Thursday, April 29, 2010

Around the Web

For Sunday, April 11 through Friday, April 30.

1) At The Well Tempered Ear, an interview with pianist Philippe Bianconi on "why he thinks Rachmaninoff is a great composer–and others don't." Part I | Part II

2) Peter Gutmann at Classical Notes on Brahms' "Double" Concerto for violin and cello, Op. 102.

3) At, A [video] interview with bass-baritone Bryn Terfel on his new album, "Bad Boys."

4) Two interviews with Sir Patrick Stewart, who discusses his role in the recent production of Hamlet that aired on April 28th as part of the PBS "Great Performances" series. Interview with TV Guide | Interview with PBS [video].

5) In Standpoint, Allan Massie on "The Master of Historical Fiction."

6) At Barnes and Noble Review, Meredith Hindley reviews "Russia Against Napoleon" by Dominic Lieven.

7) From Leigh Scott at Big Hollywood: Is "Kick Ass" the "quintessential Libertarian film?"

8) Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy on "The Double Standard of Libertarian Paternalism."

9) In the Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson on Behavioral Economics and "Libertarian Paternalism."

10) At Mises Daily, "The Meaning of Competition":
Rather than being seen as a peaceful, cooperative, and ordered network, the free market is maligned as a brutal Darwinian struggle, wherein all must wrestle tooth and claw for continued existence. Rather than as a dynamic wellspring of innovation and wealth, the free market is seen as a hegemony of powerful monopolists.
11-13) Just when I thought I was being uncharitable toward "[neo]-liberals'" approach to economics with my gentle nudge in the ribs earlier this month. . .
  1. Ridley Scott is actually making a movie based on the popular board game "Monopoly."
  2. "Spending our way to heavenly bliss!"
  3. "Travelling for tourism today is a right."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Review: Spartacus: Blood and Sand

MMX. XIII Episodes, approximately LV minutes each.

*spoilers throughout*

I wonder if a more loathsome people have graced television screens than the Romans of Spartacus: Blood and Sand. In watching Spartacus one might forget the Roman farmer tilling his field, the merchant selling his wares in the marketplace, and the student practicing his declamation. The patricians are neither the keepers of the cultural flame nor the administrators of the republic, but. . . well let us consider those Spartacus presents us.

1) Legatus Claudius Glaber disobeyed his orders to maintain order on the Roman border in the east and marched his army in the opposite direction to gain glory by fighting someone else. His purpose is to gain standing with his wife's father and advance his rank. In pursuing a different enemy to fight he he betrays his word to Spartacus and Spartacus' people who were counting on the Romans to help them vanquish a nearby tribe who regularly raids them. When Spartacus and his men break their alliance with the Romans, Glaber sells both Spartacus and his wife into slavery (and in doing so separates them.)

2) Glaber's wife, Ilithyia, A) buys a gladiator in order to get him to sneak up on Spartacus outside of the arena and kill him. When the gladiator fails, she allows him to be tortured, mutilated, and crucified. B) When Ilithyia is caught by a fellow patrician woman in flagrante delicto with a gladiator, Ilithyia, out of embarrassment and fear of her reputation, murders the woman by bashing her head into the floor. C) Locks the entire party in the villa when the slaves revolt, leading to the guests' deaths.

Other characters of this class we get to know less well but like no more. Magistrate Calavius cares more about blueness of blood than governing competence, his wife is an airhead, and his son is a spoiled brat who would toss away the life of a man on a mere whim.

Yet these acts pale in comparison to the deeds of Batiatus and his wife Lucretia, the central characters of Spartacus. Batiatus is the owner and manager of a ludus he inherited from his father, but he and his wife are possessed of a relentless drive to rise in their social circle. Their avarice and political machinations are in fact too voluminous and convoluted to describe, but their disregard for lives and all else besides wealth and power are odious to the point of ridiculousness.

The rest of the plebeians are more or less sketched in as the background of Spartacus. They are not working class folk simply getting by in conducting their quotidian business, rather the women expose themselves at gladiatorial contests where the men drown in wine and even the children gnash their teeth in lust of the bloody spectacle.

The fighters in that spectacle, though, are the true nobility of the show. Spartacus is betrayed by Glaber, loses his wife only to regain her in her dying moments, learns to accept his fate as a gladiator, but finds the Roman world and the world of the ludus too corrupt to live in. He is repeatedly exploited, misled, and betrayed by Batiatus. Crixus, the champion prior to Spartacus and his only equal in the arena, maintains a strict code of honor about the necessary loyalties to his dominus and his brother gladiators, and what life as a gladiator demands of, and denies, him.

