Get Toxic, Angry People Out of Your Life

SNAP OUT OF IT Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 

“Make no friendship with an angry man;
and with a furious man thou shalt not go:
Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.”
Proverbs 22:24, King James Bible

Let’s start with one of the most toxic types of people that Proverbs points to.

Angry People

Here’s a truth that I will come back to over and over and over again throughout this series of posts. (I’ll explain in detail later.)

You don’t get what you want in life.
You get what you picture.

And the last thing you need around you, the last thing you need to put your attention on, is angry people. At home, at school, on television, or especially on social media.

Your first task—
get angry people out of your life.

Doesn’t matter if they are your “friends,” your school chums, your family, or your teachers. Angry people poison you. Their anger becomes your anger.

Their pictures become your pictures.

And you don’t want to become an angry person. Why? Because good and inspiring people don’t like to hang out with angry people.

You want to release all anger in you, and the fact is, a whole lot of your anger is implanted by angry people.

Honestly, who likes to hang out with angry people? Other angry people. (Well, perhaps Anger Management consultants and therapists. But only because they like seeing people let go of anger.)

I know what some of you are thinking. What if my parents are angry people? How do I get away from them?

Get a job and move out.
That’s what I did.

Okay, you can’t move out yet. You’re too young, or there’s something else restricting your life.

Or you have an angry teacher, but it’s a class you have to take.

Or you have other angry people in your life that you just can’t avoid. Like at work. And you aren’t ready to change jobs.

What else can you do?

Here’s a little exercise you can try. It takes a little imagination, but you will be surprised how well it works. Just try it a few times.

When you are around angry people, imagine surrounding yourself with a transparent, one-way mirror bubble, a shield of warm, relaxing, protective, golden light.

Imagine that the anger coming from your parents or teacher, or anyone else, gets reflected back to them by your shield-mirror of light.

You heard that it takes two to tango? Well—

Angry people love it when you get angry,
or resist their anger.

That creates a connection that feeds their anger. But you need two to connect.

This imagination exercise prevents them from connecting with you. Because you refuse to connect with them.

I know it sounds a bit out there. But what do you have to lose? Try it, and if it works, you have a great tool to use the rest of your life!

Also, don’t be surprised when an angry person who has their anger reflected back to them gets even more angry and stalks away.

Bad, Angry Teachers

It’s simple.

There are teachers who teach you
WHAT to think—bad.

And there are teachers who teach you
HOW to think—good.

Bad teachers don’t talk about:

— understanding both sides of an issue

— the tools of critical thinking

— logical fallacies (if you get to college, or even graduate from college, and don’t know what logical fallacies are, it’s okay to feel like you’ve been royally screwed).

And, bad teachers revel in revealing their political opinions. Ugh!

My favorite teacher in political science taught us civics, had us think through various issues of checks and balances, the role of each branch of government, and the thinking of the founders.

He dressed in a nice conservative suit and was obviously a Republican.

He brought in a guest speaker who wore casual clothes and had us thinking about various Supreme Court decisions.

He was obviously a Democrat.

Not until the final day of class did our teacher tell us he was a registered Democrat and his friend, the guest speaker, was a Republican. Among other things, the clothing played into our assumptions. What a great lesson and teacher!

Bad teachers say that one side of an issue is the only side. The other side is evil.

And they have no problem calling people who disagree with them racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted, hateful, and evil. They are angry teachers.

They humiliate students who disagree with them. And they encourage you to humiliate others as well. They try to make students into their puppets.

Is this the kind of life you want? Being someone’s puppet?

Bad, angry teachers want you to bully
people with whom they disagree.

Bad teachers won’t have you read the original sources of anything, allowing you to acquire the skill to evaluate them directly. They will have you read secondary sources, interpreters of the original.

Hey, you don’t need to read James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers. (Besides, it’s haaarrrd to read that old, stuffy language. And you don’t need to develop those mental muscles.)

No. Instead, read this “expert,” who can tell you how bad those writers are so that you don’t have to bother reading them. You shouldn’t have to be exposed to what they say. You need only believe what we say they say.

Trust us. We know better than you.

Want some more ways to spot bad teachers?

— Bad teachers don’t require you to exercise your mind with more and more complex sentences and challenging writers.

(Why read all those complex sentences, paragraphs, and ideas that require you to grow mental muscles? It’s like lifting weights that builds muscles. But why work so hard? Just listen to our slogans. If it fits on a hand-held sign, it’s more than enough.)

— Bad teachers think reading is overrated, especially people like the ancient Greeks and Romans, or Shakespeare, or, well, you name it.

(Instead, read this simplified rewrite of Shakespeare, so you won’t have to learn anything new. Keep your life and your mind simple. Besides, Shakespeare represents all that’s bad in hierarchical societies.)

— Bad teachers don’t have you study both sides of an argument.

(Trust us to tell you what is right. Don’t develop the ability to decide for yourself. Depend on us. Or we will call you names.)

— Bad teachers get all emotional and hype up your emotions.

(Don’t think. Thinking is bad. Feeling is the new thinking. What you feel is more important than what you think. Never mind that the main difference between a child and an adult is that children are always expressing their feelings while adults learn to restrain their emotions and respond to thinking and learning from experience.)

— Bad teachers make you feel like a victim of society.

(Hey, the world is full of racism, sexism, and bigots that are institutionalized. It’s not your fault. You’re just the victim of it. There’s nothing you can do for yourself. You need to immerse yourself in a group of shouting, emotional, feeling people who are all about bringing social justice to the world. Never mind that you don’t have any knowledge of history, that your brain is still biologically growing into full capability into your later twenties.)

— Bad teachers want to keep you like a child, who is dependent, rather than help build you into an adult, who is independent.

(Don’t worry. Even though non-thinking, emotional children are easier to manipulate than independent, thinking adults, we know the truth. Trust us. No need for you to independently verify what we say. Because if you do, and if you disagree, you’re immoral and evil.)


It doesn’t matter what happens to you.
What matters is how you respond.

So what do I mean by a good teacher who teaches you how to think rather than what to think? Let me tell you a story about one of my best university professors.

His name was David Bell. He taught English. I had started out as a computer programmer, but once I had published articles in computer magazines, and even got an article on a friend’s truck in Fourwheeler magazine, I thought I should try out a career as a writer.

So I transferred to a four-year university and aimed to get a degree in English. Professor Bell taught me that, even though I was published, and even though I eventually earned a B.A. in English, I still didn’t know how to read or write effectively.

I learned this in one of his four, great, graduate seminars as I worked toward a Master’s degree (yeah, I was still working at that damn 7-Eleven store):

Austen and Brontë

Richardson and Fielding

Classical Rhetoric

The Age of Johnson

It was in the Jane Austen and three Brontë sisters’ seminar that I learned I didn’t know how to read.

Jane Austen wrote several novels in the early 19th century England. You may have heard about them: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion among others.

Charlotte Brontë wrote Jane Eyre, Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights, and Anne Brontë wrote—well, nothing you might ever have heard of.

Professor Bell set up his seminars in a way I’d never experienced. He told us to avoid reading secondary sources. Not just Cliff Notes, but any commentary at all on the authors or their books. He wanted us to grapple with the texts directly without any recourse to anyone else’s opinion.

Each session had a list of discussion questions. Professor Bell did not lecture. He listened to the students in the seminar discuss the questions. He did not participate in the discussions, unless we got off on an obviously wrong tangent.

He just listened.

Anyway, we read Pride and Prejudice. One of the discussion questions was Does Mr. Darcy’s character change over the course of the novel?

(Elizabeth Bennet is the smart heroine who turns out not to be as smart as she thought, and Mr. Darcy was the wealthy unmarried man whom, at first, she despised and then later came to love.)

I remember making some comment that caused the other students to immediately blast me. One said, “Show me in the text where what you said is true!”

And I couldn’t. Because I didn’t know what I was talking about. Because I had not read the book closely enough to actually know what Jane Austen was writing. In fact, it became clear that Austen was such a clear, precise writer, that anyone like me, who read her loosely or skimmingly, risked not understanding her at all.

I was an ineffective reader.
With a degree in English and published writings.

But here’s the crux of this story. One graduate student, a woman whose family was from India, provided a brilliant, well-reasoned argument that Darcy’s character had changed. That the good-natured man in the latter half of the novel was not the same as the man near the beginning of the novel who said, while looking at nice gentry folks dancing a minuet and refusing to dance, “Any savage can dance.”

Professor Bell started to ask her questions, a rare event, having her give more details about her argument. At the end of this little Q&A session, he had a peculiar look, and said to the graduate students, “My Ph.D. dissertation was on this question, and I had argued that Darcy’s character did not change. I have just learned that I was wrong.”

Thunder and lightning.

At that moment, I loved this man. He had set up a seminar for graduates to discuss and learn from each other (I certainly learned, even though it was humiliating), and he had done everything possible to ensure that none of us came to the discussions with preconceived notions.

And he listened without
preconceived notions as well
 so that he could continue learning.

I had decided that I could not call myself a writer until I received an A on a seminar paper.

I had to, because I learned that Professor Bell did not grade on a curve. He had objective standards that had nothing to do with my feelings or my effort. Wherever there was a weakness in my writing, he had clear, short comments that nailed me where I was vague or illogical, or lacking in proper support of claims I made.

He sharpened my mind and my writer’s sensibility for my target audience. Here’s how the grades went semester after semester.

Austen and Brontë—B

Richardson and Fielding—B+

Classical Rhetoric—A-

(Classical Rhetoric was simply the most mind-expanding course I’d ever taken, one in which I learned how to read and understand both Plato and Aristotle. The text was Aristotle’s Rhetoric, and we were not allowed to read anyone else’s interpretation. We had to grapple with Aristotle directly. What an empowering experience!)

So I had finally received an A- on a seminar paper, and there was only one seminar left, the hardest of them all: The Age of Johnson.

It was hard because of the massive load of reading. He always taught it in the fall, and encouraged prospective students to read all 1500+ pages of James Boswell’s unabridged The Life of Samuel Johnson the summer before the seminar. And that didn’t comprise even half the reading list, which included, Samuel Johnson’s Rambler and Idler Essays, selected Lives of the Poets, his Preface to the Plays of William Shakespeare, and other writings.

And on top of that, the list included philosopher David Hume’s An Enquiry into Human Understanding, novelist Laurence Stern’s Tristram Shandy, and Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Look at any of these free online, and you’ll get a taste of how impossibly demanding they are.

Professor Bell gave us a list of topics to choose from. I choose the final one due late in the semester, on Burke’s Imagery in Reflections on the Revolution in France.

I worked out my paper in my head all semester. On the day it was due, I started writing at 6:00 am. He always limited papers to six pages, which meant not a word could be wasted I finished it by 3:00 pm and turned it in.

I got an A. And the right to call myself a writer.

