Category Archives: Film / Tv / Theater Review

“Kill the Mothers, That’ll Stop Them!”

This week, the United States Supreme Court refused to block a Texas law (Senate Bill 8) that went into effect on 1 September 2021, which effectively criminalized any abortions that take place six weeks into a pregnancy. But the bill goes a lot further. As Newsweek reported: “The law does not contain criminal penalties for illegal abortions but it empowers private individuals to enforce the regulations through lawsuits against doctors and anyone who ‘aids or abets’ in procuring a ‘criminal abortion.'”

This law allows any private individual in Texas to sue those who “aid or abet” the “murder” of the unborn, rewarding successful litigants “at least $10,000 in statutory damages for each illegal abortion aided by the defendant. … One potential target of lawsuits could be the person who gives a woman a ride to an abortion clinic. … ‘It even means you can sue an Uber driver who drives someone to an abortion clinic’.” That’s one way to get the state’s tentacles deeper into our lives: deputize the citizenry to carry out the moral law!

It occurs to me, however, that if folks in Texas really believe that the abortion of a fetus is akin to murder, why aren’t they taking care of this the ol’ fashioned Texas way? I mean, Texas has long led the United States in executions (since 1976, the state has executed well over 550 people). Granted, the rate of execution has slowed the last couple of years, but the state still far outstrips any other state in the country. So go ahead and criminalize the whole process!

It reminded me of a classic exchange of dialogue from the hilarious 1996 comedy, “The Birdcage“, between “Mother” Goldman (played by Nathan Lane) and conservative Senator Keeley (played by Gene Hackman):

Senator Keeley: Of course, it’s very wrong to kill an abortion doctor. Many pro-lifers feel … I don’t agree with them, but many of them sincerely feel that if you stop the doctors, you’ll stop the abortions.

Mother Goldman: Well, that’s ridiculous. The doctors are only doing their jobs. If you’re going to kill someone, kill the mothers, that’ll stop them! Oh, I know what you’re going to say: If you kill the mother, the fetus dies too. But the fetus is going to be aborted anyway, so why not let it go down with the ship?

Seems to me that the legislators in Texas ought to go all in on this and stop these half-hearted measures. Take a leaf out of Mother Goldman’s playbook and get this done!

John Dewey H.S.: A Love Letter …

On Facebook, my friend Stephen Boydstun, made the following query:


You attended the John Dewey high school in Brooklyn, and I was wondering if there were differences in that school compared to other high schools that were advertised and how did its specialness stack up in your experience of it. Your 1977 yearbook is online, though not with very clear images. It indicates you were awarded a Regents scholarship. Does that mean a scholarship to go to college? The high school was free, right? Do you have a clear senior picture you could show us? Perhaps you have already written about some of this and could direct me to that spot.

I’ve only written in passing about my experiences at John Dewey High School (50 Avenue X, in Brooklyn, New York). But there’s so much to say.

As background, folks can indeed check out the John Dewey High School Archives here. Available on that site are my 1977 senior yearbook (my own yearbook is somewhere in my apartment, but my high school photo [ugh!] can be found on page 88), Graduation Program, and Senior Recogntion Night Program. I was indeed the recipient of a small Regents scholarship, though, more importantly, I received a Regents-endorsed diploma, because I successfully completed the necessary Regents exams to qualify (in Biology, English, Geometry, Social Studies, and so forth).

John Dewey was an extraordinary “free” public high school. I don’t know how my experiences in high school compare to those of others in standard high school curricula throughout the New York city public school system. But I can say that my high school years were among the most remarkable educational experiences of my life. The school stressed individual responsibility within a nourishing social environment, with gifted teachers who cared, and who offered challenging courses and extracurricular activities on a sprawling college-like campus. Check out “The John Dewey High School Adventure” (October 1971, volume 53, no. 2, Phi Delta Kappan International) by Sol Levine, who was the principal of the school when I was in attendance. A 1977 New York Times article also highlighted the school’s unique character.

In 1974, I entered the school as a sophomore (a tenth-grader), having graduated from a 2-year SP (“special progress“) program at David A. Boody Junior High School, which consolidated the 7th, 8th, and 9th grades into a two-year timeframe. Instead of the traditional fall and spring semesters, John Dewey High School provided students with five 6-week cycles throughout the academic year. Courses were graded on a pass-fail system, which placed less stress on grade-consciousness and more on augmented learning—though teachers could give students an “ME” (Mastery with Excellence) certificate. The school day was longer (8 am to 4 pm) than the standard NYC high school, which allowed for “free periods” in which we were expected to meet in study groups, clubs (both traditional and nontraditional), and on-campus activities. The school didn’t participate in interscholastic sports team competitions, but encouraged intramural play on its wonderful athletic field.

