Category Archives: Culture

Song of the Day #1828

Song of the Day: Ode to Joy, composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, constitutes the fourth movement and finale of his Ninth Symphony (in D minor, Op. 125). It is one of the most performed works from the corpus of the great composer, the 250th anniversary of whose birth is being noted this month. The master based the choral sections on a poem by Friedrich Schiller. But it is a theme that has been used by both dictators and freedom fighters the world over, giving it a particularly checkered history [YouTube link]. And yet, it is no coincidence that the great Leonard Bernstein conducted the full symphony as an “Ode to Freedom” on the occasion of the collapse of the Berlin Wall (the finale itself can be heard, triumphantly, in two parts: part 1 and part 2) [YouTube links]. Bernstein embraced the Ninth Symphony [YouTube link], as a jubilant celebration of peace and brotherhood, having recorded it two previous times: first with the New York Philharmonic in 1964 and again with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1979. It has also been embraced by diverse cultures for its exuberant spirit; in Japan, for example, in keeping with the holiday season, it has become a veritable Christmas carol. And it has been used by dissenters throughout the world in protests such as those against the oppressive Pinochet regime in Chile and in those that rocked Tiananmen Square. What better way to end a two-day celebration of this important anniversary!

Song of the Day #1827

Song of the Day: Symphony No. 6 in F-major (Op. 68) was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, who was baptized on this date in Bonn, Germany, 250 years ago. The piece made its debut this very month in 1808 [22 December] at the Theater an der Wien. Also known as the “Pastoral Symphony or Recollections of Country Life,” there have been so many performances of it through the history of recorded music. Among the most notable are those conducted by Otto Klemperer, Carlos Kleiber, Sir John Eliot Gardner, and Colin Davis [YouTube links]. The symphony has entered popular culture as well through two notable films: Disney’s 1940 masterpiece, “Fantasia,” conducted by Leopold Stokowski [YouTube link] and in an excerpt during a key scene with Edward G. Robinson [YouTube link; spoiler alert!] from the 1973 sci-fi film, “Soylent Green.” We don’t know the exact date of Beethoven’s birth, but his enormous legacy remains among history’s greatest musical achievements.

Song of the Day #1826

Song of the Day: Come Rain or Come Shine, music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, made its debut in the 1946 musical, “St. Louis Woman.” The song first hit the pop charts in a rendition by Margaret Whiting with the Paul Weston Orchestra. Other notable recordings include those by Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, and Barbra Streisand, and among instrumentalists: Bill Evans, Joe Pass, and Return to Forever (with vocalist Gayle Moran) [YouTube links]. But today, I highlight a recording from the 1962 album, “Sinatra and Strings“—to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of the Chairman of the Board. Check it out on YouTube.

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends! Lord knows, we all need a Festival of Lights!

❤

Song of the Day #1824

Song of the Day: Girlfriend, words and music by Jason Kasher Hindlin and Charlie “Perfect Pitch” Puth, who turns 29 today. This is really a fun song with an adorable music video (even with the Old School Tube Socks!). Check out the video single, the Haywyre Remix and a live performance of the song on the The Late, Late Show with James Corden [YouTube links]. Happy birthday to this genuinely talented musical prodigy.

Yes, It’s Come To This!

H/T Ryan Neugebauer and Devin Alexander on Facebook

Song of the Day #1823

Song of the Day: Stuffy Turkey, composed by jazz pianist Thelonious Monk is actually an extension of saxophonist Coleman Hawkins‘s composition, “Stuffy” [YouTube link]. As a paean to Hawk, it is a standout track from Monk’s sixth album, “It’s Monk’s Time.” The album features Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, Butch Warren on bass, and Ben Riley on drums. The title may not please the vegans among us, but it is a jazz nod to today’s Thanksgiving holiday. To say that 2020 has been a year of challenges and heartache is an understatement of unfathomable proportions. I acknowledge the feelings of loss and grief that have dominated this year and my heart goes out to so many folks who have shared in these struggles. But speaking for myself, I can only say that I count my blessings that I am here to feel weary, to feel apprehensive, to feel loss, to feel grief—and to feel that with life, all things remain possible. On that “note,” I wish my friends and family a very Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving. Swing on Monk [YouTube link].

Some Godfather Therapy

This has been quite a year for so many folks, and the therapy business is, no doubt, booming.