It says a lot about a teacher who could drive a student to work that hard over years to get good at a skill. Even in something as challenging as 18th century British literature and philosophy. Ugh!

Okay, enough of this depressing crapola. It’s HUMOR TIME!

I almost had a psychic girlfriend. But she broke up with me before we met.

I’ve written several children’s books… Not on purpose.

I went to a place to eat. It said “breakfast at any time.” So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.

If you laughed at those jokes, you’re doing better already. They come from Steven Wright. DuckDuckGo his name. He has hundreds of them.

(DuckDuckGo is better than Google because it doesn’t track all your personal search data to make money like Google does. By the way, in 2018 Google dropped its core motto “Don’t Be Evil” from its corporate code of conduct. Hmmm… I wonder why?)

Buy his CD/DVD “I Have a Pony.” He’ll make you laugh. And he’s cool.

To finish up this little post…

There are other kinds of toxic people you should know about. You can DuckDuckGo “Toxic People” to see lists. People who are controlling, blaming, envious, greedy, judgmental, vain, who lack honesty and integrity.

But if you can get the angry people out of your life,
and find good teachers, you will be WAY ahead of the game.

And you may be able to avoid the Devil of thoughtlessness.

More to come…

SNAP OUT OF IT Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 

The Truth about Why Your Life Sucks


SNAP OUT OF IT Part 1 | Part 2

“The truth is something that burns –
it burns off deadwood, and people don’t like having
their deadwood burnt off often, because they’re 95% deadwood.”
Jordan Peterson, on The Joe Rogan Experience #958

You want the Truth?

Your imagination has been filled with ugly nonsense by people
who want to co-opt your imagination for their own purposes, 
rather than letting you create your own life.

Harsh, but true.

The bad news is, you’ve been suckered. The real bad news is, you’ve been suckered by people with good and bad intentions.

How many of these things can you honestly say apply to you?

The world has been screwed up by old people.

I feel depressed most of the time. (Not a clinical or suicidal depressed. If one of these applies to you, my posts may not help. Or maybe they can. Only you can decide. I’m a good coach, but a lousy therapist.)

I have massive student loans or credit card debt.

I don’t have a good job (or any job at all).

I hang out with angry, depressed, and cynical people.

I smoke pot or use illegal drugs at least once per week.

I’m addicted to social media.

I often feel like a victim.

I have no control over my life.

I don’t know how to be happy.

If 3 or less of these are true, you’re only mildly sick. If 4 to 7 of these are true, you are sick. If you feel that 8 or more are true, you may want professional help. But along the way, you might find something in these posts that can help. (Use the category filter “Snap Out of It.”)

The fact is, you don’t have to be upset with the world. You don’t have to change the world. You just have to find a new way to change you. And I’m simply saying you may have been suckered out of believing that you can change yourself in fundamental and dramatic ways.

You’ve been suckered by teachers, by social media, by the news, by your “friends.” You’ve been conned by politicians, banks, and advertising. They make you think that:

— you have no control over your life

— other people owe you something

— other people have made you miserable

— you should believe what they say, and not question why

— that society is somehow responsible for everything, and all you need to do is change society to be happy (never mind that nobody can agree on what society is).

There is a reason why
a committee can’t play a violin.

They want you to believe life is luck, not something that you can create for yourself.

They want your creative imagination to buy into their group vision, not for you to use your creative imagination to create your individual life.

They want you to believe that you are helpless without the group, without your peers, without “the committee” for this or that. They want you to be the host for their vampire needs.

And that’s the nub of it. The unvarnished truth.

It doesn’t matter what happens to you.
What matters is how you respond.

That’s right. Contrary to popular belief, you are 100% responsible for all you think, feel, and do.

Not anyone else. You. Unfortunately, few people embrace this fully.

Okay, I’m speaking too broadly here. Not all Millennials or Gen Zers lead a sucky life. Many can think as individuals and are good creators of their life. Hell, the words “Millennial” and “Generation Z” are media-made words just like “Baby Boomers.” You can’t box people in like that. And of course, all those groups can be suckered. Millennials aren’t experiencing anything new. Not really.

The point is, I’m a dubious authority. If you believe anything I say without having experienced it, then you could be getting unintentionally suckered by me as much as the people I claim have suckered you. But if you hang in there, I promise you’ll discover things new to you. Things no one, not your parents or teachers, have brought to your attention.

But let’s assume I may have something worth saying, that it’s time for you to burn off the gunk. To incinerate a bunch of crap that you believe to be true but isn’t. Stuff that’s been implanted in you. Harsh medicine for your sickness.

The good news? You can get better, day by day, by changing your thinking.

What do I mean by “changing your thinking”? Getting control over your feelings. Stop repeating what doesn’t work. Using your imagination in ways not thought of. Learning to recognize con artists in your life. Building resilience to change in ways that may upset people you know. And never, ever, pointing your finger, blaming others for what you are experiencing.

But who am I to say? Hell, you already have doubts about me. And you should. Yeah, I’m an old fart, a crank, a curmudgeon. You think I’m talking down to you. (Am I? Could there be something else going on here?) And I’ve lived many more years than you. So what? How can I possibly know:

— What you’re going through, and what you’re feeling?

— What it’s like in this unjust world that has been screwed up by old people like me?

— What it’s like to be a minority, discriminated against, marginalized, oppressed, etc.?

I grew up with a father and a mother. But my father didn’t want a family, so it’s no wonder he was unhappy, spending all his time watching television. In middle school, we had an electrical blackout, and all my father could say is, “It’s hell around here without a television.”

Yeah, it should be no surprise that my parents divorced by the time I was eighteen.

We moved around. A lot. It seemed we could never stay in the same rented house for more than a year. My parents never owned a home. Never had enough money. Sometimes we lived on welfare; living off other taxpayers. Sometimes not. My parents could never get a break.

We lived in four different cities in Nebraska, two different cities in Kansas, and six different cities in California. All before I was seventeen years old. I went to four different sixth-grade schools. I went to three different high schools. Imagine all the fun it was having to make new friends in a new city every year or two.

My parents never went to college. I grew up without a clue about college. Of course, they never saved for my college education. How could they? They barely had enough money to feed me and my brother. (The last time I saw him, I was holding him down for the cops to take away after beating his girlfriend, and, perhaps, my mom. She would never admit it.)

As a teen, I flipped burgers at McDonald’s for $1.65 an hour, just to have my own spending money for clothes and books and records. I later got fired as a manager making $2.20 an hour.

I got caught using drugs. A couple years later, I spent a few weeks in the county jail, including my 21st birthday.

Yep. My life sucked.

In jail, I looked at how my life was before that point. It sucked.

I looked at where I was then, with other misdemeanor jailbirds. It sucked.

I looked at my future.

I decided that
  my future wouldn’t suck!

And I knew nobody could make that happen but me. I had to think and act in new ways. Yes, we all suffer into the truth. Especially the truth about ourselves. That’s life.

My mom and new stepfather handed me a great benefit when I was finally released from jail and got a job at a 7-Eleven store. They kicked me out to live on my own and pay my own bills.

I worked 50 hours a week at that 7-Eleven, putting myself through a junior college (15 units) trying to learn something, anything, to get free of that 7-Eleven. It took eight years, three of those at a proper four-year university.

My top pay at 7-Eleven while living on my own? $6.00 an hour.

My life still sucked for years.
But I was building skills.

I learned a little about computer programming. I learned how to write. Even got published in magazines. I learned history from someone who didn’t try to tell me how to “interpret” it. I learned how to expand my language skills and read Plato, Shakespeare, Booker T. Washington, and Virginia Woolf on my own.

Then after years of sucky, hard work, I got better work. Then even better work. I taught Business English, Business Math, and Legal Writing for paralegals at a business college. I reviewed research papers by cops for the California Commission on Police Officers Standards and Training. I trained workers at Intel on problem solving.

After more years of thinking differently, and taking the risk to try new things, I achieved a six-figure salary in Silicon Valley helping engineering managers from around the world learn how to set stretch goals and develop high performance thinking and innovation skills. My company sent me all around Asia and Europe.

By the time I was in my late thirties, I’d given up looking for a real relationship. Nothing had lasted even two years.

My relationships sucked.

Now, I have a wife of over 20 years who actually likes me and laughs at my jokes. I even have a home without a mortgage. We never fight. How did I do it?

It wasn’t privilege. It wasn’t the government. It wasn’t because I expected someone else to give me something I hadn’t earned.

So, how did I do it? Yep, you’re not going to like the answer.

By taking full responsibility for my sucky life!


But before going further, how about a little humor? You need some right now, don’t you?

A woman has twins, and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named Amal. The other goes to a family in Spain and is named Juan. Years later; Juan sends a picture of himself to his mom. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wished she also had a picture of Amal. Her husband responds, “But they’re twins. If you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Amal.”

Okay, puns are a cheap laugh. How about this?

A dyslexic man walks into a bra…

There. Did you laugh? Even at one of them? If not, you may need to act and think in new ways. When humor dies, when everyone is walking on eggshells afraid to offend someone, everything valuable dies. The more you let go of the gunk, the more you get your sense of humor back.

And that is the best measure of diminishing sickness.

Laughing more and more every day.


Alcoholics Anonymous and other rehab groups use a 12-step program to help addicts get over their addictions.

My wife believes in a 2-step program: 1) Get over it, 2) Stay over it.

Me? I support the 1-step program, the one you’re starting right now:


SNAP OUT OF IT Part 1 | Part 2

On the Decline of Greek Literature, by Benjamin Jowett (1871)

One of the main purposes of Plato in the Phaedrus is to satirize Rhetoric, or rather the Professors of Rhetoric who swarmed at Athens in the fourth century before Christ. As in the opening of the Dialogue he ridicules the interpreters of mythology; as in the Protagoras he mocks at the Sophists; as in the Euthydemus he makes fun of the word-splitting Eristics; as in the Cratylus he ridicules the fancies of Etymologist; as in the Meno and Gorgias and some other dialogues he makes reflections and casts sly imputations upon the higher classes at Athens; so in the Phaedrus, chiefly in the latter part, he aims his shafts at the rhetoricians.

The profession of rhetoric was the greatest and most popular in Athens, necessary ‘to a man’s salvation,’ or at any rate to his attainment of wealth or power; but Plato finds nothing wholesome or genuine in the purpose of it. It is a veritable ‘sham,’ having no relation to fact, or to truth of any kind. It is antipathetic to him not only as a philosopher, but also as a great writer. He cannot abide the tricks of the rhetoricians, or the pedantries and mannerisms which they introduce into speech and writing. He sees clearly how far removed they are from the ways of simplicity and truth, and how ignorant of the very elements of the art which they are professing to teach. The thing which is most necessary of all, the knowledge of human nature, is hardly if at all considered by them.