Varro is perhaps the show's most interesting character. A free man who entered the ludus to pay off gambling debts, he struggles with the guilt an shame of that misdeed, missing his wife and child, anger that his wife is expecting a new child (not his), and the risk of falling back into his gambling addiction. The friendship with Spartacus that sustains and ultimately dooms him was the most compelling plot thread of the series.

Sharing his thoughts on Spartacus, classicist and military historian Dr. Victor Davis Hanson makes several points worthy of elaborating upon:
All historical fictions need to invent story-lines and personal relationships, given the dearth of historical information. But whereas Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 Spartacus included personal dramas not in the ancient record, such personal interactions were subordinate to, and enhanced, the known narrative about both the nature of the revolt and the Roman reaction to it. . .
What baffles me is that the series is spending an entire year on mostly what we don’t know (the life of Spartacus before the revolt) and nothing on what we do (the revolt itself). . .

. . .we never quite see what the point of all these trysts, orgies, and beheadings are leading to, other than a generic reminder that slaves had it bad. . .

If the point is to teach us how awful the owners were, to prove to us they deserved what they will they soon get — when they are strung up and spliced and diced as the revolt starts — all that could  have been done in one episode (ditto the violence of the arena). [1]
Dr. Hanson's point is the essential one for understanding Spartacus: Blood and Sand: what is the effect of the dramatic inventions? The fact that Romans are a nasty, cruel, brutish people is really the one trick of the show, therefore we must assume it is significant. Is there nothing else? What of the notable issue of slavery, the issue at the heart of  the 1960 Kubrick-directed Spartacus? From the film's opening prologue, ". . .yet even at the zenith of her pride and power, the republic lay fatally stricken with a disease called human slavery." In Blood and Sand not only are the gladiators resigned to their fates in the arena, their conduct there is a great point of honor for them, whether it is Varro paying down his gambling debts or Crixus bringing honor to the house of his master. Spartacus, at first unwilling to "embrace his fate," gradually grows resigned to it and forgets what is "beyond these walls." Crixus only rises up when he is sabotaged by Batiatus to fall in the arena (versus Spartacus no less), and Spartacus only when he learns Batiatus was ultimately the cause of his wife's death. They did not rise up simply, or purely, because they were slaves, but on account of some other offense. The soap-opera intrigues and one-dimensional representation of the Romans coupled with the more or less muddled thinking of the gladiators makes it hard to draw any specific conclusions.

The great complexities of Roman culture, their seemingly mixed views on the gladiatorial games, and the tangled politics of this particular era were appropriate material for a television show with many episodes and hours to fill. The narrow focus on these characters and the repetitive looks at the same matters squander the opportunity. (Consider the breadth of I, Claudius, which in 12 episodes of comparable length to Spartacus: Blood and Sand covered the era from Augustus to the rise of Nero. Consider too the wealth of issues raised in I, Claudius and its fascinating and contrasting characters.) With the only issues before us being the nasty Romans and the virtuous slaves we have a drama, salted with an extremely graphic presentation, regrettably simplified as the dreams of socialists for whom Spartacus was the proletarian hero par excellence.

Such is not to suggest that Spartacus: Blood and Sand is exceptionally political, it is not. The committed leftist might indeed find it compatible with his ideas even though it does not espouse them, but he also may share my complaint about the vagaries of the motives of the gladiators. The classicist might enjoy some of the accurate details in choice of vocabulary, but the diction is ponderous and delivered with a stilted staccato I suppose is meant to suggest. . . something. The set detail, apart from the fuzzy computer-generated wide shots, may likewise please the historian with the villa's layout and the large statue of Batiatus in the style of the so-called "Barberini Statue" with the Roman patrician holding the busts of his ancestors. Yet set detail does not a drama make.

The graphic nature of the show is ultimately self-defeating as it ends up distancing us by making the actions appear so outrageously bad that their unique qualities as aspects of Roman culture are outshone.

I do not intend to defend the Romans in this space, nor do I wish Spartacus to have portrayed them in a favorable manner. Rather I would simply have preferred to see them more fully portrayed and for the the plots to have generated more significant outcomes. (Consider the contrasting quotes at the top of this essay for context.) Would it not have been more interesting if Batiatus had been a more or less a good man who also kept slaves? What if Batiatus had provided for Varro's wife and child, what if he studied philosophy, or dreamed of joining the senate to correct the corruption. . . what if he had done one or some of those things, and then in order to escape Spartacus had to kill him? There was no moment of understanding for Batiatus and no poignant words from Spartacus in their final confrontation, which was devoid of any deeper probing of their twisted relationship. Even if one wanted an incontestably evil villain, they could have given him a specific and clear flaw that led to his demise. Instead, he is an avalanche villainy, exhibiting every vice conceivable. The quantity and outlandishness of his misdeeds simply distanced him from us, diluted the poignancy of his main flaw, and drew out the drama to unnecessary length.

