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The Charles C. W. Cooke Newsletter
0058 February 5, 2023

Good morning,

On one of the episodes of The Editors this week—I cant remember which, to be quite honest—I chose as my light item the Mozart opera The Marriage of Figaro. During that segment, I noted that I often make the mistake of internalizing the genius of figures such as Mozart to such a degree that I forget to actually sit down and listen to their work. This week, I have made up for that—and what a profound joy it has been.

I would estimate that, give or take, I can “play” around fifty percent of Mozart’s works in my head, note for note, from start to finish. But, as I’ve been reminded over the last few days, nothing compares to actually listening to those works and having the music physically hit your body. A friend of mine wrote to me recently and suggested that “music is emotion turned into energy.” I think hes right. The brain can do some of the emotion part, but it can't recreate the energy. And that matters, because half the drama in music—especially in classical music—comes with the changes in volume, with the shifts in tone, and with the whatever it is in the fingers of great players that cannot be replicated by anyone else. To get all that, you’ve got to hear it out loud.

Occasionally, I meet people who are unimpressed by Mozart. They insist that his music is “light” and “simple.” They are irritated by the myth-making around him. They’re so used to hearing about him that they’ve relegated him to being part of the wallpaper. I must confess that I’ve never understood this. In my view, Mozart isn’t a composer; he’s the composer. He’s the Shakespeare of the genre. He’s The One.

The writer Douglas Adams has an oft-repeated line that “Beethoven tells you what its like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what its like to be human. Bach tells you what its like to be the universe.” I agree with Adamss characterization of Beethoven, and I agree with his characterization of Bach. But hes wrong about Mozart. Mozart doesnt tell you what it's like to be human, because Mozart barely was human. I forget who said that they didnt believe in God but that Mozart made them wonder, but whomever it was, I understand it. The scale of Mozarts talent is such that its almost impossible to accept at face value without wondering whether he was merely transcribing from somewhere else.

Listen to this:

That is the overture to one of Mozarts late Italian operas, Don Giovanni. It premiered on October 29th, 1787. Mozart wrote the overture on . . . October 28th, 1787. While he was drunk.

Yes, not all of it is completely new music; some of it previews the extraordinary A cenar teco scene in the opera’s finale. But most of it is new. And he just knocked it out—to meet a deadline.

He did that a lot. Mozart lived from 1756 to 1791, which means that he died at 35 years old. In that time, he wrote more than 600 pieces of music. Paradoxically, I suspect that this is where the misconception that Mozarts work is simple comes from—because, with a canon that large, it must be, right?

But its not. In fact, its anything but. Its rich and complex and admirably unrepetitive. Sure, it sounds effortless. But thats the trick of all great artists: to make something that is difficult seem easy. Often, to listen to Mozarts melodies is to think, that seems so obvious that anyone could have come up with it. But the thing is: anyone didnt come up with it. Mozart did. 

Without thinking too much about it, Mozart came up with this:

And this:

And this (as sung by the choir at my school in England):

And this:

And we’re just scratching the surface.

Ive always been in awe of the man. When I was five years old, my grandfather (who was a terrific pianist) gave me two cassette tapes for Christmas. One tape had a bunch of Mozarts horn concertos on it. The other had Mozart’s 20th Piano Concerto on one side, and Mozarts 21st Piano Concerto on the other. Because I was five, I let these tapes sit on the shelf for a while until, a few months later, we went to France for a family vacation and my parents suggested that I bring them with us in the car. (We used to drive to France, which, before the Eurotunnel was completed, involved taking a car ferry.) When we got to France, my Dad decided we should play one of the tapes for the drive down to the Dordogne. He picked the one with the horn concertos on it at random. I think he must have put on the second side by mistake, because it started with what I later learned was the Horn Concerto #4 instead of #1. But it didnt really matter. It was all new to me.

Ten seconds in, and I was blown away. By this point, Id heard a fair amount of classical music. I had tapes of Beethovens 5th and 6th, of Tchaikovskys Violin Concerto, of Chopin, of Holsts Planets, and of a few other famous pieces. But this? This was just different somehow. As with the first time I heard The Beatles, it just seemed obvious that this was on a slightly higher plane than everything else—that there was the rest of the genre, and then there was this.

