl Ruggles And The University of Miami.  It is a good example of how through her biographical methodology is.  I remember hearing someone ask her how the Ruggles biography was going - she spent years and years researching it.  She smiled broadly and said,  "I've finally managed to kill him off,"  and then gave her deep, wonderful laugh.

Update:  As I said, I'll go with what someone like Marilyn Ziffrin thought over a third-rate pop-music critic.  She was entirely realistic about him, as her paper, Interesting Lies and Curious Truths About Carl Ruggles shows.   She, a very up front liberal who doesn't put up with stuff like that, was, nevertheless able to maintain a friendship with him over a number of years.  I never claimed he was anything like a saint, I said that he wrote a number of fine pieces of music and one indisputed masterpiece.  He never wrote any music that promoted racism or antisemitism as so many, such as Wagner.  He never approached anything like the massive promotion of racism and sexism in "Brown Sugar" or "Some Girls".  He never ripped off black musicians, professionally.  

As a number of people who knew him said, Ruggles was apt to say things that were shocking and outrageous because he seemed to crave contention and confrontation.   I will go with Ms. Ziffrin's frank and unflinching assessment of his character, formed over a number of years of close encounters with him.