The true rules of composition, which are very few, are not to be found in their voluminous systems. Their pretentiousness, their omniscience, their large fortunes, their impatience of argument, their indifference to first principles, their stupidity, their progresses through Hellas accompanied by a troop of their disciples—these things were very distasteful to Plato, who esteemed genius far above art, and was quite sensible of the interval which separated them. It is the interval which separates Sophists and rhetoricians from ancient famous men and women such as Homer and Hesiod, Anacreon and Sappho, Aeschylus and Sophocles; and the Platonic Socrates is afraid that, if he approves the former, he will be disowned by the latter.

The spirit of rhetoric was soon to overspread all Hellas; and Plato with prophetic insight may have seen from afar the great literary waste or dead level, or interminable marsh, in which Greek literature was soon to disappear. A similar vision of the decline of the Greek drama and of the contrast of the old literature and the new was present to the mind of Aristophanes after the death of the three great tragedians.

After about a hundred, or at most two hundred years if we exclude Homer, the genius of Hellas had ceased to flower or blossom. The dreary waste which follows, beginning with the Alexandrian writers and even before them in the platitudes of Isocrates and his school, spreads over much more than a thousand years. And from this decline the Greek language and literature, unlike the Latin, which has come to life in new forms and been developed into the great European languages, never recovered.

This monotony of literature, without merit, without genius and without character, is a phenomenon which deserves more attention than it has hitherto received; it is a phenomenon unique in the literary history of the world. How could there have been so much cultivation, so much diligence in writing, and so little mind or real creative power? Why did a thousand years invent nothing better than Sibylline books, Orphic poems, Byzantine imitations of classical histories, Christian reproductions of Greek plays, novels like the silly and obscene romances of Longus and Heliodorus, innumerable forged epistles, a great many epigrams, biographies of the meanest and most meagre description, a sham philosophy which was the bastard progeny of the union between Hellas and the East?

Only in Plutarch, in Lucian, in Longinus, in the Roman emperors Marcus Aurelius and Julian, in some of the Christian fathers are there any traces of good sense or originality, or any power of arousing the interest of later ages. And when new books ceased to be written, why did hosts of grammarians and interpreters flock in, who never attain to any sound notion either of grammar or interpretation? Why did the physical sciences never arrive at any true knowledge or make any real progress? Why did poetry droop and languish? Why did history degenerate into fable? Why did words lose their power of expression? Why were ages of external greatness and magnificence attended by all the signs of decay in the human mind which are possible?

To these questions many answers may be given, which if not the true causes, are at least to be reckoned among the symptoms of the decline. There is the want of method in physical science, the want of criticism in history, the want of simplicity or delicacy in poetry, the want of political freedom, which is the true atmosphere of public speaking, in oratory. The ways of life were luxurious and commonplace. Philosophy had become extravagant, eclectic, abstract, devoid of any real content.

At length it ceased to exist. It had spread words like plaster over the whole field of knowledge. It had grown ascetic on one side, mystical on the other. Neither of these tendencies was favorable to literature. There was no sense of beauty either in language or in art. The Greek world became vacant, barbaric, oriental. No one had anything new to say, or any conviction of truth. The age had no remembrance of the past, no power of understanding what other ages thought and felt. The Catholic faith had degenerated into dogma and controversy. For more than a thousand years not a single writer of first-rate, or even of second-rate, reputation has a place in the innumerable rolls of Greek literature.

If we seek to go deeper, we can still only describe the outward nature of the clouds or darkness which were spread over the heavens during so many ages without relief or light. We may say that this, like several other long periods in the history of the human race, was destitute, or deprived of the moral qualities which are the root of literary excellence. It had no life or aspiration, no national or political force, no desire for consistency, no love of knowledge for its own sake. It did not attempt to pierce the mists which surrounded it. It did not propose to itself to go forward and scale the heights of knowledge, but to go backwards and seek at the beginning what can only be found towards the end. It was lost in doubt and ignorance.

It rested upon tradition and authority. It had none of the higher play of fancy which creates poetry; and where there is no true poetry, neither can there be any good prose. It had no great characters, and therefore it had no great writers. It was incapable of distinguishing between words and things. It was so hopelessly below the ancient standard of classical Greek art and literature that it had no power of understanding or of valuing them. It is doubtful whether any Greek author was justly appreciated in antiquity except by his own contemporaries; and this neglect of the great authors of the past led to the disappearance of the larger part of them, while the Greek fathers were mostly preserved. There is no reason to suppose that, in the century before the taking of Constantinople, much more was in existence than the scholars of the Renaissance carried away with them to Italy.

The character of Greek literature sank lower as time went on. It consisted more and more of compilations, of scholia, of extracts, of commentaries, forgeries, imitations. The commentator or interpreter had no conception of his author as a whole, and very little of the context of any passage which he was explaining. The least things were preferred by him to the greatest. The question of a reading, or a grammatical form, or an accent, or the uses of a word, took the place of the aim or subject of the book.

He had no sense of the beauties of an author, and very little light is thrown by him on real difficulties. He interprets past ages by his own. The greatest classical writers are the least appreciated by him. This seems to be the reason why so many of them have perished, why the lyric poets have almost wholly disappeared; why, out of the eighty or ninety tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles, only seven of each have been preserved.

Such an age of sciolism and scholasticism may possibly once more get the better of the literary world. There are those who prophesy that the signs of such a day are again appearing among us, and that at the end of the present century no writer of the first class will be still alive. They think that the Muse of Literature may transfer herself to other countries less dried up or worn out than our own. They seem to see the withering effect of criticism on original genius.

No one can doubt that such a decay or decline of literature and of art seriously affects the manners and character of a nation. It takes away half the joys and refinements of life; it increases its dullness and grossness. Hence it becomes a matter of great interest to consider how, if at all, such a degeneracy may be averted. Is there any elixir which can restore life and youth to the literature of a nation, or at any rate which can prevent it becoming unmanned and enfeebled?

First there is the progress of education. It is possible, and even probable, that the extension of the means of knowledge over a wider area and to persons living under new conditions may lead to many new combinations of thought and language. But, as yet, experience does not favor the realization of such a hope or promise. It may be truly answered that at present the training of teachers and the methods of education are very imperfect, and therefore that we cannot judge of the future by the present.

When more of our youth are trained in the best literatures, and in the best parts of them, their minds may be expected to have a larger growth. They will have more interests, more thoughts, more material for conversation; they will have a higher standard and begin to think for themselves. The number of persons who will have the opportunity of receiving the highest education through the cheap press, and by the help of high schools and colleges, may increase tenfold.

It is likely that in every thousand persons there is at least one who is far above the average in natural capacity, but the seed which is in him dies for want of cultivation. It has never had any stimulus to grow, or any field in which to blossom and produce fruit. Here is a great reservoir or treasure-house of human intelligence out of which new waters may flow and cover the earth. If at any time the great men of the world should die out, and originality or genius appear to suffer a partial eclipse, there is a boundless hope in the multitude of intelligences for future generations. They may bring gifts to men such as the world has never received before. They may begin at a higher point and yet take with them all the results of the past.

The cooperation of many may have effects not less striking, though different in character from those which the creative genius of a single man, such as Bacon or Newton, formerly produced. There is also great hope to be derived, not merely from the extension of education over a wider area, but from the continuance of it during many generations. Educated parents will have children fit to receive education; and these again will grow up under circumstances far more favorable to the growth of intelligence than any which have hitherto existed in our own or in former ages.

Even if we were to suppose no more men of genius to be produced, the great writers of ancient or of modern times will remain to furnish abundant materials of education to the coming generation. Now that every nation holds communication with every other, we may truly say in a fuller sense than formerly that ‘the thoughts of men are widened with the process of the suns.’ They will not be ‘cribbed, cabined, and confined’ within a province or an island. The East will provide elements of culture to the West as well as the West to the East. The religions and literatures of the world will be open books, which he who wills may read.

The human race may not be always ground down by bodily toil, but may have greater leisure for the improvement of the mind. The increasing sense of the greatness and infinity of nature will tend to awaken in men larger and more liberal thoughts. The love of mankind may be the source of a greater development of literature than nationality has ever been. There may be a greater freedom from prejudice and party; we may better understand the whereabouts of truth, and therefore there may be more success and fewer failures in the search for it.

Lastly, in the coming ages we shall carry with us the recollection of the past, in which are necessarily contained many seeds of revival and renaissance in the future. So far is the world from becoming exhausted, so groundless is the fear that literature will ever die out.

Mozart—The Child, the Myth, and the Man

“Listening to Mozart, we cannot think of any possible improvement…21 piano sonatas, 27 piano concertos, 41 symphonies, 18 masses, 13 operas, 9 oratorios and cantata, 2 ballets, 40 plus concertos for various instruments, string quartets, trios and quintets, violin and piano duets, piano quartets, and the songs. This astounding output includes hardly one work less than a masterpiece.”
George Szell, Hungarian conductor

Chapter Playlist 3: Mozart and Great Music (16 videos, 6 hrs. 20 min)

How do we account for Mozart’s amazing skills as a composer and performer?

Perhaps if Johann Sebastian Bach were reborn as Mozart, we would have an explanation for Mozart’s amazing skills at such an early age.

Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart was born January 27, 1756. (He signed some letters in Latin as “Wolfgangus Amadeus Mozartus,” but as a playful joke.)

What happened next is stunning:

  • At age 3, he is drawn to his sister’s clavier (an early piano) and starts spending endless hours playing. His father, Leopold, a professional court composer, musician, and music teacher, begins giving him instruction.
  • At 4, he demonstrates his ability to learn a minuet and trio in thirty minutes. His father realizes he has a son unlike other children. Mozart writes his first composition (calling it a “concerto”), and invents his own system of musical notation.
  • At 5, he writes his first compositions that survive (K. 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d, 1e, and 1f). He begins learning Latin. His father takes him to Munich, Germany, for three weeks to play for music lovers, including the elector of Bavaria, Maximilian III Joseph.His very first surviving composition, nineteen seconds short and not fully formed, is remarkable in how it changes meter in the middle of the piece:

Video 1: K. 1a: Andante in C

This one, however, is perfectly formed:

Video 2: K. 1e: Minuet in G (scrolling score)

  • At 6, he teaches himself to play the violin, and performs second violin in a trio rehearsal in his home. He displays speed and accuracy, and an uncanny sense of time. People give him a musical idea for a fugue and he improvises variations on it for hours.To get a quick understanding of theme and variations, listen to this well-known Mozart tune that we know as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”:

Video 3: K. 265: 12 Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” in C

His father takes him to Vienna, Austria, for three months, amazing the court of Archduke Joseph, later Emperor Joseph II. Mozart calls for the court composer Wegenseil and plays one of Wegenseil’s concertos while having the composer turn the pages.

The following keyboard piece reflects Mozart’s delight and playful approach to composition:

Video 4: K. 5: Minuet in F

  • At 7, he begins a three-year performance tour of Europe. His family is the guest of royal families, high nobility, and the cream of society.He demonstrates his ability to sight-read at the keyboard or violin anything composed by others up to that time.