Sophomore Year

In my sophomore year, in addition to full-year studies of French, Advanced Geometry, Biology, and Business Education (Typewriting), I took courses in the following areas:

English

  • Introduction to Dramatic Literature
  • Introduction to Creative Writing (with Brian McCarthy, who also stoked my interest in science fiction, with the Science Fiction Club and the Palingenesis publication it spawned)
  • Introduction to Journalism
  • Introduction to the Short Story

Social Studies:

  • War and Peace (Twentieth Century)
  • Struggle for Democracy (Up to the French Revolution)
  • American Foreign Policy
  • Consumer Economics
  • Urban Economics

I was medically excused from gym, but took associated courses in “Human Sexuality” and “Psychology of Human Relations”.

Junior Year

I engaged in full-year studies (all five cycles) in French, Chemistry, Trigonometry, and Music (The History of Jazz, 3 cycles of which were attended in my junior year, 2 cycles of which were completed in my senior year—during which I actually taught several weeks on the history of jazz guitar and the history of jazz violin). I also took these courses in the following disciplines:

English

  • Psychological Approach to Literature (2 cycles)
  • Shakespeare (2 cycles)

Social Studies

  • The Kennedy Years & After
  • American People
  • The Holocaust (the first such course ever offered on a high-school level, taught by Ira Zornberg, under whom I came to edit the social studies periodical, Gadfly)
  • Futuristics

I began my studies with the Law Institute, led by two wonderful teachers, Mr. Nelson and Mr. Wolfson:

  • Justice, Judges, and Jury
  • Supreme Court & Civil Liberties
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Business Law

I also took one elective course in “Photography”—where I learned to take and develop photographs, as well as various “DISKS” (“Dewey Independent Study Kits”) in such areas as Medieval History and the Renaissance.

Senior Year

In my final year at John Dewey High School, I undertook full-year studies of Advanced French, Anthropology, three cycles of Calculus, and Advanced Placement American History (taught by Larry Pero, Chair of the History Department, for which I earned college credit with St. John’s University). I also studied the following courses in English:

  • Man, Nature, and Survival
  • Individualism in American Literature
  • Introduction to Film
  • Public Speaking

And I completed my studies in the Law Institute with the following courses:

  • Law in an Urban Society
  • Fieldwork and Legal Research

Never giving a second thought to the issue of “Grade-Point Average,” I fully embraced the enriched atmosphere of learning that John Dewey High School provided for its students. I graduated with honors for growth, personal achievement, and personal contributions in English, French, Music, and Social Studies, and received recognition for my extra-curricular activities.

I also received the English Achievement Award for Excellence in the Communication Arts, the James K. Hackett Medal for Demonstrated Proficiency in Oratory, the Publications Award for Demonstrated Excellence in the Field of Journalism, the John Dewey Science Fiction Club Award, the Chemistry Teachers Club of New York Award for scholarship in chemistry, a certificate of merit from the Association of Teachers of Social Studies of NYC, and the Honorable Samuel A. Welcome Award for Excellence in Legal Studies.

Most importantly, the teachers at John Dewey High School, unafraid to show their own political predilections, encouraged me to develop my own political and intellectual interests, whether or not they agreed with the directions I was taking. Indeed, once I had discovered Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand, while enrolled in my Advanced Placement American History course, the libertarian trajectory of my politics was seeded, nourished, and challenged by my teachers. A greater gift from American educators I could never have received.

From what I understand, the school is more traditional today than it was in its inception, but I’ve retained friends among my former peers and faculty and will always have a depth of love for the high school that more than prepared me for a rigorous and rewarding undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral education at New York University.

I Want My MTV: 40 Years Later!

On this date, forty years ago, MTV was born and changed the sights and sounds of music. In tribute to what it used to be …

Song of the Day #1870

Song of the Day: Stevie Wonder “Stars on 45” Medley [YouTube link] includes “My Cherie Amour” [YouTube link to the original], a song featured on the jukebox on the night that police raided the Stonewall Inn in the wee hours of this date in 1969. The patrons fought back against brutality, in a cry of liberation for the right to live their own lives and pursue their own happiness. That Stonewall storm left a Rainbow of Pride in its wake that illuminates the dancefloor for all those who lovingly embrace the singular authenticity of the music inside them.

Steve Horwitz, RIP

I am very sorry to report this devastating news. My long-time colleague and friend, Steve Horwitz, passed away this morning. His wife, Sarah Skwire, has confirmed that he died around 5:15 am.

Steve had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma back in 2017. He was a warrior in facing this diagnosis and battling this disease, and an inspiration to countless thousands of people for his very public sharing of his trials and tribulations.

Steve was first and foremost a wonderful human being and a very dear friend. But he was also a thought-provoking scholar of the highest order. He was long associated with St. Lawrence University, and later became the Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise in the Department of Economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. In 2020, he was the recipient of the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Steve and I first met way back in the mid-1990s; his important work in the area of Austrian economics and on the progressive nature of market institutions (which would culminate in his wonderful book Hayek’s Modern Family) led me to spotlight his contributions to the “dialectical” turn in libertarian thought, in my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (2000). So enthused was he with the dialectical project that he gladly accepted an invitation to contribute a wonderful essay (“The Dialectic of Culture and Markets in Expanding Family Freedom“) to the 2019 anthology, The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, which I coedited with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins.