Dr. Hanson suggested much of what Spartacus dragged out over thirteen episodes could have been done in one. I would add that given how it ended, without capitalizing on any of the drama, it should have.

Additional Thoughts

I found myself far harsher than I expected on Spartacus: Blood and Sand when I sat down to write this review. I indeed enjoyed the touches I mentioned above. Likewise, despite the problems in the writing, John Hannah was an absolute hoot as Batiatus. Andy Whitfield was particularly effective in the early episodes in quasi-Herculean mode with his slight dimness, stubborn streak, and pious bearing of many trials, and also later on account of hints that he followed a personal code somewhat recognizable to us.

On that note, perhaps I was so harsh because of the potential for a story about the Romans. A character who was pious about his duties to his fatherland, family, and ancestors, diligent toward his occupation, and devout in his religious faith, a man who was educated, studious, and curious, and who still kept slaves could have been fascinating, especially for an American viewer today. I qualify that statement so because for all of the similarities we share with the Romans, aspects of language, government, and of course much more, there exists the great gulf of the Enlightenment between us. An exploration of the differences this gulf creates, by means of the characters of Spartacus and Batiatus, would have made a world of difference for the show.

ille, oculis postquam saeui monimenta doloris
exuuiasque hausit, furiis accensus et ira
terribilis: 'tune hinc spoliis indute meorum
eripiare mihi? Pallas te hoc uulnere, Pallas
immolat et poenam scelerato ex sanguine sumit.'
hoc dicens ferrum aduerso sub pectore condit
feruidus; ast illi soluuntur frigore membra
uitaque cum gemitu fugit indignata sub umbras.
–Aeneid. XII. 945-952
vitae philosophia dux, o virtutis indagatrix expultrixque vitiorum! quid non modo nos, sed omnino vita hominum sine te esse potuisset?
–Tusculum Dispuations. V.II.5

N.B. For example of what I consider a subtle contrast of worldviews from different eras, please read my review of "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" and for an example of writing that demonstrates specific emotions and not mish-mashed vagaries, please read my review of "Amadeus" and my summary of emotions as described in Aristotle's Rhetoric.


[1] Hanson, Victor Davis. Spartacus, The Pacific, and the “Last of the Romans." March 2010.

(in addition to the works Dr. Hanson mentions in his essay cited above.)

Carcopino, Jerome. Daily Life In Ancient Rome - The People and the City At the Height of the Empire. Yale University Press. 2008.

Futrell, Alison.  A Sourcebook on the Roman Games. Blackwell Publishing. Malden, MA. 2006.

Gruen, Erich. S. The Last Generation of the Roman Republic. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. 1995.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On the Overture to La Clemenza di Tito

Overture to La Clemenza di Tito
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (KV.621)

La Clemenza di Tito was commissioned by the Estate of Bohemia to celebrate the coronation of Leopold II. Domenico Guardasoni accepted this commission to put on an opera and contracted Mozart in the summer of 1791. La Clemenza di Tito premiered on September 6, 1791 at the Estates Theatre in Prague.

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 clarin trumpets, timpani, and strings (2 violins, 2 violas, cello, bass.)

The score is available via the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe.


John Eliot Gardiner conducting the English Baroque Soloists.

Where Così fan tutte is the curiosity of the Da Ponte collaborations, La Clemenza di Tito is the same relative to all of Mozart's mature operas. Abert in his great W. A. Mozart devoted about half of the space to Titus as he did to the others and Rosen has said of it, "La Clemenza di Tito has all the finish of Mozart's finest works–Mozart's music is never less than beautiful–but it is difficult to convey how unmemorable it is." [Rosen, 164] For Tovey it was both an "admirable example of a festival overture" and "a piece d'occasion rendered all the more infuriating for the amount of good music which it stifles." [Tovey, 26] Recent scholarship suggests a rehabilitation of the opera's reputation, perhaps starting with Heartz's supplement to Floros' work on Titus, which Heartz wrote demonstrated the "typical underevaluation accorded this festival opera." [Heartz, 319]

Titus is an opera seria, a genre Mozart had not worked in since 1780 with Idomeneo. The overture too stands out opposed to Mozart's recent mature overtures. Mozart begins this festival overture as he did Idomeneo, with a unison fanfare. The allegro opening theme is unmistakably reminiscent of the opening to the Symphony in C, KV.338 from 1780:
Symphony in C, KV.338. Incipit.

