22 January 2010

A Far Cry Plays Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, Fourth Movement

Last week I posted some videos of the Boston group A Far Cry playing some Elgar. Below they play the fourth movement of another one of my favorite string pieces - the Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings.

21 January 2010

Interview on The Main Event

Burgess Laughlin, author of The Aristotle Adventure, interviewed me on his web site, The Main Event.

19 January 2010

Scott Brown, Senator from Massachusetts

Against all odds, Massachusetts has stood against tyranny.

With over 90% of the precinct results reported, Republican Scott Brown has a 52% to 47% lead over the Democratic Martha Coakley. Mrs. Coakley has conceded the race.

A Brown victory is an extremely positive sign. It sends as strong and clear a signal as any election I can remember. The message is: Government control of people’s lives may prevail everywhere else on earth, but it is still not acceptable in the United States of America.

Image from usflag.org.

It would be hard to overstate the unlikelihood of Democrats losing the Massachusetts Senate seat that belonged to Ted Kennedy for almost half a century. Except for the odd penchant to elect Republican governors, Massachusetts voters are as uniformly leftist as one can find in the nation. This state is solid blue. Opponents hardly need apply; Democrats are a lock in every office from Congressman to dog catcher. We have not had a Republican in a Senate seat since 1972. Only in the most extraordinary circumstances could Democrats lose Ted Kennedy’s seat. (And yes, it is viewed as “Ted Kennedy’s seat” by many in Massachusetts.)

But extraordinary circumstances they are. The credit for the Democrats’ implosion belongs, of course, chiefly to Barack Obama. It is the President who has provided clarity to ordinary citizens – for the first time in decades. (In this regard, I highly recommend the John Lewis article referred to in Note 2.) Elections are ordinarily disgusting affairs, requiring one to choose between two narrowly-differentiated compromisers - the “lesser of two evils,” so to speak - or to not vote at all. Rarely do we get to vote on principles.

Barack Obama has cut through the fog. This Massachusetts special election became a referendum on the administration, particularly on health care "reform." Unwittingly, what the President has made clear more than any of his predecessors (with the possible exception of Franklin Roosevelt) is what a government takeover really means. His heavy-handed blitz upon American liberty, the assembly of czars and commissars that he has dispersed to command over his realm, and his shocking nonchalance in nationalizing private companies, trampling private contracts, and ignoring the rule of law – all have pierced the usual apathy and cynicism. Even in Massachusetts, people are figuring out that this administration is a menace and needs to be stopped.

A Scott Brown win does not mean that all our problems have gone away. There is still no indication that Republicans, after decades of expanding the regulatory welfare state as if they were Democrats, have suddenly decided to do their job – namely, to safeguard individual rights and to begin the enormous task of unclenching the government’s hold on us. It will take a larger cultural shift to thoroughly convince Republicans to be Republicans.

Nevertheless, for the first time in my life, I am proud to live in Massachusetts. Today, many of us have actually deserved to walk on the hallowed ground of Lexington and Concord.

1. Flag illustration from “http://www.usflag.org/gadsden.html.”

2. For an excellent exposition of this idea, see John David Lewis’ essay, “Obama’s Atomic Bomb: The Ideological Clarity of the Democratic Agenda,” in The Objective Standard.

15 January 2010

A Far Cry Plays Elgar's Introduction and Allegro, Op. 47

Below, the local conductor-less group A Far Cry plays one of my favorite pieces by Sir Edward Elgar - the Introduction and Allegro for String Quartet and String Orchestra, Opus 47. It is an intense and exciting composition, weaving lush romanticism with intricate and contrasting textures.

It's unfortunate that the piece is cut in two for the YouTube videos, but the break is inserted at as logical a spot as any, and nothing is missing.

While I was watching the videos, I suddenly realized that I recognized the place! I had been to St. Paul's Church in Brookline, MA once to see the son of one of Lynne's friends give a recital on the magnificent organ.


Not that anyone really cares, but I was wrong about having been at that church. The recital I saw was actually in a church in Cambridge.

13 January 2010

The Withdrawal of a Sanction?

I don’t want to give the company more credit than it deserves, but is it possible that Google is withdrawing its implicit support of the Chinese government on moral terms?

