July 2, 2014
Humanity as Game Theory

Yousuf Hafuda

The existence of societal restrictions and seemingly illogic norms is at first glance rather baffling, but can in fact be explained through the terminology of game theory. Despite the diversity existing between these norms, the universal aspect among them is that they serve to impose a set of rules upon an individual. They offer them an implicit guide to achieving social acceptance and gratification.

In fact, the inception of such restrictions can likely be attributed to the pervasive existence of a prisoner’s dilemma in human interaction. Society functions much like a prisoner’s dilemma in that mutual cooperation is collectively preferable, while individual deviance benefits the individual to the detriment of the masses, and widespread deviance eventuates in societal dysfunction. Thus, the often inhibitive and judgmental nature of society seemingly serves a tangibly attributable purpose, in that it corrals its members into the adoption of a mutually shared system. 

While examples of this game theory element existing in the sociological sphere are abound, a few pointed examples can aid in illustrating their implications. 

The first and perhaps most mundane norm is that of standing in line. Society collectively decided that the mutual gains arising from such a norm necessitated its imposition. In this instance, everyone is best served if everyone follows the rules. However, the individual is best served if they can somehow vault to the front of the line, resulting in a positive eventuality for that individual and a negative eventuality for everybody else. Finally, if each person were to follow this logic and cut the line, circumventing the implicitly imposed norm, the group collectively would be much worse off, and chaos would ensue. 

Therefore, the enforcement mechanism devised to prevent such an outcome is public shame and scorn for those who refuse to play by the rules. This enforcement mechanism, of subjecting the individual to perpetual public judgement serves to compel them to acquiesce and accept these rules. (Which as a tangent, is one of the central themes of The Stranger by Camus, a book that helped induce this theory) By introducing this element of judgement the aim is to alter the individual’s utilitarian calculus such that it becomes more beneficial to follow the rules than to circumvent them in search of individual gain. 

Though this system is largely effective, there are instances where it breaks down, due in part to a multitude of competing factors. There are those individuals who remain unrestricted by the force of public judgement, and enough of them can cause the line to become chaotic, in both the figurative broader sense and the literal sense of this illustration. There are also instances where the deviant can remain surreptitious, thus removing the element of public scorn. Another element is what lies at the end of the ‘line’, in other words what is at stake. If the line is for a hot dog stand, the likelihood of a breakdown is slim. If the line is offering a limited number of sizable checks for a million dollars, however, the utilitarian calculus suddenly shifts, and the line is likely to become chaotic. 

Nor is this structure limited solely to restrictions on an individual’s actions, for it also pervades their belief structure. It is here that the prisoner’s dilemma becomes somewhat more convoluted in nature and perhaps not as beneficial to the individual. 

One example is the belief that ideology is one dimensional, in other words, that one’s actions and believes need be constrained to existing dialogue. One cannot therefore simultaneously believe in the eradication of a minimum wage and the strengthening of the social safety net. While this person may have completely consistent reasons for such oft-regarded disparate beliefs, society subjects them to scorn for not ‘playing by the rules’. 

The reason for such an externally imposed belief structure is that the failure to adhere to such a belief structure corrodes the political status quo. An individual who does not buy into the existence of unnecessarily contingent political beliefs is a threat to existing politicians seeking to create a facade of cohesiveness. In effect, the reason for the imposition of this particular prisoner’s dilemma is that those existing at the helm of the status quo are best served by the lack of nuance in ideology. 

Yet another example that has become politicized is the practice by African-American communities to shame those members of its community who are ‘too white’, in essence repudiating their origins. The reason for such scorn is the preservation of culture, whereby the group can collectively preserve the culture by coercing its members into ‘remaining black’. However, because ‘acting white’ is often merely a synonym for the rejection of the perverse elements in African-American communities, the individual benefits by transcending such externally imposed restrictions. However, we see again that if a group collectively does this, the ‘culture’ is lost, much to the chagrin of its more entrenched members. 

Furthermore, such a societal restriction is often imposed by the community’s eldest members upon its burgeoning younger members. This is because though its eldest members have already been stunted by the perverse elements of their community and can no longer improve their lot, its younger members can disavow some of these elements and markedly enhance the trajectory of their lives. Thus, the existing prisoner’s dilemma is that those who are destined for destitution (ie the majority of the community) are better off if its members accept its tenets while the enterprising individual conversely benefits from the repudiation of such elements. 