The main theme begins at m.8 and its simplicity is evident:

a series of dotted notes, the first a half on the tonic followed by a sequence of quavers staccato and piano with the second violins a sixth below. A mere eight bars in and we pause to reflect, on the simplicity of this opening, its similarities to works from over 10 years previous, and that the whole is a piece composed in haste for the coronation and glorification of a new emperor. What will Mozart make of these materials? Let us keep this question in mind and revisit it later.

The tutti reply to the above theme is a syncopated phrase beginning forte and just slightly shaded with an A-flat in the violas, flutes, oboes, and clarinets. It ends with a scale descending from the dominant into another tonic chord and a repetition of the phrase from m.8-9, after which the second phrase returns.

The following passage features descending scales in thirds and sixths, "each downbeat punctuated by the three-note slide up to the tonic" as Heartz neatly states. [Heartz, 334] At the start of a large crescendo the descending scales in the strings are contrasted by ascending scales in the woodwinds until an unexpected modulation from dominant G to E-flat. In this development section a second subject follows with the winds taking prime place for a lofty and vulnerable theme consisting of two four-part sections:


Heartz aptly points out how closely related this second subject is to the main theme, "the descending parallel sixths of the first theme need only be inverted to become the descending thirds of the second theme." [Heartz, 337]

The passage repeats and is followed by our main theme, this time forte and more menacing over dominant half-notes tremolo in the violas and cellos. Then chord at m.47 steals in, stabbing with its dissonance, followed by the agitating features of the rising triplet figure in the 1st violins and the syncopation in the 2nd violins. After the intense two bars the first theme returns as if the attacker has retreated into hiding, only to return at m.51.

A somber theme at m.55 winding down from G to E-flat (a sequence repeated shortly thereafter in the 2nd violins) precedes the return of our main theme which is here contrapuntally worked out. The effect of this passage is that of our main theme getting lost among many figurations and machinations. At m.78 the theme morphs into one of a more specifically tragic pathos than we have yet heard.

After a return of the main theme and a series with rapid dynamic alternations we enter the recapitulation, which has been much remarked to present the themes in reverse order. Abert [Abert, 1232] and Rice [Rice, 69] both correctly state that this symmetry contributes to the festive tone of the overture, but Konrad Küster suggests a more probable reason for the reversal:
It appears, then, that the 'reversed' order of the themes in the recapitulation results from harmonic problems: Mozart had to prepare the entrance of the second subject. But clearly he did not want to create a 'bifocal close' [Winter] from the half cadence that precedes it in the exposition; furthermore, he wanted to avoid any alteration of the relatively short primary group. The only way to solve these problems was to open the recapitulation with the second subject, to omit the half cadence in the dominant of the dominant and to conclude the recapitulation with the primary group (and, of course, a coda.) [Kuster, 481]
Küster persuades that while, as we saw in the opening, Mozart had in mind his early symphonies in the construction of this overture, he did not simply recycle or imitate them but rather adapted them to his own current practices.

At m.131 we return to the opening fanfare material and the theme from m.8-9 reasserts itself once more and with another crescendo of rushing scales we are brought to a rousing and satisfying conclusion.

So what of Titus then? (Or at least its overture.) For my part I cannot point to any "deficiencies." It is festal enough for a festival overture, grand enough for the themes of Titus, it establishes the tonal center of E-flat for the coming drama. Yet we are not struck as we are by the other overtures. Its character is perhaps simply too indefinite.  Idomeneo captured a specifically tragic pathos, Figaro had its unparalleled drive, Don Giovanni its philosophical dimension, and Così its effervescence. The overture to Titus is beautiful, finely wrought, functional and appropriate, but not entirely affecting.


Abert, Hermann. W. A. Mozart. Yale University Press. New Haven and New York. 2007.

Heartz, Daniel. Mozart's Operas. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles. 1990.

Küster, Konrad. Essay, "An Early Form in Mozart's Late Style: the Overture to La clemenza di Tito,"in
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart: Essays on his Life and His Music. Sadie, Stanley. (ed.) Oxford University Press, New York. 1996.
Rice, John A. W. A. Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito. (Cambridge Opera Handbooks.) Cambridge University Press, New York. 1991.

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style. "IV. Serious Opera." W. W. Norton and Company. New York. 1997.

Tovey, Donald Francis. Essays in Musical Analysis. (Six Volumes.) Volume IV: Illustrative Music: Overture to La Clemenza di Tito, KV.621. 1935.


