Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
“For all our faults, past and present, the United States is the greatest champion of liberty and equality in the history of the world.”
John Davidson is an editor at The Federalist
And that’s why as much as the fun has been totally drained from this year’s Independence Day festivities we can’t dismiss the significance of this holiday.
This week our annual Independence Day musical tribute along with excerpts from a 2006 report written by Dinesh D’Souza that still rings true today: “What’s Great About America.” Let’s get started.
Having studied the criticisms of America with care, my conclusion is that the critics have a narrow and distorted understanding of America. They exaggerate American faults, and they ignore what is good and even great about America.
The immigrant is in a good position to evaluate American society because he is able to apply a comparative perspective. While I take seriously the issues raised by the critics of America, I have also developed an understanding of what makes America great, and I have seen the greatness of America reflected in my life. Unlike many of America’s homegrown dissidents, I am also acutely conscious of the daily blessings that I enjoy in America.
America provides an amazingly good life for the ordinary guy. Rich people live well everywhere, but what distinguishes America is that it provides a remarkably high standard of living for the “common man.” A country is not judged by how it treats its most affluent citizens but by how it treats the average citizen.
In America, the immigrant immediately recognizes that things are different. The newcomer who sees America for the first time typically experiences emotions that alternate between wonder and delight. Here is a country where everything works: The roads are clean and paper-smooth; the highway signs are clear and accurate; the public toilets function properly; when you pick up the telephone, you get a dial tone; you can even buy things from the store and then take them back. For the Third World visitor, the American supermarket is a thing to behold: endless aisles of every imaginable product, 50 different types of cereal, and multiple flavors of ice cream. The place is full of countless unappreciated inventions: quilted toilet paper, fabric softener, cordless telephones, disposable diapers, roll-on luggage, deodorant. Some countries, even today, lack these conveniences.
Critics of America complain about the scandal of persistent poverty in a nation of plenty, but the immigrant cannot help noticing that the United States is a country where the poor live comparatively well. This fact was dramatized in the 1980s when CBS television broadcast “People Like Us,” which was intended to show the miseries of the poor during an American recession. The Soviet Union also broadcast the documentary, probably with a view to embarrassing the Reagan Administration. But by the testimony of former Soviet leaders, it had the opposite effect. Ordinary people across the Soviet Union saw that the poorest Americans have television sets and microwave ovens and cars. They arrived at the same perception of America as a friend of mine from Mumbai who has been trying unsuccessfully to move to the United States for nearly a decade. Finally, I asked him, “Why are you so eager to come to America?” His reply: “Because I really want to move to a country where the poor people are fat.”
Few people in America have to wonder where their next meal is coming from. Emergency medical care is available to everyone, even those without proper insurance. Every child has access to an education, and many have the chance to go to college.
We live in a country where construction workers regularly pay $4 for a nonfat latte, where maids drive rather nice cars, where plumbers and postal workers take their families on vacation in Europe or the Caribbean.
People live longer, fuller lives in America. n 1900, for example, the rich person lived to 60 while the poor person died at 45. Today, the life expectancy of an affluent person in America is 78 years while that of the poor person is around 74. Thus, in one of the most important indicators of human well-being, the rich have advanced in America but the poor have advanced even more.
Success stories of people who have risen up from nothing are so common that they are unremarkable. Nobody bothers to notice that in the same family, one brother is a gas station attendant and the other is a vice president at Oracle. “Old money” carries no prestige in America-it is as likely to mean that a grandparent was a bootlegger or a robber baron. Rather, as the best-selling book The Millionaire Next Door documents, more than 80 percent of American millionaires are self-made.
Indeed, America is the only country that has created a population of “self-made tycoons.” More than 50 percent of the Americans on the Forbes 400 “rich list” got there through their own efforts. Only in America could Pierre Omidyar, whose parents are Iranian and who grew up in Paris, have started a company like eBay. Only in America could Vinod Khosla, the son of an Indian army officer, become a leading venture capitalist, a shaper of the technology industry, and a billionaire to boot.
The critics complain that equal opportunity is a myth in America, but there is more opportunity in this country than anywhere else in the world. European countries may have better mass transit systems and more comprehensive health care coverage, but nowhere does the ordinary citizen have a better chance to climb up the ladder and to achieve success than in the United States.
What this means is that in America, destiny is not given but created.
In America you get to write your own script. When American parents ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the question is not merely rhetorical, for it is you who supplies the answer. The parents offer advice or try to influence your decision: “Have you considered law school?” “Why not become the first doctor in the family?” It would be very improper, however, for them to try to force their decision on you. Indeed, American parents typically send their children away to college, where they can live on their own and learn to be independent. This is part of the process of developing your mind, deciding your field of interest, and forming your identity. What to be, where to live, whom to love, whom to marry, what to believe, what religion to practice-these are decisions that Americans make for themselves.
In America, your destiny is not prescribed; it is constructed. Your life is like a blank sheet of paper, and you are the artist. The freedom to be the architect of your own destiny is the force behind America’s worldwide appeal.
Next, you probably recognize this theme but may not know the title.
The tune “Colonel Bogey” was made famous in the British film “Bridge on the River Kwai.”
It was written by the bandmaster FJ Ricketts, who often wrote march tunes under the name of Kenneth Alford. Ricketts was the son of a Cockney coal merchant in Shadwell, in London’s East End, and when his parents died he was put into the army as a boy soldier and sent out to India.
