Category: History

Why Ed Sullivan is important

This coming Sunday marks the fortieth anniversary of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. We look back on Sullivan as an antiquated, somewhat quaint relic of a bygone era. In reality he was a daring market entrepreneur who promoted important music and broke down racial barriers.

Sullivan was especially important for his advocacy of African-American music and entertainment. He helped Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Ethel Waters, Nat “King” Cole, Leontine Price, Louis Armstrong, George Kirby, Duke Ellington, Richie Havens, Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Marvin Gaye, among others. At the time the major networks typically shied away from carrying such performers, primarily for racial reasons. Sullivan consistently fought with his conservative sponsors and insisted on booking these individuals.

Sullivan was a musical visionary more generally. In addition to the Beatles, he promoted The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, and Barbra Streisand. In comedy he showcased Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, and Jerry Lewis, among many others. In each case the performers had not yet established their later significance.

Sullivan’s show, of course, was an institution. At its peak it regularly commanded an audience of over 50 million Americans and it ran for 23 years. Here’s a hat tip to Sullivan, who exemplified the best of entrepreneurship and cosmopolitan vision.

Reaganomics

The National Center for Public Policy Research has begun a series of briefs on “What Conservatives Think” in order to “help bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality.” Yes, but in which way are they crossing the bridge? Consider their brief on Reaganomics. It begins, “here are facts about the 1980s” and almost immediately heads off the rails, “from 1982 through 1989, the years President Reagan’s economic policies were in effect…” Hmmm, I thought we were going to get the facts about the 1980s? What happened to 1981-1982? Ah, Reagan’s policies weren’t in effect then – presumably these were the ghostly remains of the Carter years – but then logically Reagan’s policies must have been in effect until at least 1991, right? Apparently not.

The truncation of the Reagan years lets the NCPPR compute statistics from the bottom of a recession to the top of a peak thereby confusing cyclical with permanent gains. Numbers should not be treated as tools for partisan games but it’s especially galling here because the truth is in many ways more creditable to Reagan.

The 1982 recession was a result of Reagan’s policy – the policy to support Paul Volcker in wringing inflation and inflationary expectations from the economy. The 82 recession was terrible but the alternative, another goosing of the money supply, higher inflation, and a delay but not an avoidance of the day of reckoning, would probably have been worse. During the recession Reagan’s approval rating hit an all time low of just 35% but to his credit he stood firm. As a result, the economy fundamentally shifted from a high inflation/high unemployment economy to a low inflation/low unemployment economy. It was the recession of 1982 which laid the foundation for the next two decades of higher productivity and better economic policy.

Arthur Miller fails the test

On his recent visit to Cuba a group of writers practically begs Arthur Miller for help, for words of support, for some protection against their oppressive government and Miller is stumped. He’s so enthralled with Castro and his “fantastic shrimp” and “spectacular pork” that he is clueless to their plight. Morality does not require that we risk our lives, as some Cuban writers do, to speak truth to power but it does require that we honor those who do. What then to think of someone who laughs off their plight while enjoying wine with their oppressor? No Brad, it’s not just you, what Miller did was despicable.

A meeting had been arranged the previous afternoon, no doubt through the writers union, with some fifty or so Cuban writers. Initially the organizers had expected only a few dozen on such short notice, but they had had to find a larger space when this crowd showed up. We encountered a rather barren auditorium, a speaker’s platform and an odd quietness for so large a crowd. What to make of their silence? I couldn’t help being reminded of the fifties, when the question hanging over any such gathering was whether it was being observed and recorded by the FBI.

It was hard to tell whether Styron’s or my work was known to this audience, almost all of them men. In any case, with the introductions finished, Styron briefly described his novels as I did my plays, and questions were invited. One man stood and asked, “Why have you come here?”

Put so candidly, the question threw my mind back to Eastern Europe decades ago; there too it was inconceivable that such a meeting could have no political purpose. Styron and I were both rather stumped. I finally said that we were simply curious about Cuba and were opposed to her isolation and thought a short visit might teach us something. “But what is your message?” the man persisted. We had none, we were now embarrassed to admit. Still, as we broke up a number of them came up to shake hands and wordlessly express a sort of solidarity with us, or so I supposed. But in some of them there was also suspicion, I thought, if not outright, if suppressed, hostility to us for failing to bring a message that would offer some hope against their isolation. But back to the dinner with Fidel…

There were fantastic shrimp and spectacular pork, dream pork, Cubans being famous for their pork….