Winter, Robert S. The Bifocal Close and the Evolution of the Viennese Classical Style. American Musicological Society. 1989.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Around the Web

For Saturday, April 3 through Saturday, April 10.

1) At Mises Daily, an interview with Jesús Huerta de Soto, Professor of Political Economy at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, Spain and Spain’s leading Austrian economist.

2) At The American Scholar, an excerpt from Harvey Sachs', "The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824" which will be published in June by Random House.
Half a century has passed since I received the little gray-and-white box, and I am now several years older than Beethoven lived to be. I still think of him as my alpha and omega, but in a different sense: as the author of music that transformed my existence at the onset of adulthood and that continues to enrich it more than any other music as I approach what are often referred to as life’s declining years. His music still gives me as much sensual and emotional pleasure as it gave me 50 years ago, and far more intellectual stimulation than it did then. It adds to the fullness when life feels good, and it lengthens and deepens the perspective when life seems barely tolerable. It is with me and in me.
3) Via Gramophone, Lorin Maazel has been appointed music director of the Munich Philharmonic starting with the 2012-2013 season.

4) Luigi Zingales in City Journal on "The Menace of Strategic Default."

5) At Spiked Online, Brendan O'Neill on the political elite:
We live under an elite which conceives of itself as an isolated bastion of liberalism, cosmopolitanism, tolerance and official anti-racism, and which conceives of everyone else as caricatured Daily Mail readers with base instincts and vulgar passions who must somehow be remade.
6) In Humanities, Meredith Hindley on Napoleon, Britain, and the Siege of Cadiz.
As he looked back over his career, it wasn’t the failed 1812 invasion of Russia that loomed large in his mind, but rather the Peninsular Campaign. As he wrote in his memoirs, “That unfortunate war destroyed me; it divided my forces, multiplied my obligations, undermined my morale. All the circumstances of my disasters are bound up in that fatal knot.”
7) In Commentary, Terry Teachout on Flannery O'Connor:
Therein lies the O’Connor “problem,” if problem it is. To what extent is her fiction accessible to those who do not take its religious wellsprings seriously? This is far more of a problem today than it was in the 50’s and 60’s, for American intellectual culture has lately become almost entirely secularized, and it begs a hard question: Will O’Connor’s work survive only by being misunderstood?
8) Victor Davis Hanson remembers the Pacific Front of WWII on the 65th anniversary of the invasion of Okinawa.
Given all these obstacles, it now seems incredible that an America that was half-armed in 1941 defeated Japan and utterly destroyed the idea of Japanese militarism in less than four years — a feat attributable in large part to the amazing courage and expertise of American soldiers.

The war in the Pacific was not about racism or due to the Japanese’s being “different,” nor even due to two nations’ having equally justifiable grievances against each other.

Instead, the brutal Pacific war was about ending an expansionary Japanese fascism that sought to destroy all democratic obstacles in its path. And we are indebted today to the relatively few Americans who once stopped it in horrific places like Okinawa — some 65 years ago this week.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

New Rules of War with Hanson & Arquilla

Peter Robinson, host of the Hoover Institution's Uncommon Knowledge, interviews Victor Davis Hanson, Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Classicist, and Military Historian, and John Arquilla, professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School and director of the Information Operations Center.

New Rules of War with Hanson and Arquilla
Total time: about 50 minutes. 

Friday, April 2, 2010

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday, March 27 through Friday, April 2.

1) At the Weekly Standard, Virgina Postrel reviews "Glamour: A History" by Stephen Gundle and "Glamour in Six Dimensions: Modernism and the Radiance of Form" by Judith Brown.

2) A modest proposal for healthcare reform from the Laudator Temporis Acti.

3-4) Remembering two teachers:
  1. Siegmund Levarie, 1914-2010: conductor, musicologist and author, and teacher. Remembrances from some of his students: [Link] [Link]
  2. Jaime Escalante, inspiration for "Stand and Deliver."
5) At City Journal, Guy Sorman reviews "Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy" by Joseph E. Stiglitz.
    6) At the WSJ, Peter Robinson interviews Gary Becker, Nobel economist, and founder, along with his friend and teacher the late Milton Friedman, of the Chicago school of economics.

    7) At First Things, Edmund Phelps on "Economic Justice and the Spirit of Innovation:"
    Most observers now acknowledge that capitalism, even in the midst of the 1930s depression, has long been creating unprecedented, unimagined levels of productivity and wage rates—for the rest of the world as well as for the handful of capitalist economies themselves. Now, however, some philosophers and social critics are suggesting that even capitalism has outlived its usefulness—that pursuit of new goals requires another system.

