Sunday, April 24, 2022


Our Symbols, Ourselves

Joe Rogan and Douglas Murray, just this past week, in a free-form conversation of about two and a half hours.

They were not at their best.  The word that comes to mind is "smug."  They congratulated each other, repeatedly, as fellow travelers, on a superior cast of character and a superior cast of conversation.  Because they are fellow travelers, to congratulate the other was to congratulate oneself.

Something in the free-form called to mind for Douglas an English country fair that he had attended.  According to him, these are time-honored and conventional community gatherings, which is not to say that they are not very much enjoyed by young and old alike.  There is ice cream and face painting for the young ones; there may be a little "antiques roadshow" for their parents and grandparents.  And various and sundry other entertainments are sprinkled in.

At this one in particular, there was a Raptor Man and a large bird of prey.  And when the hood came off and the bird was lifted off of the man's gauntlet, he (the bird that is) went off script, circled and picked up and proceeded to eat a small dog, in front of its owner and the children.

Both Joe and Douglas found this scene to be very funny.  But it's worth asking what makes it funny, if indeed it is funny.  It must be that, as in a Monty Python sketch, a wrecking ball has been taken to precious British sensibility.

In Austria, Germany, Lichtenstein, Poland, Romania and Russia, as in the United States, an eagle is a symbol of the state.  Here, in the US, the symbolism may carry over from that of the serpent that preceded the eagle -- "Don't Tread On Me!"  He is the fiercest of birds; he is fearless; he is not to be trifled with; he will withstand all attacks.  And likewise, roughly, in all of those other imperial places.  The eagle was not chosen as a symbol because it is known to feast on carrion like its brother, the vulture.

But the majestic, eagle-eyed fearlessness that we so admire cannot be disentangled from the cruelty, the heartlessness, the absence of mercy that was on display at and disrupted the English country fair.

Saturday, April 16, 2022


"It Is Wrong to Speak Ill of the Dead"

I take this old bromide as authorization to speak ill of the living.

Take Mr. K, for example.  We all know that he has an extended circle of admirers, not limited to his family and close friends.  But it may be the case that selfishly he has arranged his life in such a way as to protect himself from stress by means of this Palace Guard.

Beyond that, a non-exhaustive litany:

  • He expresses himself oddly at times.
  • If it is true, as they say, that by the age of 50 every man has the face he deserves, then Mr. K would seem to have collected a lot of frightful karma.  (Perhaps the "K" stands for "karma"?)
  • He is bored to death by little children who are not his own.
  • He finds it nearly impossible to apologize or to admit defeat.
  • His amusement at stupidities often comes across as directed at the speaker rather than at what was just spoken.
  • He has very little physical courage.  He is afraid of mountain tops (and hence of skiing), of waves over his head, of large dogs of unknown disposition, of horses running towards him to get a carrot.
  • When he hears classical music on the radio or on television, he pretends to conduct it, using grandiose hand gestures and whatever lies close to hand that might pass for a baton -- a stick, a fork, a ruler.  No one but he thinks that this is funny.
  • Of the cardinal virtues, he has some Charity, a flickering Faith that is erratic and mercurial, and no Hope that is worth mentioning.
  • He thinks of himself as open-hearted; others think of him as "remote."
  • While he generally is loyal, he seems to keep a secret, cold-hearted tally sheet on everybody, and a truly trivial misstep can be a "tipping point."  Such tipping points most often lead to permanent banishment.
  • He finds it easy to admire women, but most easy to admire women who are young and pretty.
  • He likes to be subversive for its own sake.
  • His tears are kept always in a cistern, contaminated.
  • He is so vain that he probably thinks this list is about him.

Monday, April 11, 2022


The Ages of Man

I have reached the stage of life now that might be called "Saddam Hussein Rattles His Cage."  (Whatever else may be said, it is not a time to retreat.)  After that comes a long silence.

Saturday, April 9, 2022


Inferring the Artist from the Art

I am troubled that I and my boomer comrades are facing true historical oblivion.

That sort of oblivion can be circumvented via artistic achievement, if the art is art that abides.  If you knew nothing about the man who crafted the statue of Lincoln at his Washington memorial -- Daniel Chester French -- other than the statue itself, you could at least say with confidence that this was a serious man, and one who did not simply wake up one day with a sculptor's artistry at his fingertips; there is no doubt that he had to work at it for a long time.

Music is more ephemeral.  And yet in a way it is more difficult to eradicate from our common history than things made of paint or bronze.  As long as the notes exist on the page somewhere, and the notation itself is not lost to memory, the music will abide.  And likewise, if we know nothing of Bach other than one of his fugues, we do know as well that he had an orderly, even a mathematical, mind.

In the context of immortality of this sort, I can think of two men of the first half of the 20th century, both of whom created a piece of music less than a minute long, but one that is encoded in a million memories, via repetition in happy circumstances.  Yet nothing else is known of the men.

The first piece begins with a snare drum "roll off," indeed, with a roll off so classic that it has come to be heard by some of us drummers as a parody of a roll off.  Then come in the French horns and trumpets, obsessing over a single note.  And  finally, the well-crafted resolution, and all in just eight bars:

When we hear this fanfare even now, like Pavlov's dogs, we sit down and reach for the popcorn, for the movie is about to begin!

The second piece marks not a beginning but an end, the end of a narrative in which, just as in our lives, "the curtain has come down in the middle of the play," with Bugs or Daffy in media res but more or less triumphant --

(That's All, Folks!)

And so these two composers, known at least subliminally through their music by two entire generations, have achieved a certain immortality.   What can we say further about them?