And that was before I got to the piano concertos, which, unlike the horn concertos, feature some of Mozarts most sublime uses of clarinets, oboes, and flutes. (Mozart hated the flute, but, to my ears, used it to greater effect than any other composer. Go figure.) By the time we got to those, we were driving through the beautiful, sunny French countryside, and the music tallied so well with the ancient chateaux, the rolling hills, and the fields full of sunflowers that the two are now forever burned into my mind.

From then on, I was hooked. I borrowed anything I could get my hands on, went to every Mozart concert I could find, and even played the radio in the background in the hope that Mozart would come on—until, eventually, Id memorized such a massive chunk of his catalogue that I didn’t actually need to own it to be able to play it at will. And then, when I hit my late twenties, I just sort of . . . forgot about it. Like a guy who has a beautiful car that he doesnt drive, I just parked Mozart away in my garage and thought about him from time to time. 

I won’t make that mistake again.

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On Monday, I poured cold water on the idea that an incident in which five black cops brutally beat a black man to death can be attributed to white supremacy:

Take a look at the flow chart that Van Jones, Maxwell Alejandro Frost, and Clyde McGrady’s interviewees have built, and you will note immediately that, under their approach, there is no circumstance in which the killing of a black American will not be deemed the product of white supremacy. If the cops act consciously in the name of white supremacy, that’s white supremacy. If the cops don’t act consciously in the name of white supremacy, that’s white supremacy. If the cops are white, it’s white supremacy. If the cops are not white, it’s white supremacy, too. Whatever the input, whatever the details, the result is always the same: white supremacy. That’s not logic; it’s magic.

Its also a rejection of the American creed:

Worse yet, it’s a theory that treats black Americans as if they are inferior citizens who cannot be judged by the same standards as everyone else. If, as you should, you sincerely believe that all people are equal, then you cannot cast some of them as mere automatons when it is politically convenient to do so. To acknowledge a person’s intrinsic equality is to fully accept his capacity for good and evil without engaging in transparent special pleading, without making vague appeals to “the culture,” and without offering excuses for his conduct when you would condemn a culprit of a different race unequivocally for the same behavior.

There is, I’m afraid, not a great deal of substantive difference between the case that Van Jones and Co. are making in (indirect) defense of the five officers in Memphis, and the case that the bigots of the past once made against treating non-whites as full members of society. Certainly, their intent is different. But, at root, both cases rely upon the same ugly implication, which is that the behavior of black American citizens is ultimately beyond those citizens’ control. I do not believe this. The five cops who killed Tyre Nichols did a heinous thing, and it is precisely because I believe in their full and irrevocable equality that I intend to judge them unreservedly for having done it. Those men are my peers, and they should be treated as such.

And, if taken seriously, it would lead to some pretty absurd outcomes:

The first is that the five cops should be treated in precisely the same way as would a self-professed white supremacist. If, as has been claimed, the actions of the five men were indeed driven by the “pernicious effects” of “anti-Black racism,” then the men presumably ought to be charged with hate crimes, just as a white cop in a similar situation would be. In his column, Jones proposes that “it is the race of the victim who is brutalized — not the race of the violent cop — that is most relevant in determining whether racial bias is a factor in police violence.” Well, if we follow that thought to its logical end, we must surely conclude that the victim was explicitly targeted because he was black, and that the cops are therefore guilty of discrimination. And if that’s the case, then why not charge them as such? Naturally, we would not want a situation in which the race of the cop does not matter except for the purposes of his punishment.

The second cuts in the opposite direction. If, as the Times’s McGrady submits, our “problems of race and policing are a function of an entrenched police culture of aggression and dehumanization of Black people more than of interpersonal racism,” then the cops in this case must be victims, too. And if the cops in this case are victims, too, they must surely be treated leniently by the courts. The purpose of talking about “entrenched cultures” is to diffuse some of the responsibility for specific malfeasance. It would be mightily unfair, would it not, to identify a grand, all-encompassing, overarching conspiracy behind such malfeasance, and then to treat the patsies who bear proximate responsibility for that malfeasance as if they were its sole architects? And if, indeed, “white supremacy” permeates the culture of American policing rather than just motivating the decisions of independent, individual police officers — if that “white supremacy” is the villain no matter what individual cops might be thinking — then surely we must extend the same forbearance to white police officers who end up in the same situation?