    It must be clear by now that this analysis overlooks what has been the key dimension of capitalism from its first functioning early in the nineteenth century. This dimension is what capitalism’s dynamism offers to human experience and human benefit—the true moral dimension of economics, in other words. Well-functioning capitalism, where it is attainable, is of undimmed value because it allows human beings to realize their true nature as creators and innovators.
    8) At the Economist's More Intelligent Life: What do philosopher's believe? A preliminary analysis of the results of a survey:
    Contrary to a widespread caricature, it emerges that most philosophers do not go around doubting the existence of physical objects (and thus colliding with them). Some 82% of the respondents accept or are inclined towards “non-sceptical realism” about the external world, which means they believe both that physical objects exist independently of the minds that perceive them, and that we can be said to know of their existence. Some 4.8%, though, are inclined to deny that we have certain knowledge of the existence of physical objects, and 4.2% accept or lean towards “idealism”, which is the theory that matter somehow depends on mind. As for the status of so-called “abstract” objects, such as numbers, the most popular view (scoring 39%, narrowly ahead of its closest rival) is “Platonism”, according to which abstract objects have a real existence independently of our minds.

    By a fairly narrow margin, today’s philosophers believe that judgments of artistic value are not merely matters of individual taste: 41% said aesthetic values are objective, 34% say subjective, and a quarter gave some other answer. They were not asked directly whether moral values are objective, but the responses to related questions suggest that most philosophers believe they are. Some 56% incline towards “moral realism”, which has no precise definition but implies that ethical questions have objectively right (and wrong) answers, and nearly two-thirds endorsed moral “cognitivism”, which suggests that they believe there are moral facts or truths. The results reveal little about political views, as the one question about politics is unhelpfully phrased. Respondents were asked to choose between egalitarianism (34.7%), communitarianism (14.2%) and libertarianism (9.8%); over 40% were unwilling to choose for one reason or another.
    9) In the WSJ, Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute reminds us that the rich can't pay for Obamacare:
    In short, the belief that higher tax rates on the rich could eventually raise significant sums over the next decade is a dangerous delusion, because it means the already horrific estimates of long-term deficits are seriously understated. The cost of new health-insurance subsidies and Medicaid enrollees are projected to grow by at least 7% a year, which means the cost doubles every decade—to $432 billion a year by 2029, $864 billion by 2039, and more than $1.72 trillion by 2049. If anyone thinks taxing the rich will cover any significant portion of such expenses, think again.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    Three Modes of Perception of Economics

    Economics, mit Humor

    Three Modes of Perception:
    The Liberal, The Conservative, The Libertarian

    (click  images to enlarge)

    I. The [Neo-] Liberal

    II. The Conservative

    III. The Libertarian

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010

    Movie Review: The Audition

    Directed by Susan Froemke. 2009.

    By chance I stumbled over The Audition, which played on PBS as the feature of a fund-raising telethon. For the part of the Metropolitan Opera's management commissioning The Audition was a rather frank attempt to draw the interest of a younger demographic, one familiar with so-called reality television, American Idol, et cetera, for hearing live opera and classical music at New York's Lincoln Center. Anecdotally, I have no problem believing what someone interviewed during the telethon alleged, that the average age of their concert-goer is 65. Their fund-raising and seat-filling goals aside, important as they are to the continuation of the opera, this is a wonderful movie.

    The Audition is the story of the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the competition's 22 semifinalists, 11 finalists, and 5 winners. We spend most of the film (which is probably about 110 minutes) with the 11 semifinalists, learning what brought them there and seeing where they are in perfecting the program they hope will impress the judges and launch their careers. What becomes apparent rather quickly is the group's diversity. This variety of ranges, timbres, personas, and programs greatly and invariably shifts the nature of the competition, which is not about whose "Largo al factotum" is snappier, but about who has to hit his high C's, who needs to work on her breathing, and who has to realize that he is good enough to compete. There is no villain or even meanie, and while young and talented Michael Fabiano is more aloof and has a less rosy picture of the competition than the others seem to, we still root for him. There is no gossip, cheating, or fighting to wallow in, only to see who will perfect his work and wonder who, even if he does, might not be what the judges are looking for.