Folks know I’m a big-time fan of “The Godfather Epic“… so, if Don Vito Corleone could use a little group therapy now and then, it must be a good idea …

John Belushi as Don Vito Corleone (Vintage Saturday Night Live clip)

SNL Halloween (… a little late, but still laughing…)

I know it’s long past Halloween, even if there’s still lots of scary stuff around. But this SNL skit had me in … stitches! LOL

(Reminds me of that classic George Carlin line: “If I could reach, I’d never leave the house!” LOL)

Nucky Thompson is Still Right …

Back in March 2016, in a blog post, “Nucky Thompson Was Right“, I wrote:

In the very first episode of the HBO hit series Boardwalk Empire, Steve Buscemi, who plays the lead character Nucky Thompson—racketeer, political insider, and bootlegger—lifts his glass of liquor in a toast to ‘the distinguished gentlemen of our nation’s Congress . . . those beautiful, ignorant bastards,’ who enacted the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that ‘the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.’


This nightmarish ‘noble experiment‘ lasted from 1920 to 1933, until the Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition (and was probably one of the most important reasons for FDR’s initial first-term popularity as an advocate for its repeal). Without a doubt, the major effect of this legislation was to give a boost to organized crime. From speakeasies to mob wars, the general population of this country became part of a new culture of criminality that put the Roar in the Roaring Twenties. As an entry on Wikipedia puts it:


“Organized crime received a major boost from Prohibition. Mafia groups limited their activities to prostitution, gambling, and theft until 1920, when organized bootlegging emerged in response to Prohibition. A profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol flourished. Prohibition provided a financial basis for organized crime to flourish. In a study of more than 30 major U.S. cities during the Prohibition years of 1920 and 1921, the number of crimes increased by 24%. Additionally, theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicides by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6%, and police department costs rose by 11.4%. This was largely the result of ‘black-market violence’ and the diversion of law enforcement resources elsewhere. Despite the Prohibition movement’s hope that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, the reality was that the Volstead Act led to higher crime rates than were experienced prior to Prohibition and the establishment of a black market dominated by criminal organizations. The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre produced seven deaths, considered one of the deadliest days of mob history. Furthermore, stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle. To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the federal government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. In response, bootleggers hired chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. As a response, the Treasury Department required manufacturers to add more deadly poisons, including the particularly deadly methyl alcohol. New York City medical examiners prominently opposed these policies because of the danger to human life. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended. New York City medical examiner Charles Norris believed the government took responsibility for murder when they knew the poison was not deterring people and they continued to poison industrial alcohol (which would be used in drinking alcohol) anyway. Norris remarked: ‘The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol… [Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.'”

In that post, I discussed how the “War on Drugs” was one of those vestiges of the Nixon administration, a policy that Nixon’s chief domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman admitted was a blatant strategy “to go after anti-war protesters and ‘black people’.” He went on to say: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. … We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

By 1973, about 300,000 people were being arrested every year under the law—the majority of whom were African-American.

I reiterated in that 2016 post: “For years, voices on the left and on the right (from the time of William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman to Senator Rand Paul today) have been advocating a saner drug policy. Forty years after this declaration of a ‘War on Drugs,’ 1 trillion dollars in taxpayer money spent, the prisons are packed—drug use is apparently just as rampant behind bars as on the streets—but the epidemic stretches from the inner cities to suburbia. It is clear, however, that no political change will occur if we have to depend on those ‘beautiful, ignorant bastards,’ until there is a cultural shift across this country that allows this issue to be re-examined fundamentally. The time has come.”

Well. Something extraordinary happened on Election Day 2020. It was noted by both Jonah Engel Bromwich in his essay, “This Election, a Divided America Stands United on One Topic,” and Nicholas Kristof, who writes in his New York Times November 8, 2020 column, “Republicans and Democrats Agree: End the War On Drugs“:

One of America’s greatest mistakes over the last century was the war on drugs, so it’s thrilling to see voters in red and blue states alike moving to unwind it. The most important step is coming in Oregon, where voters easily passed a referendum that will decriminalize possession of even hard drugs like cocaine and heroin, while helping users get treatment for addiction. The idea is to address drug use as a public health crisis more than as a criminal justice issue. In Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota, voters decisively passed measures liberalizing marijuana laws. Marijuana will now be legal for medical use in about 35 states and for recreational use in 15 states. …


One result of the war on drugs is that today there are as many Americans with arrest records as with college degrees. Yet we still lost the war. Addiction has soared in the United States, and more Americans die from overdoses each year than died in the Vietnam, Afghan and Iraq wars combined. A baby is born dependent on drugs every 15 minutes. … Left and right both recognize the need for new thinking on the topic …


The new Oregon law is modeled after one in Portugal, which pioneered decriminalization and has emphasized treatment of those with addictions. 

The movement from prohibition to treatment will have a decisive impact on the prison population in the United States, which has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Let’s hope that this area of social policy will continue to find friends, both blue and red. Indeed, the time is now.

Postscript (16 November 2020): Check out “Who Will Follow Oregon’s Lead On Drugs” by Dr. Mary Bassett.