Our professional relationship also extended to Rand studies; he was a contributor to two of the symposia published by The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: one to our 2003 discussion of Rand and progressive rock (“Rand, Rush, and De-totalizing the Utopianism of Progressive Rock“) and another to our 2005 centenary symposium on “Ayn Rand Among the Austrians” (“Two Worlds at Once: Rand, Hayek, and the Ethics of the Micro- and Macro-Cosmos“).

In 2012, Steve would join the journal’s Board of Advisors. Anytime I asked him to do a peer review, he accepted the project, even if he was tempted to torch some of the essays he had been asked to read. If I heard even the slightest hesitation from him, I’d take a line from the 1959 film version of “Ben-Hur“: “We keep you alive to serve this ship! So, row well and live” [YouTube link]. It became an ongoing mantra between us—anytime either of us suffered a medical setback. He told me I inspired him in my lifelong struggles with a congenital intestinal illness, and I’d tell him, “Are you kidding me? You’re an inspiration to all of us!”

My heart is broken. I want to extend my deepest condolences to Steve’s family and friends, and wish to say that I share their sorrow, while celebrating his extraordinary life.

Steve Horwitz (1964-2021)

Addendum: When asked about how we could keep Steve’s memory alive, I said:

Early on in Steve’s career, he, like Don Lavoie before him, showed a certain indebtedness to the highly dialectical approach of the hermeneutical tradition. Paul Ricoeur once said that a text is detached from its author and develops consequences of its own—transcending its relevance to its initial situation and addressing an indefinite range of possible readers.

As long as there are people who can read what Steve wrote and listen to what Steve has said, his work, his life, his legacy, will live on.

Hitchcock on TCM

They’re running a Hitchcock film festival on Turner Classic Movies that started this morning at 6 am and will end on Monday, June 28, at 6 am: 23 films (plus one encore) in a row. All the classics, from “North By Northwest,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” and “Psycho” to “Rear Window,” “Suspicion,” and both versions of “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” it’s quite a line-up. “Vertigo” is on right now, and the score alone is worth the price of admission. I remember seeing John Williams conducting the New York Philharmonic to this haunting Bernard Herrmann music for “Scene d’Amour” [YouTube link to a Boston Pops performance]. Here’s the scene in the film:

Song of the Day #1867

Song of the Day: Donna Summer Disconet Medley [YouTube link], mixed by Mike Carroll and Steven Von Blau, kicks off The Sixth Annual Summer Music Festival (Dance Medley Edition). The Northern Hemisphere greets the Summer Solstice at 11:32 pm ET, and what better way to embrace the warmth of Summer than with Summer herself! She may have been known as the “Queen of Disco,” but her powerful pipes transcended genres. Her music graced film and even ended up on Broadway in a poignant, joyful bio-musical. From “Spring Affair,” “Bad Girls,” and the technoblazing Giorgio Moroder-produced “I Feel Love” to “Rumor Has It,” “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)” (her duet with Barbra Streisand), and the Oscar-winning “Last Dance,” Donna strikes the match that lights up our Summer dance floor.

Ten Iconic Hollywood Film Scenes (X)

The tenth installment of my series of ten iconic Hollywood film scenes among my all-time favorites is from the Francis Ford Coppola-directed 1972 film, “The Godfather”: The Baptism Scene. Filled with the tension of ‘payback’ justice and the symbolic depth of the inversion of “good” and “evil” through the interplay of the sacred and the profane, this film’s climax, highlighted by its superb film editing, constitutes the finale to my current series. I’ve got many more all-time favorite iconic cinema moments, so maybe we’ll do this again sometime! Till then: Leave the gun, take the cannoli [YouTube link]! (Coppola insists that actor Richard S. Castellano, who played Clemenza, improvised that line!)

Ten Iconic Hollywood Film Scenes (IX)

The ninth in a series of ten iconic Hollywood film scenes ranking among my all-time favorites is from the 1997 James Cameron-directed blockbuster, “Titanic”, the 11-Academy Award winner that tied “Ben-Hur” (and “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”) for the most Oscars for any single film. The scene: The Sinking of the Titanic, in which this film’s Oscar-winning direction, art direction, cinematography, costume design, film editing, sound, sound effects editing, and visual effects are all on full display. Not to mention a spectacular Oscar-winning score by James Horner that grippingly augments this harrowing epic scene.

Ten Iconic Hollywood Film Scenes (VIII)

The eighth in a series of ten iconic Hollywood film scenes among my all-time favorites is another stop motion animation gem, this one from the great Ray Harryhausen: The Skeleton Duel from the 1963 film, “Jason and the Argonauts“, aided by an action-packed Bernard Herrmann score.