    While many viewers will probably cheer for one singer above all, we empathize with all of them for the difficulty of their task, the years they spent preparing, the stress of having your potential failure broadcast and preserved for posterity, the risk of time and money, and of course their emotional investment. In their practice sessions conductor Marco Armiliato seems to do as much for them by calming them down as he does by helping them fine-tune their performances.  Their formal audition before the judges and a packed Metropolitan Opera house is both tense and spectacular, filled with onstage successes and backstage trepidation. This last act is intercut with the scenes of the singers returning to the waiting room after their audition, where they are all greeted with kindness and encouragement by their fellow singers and we see they are not a group of temperamental artistes and prima donnas, but one of talented and passionate people simply trying to do what they love the best they can.
    click to enlarge

    Postscript. (spoilers.)

    I was particularly saddened to see in the coda during the credits that Ryan Smith, (above, left) succumbed to cancer not long after his success in the Met competition. Ryan's personal story, of being forced to abandon his singing career due to financial issues early in life and his recommitment years later, was quite affecting. Seeing his confidence rise, seeing him realize that he was good enough to compete, and finally seeing him triumph in his audition was the heart of this movie and what made it so very compelling and significant. I'm quite sure I'm not alone in thinking that.

    Friday, March 26, 2010

    Around the Web

    For the week of Saturday, March 20 through Friday, March 26.

    1) From the AP via the WSJ, Wolfgang Wagner, leader of the Bayreuth opera festival from 1951-2008 and grandson of Richard Wagner, has died.

    2) For the WSJ, Heidi Waleson reviews the production of Ambroise Thomas' "Hamlet" running at The Metropolitan Opera through April 9.

    3) From Armond White at First Things, "Do Movie Critics Matter?"

    4) Terry Teachout at the WSJ on "Bringing Art Back to PBS."

    5) At the Mises Daily blog, Anton Batey on "the trouble with 'No Child Left Behind.'"

    On "Healthcare"

    6) Three issues of constitutionality, from Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conpiracy

    7-8) More on constitutionality at the Cato @ Liberty blog:
    1. from Ilya Shapiro 
    2. from Roger Pilon
    9) At Reason, Peter Suderman on the "lie of fiscal responsibility."

    10) Also from Cato @ Liberty, Chris Edwards on federal health spending.

    11) Doug French at the Mises Daily blog looks at the bigger picture of healthcare "reform":
    The current system cries out for fixing. And how does the state propose to fix it? Never through more freedom, never by rolling back the real problem. Instead, it proposes more power. This has been the systematic trajectory during every presidential administration for many decades.

    One of the worst problems concerns the wedge that the state drove between the payer and the healthcare provider. Businesses became the wedge. When? During World War II wage controls. Businesses scrambled to find ways to pay their employees without running afoul of the law. They turned to providing medical care. This is no different from how banks offered toasters to depositors when interest rates were controlled in the 1970s. It is the market desperately trying to get around a problem created by the state. But once this happens, if the controls are not repealed, the escape hatch becomes the norm. And this is precisely what happened.

    12) Victor Davis Hanson at his Pajamas Media blog:
    How wonderful  if a Reid, Obama, or Pelosi for a moment would just come clean, if even in defiant fashion. Imagine:

    “Some people screw up or are unlucky. We’re here to ensure they end up the same as you who don’t screw up or are luckier. We can’t say they are in any way culpable, so we blame either the system or you who are better off. The best way to level the playing field is to  tax all we can, take our percentage, and redistribute the rest. Lots get hired to administer to even more. The rules don’t apply to ourselves, who are wealthy but not the targeted culpable. We know privately all this is not sustainable, but assume the better off will find a way to save themselves and thus us, before we bankrupt ourselves — after we are gone. And we don’t care really whether this is always legal, or fair, or workable, because we know it is moral and we are far more moral people than you.”

    13) At Investors Business Daily, Michael Ramirez:

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    On the Overture to Così fan tutte

    Overture to Così fan tutte

    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (KV.588)

    Così was commissioned by Joseph II, Emperor of Austria, and premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna on January 26, 1790.

    Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 clarin trumpets, timpani, and strings (2 violins, viola, cello, bass.)

    The score is available via the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe.

