Noam Chomsky and Other Greats

Noam ChomskyOn this day in 1598, one of the greatest sculptors of all time, Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born. He was also a great painter and architect. Oh, and he was involved in the theater and wrote plays. He’s not as well known as Michelangelo, but he is at least as good and I would say better. He pretty much invented Baroque sculpture. Of course, that is why he isn’t terribly well known outside of art circles. With the rise of the Neoclassical movement, Baroque art fell out of favor. I much prefer the Neoclassical period myself. But it does show how stupid art criticism tends to be. The old saying is all you really need to go by, “I may not know art, but I know what I like!” Caveat: that doesn’t mean what you don’t like is bad.

The composer Pietro Mascagni was born in 1863. He composed in that wonderful period between Romantic and Modern, where the music was crisp but beautiful. He is mostly known as an opera composer. Indeed, his one-act opera Cavalleria Rusticana is still one of the most performed to this day. What follows is the Intermezzo from that opera. I dare you not to love it.

The great actor Eli Wallach is 98 today. Good God! And he’s still working. I just saw him in two recent films Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and The Ghost Writer. I once worked with his nephew on a short film that I was making. His name was Marz, and was an ND. And a horrible actor. All he did was mug at the camera. I gave up after two days. But he was a very nice and smart guy. Regardless Uncle Eli and Aunt Anne are great actors. Here is Wallach in his iconic role of Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:

The great Tom Waits is 64. Here he is doing “Heart Attack and Vine”:

Other birthdays: poet Allan Cunningham (1784); composer Ernst Toch (1887); actor Ted Knight (1923); actor Ellen Burstyn (81); musician (who I really don’t like for a couple of reasons) Harry Chapin (1942); and basketball player Larry Bird (57).

The day, however, belongs to Noam Chomsky who is 85 today. He is one of the greatest linguists of the 20th century. But unlike other linguists who I can understand, I don’t really understand his work. The basics of it are simple, however: linguistic syntax is built into our biology. If you want to know more, check out the Wikipedia page on, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”

Chomsky is mostly known for his political writing. He had a profound impact on my thinking. But actually, he’s pretty hard to read. A colorful writer he is not. But I am with him on his analysis of American imperialism and neo-liberalism. And I too consider myself a libertarian socialist, which he explains beautifully in the following audio file:

Happy birthday Noam Chomsky!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Noam Chomsky and Other Greats

  1. I remember my first exposure to the Internet, in 1996 at military school. I came across some Chomsky. And he blew me away. I’d bounced from worldview to worldview all my life, and all of them seemed to be a matter of faith (including the hipster-liberal, "be cool like us and you will reap the rewards of coolness" ones.)

    Chomsky just made sense. The way he explained how the world worked felt true. More importantly, he didn’t ask anyone to take his word for it. "You can read more on this" is the man’s mantra. That was such a scary idea when I was 25. Where could I find that material, how would I understand it? I’m not an academic!

    It really changed my way of thinking. Gradually, I tried reading some of his references. And, guess what, they weren’t that hard to find or understand. (The political stuff, I’d be out to sea on linguistics.) Plus those works had references to other works; hyperlinking, in a way. I think it wasn’t until I rediscovered my childhood love of libraries (kicked out of me in adolescence, nerds hang around libraries) that I understood how approachable some of this stuff really is. (And how important are libraries, where you don’t have to buy ten books to read ten references about a subject.)

    Nowadays I can see how strained Chomsky’s prose is. He’s not Gore Vidal; he’s not winning you over with wit. When I read him for the first time, I devoured every word. How could anyone say such things about the United States? (Answer: because they’re true, and heavily documented.) I couldn’t believe these scandalous concepts were being stated so matter-of-factly, like stating that "large clothing drawers can store many clothes and are a bitch to help friends move up/down stairs." Didn’t all radicals use virulent rhetoric? Doesn’t that clue us in to how we should dismiss their crazy-eyed perspective? (Answer: no, and no.)

    Here’s one of Hedges’s best on Dr. Noam:

    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/04/19-3

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