Dangerous Rice

Rice arrived in Spain in about the eighth century, from the Moors, and the Spanish word “arroz” comes from the Arabic. In medieval times, growing rice was extremely controversial, largely because the rice fields were a breeding ground for malaria. For this reason, the Spanish city of Valencia, to this day renowned for its rice and its paella, was called “land of rice, land of tears.” Various regulations restricted the growth of rice in order to limit malaria. Debates continued to rage throughout the eighteenth century, a distinction was commonly drawn between fields with stagnant water and irrigated fields, which were supposedly safer.

The clincher: Malaria has long been eradicated in Spain, but to this day “the allocation of land or enclosures for rice growing requires special authorization from the office of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture in Valencia.”

Caviar facts

1. Venetian trading ships first brought caviar to Europe from the Black Sea in the fourteenth century.

2. Caviar remained obscure for another three hundred years. Shakespeare, in his Hamlet, even used the word caviar to refer to something unknown and obscure, Hamlet complains that this play was “caviare to the general.”

3. Galileo was an early fan of caviar.

4. Rabelais, in his tale of Pantegruel, refers to caviar as something ridiculous.

5. Many stocks of sturgeon around the world were exhausted through overfishing and “tragedy of the commons.” Russia has remained the world’s major source of caviar in part through accident. The chaos of WWI, the Bolshevik revolution, and the monopolies and inefficiencies of communism all helped prevent overfishing and preserve sturgeon stocks at critical points in time. This must be counted as one of the economic successes of the Soviet regime.

6. The sturgeon is now an endangered species and caviar movements are tightly regulated. A caviar smuggler can receive up to $20,000 for the contents of a single suitcase, those contents will sell “on the street” for as much as $100,000.

7. The future of caviar lies in fish farming and privately owned sturgeons.

These facts are all from Caviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World’s Most Coveted Delicacy, by Inga Saffron, an excellent book, or you can download it for $10.

Who are the top Marxists?

Here is the result of one survey, thanks to www.crookedtimber.org. First place goes to Rosa Luxembourg, I suppose that Marx himself is out of the running by definition.

Why is she number one? Could it be because of her violent murder in 1919, which both martyred her, and likely prevented her from later endorsing totalitarian regimes?

You will note that numbers three (Lenin) and seven (Mao) on the list are mass murderers, don’t neglect to follow this link to Bryan Caplan’s award-winning site on the communist slaughter of innocents.

I don’t want to go on record as, well, “pushing” for Stalin, but I can’t help noticing that he doesn’t even make the top thirty. There is, after all, a book called The Essential Stalin, on his theoretical contributions. Nor can it be said that mass murder is an immediate disqualification from doing well on the list. Note that the creator of this poll, who calls himself anti-communist, is both highly intelligent and honest in his writing. He questions whether a poll of “top Nazis” would be no less legitimate, remarking that “greatness” and “goodness” are not the same thing.

My question: Would they have let me vote for David Horowitz?

Roosevelt and the Great Depression

I was amused to see Conrad Black writing with shock:

Jim Powell of the Cato Institute (cited approvingly in a recent column by Robert L. Bartley) argues in a new book that FDR actually prolonged the Depression!

Of course, Powell is correct. Imagine, increasing the power of unions to strike and raise wages during a time of mass strikes and mass unemployment. Imagine thinking that cartelizing whole industries thereby raising prices and reducing output could improve the economy. Not everything Roosevelt did was counterproductive – he did end prohibition (although in order to raise taxes) – but plenty was and worst of all was the uncertainty created by Roosevelt’s vicious attacks on business. (See, for example, the work of Bob Higgs especially this important paper and historian Gary Dean Best’s overlooked classic Pride, Prejudice and Politics.) Business investment failed to recover because business people legitimately feared a regime change like that which had occured in Germany and Italy. Sound extreme? Roosevelt himself threatened/promised this in his first inaugural:

…if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good… I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems….in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for… the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.

Mr. Grant and Mr. Stalin

This is Ed Asner speaking:

“I think Joe Stalin was a guy that was hugely misunderstood. And to this day, I don’t think I have ever seen an adequate job done of telling the story of Joe Stalin, so I guess my answer would have to be Joe Stalin.” – actor, Ed Asner, responding to the question, “If you had the chance to play the biographical story of a historical figure you respected most over your lifetime, who would it be?”