    John Eliot Gardiner conducting the English Baroque Soloists
    The Overture is one of the funniest things Mozart ever wrote. Its themes, alternating their whisperings and chatterings with a hilarious kid of Hallelujah Chorus, tell us in Mozart's language that the persons of this dream are, humanly speaking, rubbish, but far too harmless for any limbo less charitable than the eternal laughter of Mozart. [Tovey, 30]

    I. Introduction

    Tovey credits Mr. John Christie, (1882-1962, founder of the Glyndebourne Opera House and the Glyndebourne Festival Opera) with characterizing Così fan tutte as a dream. Such is true of Così both for its self-contained world with its many improbabilities and for the variety of interpretations the story invites. The setting is Arcadia, yet the characters are flawed. The title is Così fan tutte but just what has Alfonso's experiment revealed? Sometimes the characters speak in cliche, sometimes in poetry, here the music mocks the characters, there supports. What of these contradictions? We saw in Don Giovanni the forces of being and non-being in opposition, and in Così, as David Cairns brilliantly states, we explore "the difference between appearance and reality." [Cairns, 188] Continuing, he writes, "And it is not just the characters on stage whom the answered questions are addressed to but the audience watching them. Così fan tutte has implications far beyond the 'School for Lovers' and the 'All Women do it' of its titles. It speaks, existentially, of the randomness of life, the fickleness of affection, the brevity of happiness. Continually stimulating though it is, it is not a work that sends you out of the theater in a glow of contentment with the world."

    Of contradictions we can already see two, between Tovey and Cairns, so let us analyze this overture and then revisit the question of its character.

    II. Analysis

       Andante: m.1-14

    This andante begins in C major, where an opening forte chord clears the air and prepares the way for a beautiful and delicate phrase for the oboe that begins piano on the dominant, gently supported and kept aloft by the bassoon.


    Chords intervene forte here, as if to warn us not to get too comfortable with such unperturbed beauty. The oboe phrase repeats again, this time supported by the bassoon and clarinet, before what becomes the opera's titular theme begins (m. 8, lower strings):
    m.7-14 (Click to enlarge.)

    This theme is reprised in Act II by Don Alfonso in his aria on the nature of women. [1] Here, though, it has purely musical form and functions strictly as the heavyhearted counterpart to the first theme. In its first appearance in the strings and bassoon it is introduced staccato as though being gradually brought into view. In repetition it is repeated forte by the whole orchestra as if being begrudgingly acknowledged.

      Presto: m.15-end

    Yet m.15 begins a presto section, picking up the final dominant of the andante and beginning in the tonic again, as if saying, "yes, such a sad fact is so, but nonetheless look how wondrous this is. . ." We are now introduced to the first of four themes whose interplay forms the basis of this large section. This first is a figure of chattering quavers. (Below, left)

    I. m.16-17 II. m.25-28

    The next theme, (above, right) follows immediately, before the woodwinds begin trading a third theme back and forth above a three-crotchet figure in the strings:

    III. m.30-32

    After a repeat of the second theme we hear the last one, which has a lower line not unlike the opening to Le Nozze di Figaro. [2]

    IV.  m.59-61

    The rest of the movement proceeds in like fashion, each theme remaining in the orchestral group in which it originated. Here theme III is interrupted by theme II which is interrupted by I. Shortly after they proceed in another order. Yet as if heedless of where they started the themes run again into the titular one at m.228. We left the Così fan tutte theme behind to look at love's playful variations in the hustle and bustle of the presto, but here we have inevitably come back. Yet we do not remain despairing as the Theme I of the presto returns and we skate right up into a Mannheim crescendo and a close on a fortissimo of the jocular presto Theme II.

    III. Conclusion

    What of our original question then? The overture has three aspects, the purely beautiful aspect love (Theme I. of the Andante), its sorrowful aspect (Theme II. of the Andante), and the trivial or exuberant (Themes I.-IV. of the Presto.) The first two aspects should not be glossed over as Mozart "putting on his mask" [Abert, 1176] and the third should not simply suggest the characters are "rubbish." The surface trivialities should not discourage us. Charles Rosen puts his finger on the proper approach to this piece:
    There is no way of knowing in what proportions mockery and sympathy are blended in Mozart's music and how seriously he took his puppets. . . Even to ask is to miss the point: the art in these matters is to tell one's story without being foolishly taken in by it and yet without a trace of disdain for its apparent simplicity. It is an art which can become profound only when the attitude of superiority never implies withdrawal, when objectivity and acceptance are indistinguishable. [Rosen, 317]
    Sometimes the ridiculous and improbable do spring forth from love and such things can be beautiful and worth exploring too. As the overture leaves us off at the drama, it is as if Mozart says, "and here's an example."

    Act II, Scene III: Andante: Tutti accusan le donne m.21-24


    Abert, Hermann. W. A. Mozart. Yale University Press. New Haven and New York. 2007.

    Cairns, David. Mozart and His Operas. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles. 2006.

    Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style. W. W. Norton and Company. NY, NY. 1997.

    Tovey, Donald Francis. Essays in Musical Analysis. (Six Volumes.) Volume VI: Supplementary Essays, Glossary, and Index: Overture to Così fan tutte, KV.588. 1935.