On Wednesday, I took a look at Floridas proposed permitless carry bill, and found it wholly unremarkable:


Despite the breathless tone in which such developments are invariably covered, there is no good reason for this proposal to worry anyone. If the measure succeeds, Florida will become the 26th U.S. state with permitless carry — joining a diverse group of forerunners that includes Arizona, Vermont, Alaska, West Virginia, Indiana, Wyoming, and Maine. And then? Well . . . not much, really. Contra the frantic insinuations of its opponents, permitless carry does not mean that those who are otherwise legally prohibited from owning a gun will now be able to do so; it does not abolish the federal background-check system, which applies irrespective of state law; it does not nix or alter any of the existing restrictions on the places in which carriers may take their firearms; and, as the RAND Corporation has noted, there is no evidence that it either decreases or increases crime. At root, permitless carry is a paperwork reform — a bureaucratic change that simply removes the requirement that qualified gun-owners must ask the government for permission before they may carry a concealed firearm in public. That’s it.


And no, it has nothing to do with mass shootings:

In its piece on the move, the Tallahassee Democrat quotes Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, “a former Democratic member of Congress from Miami,” who has “pointed out that Florida is home to two of the nation’s worst mass shootings — Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.” But, as is typical of objections to permitless carry, this is such an absurd non sequitur that it is difficult to intuit what Mucarsel-Powell could possibly be hoping to convey. The shooters at Pulse and at Parkland used rifles, which are not eligible for concealed carry, and which are not referenced in, or affected by, this proposal in any form. Florida could pass this bill, or it could reject this bill, and, in neither case would anything at stake so much as intersect with the details of Pulse or with Parkland. As ever, I consider it the height of self-delusion to believe that the particulars of our firearms laws will have any effect on those who are inclined to commit mass murder. But, even if one does believe that, it remains an indisputable fact that there is no connection whatsoever between what Florida is trying to do and what happened at Pulse, at Parkland, or anywhere else. It is instructive to note, perhaps, that the only occasion in recent memory on which this policy question has converged with a mass shooting came last year in Indiana, where the guy who took down the killer, Elisjsha Dicken, told police that, absent the state’s permitless-carry law, he would not have been carrying his gun.

And, on Thursday, I wondered if culture war has become a meaningless term now that it is being used to describe every single thing that figures such as Ron DeSantis are doing:

I suspect that some of this is just journalistic laziness: Much as, a few years ago, journalists started inserting the word “blockchain” inappropriately into every other story, now they are abuzz about “culture war.” But there is something more sinister at play here, too, and that something is terminal bias. Most members of the press proceed reflexively from the assumption that the Democrats are normal, and that those who disagree with them are weird, wrong, or dishonest. Why did the media insist that those who defensively disagreed with the proposed ban on gas stoves, rather than those who had proposed or defended that ban, were guilty of starting a “culture war” around gas stoves? I’ll tell you: Because it was simply assumed that, if the Democrats were proposing it, it must be a good idea, and that, if the Republicans were pushing back, they must be being “political.”

So it is here. Irrespective of whether you like or dislike the laws that Florida Republicans are working on, they are well within the range of questions that governments are obliged to address. By describing every single policy that the GOP has proposed as indicative of a “culture war,” the press is signaling nothing more sophisticated than that its members like the status quo, and dislike those who wish to change it. That’s fine, of course. It’s a free country. But the word for that isn’t “culture war.” It’s politics.

For my full archive at National Review, you can click here.

The Charles C. W. Cooke Podcast

On episode 16 of The Charles C. W. Cooke Podcast I talked to Paul Gregory, whose fascinating book, The Oswalds, relates his relationship with Lee and Marina in the summer before Lee killed JFK. Paul told me how he met the Oswalds, what he thought of them, why he still feels some shame, why he thinks all the conspiracy theories are bunk, and why it took him six decades to put his story to paper.

The Editors

I was on two episodes of The Editors this week. On the first, we discussed the tragedy in Memphis, Ron DeSantis’s Covid record, and much more. On the second, we talked about Nikki Haley’s presidential chances, Ron DeSantis eliminating DEI in Florida colleges, tension between China and the U.S., and much more.

You can subscribe to The Editors on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, and more, or listen online at National Review.

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