The implications of this interpretive framework are ample, but some are more crucial than others. That society functions as a prisoner’s dilemma is not necessarily an inherently good or bad thing, but there are instances of each. To refer to the aforementioned examples, the norm of standing in line is a beneficial one, whereas those restrictions regarding ideology and cultural affiliation can often prove rather pernicious. 

Thus, from the individual’s perspective, one must realize and differentiate between the beneficial and perverse restrictions, and abide by the former and spurn the latter. The individual who remains unrestricted by social judgement and chooses actions on the basis of merit is well placed to move ahead in a society that often serves to inhibit the individual. Often times the individual can only get ahead by flouting social convention and remaining undeterred by social derision, with the realization of this mentioned prisoner’s dilemma framework. 

In instances where society’s inhibitions are misplaced, one can take advantage of the prisoner’s dilemma to the benefit of the individual. While this may result in a lack of social gratification in some instances, this need not exist as a deterrent since popularity is overrated anyway.

June 25, 2014
Our Origins as Inhibitions

Yousuf Hafuda

Freedom is a collective human aspiration, and yet so few consciously attempt to achieve it in its truest individual sense. (That being the separation of one’s constructed self identity and externally imposed identities) 

After having done some self reflection, I noticed how origins limit, curtail, and impede the fulfillment of one’s true self. Our origins necessarily factor into our raison d’etre, our definition and realization of self. And as inherently human as this is, it is also severely worrisome. 

Certain origins denote certain meanings, certain identities. They suggest to a person that they should be something because of an externally predetermined something else. There is the expectation that their idea of self is congruent with the self they should be given where they are from.  In less convoluted terms this suggests that one’s origins are a truly inhibitive force. 

One’s ethnicity, religion, lineage, the wealth of their parents among others are all factors that contribute to this phenomena. They all share the similarity of inducing certain restrictive expectations. This phenomena permeates the merely behavioral sphere and affects the beliefs, and cultural disposition that are expected of a person. 

This means that an individual from an East Asian culture is expected to retain an affinity for the collectivist tenets of the orient and prefer them over the individuality of the west. An arab kid such as myself is expected to exalt the engineering and medical professions, and likewise attend a large University in search of such a goal. 

An Asian-American is expected to be vested solely in academics and care little about other competing aspects of their life. There are countless other examples but these provided examples serve to illustrate the inhibitive nature of one’s origins. 

Despite these pressures, however, the onus lies on the individual to transcend these expectations and contradict them with ease. For it deprives the individual of the right to self expression and self definition to impose a cultural, religious, ethnic, or other paradigm merely by virtue of one’s background. 

Ideally, one should flirt with ideas and philosophical structures from an eclectic and purely discretionary range of sources. The synthesis of the preferred ideas should entirely reflect the individual’s level of self fulfillment, and not simple facts about the individual’s origin. We are collectively much more than the sum of our origins. There are experiences, phases, and transformations that suggest otherwise. 

The ultimate goal then, is the detachment of one’s self identity from the identity society expects of that person (ie that they are separately functioning entities not necessarily in complete contradiction), as well as complete cultural ambivalence.

12:38pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZFFGVv1JjdXDO
  
Filed under: identity 
June 25, 2014
The Morality Police

Yousuf Hafuda

Our inhibitive, suffocating culture of moral posturing, of political correctness has inculcated a new generation, a generation which sees itself the protector, the charlatan of a brand, of a dogmatic idea, of morality. Here lie the gatekeepers, punishing each transgression, pontificating their dogma, outdoing one another in the pursuit of elusive moral fortitude. Their petty attempts, a self claim to altruism, a claim backed by their own purported disincentive to engage in such brinksmanship. For they are not the afflicted, but rather the antidote. They represent not the destitute and impoverished, but rather ‘those more fortunate’, a phrase used by the very hypocrites who aim to exonerate their place in society as those who ‘have’. Their only problem being the paradox they perplexingly find themselves in, at the propitious end of the spectrum they so readily excoriate, rebelling against the society they comprise and simultaneously deride. 

What has become particularly worrisome about their game is that it has transcended the heretofore considered bastion of political correctness, liberal institutions, and has permeated the walls of society, of normalcy. What was once a vocal, marginalized minority has decidedly corralled the “ignoramuses” into obsequiousness. Their version of enlightenment: cultural, political, sexual hypersensitivity. More worrisome than their ostensibly well-intended goals is the forced eradication of perceived and  social ills, of the war against human inequity, conflated by them with iniquity.