    He begins learning French and Italian, in which he eventually becomes fluent.

    Here is a typical announcement, for a London performance:

“Miss Mozart of eleven and Master Mozart
of seven Years of Age, Prodigies of Nature;
taking the opportunity of representing to
the Public the greatest Prodigy that Europe
or that Human Nature has to boast of.
Every Body will be astonished to hear a Child
of such tender Age playing the Harpsichord
in such a Perfection—it surmounts all
Fantastic and Imagination [sic], and it is
hard to express which is more astonishing,
his Execution upon the Harpsichord playing
at Sight, or his own Composition.”

Mozart writes his first violin sonata (for violin and keyboard). His compositional complexity is developing rapidly:

Video 5: K. 6: Violin Sonata in C

  • At 8, he dedicates six Sonatas he composes for Harpsichord, Violin, and Cello to England’s Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III (K. 10-15).He sits on the lap of Johann Christian Bach (one of the famous composer’s many sons), and they improvise alternately on the same keyboard before the King and Queen for two hours.

    He writes his first symphony in three movements (K. 16):

Video 6: K. 16: Symphony No. 1 in E-flat

  • At 9, he becomes the family’s main source of income. He composes more symphonies, arias, and a keyboard sonata for four hands (K. 19d):

Video 7: K. 19: Symphony No. 4 in D

  • At 10, he plays violin up to concert standard, knows all the orchestral instruments, and is able to talk to performers in their specialized language. He also composes in Paris his first religious work, the 4-minute Kyrie in F:

Video 8: K. 33: Kyrie in F

  • At 11, he writes his first piano concerto (K. 37) and his first cantata Grabmusik (K. 42):

Video 9: K. 37: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F

Video 10: K. 42: Grabmusik

He also composes his first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus (K. 38), a Latin musical comedy:

Video 11: K. 38: Apollo et Hyacinthus

He’s able to collaborate with other professionals, like Michael Haydn, the brother of the famous composer Franz Joseph Haydn.

  • At 12, he contracts smallpox, limiting his musical output to eleven pieces that still is enough music to fill several CDs, including another opera, three symphonies, and three religious masses:

Video 12: K. 49: Missa brevis in G

  • At 13, he writes another opera while in Vienna, several symphonies, two religious masses, and three cassations designed as light outdoor chamber performances.This simple and beautiful 27-minute Cassation for small chamber orchestra is in eight movements:

Video 13: K. 62a/100: Cassation in D

  • At 14, he has his first operatic hit, Mitridate, rè di Ponto (Mitridate, King of Pontus), written for the city of Milan, Italy (this work is three hours long):

Video 14: K. 87: Mitridate, rè di Ponto

In his excellent course for The Teaching Company, “Great Masters: Mozart—His Life and Music,” Professor Robert Greenberg outlines more of Mozart’s incredible skills:

“His ability to remember the most complex music after only a single hearing and to later write it down note perfect. His ability to improvise better than others could compose. His ability to compose entire symphonies and concerti in his head, and then write out the individual instrumental parts without having to first write out the score.”

So in the face of all of these incredible skills, exhibited at such an early age, the question arises:

How do people,
especially “experts” of past and present times,
explain Mozart?

  1. Satanic witchcraft: At a performance in Naples, one observer claimed Mozart wore a magic ring to aid his impossibly dexterous left hand. He sold his soul, trading a long life for great music.
  2. A creature of God: Divine music could not be created by a man, but someone all or partially divine.
  3. A musical monster: Created by his father, Leopold.
  4. A transmigrated soul: He reincarnated into this life already skilled.
  5. A genetic freak of nature: The man-child who cannot help what he is, and never became a real adult, as seen in the film

Whatever the case, Mozart was not the man-child depicted in Amadeus.

His later actions reveal an accomplished adult
in social, financial, and political life.

That’s not to say he didn’t gamble or face debts, or act politically incorrect to preserve the integrity of his music. Mozart’s temperament was that of a genius and artist, but not at the expense of being an adult.

Then why has the man-child myth endured?

When looking at a Mozart (or a Shakespeare or a Van Gogh), we may find it difficult to believe they are human like the rest of us. So we look for excuses to dehumanize them, making them either less than or more than human. Automatons or demigods.

Mozart had amazing talent, but he worked
extraordinarily hard to manifest that talent.

As a child he was known to compose every morning from 6:00 to 9:00 A.M. and play the clavier and compose music from 8:00 P.M. to midnight. In the middle of the day he would compose if he had to write something quickly.

He was curious to learn about everything: drawing, reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, and foreign languages (picking up English in his later years due to his popularity in England).

But his bias was music. And his father took advantage of that interest, supposedly for the good of the family, but more for the good of himself. Although Mozart’s mother and sister played a peripheral role in Mozart’s life, Mozart’s father served as a key character in Mozart’s development and early experience.

Mozart’s Family

Mozart’s mother, Anna Maria Mozart, died while she and Mozart were traveling. Mozart was 22. She seemed to prefer being in the background, so little is known about her. She married Leopold Mozart in 1747 in Salzburg. Although they had seven children, only two survived.

Mozart’s sister, Anna Maria Walburga Ignatia, was born 1751 and nicknamed “Nannerl” as a child. She died seventy-eight years later.

Mozart’s father was a composer and violinist, but did not have the musical success he wanted. So he lived it through his son. Leopold did not have his son’s skill, but he did have musical taste.

Here is Leopold’s Trumpet Concerto in D. Listen to it for a minute or two to get a sense of Mozart’s father’s rather mediocre but pleasant style. Mozart’s youthful compositions tower over his father’s compositions:

Video 15: Leopold Mozart: Trumpet Concerto in D

Leopold held authority in contempt, and therefore was a difficult man leading a difficult life. But he was driven. And seeing his son’s talent, he did all he could to help his son blossom, perform, and make money.

And perhaps just as importantly, he used his son for revenge—revenge against his own mother, who gave all of her children a dowry, except Leopold.

When Mozart was nearly two years old, Leopold was appointed court composer by the Salzburg prince-archbishop. Over the next few years, he had plenty of opportunity to show off his son. But Salzburg at that time had only limited public exposure. By the time Mozart was five, Leopold set his sights elsewhere.

He first arranged a three-week concert tour in Munich in 1761. In 1762, he arranged a three-month tour in Vienna, performances that started the child Mozart’s rise to fame and fortune. Apparently, Leopold did not do any more composition after this year.

In 1763, as if everything comes in threes, Leopold initiated the famous three-year concert tour of Europe. Mozart performed in eighty-eight cities across Europe. They spent fifteen of those months in London due to the incredibly positive reception given to the young 7-year-old Mozart.

This tour would have been dismissed as myth had not so many people in so many cities documented what they heard and saw.

The famous writer of Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), saw the 7-year-old Mozart perform in Frankfurt in 1763. Goethe was 14 years old. He vividly recalled the “little man with his wig and his sword.”

Goethe lamented that Mozart never set his Faust to music. However, in 1775 Goethe did write a singspiel text, Erwin und Elmire, containing a German song that Mozart set to music ten years later.

Video 16: K. 476: Das Veilchen

Leopold appears to have been Mozart’s only formal teacher. However, while touring and performing, Mozart received the direct and indirect tutelage of Europe’s foremost musical composers. The foremost was Johann Christian Bach, whom he met in London.

The Mozart children (Marianne, nicknamed Nannerl, performed with him, but young Mozart stole all the press) received gifts and money wherever they performed.

And Leopold was right there
accepting the expensive gifts
and counting the gold and silver coins.

By the end of that tour, young Mozart became the primary financial foundation for his family. But Mozart never received the royal appointment that he richly deserved.

And Leopold, basing his dependence on his son, did all he could to keep Mozart with the family. Leopold later objected to Mozart marrying at a time when Mozart stood ready to leave the nest completely.

But Mozart left both his Salzburg home and his father. They wrote little to each other.

His father, a man of dearly held resentments, never recovered from Mozart making his claim of adulthood. He died an unhappy man, about four years prior to his son’s death.

Mozart, meanwhile, had his best years before him.

Next, we once again listen closely to a single work, in this case the overture to the opera The Magic Flute. Our focus this time is on musical architecture. The more you understand some musical architecture, the more jewels you will hear in Mozart’s music.


From the book, Mozart and Great Music:

4. Mozart and Great Music thumb

The Satan Maneuver

From my peer-reviewed article (in somewhat different form), “Shakespeare’s Knowledge of Law: A Journey through the History of the Argument”

Let me state clearly that I do not claim to prove that Shakespeare had a formal legal education. Instead, I claim that the argument favoring a formal legal education is significantly stronger than the argument against a formal legal education. This distinction is important, and the critical principle it embodies illuminates the differing methods of argument that lawyers and academics bring to bear on this debate. By “formal legal education” I mean a serious, long-term, and applied study of law, legal history, and legal philosophy while participating in associations and interactions with other students or masters of law, whether in one of the Inns of Court or in some other environment saturated with legal conversation.

For simplicity’s sake, I note two classes of advocates: on the one hand, advocates of absolutism, who take a position, claim that it stands by default, and then advise that only absolute and convincing proof of the contrary will dissuade them from their position; and on the other hand, advocates of relative merits, who take no initial stand, who weigh the relative strengths of competing arguments, and who acknowledge when, in terms of reason and evidence, one argument or position is stronger than another, even acknowledging when a stronger argument stands against the position they hold.

In examining the history of this debate, I have found advocates on both sides deserving of each appellation. The advocates of absolutism, when standing by a weaker position, tend to avoid the stronger arguments of their opponents. Instead, they tend to focus on weaker arguments, using tactics to shift the focus away from arguments that expose their own weaknesses. Such tactics can include a simple failure to mention the strongest of an opponent’s arguments, a piling on of red herrings (overemphasizing with a list a trivial data, for example), a discrediting of circumstantial data (since each item can be isolated and dismissed as coincidence, without taking into account a mass of “coincidences” that tell a compelling story), and a tactic I call the Satan Maneuver.

I first noticed the Satan Maneuver some years ago while watching a televised interview of an evangelical minister. The minister claimed that the earth was created 6,000 years ago. The interviewer asked the minister about scientific discoveries of fossils that were undoubtedly millions of years old. How could the minister account for those age-old fossils? The minister replied simply, “Satan put them there.”

We can imagine the nonplussed look on the face of the interviewer. Where could he go from there? It is important to understand what the minister accomplished with this answer. He had introduced a magical explanation into a forum that was assumed, up to that point, to be one where arguments were supported by evidence and reason. By introducing this Satan Maneuver, the minister destroyed that forum and replaced it with one that precluded, by its very nature, any argument based on evidence and reason.

