"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Birthdays Today

A mishmash of birthdays.  Boris Pasternak, the Russian author of Dr. Zhivago, was born today in 1890.   Dr. Zhivago was an enormous bestseller in the late 1950s after being smuggled out of Russia by Isaiah Berlin (Berlin, a "historian of ideas," is one of my intellectual heroes, and his essay on Tolstoy, "The Hedgehog and the Fox," is one of the works that has most influenced me).   Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 on the strength of Dr. Zhivago (he had mostly been known as a poet in Russia), and with the help of Western intelligence agencies, who made sure that the novel was submitted to the Nobel Committee in time for consideration, in hopes that it would prove (as it did) to be an anti-communist propaganda triumph.  

It's also the birthday of another great writer, Bertolt Brecht, born in 1898.  Brecht, a lifelong communist, was also perhaps the most prominent German intellectual anti-fascist, and fled Germany upon the ascent of the Nazis in 1933.   Brecht's most famous work is likely The Threepenny Opera, from the late 1920s, which he wrote with the composer Kurt Weill.   Here is the most famous song from the opera, "Mackie Messer," or "Mack the Knife," in the original German:

Amazingly -- time flies, I guess -- perhaps the greatest swimmer ever, Mark Spitz, turns 60 today.   Spitz won 7 gold medals in the 1972 Olympics, setting new world records in each event.   This was the Olympics that was marred by the murders of eleven Israeli athletes and coaches by Palestinian terrorists.   Spitz was 22 at the time, and also Jewish, and had to be evacuated from the Olympic Village under armed guards in fear for his safety.  

Finally, it's Glenn Beck's birthday today.  Beck is 45.   Has he eclipsed Rush Limbaugh as the most powerful conservative talk show host?  Maybe, maybe not.   Limbaugh speaks, I think, more to the Chamber of Commerce, small business Republican, while Beck speaks a little bit more to the gold standard, Ayn Rand, evangelical hard (and somewhat loony) right.   It seems strange that, after only twenty years or so of right-wing talk radio, that there are "establishment" talkers (Limbaugh) and "insurgent" talkers (Beck), but that's how I see it.   Both Limbaugh and Beck are, needless to say, very funny, which to me accounts in large measure for their appeal, and which liberals have never been able to understand.  

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