When will these people comprehend? Their purported charity is not needed. The world does not exist for them to save it, nor can they. The universe is not one big lie, or conspiracy; It is indifferent, for it could care less if “x” has seemingly benefited from the undue benefits of lineage or if “y” has been condemned by its paucity of material wealth.  In fact, their meddling has merely exacerbated the ills they ostensibly remedy. The morality police has done nothing but to push prejudice underground. In doing so, it risks the true fragmentation of public opinion.  It is here that such perverse thoughts fester, the uttering of which is punished by ostracisization, and yet the latent possession of which remains virtually undetected. 

Deprived of a medium for expression, faced with the curtailment of the right to speak, the morality police has in essence created a latent behemoth. As they campaign for the forcible imposition of people’s ‘rights’, they create an invisible barrier, the barrier of belief. For they have seemingly emerged victorious in the war of words, but have sorely lost the war of beliefs. They have propagated the onerous stipulations regarding worker’s rights, but their achievement remains vacuous in light of the continued existence perverse and yet discreetly held stereotypes. 

The morality police’s membership is fueled by the need to escape meaninglessness, by the guilt experienced as a result of their privilege. Through preemptive eagerness, they seek to advertise devotion to this cause, to exercise agency over the expression of others. Their sensitivity is a consequence of their ignorance. They cannot comprehend nor sanction a world that is inherently ‘unfair’, and thus they seek out to fix it, remaining undeterred by the inconsequential nature of their actions, rather deriving motivation from the self image they concoct through it. 

I refuse to be compelled by the morality police, to quell the base elements of my psyche, to filter my thoughts in accordance with that which is sanctioned. The only effective mechanism to mitigate the perversity of the morality police is to flout it, to convince others to follow suit. This conscious insensitivity reminds the policemen/women that they do not temper my expression. They do not have the right to, nor are they in the right in doing so. This reactionary stand is the only viable remaining option, the failure of which will eventuate in a purely superficial society, one where sentiments are expressed on the basis of social sanction and not individual merit or authenticity. Before us is the chance to rebel, to resist, to insist that superficiality will not triumph over authenticity, that the morality police is not in charge, that nobody truly is, and that is the sobering anarchic nature of the universe.

12:35pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZFFGVv1JjciN7
  
Filed under: morality 
June 18, 2014
Thoughts on the Efficient Market Hypothesis

Yousuf Hafuda

The Efficient Market Hypothesis is as reviled as it is revered. To its staunchest proponents, it represents a vindication of the true scientific nature of the stock market, and even more broadly, of the nature of things. 

To its most fervent detractors, however, it is a plain farce; concocted to explain away the nuances of the marketplace; to reconcile confusion with order. 

Broadly speaking, EMH is accepted most widely by academics and rejected by institutional and individual investors alike. Academics cling to empirical studies showing that stock market performance divergence can be explained away by pure randomness. Investors, however, vehemently cling to anecdotal evidence, or the insistence that certain divergences exist beyond the clutches of pure chance. 

My personal evolution on the subject was as expedient as it was mercurial. Yet, at long last I feel I have yet reached an ideological stasis, one that accounts for both the convolution and precise nature of the stock market. 

Having taken a class on financial economics, I was swayed by the conventional acceptance of EMH in the realm of academics. This belief was further augmented by my own acquaintance and exposure to the follies of those who fancied themselves stock-picking prodigies. 

Inducing these sentiments was the observance of the human tendency towards superstition, as well as the tendency of the overestimation of one’s personal ability. Tersely, though most fancy themselves exceptionally sagacious and adept, in truth very few are. 

Further, as we are inculcated to believe in our Introduction to Economics courses, the stock market is perhaps the closest non-organic setup to a perfect market that has ever been attempted. The notion that each individual investor, many with a wealth of resources at their disposal, could somehow know better than the rest of many equally adroit analysts is anathema. Surely the pandemonium surrounding investors’ claims at an uncanny ability to beat the market are all equally unfounded? 

Yet, shortly after having read the prophetic Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, my position altered dramatically. Though I did not repudiate all elements of EMH, far from it in fact; I maintain that there remains yet a way. This belief, though perhaps also ephemeral represents the position at which I find myself. 