When it became quite evident Ricketts possessed musical talent he was sent to the Army School of Music at Kneller Hall, Twickenham, and soon became bandmaster for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
The story goes that he wrote “Colonel Bogey” after playing golf with the colonel of his regiment at Fort St George in Scotland. Instead of shouting “Fore!”, his commanding officer would loudly whistle two notes to those playing ahead. Ricketts added more notes for the final tune. The title is a humorous reference to his colonel’s inability to score par on the golf course.
“Colonel Bogey” has been adopted by former POWs of the Japanese as a theme song.
Let us concede at the outset that, in a free society, freedom will frequently be used badly. Freedom, by definition, includes freedom to do good or do evil, to act nobly or basely. Thus, we should not be surprised that there is a considerable amount of vice, licentiousness, and vulgarity in a free society. Given the warped timber of humanity, freedom is simply an expression of human flaws and weaknesses. The American Founders knew this.
But if freedom brings out the worst in people, it also brings out the best. The millions of Americans who live decent, praiseworthy lives deserve our highest admiration because they have opted for the good when the good is not the only available option. Even amid the temptations that a rich and free society offers, they have remained on the straight path. Their virtue has special luster because it is freely chosen. The free society does not guarantee virtue any more than it guarantees happiness. But it allows for the pursuit of both, a pursuit rendered all the more meaningful and profound because success is not guaranteed; it has to be won through personal striving.
So what about slavery? What is distinctively Western is not slavery but the movement to end slavery. Never in the history of the world, outside of the West, has a group of people eligible to be slave owners mobilized against slavery.
But what about racism? Racism continues to exist in America, but it exists in a very different way than it did in the past. Previously, racism was comprehensive or systematic; now it is more episodic. In a recent debate with the Reverend Jesse Jackson at Stanford University, I asked him to show me how racism today is potent enough to prevent his children or mine from achieving the American dream. “Where is that kind of racism?” I said. “Show it to me.” Jackson fired off a few of his famous rhyming sequences-“I may be well-dressed, but I’m still oppressed,” and so on-but conceded that he could not meet my challenge. He noted that just because there was no evidence of systematic racism, he could not conclude that it did not exist. Rather, he insisted, racism has gone underground; it is no longer overt but covert, and it continues to thwart African Americans and other minorities from claiming their share of the American dream.
In my view, this is complete nonsense. As a nonwhite immigrant, I am grateful to the activists of the civil rights movement for their efforts to open up doors that would otherwise have remained closed. But at the same time, I am struck by the ease with which Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement won its victories, and by the magnitude of white goodwill in this country. In a single decade, from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties, America radically overhauled its laws through a series of landmark decisions: Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act. Through such measures, America established equality of rights under the law. Of course, the need to enforce nondiscrimination provisions continues, but for nearly half a century, blacks and other minorities have enjoyed the same legal rights as whites.
George Gershwin is one of the greatest American composers. He dropped out of school so he could start playing piano professionally at the age of 15. The young man was immensely talented, composing jazz, opera, and popular stage and screen songs. His piano teacher, Charles Hambitzer, who also had a respected reputation, wrote in a letter to his sister about Gershwin: “I have a new pupil who will make his mark if anybody will. The boy is a genius.”
Gershwin’s finest work came together quickly, because it had to. The composer had no choice.
On the night of January 3, 1924, Gershwin, his older brother Ira, and songwriter Buddy DeSylva were playing billiards in a parlor in New York. Ira saw a notice in a section of the New York Tribune that mentioned a concert of new American music to be given by Paul Whiteman and his Palais Royal Band at Aeolian Hall on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, February 12.
“George Gershwin is at work on a jazz concerto. Irving Berlin is writing a syncopated tone poem,” the article stated.
George was stunned, knowing absolutely nothing about it. His musical comedy, Sweet Little Devil, was set to open in just three weeks. Suddenly, he reads that in addition he must come up with a jazz concerto.
Aware of the ambitious schedule, the popular bandleader Whiteman reassured Gershwin that he could pull it off by simply focusing on a piano score, and did he ever. Whiteman’s arranger would build the orchestration around Gershwin’s contribution.
In just a few days Gershwin managed to provide a landmark in American music, “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Here’s an edited performance by the Royal Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner with soloist Adrian Brendle.
There’s no telling how far Gershwin’s talents could have reached. He died of a brain tumor at the age of 38.
My conclusion is that America is the greatest, freest, and most decent society in existence. It is an oasis of goodness in a desert of cynicism and barbarism. This country, once an experiment unique in the world, is now the last best hope for the world. By making sacrifices for America and by our willingness to die for her, we bind ourselves by invisible cords to those great patriots who fought at Yorktown, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima, and we prove ourselves worthy of the blessings of freedom. By defeating the terrorist threat posed by Islamic radicalism, we can protect the American way of life while once again redeeming humanity from a global menace. History will view America as a great gift to the world, a gift that Americans today must preserve and cherish.
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend.
Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” tells the story about Russia’s defeat of Napoleon’s invading army. And yet the lengthy piece has become a staple in America’s birthday celebration.
Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops explains.
“People love the pomp and circumstance of it, and I think they love the bombast. And who doesn’t like a great orchestral composition where you get to blow things up in the middle of it?”
Here are the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and the Boston Crusaders conducted by Keith Lockhart from the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, July 4, 2015, and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
Dinesh D’Souza’s “What’s Great About America”