BEIJING – Google said Tuesday that it would stop cooperating with Chinese Internet censorship and consider shutting down its operations in the country altogether, citing assaults from hackers on its computer systems and China’s attempts to “limit free speech on the Web.” [Note 1.]

A few years ago, it seemed like Google was doing the exact opposite: complying with the Chinese government, and accepting its restrictions on free speech in order to break into a market with enormous potential for profit. The compromise seemed to fly in the face of the company motto, “Don’t be evil.”

The reason I am (warily) encouraged by this turn of events is that I am convinced Google always has profitability firmly in focus, as they should. So, if they are willing to turn away from $300 million annually for a matter of principle, it may well be because they recognize the impracticality of dealing with hostile parties. The recent attack by Chinese hackers along with the increasing restrictions imposed by the Chinese government may have provided Google executives with ample direct evidence of the nature of dictatorships.

As a relatively uniformed outsider observing Google’s actions, I see the possibility of something remarkable: Google executives may recognize the morality of profit, the freedom of action that prosperity depends upon (i.e. individual rights, including the right to free speech), and the long-term impracticality of dealing with people who do not recognize such rights. It would be incredible in this unprincipled, pragmatic age, but perhaps Google is betting that there is more profit to be had in the future if they cease to prop up dictatorships and instead, let them wither. A withdrawal from China might well be Google’s refusal to sanction the enemies of freedom.

I am cautiously optimistic and will be keeping an eye on the story.


1. “Google, Citing Attack, Threatens to Exit China,” Andrew Jacobs and Miguel Helft, The New York Times, 12 Jan 2010.

09 January 2010

Chuck Season 3

My favorite show on television resumes Sunday night, starting its third season on NBC. If you’ve never seen Chuck, I highly recommend it – it’s right up there with Firefly and the David Suchet Poirot films on my list of all time favorite series. If you have seen Chuck and think the show is silly, implausible, and shallow . . . well, we will just have to ascribe our difference in opinion to optional values!

(Aside: Having just listed three of my favorite television series, I just realized something very odd – I have never seen even a single episode of any of them on actual television in the conventional sense. I watched them all at my own convenience on either DVD’s that I own or on my computer with hulu.com. Come to think of it, I had never even heard of Firefly until long after the show had been canceled. Technology is wonderful!)

Chuck is actually entering some dangerous television-series territory. At the end of last season, the main character, Chuck, apparently picked up some new super-powers that could spoil one of the main delights of the show – namely, seeing him use his untrained, civilian mind to solve his problems, overcome fear, and save the world from evil forces. If he can now automatically summon new skills in the blink of an eye, with no effort, that is no fun at all. It may give the writers of the show a gimmick with innumerable opportunities . . . but at the expense of the main character’s heroism.

The premise of the show, for readers who are unfamiliar with it, is that Chuck (played by Zach Levi) is a good-natured, intelligent young “geek” who, due to circumstances that become clear later, has been kicked out of Stanford University and is thus biding his time working at the local BuyMore (a thinly veiled knockoff of the typical BestBuy-style electronics superstore). Through a plot device that is at least coherent, if not exactly scientifically plausible, the contents of a clandestine CIA supercomputer end up getting downloaded via email into Chuck’s brain – without him knowing what has happened! He discovers the fact when he starts “flashing”: the sight of certain people or objects spontaneously triggers images from the supercomputer database in his head, thus presenting him with secret CIA information that he hardly knows what to do with.

Enter Casey (Adam Baldwin) and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), agents from rival agencies (NSA and CIA, both of which are the good guys) who intrude upon Chuck’s life in order to protect the sensitive information. This sets up the conflict – and the fun – of the series. Casey is a ruthless and dedicated agent with seemingly little concern for Chuck the person, not to mention alarmingly little hesitation to squeeze a trigger. The sharp contrast between the mundane requirements of Chuck’s ordinary life as employee at the BuyMore and the perilous excitement of his new life as a spy provides suspense and amusement; Chuck’s best friend, his sister, and his workmates know nothing about his new burden. Above all, though, the best part of the series is the relationship between Chuck and Sarah. They obviously fall for each other, but Sarah must keep her own feelings hidden out of dedication to her mission. Sarah is as competent and courageous as she is beautiful, and her feelings for Chuck show up through the cracks, as it were, in fascinating ways.

As I indicated above, I worry that the new direction the series is taking may diminish some of its quality, but I’m looking forward to the show all the same!