In fairness to the minister, he may very well constantly dwell in a forum based on magic and faith, with no desire to ever be involved in a forum of evidence and reason. However, scholars and others who enter into a debate that implicitly promises a forum of evidence and reason have an obligation to avoid any introduction of any form of Satan Maneuver—that is, any explanation that introduces a magical explanatory element that negates arguing from evidence and reason, especially when they become uncomfortable with evidence and arguments that threaten to weaken or overthrow their closely held arguments or positions.

The Satan Maneuver appears in Shakespeare studies. When confronted with internal evidence that Shakespeare may have had a high-level education, whether in law or the classics, some scholars produce a rabbit out of the hat by falling back on Shakespeare’s genius, or some other form of magical aptitude based on nothing but sheer speculation. For example, A. L. Rowse in his Shakespeare The Man explains Shakespeare’s comprehensive and wide-ranging experience with classical and contemporary literature and history thus: “He had a marvellous capacity from the outset for making a little go a long way; his real historical reading came later—he was very much a reading man, and he read quickly.” How he has grasped Shakespeare’s “marvellous capacity” or knows his reading ability, Rowse does not say. But his meaning is clear; Shakespeare gleaned his incredible wealth of knowledge by having a capacious mind that magically (through the mystery of “genius”) grasped knowledge quickly and easily. British Shakespearean scholar Allardyce Nicoll makes a similar claim in his book Shakespeare: “In the wonder of his genius he was able to grasp in lightning speed what could be attained only after dull years of work by ordinary minds.” Thus can scholars magically explain away the lack of high education and the absence of leisure that would seem to be needed for a writer of Shakespeare’s accomplishments to refine his skills and accommodate the range and depth of his accomplishments. By introducing such statements, these scholars destroy the possibility of presenting arguments in favor of a university education, or the kind of experience and access that comes with the aristocratic and noble classes. The forum of reason, argument, and evidence dissolves. Genius in the form of a quick mind and capacious memory explains all, the magical ability to immediately and photographically apprehend everything, sans education, sans experience, merely from reading books.

Another form of the Satan Maneuver is the “Universal Tavern of Second-Hand Knowledge.” When confronted with the enigma of Shakespeare’s knowledge of law, Italy, foreign languages, or anything else that could possibly require unusual study or physical access, some may argue that “Shakespeare would have picked such things up by visiting a tavern and querying travelers or lawyers or multilingual scholars or…” fill-in-the-blank. Again, such an argument based on the second-hand acquisition of knowledge would harm any ability to rely on evidence and reason to make a case that the plays show the kind of knowledge that would require direct experience.

Most scholars do not explicitly invoke the Satan Maneuver. However, when launching an attempt to evaluate the dramatist’s knowledge as revealed in the poems and plays, all participants who intend to argue in a forum based on evidence and reason must avoid any form of Satan Maneuver and be called to account when they do. Any worthwhile discussion of Shakespeare’s education, training, and experience must be conducted outside the magical specter of his “genius” or any supposed extraordinary “aptitude.” Certainly there is merit in using Shakespeare’s genius to discuss how he applied his knowledge and craft. There is something concrete (the text) to use for comparison. But that is quite apart from using his genius to explain how he acquired his knowledge and craft.

Redoubt Volcano, Alaska—January 2, 1990

Years ago, I submitted to a literary agent this prologue and three chapters of a biography of a friend of mine, called “Fire and Ice: Real-life Adventures of a Volcanologist”, who worked for the US Geological Survey and had pioneered predicting the eruptions of certain kinds of volcanoes. NOVA even did an episode on his work. The agent came on board but for various reasons the project fell apart. Still, I was always proud of the opening. This is a true story.


This world…ever was, and is, and shall be, ever-living Fire,in measures being kindled and in measures going out.        Heraclitus On the Universe


“It’s going to blow, and it’s going to blow big. If they don’t evacuate that terminal soon, it’s going to be a disaster.”

Tom Miller, the Scientist in Charge at the Alaska Volcano Observatory, listened intently. He knew deep in his gut that this man, sitting thousands of miles away in an office of the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California—this man, whom he had known for only 19 days—was speaking the truth.

“Alright. I don’t have the authority to tell them to evacuate. But I’ll explain the data and give them our conclusions.”

“Let’s hope they listen.”

Tom hung up the phone and stared out his office window at the distant Chugach Mountains. It was only mid-afternoon in Anchorage, but in Alaska in January, mid-afternoon was getting close to twilight time. There was not much daylight left for an evacuation. Tom turned his gaze to that day’s RSAM data lying on his desk. That scientist in Menlo Park had opened his eyes to what this data indicated.

Redoubt was a cone-shaped, ice-mantled stratovolcano located on the west side of the Cook Inlet, 120 miles southwest of Anchorage, a radius that encompassed over half of Alaska’s population. Tom had studied Redoubt’s history. Rising over 10,000 feet in Lake Clark National Park, Redoubt had erupted six times since 1778 when Captain James Cook had observed it “emitting white smoke but no fire.” More smoking had occurred in 1819, 1902, and 1933. Then in 1966, Redoubt had a major eruption, though not a life-threatening one. During the last eruption in 1968, instruments had recorded several explosions of ash clouds that had lasted only minutes or even seconds. Then for the next 21 years Redoubt had slumbered quietly.

That had changed seven weeks earlier on November 20th. A pilot flying a private plane reported seeing wisps of steam emitting from the crater. On December 8th a steam plume, visible from Anchorage, poured out of the crater for almost six hours. But no seismic activity was detected, so the AVO team thought that the plume merely reflected a renewal of geothermal activity. Then five days later, on December 13th, the real show began. Redoubt began generating 23 straight hours of vigorous steaming and an intensifying seismic swarm.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory was a shoestring operation established by the USGS just over a year before. Until then, Tom was the only volcanologist in Alaska. When he was appointed Scientist in Charge of AVO, his team consisted of one assistant volcanologist in Anchorage, and a few seismologists and faculty members at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Redoubt was one of over 40 active volcanoes forming the “Aleutian volcanic arc,” and with three to five of those volcanoes erupting every year, Tom and his team had plenty of activity to focus on. Nevertheless, Redoubt was an active volcano surrounded by populated areas, and it merited serious attention. Even though the AVO staff was small, they did manage to install a seismic net of five instruments on Redoubt the previous October. Fortunately.

The seismic swarm had begun at 10:30 that December morning. As the activity increased into the afternoon, Tom had realized that he had to give out some official notifications. He had called the Alaska Division of Emergency Services, the weather service, the local news media, and the FAA. Not knowing that he already had hard data demonstrating that an eruption was likely within 24 hours, Tom had simply explained that the seismic activity at Redoubt was intensifying in ways that could possibly and eventually result in an eruption.

Tom and his staff had stayed up all that night watching the increasing seismic activity. By 5:00 a.m., December 14th, the seismic swarm had coalesced into high-amplitude tremor. Then at 9:47 a.m., Redoubt erupted.

Within 30 minutes of the eruption, Tom received a call from the USGS in Menlo Park. A volcano seismologist named Bernard Chouet was on the phone introducing himself. Tom explained that he didn’t have much time to talk; he had an erupting volcano on his hands.

“Redoubt?” asked Bernard.

“That’s right.”

“Yeah, last night I could see that it was going to erupt.”

Tom paused. Whoa, he thought.  I’m the Scientist in Charge. Why isn’t this information getting back to me?

“Look, Bernard, I can’t talk to you now, but I do want to talk to you. Give me your phone number.”

Bernard gave him both work and home numbers. Tom didn’t realize then how this man would radically transform his ability to interpret apparently inconsequential data.

Redoubt began ejecting thousands of tons of tephra, volcanic particles ranging in size from extremely fine ash with the consistency of confectioner’s sugar, to large chunks several feet in diameter. On that first morning, the lava dome that had formed in the crater in 1968 exploded, sending a volcanic ash plume over 30,000 feet into the air. That evening, Tom’s staff measured strong volcanic tremor for over three hours. On the morning of the second day, December 15th, Redoubt erupted three times, at 1:52 a.m., 3:38 a.m., and 10:13 a.m.  It was that third eruption that had demonstrated Redoubt’s deadly potential.

That morning, a Boeing 747-400 jetliner from Amsterdam was flying at 28,000 feet inbound to Anchorage, following the path taken by another 747 only 20 minutes before. KLM flight 867 carried 231 passengers and a flight crew of 14. The pilots had been notified of Redoubt’s third eruption 90 minutes earlier, which had sent a volcanic ash plume over 35,000 feet into the air. The prevailing winds had carried the ash cloud over 180 miles northeast of Redoubt where it encountered the KLM jetliner.

Tom reflected on how often people thought that lava is the most dangerous part of a volcanic eruption, in part because of film and television. In reality, volcanic ash is far more dangerous. A volcanic ash cloud is often indistinguishable from ordinary clouds, both visually and on radar. But the KLM pilots recognized the brown ash cloud for what it was, and they received permission from Anchorage to begin climbing above the cloud. Unfortunately, not fully realizing the dangers involved, the pilots plotted their climb through the ash. Upon entering the cloud, the four turbojet engines began sucking in the fine particles, and the silicon in the ash began melting, forming a ceramic-like coating around the hot turbine components.

A modern turbojet engine has three parts: the compressor, the combustors, and the turbine. As air enters the front of the engine, the rotating series of compressor blades raise the incoming air to high pressures. The compressed air then enters the combustors, where it mixes with jet fuel, ignites, and is forced across the turbine blades. The turbine and compressor are connected, and both are forced to turn by the exhaust, thus maintaining airflow through the engine.

The melting ash began forming glassy deposits on the turbine blades, quickly choking the airflow and causing a buildup of pressure in the compressors. In seconds, the compressors in all four engines stalled and the engines functionally shut down.

Nobody on the jetliner understood exactly what had happened, though the pilots quickly realized they had made a wrong choice. As the engines failed, the jetliner began a steep glide down towards the Talkeetna Mountains. For eight harrowing minutes flight 867 fell, dropping over two miles and coming within 6000 feet of the Talkeetnas. The pilots repeatedly tried to restart the engines. Eventually their efforts had combined with the cold Alaskan air to partially break up the glass deposits. They managed to restart two engines, and five minutes after that, all four were back in operation. In 25 minutes the 747 landed safely in Anchorage. The estimated repairs: $80 million, which included replacing all four engines, the electrical and avionics systems, and a sandblasted cockpit windshield.

Within days of the initial eruption, Tom had called Bernard to find out how credibly he had predicted Redoubt’s eruption. Bernard explained his work in modeling LPs, long period events.  He walked Tom through the data and explained how on the afternoon before the eruption, some of his coworkers in Menlo Park, who knew little of Bernard’s work, had called him in to examine the data. Bernard took a methodical look and asked them if it had erupted yet. They were nonplussed and understandably skeptical.