From www.andrewsullivan.com.

Addendum: The original source modifies his account, it looks much less bad for Asner than originally reported.

How to spread the wealth

The [Marshall] Field chronicles tell us that it is not taxes or mismanagement that erode family fortunes, but multiple marriages. While it is often difficult for siblings to amicably take over the running of a huge enterprise, the situation becomes more challenging when divorce introduces half-brothers and stepsisters. Marshall Field’s 22,000-word will was an extraordinary document, the longest ever probated in Chicago. He left the bulk of his fortune to his two underage grandsons, but stipulated that most of the money be kept in trust until they turned fifty…

What Marshall Field did not foresee was his male offspring’s high turnover of wives. Of the six generations bearing the name Marshall Field, only Marshall II and, as of the present, Marshall VI (married in 1992) had one wife. Marshall Field III and IV each had three wives; Marshall Field V married twice and his half-brother Ted three times. The founding father’s will that for sixty-five years carried the fortune forward collapsed in 1982 when Ted demanded his share of the Field Enterprises.

From the recent book The Marshall Fields, by Axel Madsen.

Kissing Cousins (More)

A John Tierney article in today’s NYTimes argues that the Iraqi tradition of cousin marriage and consequent clan loyalties make it difficult to establish democracy. (See Tyler’s earlier post for a map and some other links.) Most interesting claim is that the Western taboo against cousin marriage was promoted by the church explicitly in order to reduce loyalty to the clan and promote universal love. Key quote:

Cousin marriage was once the norm throughout the world, but it became taboo in Europe after a long campaign by the Roman Catholic Church. Theologians like St. Augustine and St. Thomas argued that the practice promoted family loyalties at the expense of universal love and social harmony. Eliminating it was seen as a way to reduce clan warfare and promote loyalty to larger social institutions – like the church.

By the way, recent genetic research indicates that cousin marriage does not lead to dramatically higher abnormalities in children.

Capital stock depreciation

Giorgione, one of the most significant painters of the Venetian Renaissance, is represented today by only four works we can be entirely confident are wholly his. Only ten authenticated paintings by Leonardo da Vinci are now in existence. A small fraction of Mantegna’s majestic output survives in reasonable condition. We have forty-eight paintings by Hieronymus Bosch; literary sources indicate there were once at least twice as many. Only a third of the works lovingly described by Vasari in his Lives of the Painters are now known. We have thirty-six Vermeers. He was a slow worker, to be sure, but he made his living as a painter for nearly a quarter of a century and is believed to have finished nearly a hundred.

Of course all capital depreciates. The mean service life of an office building is thirty-six years, and most components of the capital stock are not close to being this durable.

The quotation is from Art: A New History, the very latest book by public intellectual Paul Johnson.

Stalin, Shakespeare, and Tarzan

Dmitri Shostakovich noted that Stalin was forced to ban Shakespeare, as he understood all too well the political implications of Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear.

We also learn:

Dmitri Shostakovich recalled that ‘Stalin loved films and he saw The Great Waltz, about Johann Strauss, many times, dozens of times…Stalin also liked Tarzan films, he saw all the episodes.”

Tarzan was popular with Soviet citizens as well, which led to a “cult of youth” in the image of the Tarzan hero. Soviet leaders apparently were comfortable with the political implications of The King of the Jungle, raised by beasts.

From the recent book The Dancer Defects: The Struggle for Cultural Supremacy during the Cold War, by David Caute.

NY Times Wrong on Iraqi Gun Ownership

In March, Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times asserted that guns were easy and legal to obtain in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The NRA has long argued that guns are a bulwark against the police state so Slate’s Timothy Noah challenged the NRA to explain “how Iraq got to be, and remains, one of the world’s most repressive police states when just about everyone is packing heat.” Noah later rejected reader explanations of this apparent paradox, including the possibility that MacFarquhar was wrong, and “reluctantly” concluded that private gun ownership is not a bulwark against a police state.

Today, however, John Tierney of the New York Times reports that “Mr. Hussein, never one to tolerate competition, forbade private citizens to carry weapons, effectively outlawing the security industry.”

Clearly, the New York Times is wrong. But where does the truth lie?