It didn’t take Tom long to see that Bernard knew what he was talking about. He understood the caution that Bernard’s coworkers had exhibited. How could they know on such short notice that Bernard had a well-supported empirical model underlying his prediction? The next morning, Bernard had gone back to his coworkers and asked if Redoubt had erupted yet. Rather than calling Alaska themselves, they urged Bernard to call. After all, he was the one who was interpreting the data. Bernard called Alaska. By then of course, Redoubt had erupted.

Bernard had flown up to Anchorage that December and both he and Tom had spent time together circling Redoubt in a helicopter, observing the formation of a new lava dome. After Bernard had returned to Menlo Park, they stayed in occasional contact. By January 2nd, today, they had been speaking to each other several times a day. Tom had begun appreciating more fully what a volcano seismologist could do.

Tom enjoyed the fact that Bernard confidently interpreted data. He often mused at how difficult it seemed at times to get seismologists to give him interpretations, even when he assured them that he would take full responsibility for any final decisions. Bernard was different. He loved his work and passionately gave his opinions, and Tom respected him for that. They were like souls.

When they had flown around Redoubt, Bernard pointed out that the winter snowpack and glaciers around the volcano were likely to generate more lahars, highly dangerous and fast-moving slurries of water, mud, rock, and sand that result when hot volcanic debris melts snow and ice. It was a lahar that killed over 22,000 people in Armero, Colombia, in 1985 when Nevado del Ruiz erupted. Tom already understood the danger Redoubt posed because the first eruption had caused lahars to cover a portion of the upper Drift River valley that extended northeast of Redoubt. The new lava dome concerned them because it could plug the underlying magma and gases, begin pressurizing, and eventually explode catastrophically. Such an eruption would cause a huge lahar to inundate the lower Drift River valley, and more critically, the Drift River Oil Terminal at the mouth of the Drift River about 21 miles downstream. The oil terminal had already experienced a minor lahar during the initial eruptions.

The Drift River Oil Terminal was built in 1967 by the Cook Inlet Pipeline Company to collect and store oil from offshore platforms through a 40-mile-long pipeline. The oil was then pumped to tankers waiting at a loading platform. Over two dozen oil workers at any one time spent their days and nights at the facility on a rotating schedule.  The facility contained seven storage tanks that held almost as much oil as the Exxon Valdez, which had experienced its well-publicized disaster the previous March and was still very much on everyone’s mind. The terminal also had its own small airport and heliport. Cook Inlet executives had spent time flying around Redoubt, keeping tabs on its activity. Closing the terminal would be extremely costly, even for a few days, so they would only consider such a step when they had clear evidence of danger. They saw the lava dome forming, but they saw little activity otherwise and assumed the main activity had already passed.

But Tom and Bernard knew differently. Tom had flown over the lava dome every day for the last ten days. He observed the steady deformation and over-steepening of the north side of the dome. Instinctively, he knew it would fail catastrophically.

Seismic data began building up on December 30. The five Real-time Seismic Amplitude Monitors (RSAM) on Redoubt showed a series of LPs, a cyclic pattern of harmonic resonances caused by increasingly pressurized magmatic gases. On the morning of January 2nd, Tom, Bernard, and Dr. John Davies, a seismologist at the Geophysical Institute, all agreed that a moderate eruption was likely. AVO issued an eruption alert predicting a moderate eruption within 24 hours. But by that afternoon, the buildup of LPs had gone from linear to exponential. Tom had called Bernard and both had concluded that the LPs meant a much more spectacular eruption, one that would come sooner than later, resulting in potentially disastrous lahars. The Drift River Oil Terminal had to be evacuated.

Tom was 52 years old. He grew up collecting rocks along the shores of Lake Superior. He loved the outdoors, and his exposure to course work in college fueled his interest in every phase of geology. For over 30 years his paid work had also been his favorite hobby. His passion for science still, on occasion, kept him up nights thinking about a breakthrough he had made during the day on some volcanological problem.

Now he faced the mother of all volcanological problems: Convincing people that the time to get out was now.

Staring at the RSAM data on his desk, he picked up the phone and dialed the main office of the Cook Inlet Pipeline Company in Anchorage. The secretary connected him to an executive he had spoken to several times before.

“So what’s the word on our volcano?”

“Bad news. I told you this morning that our seismic data was building up. Well, today’s data shows it increasing exponentially. I’m about to call Emergency Services and the media, but I thought I better call you first in case you want to consider moving your people out of the Drift River Terminal.”

“Well, thanks for the heads up, Tom, but I gotta tell you, we flew over the crater today and we didn’t see any changes in the dome. There’s no fresh lava. It doesn’t look that bad.”

“That’s understandable. What we have here is data indicating that the dome is pressurizing. There’s gas pressure building up under that dome. I just got off the phone with my volcano seismologist in California. He’s looking at the same data and we both agree that Redoubt is going to go and go big. He says it will happen in hours.”

“This is really a huge decision, Tom. If we shut down that facility, think of the cost. The oil in the pipeline will freeze. Starting up again would take weeks. You would have to be absolutely right about this. You were calling for a moderate eruption this morning, one that wouldn’t affect us. Now you’re saying otherwise. How can you be so certain? How do you know?”

Tom tried not to let his frustration show. He couldn’t order an evacuation. How could he convince them? Just then his wife, Shirla, walked into his office. Tom had an idea.

“Tell you what. I’ll fax over this data so you can see for yourself. I don’t care if you understand what the units are, but you have to see the dramatic increase in the seismic parameter, and regardless of what it is, this is what we’re basing our interpretation on.”

Maybe that would get their attention. Tom handed the RSAM plot and the executive’s fax number to his wife and waited. Somehow seeing data with your own eyes carried greater impact. He didn’t have to wait long.


“Yeah. I hope it doesn’t take long to close up shop.”

“Yes . . . right. Well, I think we both have calls to make.”

Tom hung up and looked at the clock. It was 1:45 p.m.

By 3:50 p.m. the pumps were shut down, the facilities secured, and the last of the oil terminal employees evacuated by helicopter.

Two hours later at 5:48 p.m., Redoubt exploded. A pilot flying 35 miles south of the volcano reported seeing an orange flame shoot straight up from the summit like a cannon. At 7:27 p.m. a massive second explosion rocked the volcano, destroying 80 percent of the lava dome. A pyroclastic flow of hot ash and avalanches of hot lava blocks roared down the north flank, across the Drift Glacier and up the other side of the valley at almost 100 miles per hour. The hot volcanic ash and 25-foot blocks from the lava dome scoured the glacier, melting ice and snow, uprooting trees three feet in diameter, and creating a lahar that began to fill the Drift River Valley and flow down toward the east.

Picking up momentum and mass as it moved, this monstrous, mud-filled, debris-laden, 1.5-mile-wide wall of volcanic debris thundered down toward the Drift River Oil Terminal.

The Mozart Effect and Healing

In 1997 Don Campbell published a book called The Mozart Effect. When people hear this, they think Campbell claimed that children raised listening to Mozart help children become smarter. Campbell’s actual suggestions, based on anecdotal evidence, are more specific: that music of the Viennese Classical period can connect with those who are mentally isolated from people, such as those with autism, and can help infants react and think better.

He also claimed that the music of Mozart in particular contributes to improved working of the higher brain functions, especially logical and mathematical concepts.

Although Campbell’s work is not science, interesting anecdotal evidence does point to Mozart’s music contributing to increased mental health.

Pioneering French listening researcher Alfred Tomatis, author of The Conscious Ear, studied how erroneous hearing could be the root cause of a variety of ailments. He believed that speech problems are often related to personal family problems and the resulting oral communication issues that can arise. One of his most famous patients was the French actor Gerard Depardieu.

In the mid-1960s, Depardieu was a tongue-tied young man still struggling to become an actor. He came from a dysfunctional family, experienced educational failures, as well as several personal tragedies. He wanted to be an actor, but stammered when trying to express himself.

He came to the Tomatis Center and Dr. Tomatis determined that Depardieu’s voice and memory problems resulted from deep emotional problems.

Depardieu asked what could be done to help him, and the doctor’s reply amazed him:

“For the next several weeks, I want you to come here every day for two hours and listen to Mozart.”

Depardieu started the next day listening to Mozart on headphones. After only a few sessions, his appetite improved, he slept better, and he experienced more energy.

Soon he began speaking more clearly. Months later, he returned to acting school demonstrating a new confidence, grace, and bearing.

He is now highly regarded as one of the great actors of his generation.

“Before Tomatis,” Depardieu said, “I could not complete any of my sentences. He helped give continuity to my thoughts, and he gave me the power to synthesize and understand what I was thinking.”

From the book, Mozart and Great Music:

4. Mozart and Great Music thumb

How to Quit Smoking

I used to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day.

I wanted to quit. It’s hard to quit, even though research shows that the physical addiction is gone after several days of non-smoking.

Why do so many smokers go back to smoking after quitting?

Because even though they have given up smoking, they still hold the image of themselves as smokers.

I quit smoking by
becoming a non-smoker first.

I spent months visualizing myself without cigarettes, even though I still smoked. I pictured my life without smoke, without dirty ashtrays, without a cigarette between my fingers, even while I was smoking.

And I adopted the attitudes of a non-smoker. Smoking is awful, it pollutes the air, kissing smokers is like licking an ashtray. The usual stuff.

The problem with most people who quit and still crave cigarettes is that they are still smokers who aren’t smoking. The outer picture may have changed, but they still hold onto the subconscious picture of themselves as smokers. And so they still crave cigarettes.

The Adaptive Unconscious tries to resolve the conflicting pictures by creating the craving.

When I finally quit, I didn’t crave cigarettes because non-smokers don’t crave cigarettes. And I was already a non-smoker.

I worked daily to create a new inner picture, one that ended up being so strong that the outer Reality had to change.

What kind of person are you?

What ways do you picture yourself that hold you back from what you want to be?

There is rarely an easy way to change, and not everything will submit to your efforts.

I know this sounds simplistic. But you have nothing to lose by becoming aware of the processes involved. And trying a few experiments. You might be surprised at how you begin creating your life.

If you have the discipline
and are willing to do the work.

from Creating Your Life

1. Creating Your Life thumb

Why Is Mozart Great?

From the book, Mozart and Great Music:

4. Mozart and Great Music thumb

Why Is Mozart Great?

“Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination
nor both together go to the making of genius.
Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.”

Chapter Playlist 1: Mozart and Great Music (3 videos, 17 min)

“In art there is Leonardo da Vinci,
in literature there is Shakespeare,
in music there is Mozart.”
Itzhak Perlman

Why is Mozart great?

Louis Armstrong was once asked, “What is jazz?”

He answered, “Man, if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know.” Perhaps he would have said something similar about Mozart. But I think we can attempt a partial answer.

Violinist Itzhak Perlman puts Mozart in the company of Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci. And with good reason. Let’s look at Shakespeare and da Vinci.

Shakespeare seems to have surveyed the entire human experience, emotional and intellectual, in his drama and poetry. Later writers see Shakespeare as the banquet of writing in the English language, and they are left taking mere crumbs from his table. In other words, Shakespeare makes later writers feel like there is little left to write about.

One academic, Harold Bloom in his book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, goes so far as to claim that, in Western culture, Shakespeare has created humans as we know them today.

Da Vinci is the polymath who makes other polymaths appear normal. He transcends as a painter, sculptor, architect, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. He climbed several artistic peaks.

Mozart climbed a musical peak during the Classical era (1730-1820). Unlike many artists today, he was not much interested in charting out his own territory. Like Shakespeare before him, he took what already existed and refined it into greatness. And those who follow feel like there is little left for them.

That’s why beginning in the Romantic era (1780-1910) we begin seeing composers shift into approaching art as self-expression, trying to chart out new territory that has not been conquered.

The end-result in the twentieth century includes works like John Cage’s classical work 4:33 in which four members of a quartet come on stage and sit, playing nothing, for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Or extremely dissonant atonal music that requires educated listeners for full appreciation.

All three—Mozart, Shakespeare, and Da Vinci—
are singular in their respective arts.
To others they appear more than human.

As American biographer Robert Gutman says of Mozart,

“Like all geniuses of his rank,
he stands as a law to himself:
incommensurable, incalculable, sublime.”

But Why Mozart?

Some may wonder why I’ve chosen Mozart rather than Bach, Haydn, or Beethoven.

First some background and dates.

There were four great musical periods in Western classical music before modern and contemporary music. I’ve included a few of the great composers of each period:

  1. Baroque era, 1600-1760
    Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
    Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
    George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)
    Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
  2. Classical era, 1730-1820
    Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
    Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827, also part of the early Romantic era)
    Franz Schubert (1797-1828, also part of the early Romantic era)
  3. Romantic era, 1780-1910
    Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
    Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
    Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
    Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
    Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
    Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
    Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
  4. Impressionist era, 1875-1925
    Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
    Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
    Frederick Delius (1862-1934)
    Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

Among all of these great composers who composed Great Art, Mozart stands unique.


Perhaps the only way to get at the answer in words is to see how various musicians, composers, conductors, biographers, and philosophers have attempted to explain Mozart. No other composer generates the kinds of responses that Mozart did.

Two words keep coming up when people speak of Mozart. The first word is some form of the word perfect.

“There is nothing perfect in this world
except Mozart’s music.” 
Thomas Love Peacock,
English novelist and poet

“Mozart tapped the source from which all music flows,
expressing himself with a spontaneity and
refinement and breathtaking rightness.
What we expect to find in Mozart is perfection
in whatever medium he chose to work.”
Aaron Copland,
American composer and conductor

“Mozart’s music is on the one hand so accessible,
so beautiful and so apparently simple that it can be grasped.
But at the same time and enjoyed on its first hearing,
it is so deep, so profound, so perfect
that one can spend a lifetime in it and continue
to be fascinated with it, even if it’s the
hundredth time you’ve performed it.”
James Conlon,
American conductor

“He is up to the present the most
perfect manifestation of musical talent…
His sense of form is almost superhuman.
Like a masterpiece of sculpture or art, his art,
viewed from any side, is a perfect picture.”
Ferruccio Busoni,
Italian composer

“When it comes to Mozart, you’re speaking of
the most extraordinary perfection that exists.
There isn’t anything that is more perfect in music.
And then on top of it the music is so complete;
there is never a piece of music by Mozart,
it doesn’t make any difference if he is 4, 5, 6, or 26,
it’s perfect, totally perfect.”
Pinchas Zukerman,
Israeli violinist and conductor

“It is hard to think of another composer
who so perfectly marries form and passion.”
Leonard Bernstein,
American composer and conductor

“As an artist, as a musician,
Mozart was not a man of this world.
To a certain part of the 19th century his work seemed
to possess so pure, so formally rounded,
so ‘godlike’ a perfection that Richard Wagner,
the most violent spokesman of
 the Romantic Period, could call him
‘music’s genius of light and love.’”
Alfred Einstein,
German-American biographer

The second word that keeps coming up when people speak of Mozart is some form of the word beauty. Not just that the music he writes is beautiful, but also that the music itself somehow embodies the ideal of beauty, the thing itself.

“Mozart’s music is so beautiful
as to entice angels down to earth.”
Franz Alexander von Kleist,
German poet

“Mozart is the greatest composer of all.
Beethoven created his music, but
the music of Mozart is of such purity
and beauty that one feels he merely
 found it—that it has always existed
as part of the inner beauty of the
universe waiting to be revealed.”
Albert Einstein,
German-born physicist and violinist

“Mozart does not give the listener time
to catch his breath, for no sooner is
one inclined to reflect upon a beautiful
inspiration then another appears,
even more splendid, which drives away
the first, and this continues on and on,
so that in the end one is unable to
 retain any of these beauties in the memory.”
Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf,
Austrian composer and violinist

“He is the most generous composer who ever lived.
He showered upon us melody after melody,
character upon character, beauty, upon beauty.”
Robert Harris,
English music critic

“What was evident was that Mozart
was simply transcribing music
completely finished in his head.
And finished as most music is never finished.
Displace one note and there would be diminishment.
Displace one phrase and structure would fall.
I was staring through the cage of those
meticulous ink strokes at Absolute Beauty.”
Peter Shaffer,
English playwright (Amadeus)

“In Mozart’s music,
all intensity are crystallized in the clearest,
the most beautifully balanced and proportioned,
and altogether flawless musical forms.
For one moment in the history of music
all opposites were reconciled; all tensions resolved;
that luminous moment was Mozart.”
Phil Goulding,
American classical music journalist

“Mozart’s mature instrumental music
represents our civilization’s sign for the beautiful.
We cannot think of him without thinking of beauty;
we cannot refer to beauty without recalling his music.
I believe this is so, not necessarily because his works
are more beautiful than those of other composers,
though this may well be true, but because he created—
or, at least, brought into the forefront of
aesthetic consciousness—a special kind of beauty,
one that thenceforth came to exemplify
the idea of superlative beauty itself.”
Maynard Solomon,
American musicologist and biographer

“If we cannot write with the beauty of Mozart,
let us at least try to write with his purity.”
Johannes Brahms,
German composer

But there’s more…

When speaking of Mozart, more than any other composer, people are likely to invoke heaven, the divine, God, miracles, or some other reference to, or experience of, the ultimate.

“Mozart has reached the
boundary gate of music and leaped over it,
leaving behind the old masters and moderns,
and posterity itself.”
Alexander Hyatt King,
English Mozart scholar

“The Mozartian legacy, in brief, is as good
an excuse for mankind’s existence as
we shall ever encounter and is perhaps, after all,
a still small hope for our ultimate survival.”
H. C. Robbins Landon,
American musicologist

“Mozart’s music is the mysterious language
of a distant spiritual kingdom,
whose marvelous accents echo
in our inner being and arouse
a higher, intensive life.”
E.T.A. Hoffmann,
German author, composer, music critic

“The most tremendous genius
raised Mozart above all masters,
in all centuries and in all arts.”
Richard Wagner,
German composer

“Mozart is an utterly unique phenomenon,
indisputably and forever on the
credit side of life’s ledger, so sovereign
and omnipresent that he reconciles
us somewhat to the debit side.
Indeed, Mozart seems to be reconciliation
itself, a kind of redeeming miracle.”
Wolfgang Hildesheimer,
German biographer

“Mozart resolved his emotions on a level
that transformed them into moods
uncontaminated by mortal anguish,
enabling him to express the angelic anguish
that is so peculiarly his own.”
Yehudi Menuhin,
American-born violinist and conductor

“In Bach, Beethoven and Wagner
we admire principally the depth
and energy of the human mind;
in Mozart, the divine instinct.”
Edvard Grieg,
Norwegian composer

“Mozart exists, and will exist, eternally;
divine Mozart—less a name, more a soul
descending to us from the heavens.”
Charles Gounod,
French composer

“Mozart’s joy is made of serenity,
and a phrase of his music is like a
calm thought; his simplicity is merely purity.
It is a crystalline thing in which
all the emotions play a role, but as if
already celestially transposed.”
André Gide,
Nobel Prize-winning French author

“Mozart makes you believe in God
because it cannot be by chance that
such a phenomenon arrives into this world
and leaves such an unbounded number
of unparalleled masterpieces.”
Georg Solti,
Hungarian conductor

“It is thanks to Mozart that I have
devoted my life to music…
Mozart is the highest, the culminating point
that beauty has attained in the sphere of music.
Mozart is the musical Christ.”
Piotr Tchaikovsky
Russian composer

“This is the music that they are going to
play for me when I enter heaven,
or wherever Mozart may be.”
Marcel Maurice,
French clarinetist on Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet in A

“The angels, left to themselves, play Mozart,
and the dear Lord likes especially
to listen to them then.”
Karl Barth,
Swiss philosopher

“Others may reach heaven with their works.
But Mozart, he comes from there.”
Joseph Krips,
Austrian conductor and violinist

“Once, when filling out an application for a summer job,
on that line next to ‘other’ under the heading of Religion,
I wrote Mozart.
The personnel officer was not amused,
but then, I hadn’t intended it as a joke.
For there was a time when I was convinced that Mozart
was at least as divinely inspired as Moses,
Christ, the Buddha, Lao-tzu, or Mohammed,
and I suppose I still am. For in no other works
of the human imagination can the divine spirit
be heard more distinctly than in the
miraculous music this often vulgar, unpleasant,
and difficult man produced during
his pathetically brief thirty-five years.
Were this book to do him justice,
the section devoted to Mozart’s music
would take up more than half the total pages.”
Jim Svejda,
American music critic, in the 3rd edition of
The Record Shelf Guide to the Classical Repertoire

Are these writers over the top in their praise? Perhaps.

But there is something about Mozart’s music, given enough time and exposure, that elicits such intense reactions.

In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, there is a scene where an innocent man convicted of his wife’s murder goes into the warden’s office and locks everyone out.


To play a Mozart duettino (a song with two singers) for himself, and eventually, to play it for the entire prison population.

Watch what happens:

Video 1: “Duettino – Sull’aria” from Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), from The Shawshank Redemption

Mozart, when conveyed through inspired performances, is capable of a kind of transport, a sublime movement, into a heavenly experience that transcends physical, emotional, and mental limitations.

Where others are loved for the mental and emotional craft of their music, with occasional passages and moments that arrive in heaven, Mozart appears to naturally dwell there.

Here’s one of the best examples of how a great composer takes listeners on a journey into a heavenly world of emotional and noble passions. In Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, the transition at the end of the 3rd movement into the 4th movement marks one of the finest transitions ever composed into one of the most heavenly final movements ever.

Video 2: Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in D minor, 4th Movement Allegro

Mozart does not take one on a journey to heaven as much as he is already resident there at the start, unlike so many of his fellow musical composers.

And thus Mozart is unique among musical artists. He is the Shakespeare, the Michelangelo, the Da Vinci of music.

Perhaps there is no way to explain Mozart. Perhaps all we can do is accept the inevitable, as expressed by one Japanese classical pianist and conductor:

“Mozart is inexplicable.”
Mitsuko Uchida

But we are going to give it a try.

One thing to keep in mind is that musicians and conductors can look at a musical score and hear the music as they read the notes. Just as you can read a novel and hear people talk or see what they are doing.

Musical notation is a real language
with as much variety and communication
as the words, sentences, and
subtle meanings written on this page.

Let’s watch Salieri’s reaction to Mozart’s manuscripts in the movie Amadeus as he reads the scores and hears the music:

Video 3: Salieri’s reaction to Mozart’s manuscripts, from Amadeus

What is Salieri hearing? What moves him so profoundly? He knows that what he is hearing is the Divine Voice, and sadly, that he will never get as close to it.

In the next chapter, we focus on one musical example, going more deeply into key aspects of one work. In this way, you will begin to hear things you have not heard before, and you will capture a better picture of what a composer is capable of doing with such an abstract thing as music.

The chapters on Hearing Mozart may be more challenging for some readers. But your efforts will be rewarded. With a little bit of close listening, we can begin training your ear to hear in new ways.


Why Is Shakespeare Great?

“Shakespeare is like life. There are almost as many ways of taking him as there are ways of living… The lawyer believes he must have been a lawyer, the musician a musician, the Catholic a Catholic, the Protestant a Protestant. Never was there a more protean genius. Whether his dramas should be taken as plays or as literature has been disputed. But surely they should be taken as both. Acted, or seen on the stage, they disclose things hidden to the reader. Read, they reveal what no actor or theater can convey.” ~Harold C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare

* * *

Imagine that you have entered the small lecture hall of a crotchety, old, dinosaur professor at a major university. It’s near the end of class, so you find a seat in the back and look around.

The African-American professor stands behind a podium using lecture notes and does not look up when you enter. Fewer than half the seats are occupied. He wears a worn gray tweed jacket, faded blue shirt, and a thin, darker blue tie. His mottled speckled-gray hair is splayed out, part afro, part Einstein.

The students look like first-year university students¾bored, fidgety, a couple actually napping. In the middle of your aisle, you notice a young woman with short black hair, wearing a black dress and black lipstick. She has her hand raised, arm waving slightly, supporting it with her other hand, which suggests she’s been waiting quite a while.

“…presents the reader with many challenges, not the least of which is Elizabethan diction and Shakespeare’s poetic compression. But every reader willing to take the time will discover a bounty of humanistic treasures.” The professor stops and looks at her over his silver reading glasses.


One word conveys his lack of good cheer. Questions are not encouraged.

“I’m sorry, professor, but I just don’t get it.” She exudes the sweet naivete of intellectual youth. “Shakespeare represents the view of the classic white-male Eurocentric patriarchy, in a dated vocabulary that’s hard to understand. What’s his relevance today? I mean, what could Shakespeare possibly have to say to me, a Chinese-Hispanic lesbian?”

As she speaks, the professor’s eyes glaze and his head lowers slowly until he is staring down at his podium. He gives every appearance of being an old man in constant mental and physical pain. A curmudgeon.

Several students murmur at least partial agreement. The professor stands silent for almost a minute before turning to the blackboard. He picks up the chalk with a trembling hand and writes two words on the board—chair and stool. He turns and stares at her.

He speaks softly.

“Would you say, Miss…..”

“Ms. Powers.”

“Would you say, Ms. Powers, that the words chair and stool distinguish two similar things?”

“Uh, I think… yes, of course.”

“And do you think, Ms. Powers, that these represent a distinction worth preserving? For example, if I were to ask you to bring me a chair and you brought me a stool, would we have reason to believe there existed between us some failure of communication?”

“Yes.” Her tone embodies confidence.

“What would be the nature of the failure?”

“Uhh… a chair normally has a back for support while a stool does not.”

“Good. So you concede, Ms. Powers, that vocabulary helps us more clearly distinguish the specific differences among like things?”


“Is it a good thing to distinguish more clearly the specific differences between like things?”

“I suppose.”

“And that it would be better to possess a mind with a larger vocabulary than a mind with a smaller one?” Although he still speaks softly, the air begins to thicken.

“But just because someone has a better vocabulary doesn’t mean that they are a better person.” She speaks with less confidence now.

“Ms. Powers.” His voice is a bit louder. “If we are going to understand each other, it is best that you respond to what I actually say rather than what you think I am saying. I did not say anything about a better vocabulary or about being a better person.”

She stays silent.

“I asked if you thought it better to possess a mind with a larger vocabulary rather than a mind with a smaller vocabulary. Especially since you have already conceded that it is a good thing to more clearly distinguish the specific differences between like things. Or do you see another way of distinguishing specific differences in ways other than a versatile and specific vocabulary?”


“Ms. Powers, suppose you and I walked into a garden, and while I was a novice in gardening, you were an expert gardener who had a command of the technical language and knowledge of botany and horticulture. Would our experience of a particular garden be any different?”

“Uh….” She senses a trap being set for her. She tries to avoid it. “Yes, a little. We would both see the same thing, but I would probably be more knowledgeable about it if you asked me questions.”

“No, Ms. Powers.” His face is reddening, his voice gets louder. “I’m afraid you are entirely mistaken. We would not be seeing the same garden at all. I would merely see pretty flowers, maybe some trees and grass. I may be able to tell the difference between a rose and a tulip, but that is all. I would see the mere surface of the garden. Its mere appearance. But you, Ms. Powers…”

She shifts with discomfort.

“You would see an entirely different garden. You would be able to penetrate its depths. You would be able to recognize not only the different flowers—the carnations and snap dragons and pansies and hyacinths and lilies—you would also recognize the relative health of each of those flowers. You would recognize any pests or diseased plants. You would be able to spot where each plant and flower was in its life cycle.”

More students perk up. They suspect something big is coming.

“By their arrangement and care, you would know their past. In some cases, whether or not they were recently planted. You would know how much the person who tends the garden knows about his or her occupation. You would also know the difference between annuals and perennials. And this knowledge would allow you to see not only the present garden, but the future of that garden. You could predict its course and suggest actions to alter that course.”

She stares back at him.

“No, Ms. Powers, you and I would not see the same garden at all. Because a true and rich vocabulary opens one to higher levels of perceptual and conceptual awareness. A specific vocabulary rewards you, not only with a greater awareness, but also the possibility of a deep causal awareness. The ability to distinguish true causes and their array of effects. And, were you so inclined, you would naturally begin seeing the world in terms of the garden. You would begin constructing analogies and similes, perhaps even metaphors, connecting life to that garden through an array of subtle similarities.”

He pauses and surveys the room. He is speaking to everyone, although he continues to use her name.

“Do you know the number of distinct words in the average person’s vocabulary, Ms. Powers? About three thousand words, assuming that all forms of a word—like run, ran, running—counted as one. Three thousand words, enough to get an average person through the day, and through their lifetime.

“Do you know how many distinct words are in the King James Version of the Bible? Around four thousand three hundred, not counting names. That means that all of the history and philosophy and meaning, all of the variety of ideas expressed in the Bible, can be transmitted in a vocabulary of forty-three hundred words. Enough to challenge the average reader.”

You suspect that there is a university committee somewhere that can’t wait for this professor to retire.

“Soon we will get to John Milton’s Paradise Lost. John Milton commanded an incredible vocabulary. He mastered several languages, including Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and French. He wrote not only epic poetry but many rigorous political tracts. Some of his sentences are so powerful and complex in their vocabulary, grammar, and meaning that they contain several dozen clauses. John Milton was a genius who mastered and crafted meaning out of a vocabulary of almost eight thousand words, more than almost all living writers.”

He pauses, and looks out through slitted eyes.

“But Shakespeare.” He chuckles. “Shakespeare exists in his own genus. When a rhetorician reads Shakespeare, she points out that Shakespeare was a master rhetorician, who knew not only all the technical terms, ancient and modern, but was a master practitioner who applied that knowledge throughout his poems and plays, in ways that have stood as examples for generations to follow.

“When a gardener reads Shakespeare, she says that Shakespeare must have been a gardener, because he not only displays the technical terminology of botany and gardening and herbology, he demonstrates the kind of knowledge that comes from working in or studying closely a sophisticated English garden.

“When a lawyer reads Shakespeare, she tells us that Shakespeare must have had a legal education because he not only displays an astonishing range and accuracy with his use of legal terms, be he also commands an understanding of the history and philosophy of law. And you can point to other professions: actor, soldier, physician, courtier, historian, politician.”

He pauses, taking a breath, and when he begins again, his tempo and volume increases.

“But that’s not all. In his plays, he explores the range and depth of human emotions and experience. He explores love, but not just the young romantic love of Romeo and Juliet. He explores love between siblings, and parent and child, and comrades in arms¾young love, middle-aged love, old love. Love between the low and the low, the low and the high, the high and the high, false love, true love, jaded love, betrayed love, self-love, love of good and love of indulgence. Like turning a diamond in the light, he explores every facet of love and hate and envy and greed and lust and jealousy and innocence and sweetness and revenge, and a hundred subtle emotional and intellectual states of which you have yet to take conscious stock.”

“His capacious mind wandered everywhere, and in almost every way he has arrived there before you have, articulating it with a mastery that leaves later writers sick with wondering what territory of the human heart, human intellect, and human action is left to explore. He seems to have experienced the full range and depth of common human experience and encapsulated that experience more beautifully than any other.

“Shakespeare, Ms. Powers, displays a vocabulary of well over twenty-two thousand words, almost three times Milton’s vocabulary, and you wonder why you find reading him challenging, and you dare to wonder if Shakespeare has anything to teach you?”

She sits frozen. You suspect she is considering filing a grievance. In the spacious silence, the professor speaks softly again, with a sardonic smile.

“May I suggest to you, Ms. Powers, that you have a choice. You can continue to dwell on the surface of life, holding up external appearances as if they were everything, parroting the rhymes and rhythms of a social media consciousness, flaccid and without true self-animation, smug in the knowledge that you have comfortably given yourself over to a group numbness, submitting to mere external authority—or maybe, just maybe, with personal effort, a healthy skepticism, and a sense of individual exploration, you may become your own authority, by expanding your mind in a constant effort to comprehend Shakespeare’s. That you may go on to explore Shakespeare’s artistic depths, his innovative characters, his invention of the human, as one lover of his work has said¾his carving out new states of poetic, dramatic and human consciousness, in which we all can play, learn, and grow.

“May I suggest that until you are well along into that journey, your mind and emotions may remain susceptible to every sophistic thought that knocks on your door, seeking to enslave you with its mere appearance of originality. It’s time, Ms. Powers, that you begin feeding on Shakespeare rather than on that damned fast food.”

He pauses.

“That’s all for today.”