Quite simply I have altered my view to believe that EMH (ie beating the market) can be violated by a select few through a select number of consistent methods. In short, the endeavor is no longer helpless, but remains reserved only for a few with an apropos mindset. 

My reasons for such a partial reversal rest upon two fundamental premises: 

1. That humans are in fact rather fallible and incredibly liable to repeat past errors
2. That there are certain behavioral elements to the market that cause for incorrect valuations that can be exploited through, careful, sober, value-driven security analysis 

The assumption of EMH relies revoltingly on the idea that security analysts are somehow infallible. The enduring notion that a stock’s price accurately reflects all available, pertinent information is severely undermined by the simple fact that humans are creatures of error. The only way for EMH to be true is for the human element to erode, a mere impossibility, since security analysts are after all nothing more than an on average bright group of individuals. 

This element of unpredictability, of viscera is completely unaccounted for by the over-simplification of the market into a rigorous, scientific sphere. This element is as present in the market as it is in business and thus will perpetually result in the mis-pricing of assets. 

Finally, the EMH seems incredibly dubious in light of the human tendency to behave like a herd. The very concept of ‘irrational exuberance’ stems from this observation, as are the presence of market bubbles. Because analysts are fickle and often times rash, as per human nature, they behave in ways that defy the clutches of reason. Thus, an investor with the sagacity and necessary discipline can exploit these moments of madness and ‘create value’ (or to inject more jargon, generate alpha) in the figurative Wall Street sense. 

The only way to achieve the above stated goal, however, is to follow the advice of the sage Benjamin Graham and his protege Warren Buffet (and Charles Munger), to invest in assets on a sufficiently long time-table on the basis of value and not price movement. The goal of such an aim is to produce a performance heavily reliant on fundamentals, on the underlying worth of a company, rather than the inconsistency and caprice of the stock market. For a more wholesome introduction to the concept, I recommend a reading of the Intelligent Investor (accompanied by other investment books, of course). 

The simple proclamation I wish to make is that I no longer believe in the extremities of EMH’s theory, and I certainly believe and can only hope, for credible reason.

June 17, 2014
Free Trade as a Form of Redistribution

Yousuf Hafuda

Many lambast the perceived perverse effects of trade on the domestic economy. More specifically, they claim trade disproportionately hurts poor, unskilled workers. While on a certain level, this may in fact be true, there is reason to believe trade is ultimately a redistributive artifact. 

Free trade allows for the movement of factors of production (labor, capital resources etc.) across borders. It is as a result that labor heavy forms of production move to areas with cheaper labor, presumably where labor is more plentiful, whereas capital intensive forms of production move to economies with sufficient levels of capital. 

This seemingly convoluted process leads to two phenomena. It means in a world where factors of production can move unfettered, developing countries will attract low skill menial jobs while developed countries will attract skill heavy jobs. 

This has two major implications, each of which has a somewhat perverse element, as well as an underlying positive eventuality. When the aforementioned factors of production move, skilled laborers in developing countries must endure depressed wages, since they reside in a country whose competitive advantage lies in the abundance of its labor supply. 

Conversely, unskilled laborers in developed countries face a similar downward pressure on their wages, and increasingly face the prospect of perennial joblessness. This latter effect is often politicized, resulting in the evident demonization of free trade movements. 

Critics relying on these premises as a basis of criticism miss the redistributive nature of free trade, however. Though unskilled laborers in developed countries (such as the US, UK, and the rest of the EU) face adversity as a result of free trade, its effects are a boon to the masses who are employed in developing countries. 

If the economic logic of trade is to be accepted, which it should be because it is an empirical truism, we see that though a side effect of trade is the depression of low skill wages in developed countries, this negative effect is more than mitigated by the net positive gain arising from increased wages for unskilled laborers in undeveloped countries. The welfare of skilled laborers in undeveloped countries, mentioned above, also adds to this redistributive element. 

Though it is true that trade on the whole likely increases inequality, the current trajectory has simultaneously lifted millions of people out of poverty and allowed for greater levels of economic efficiency. 

Thus, opponents of free trade must decide between sacrificing the welfare of unskilled laborers in undeveloped countries, as well as increased levels of economic efficiency, and the welfare of the relatively well off (as compared to denizens of developing countries) working class members of developed countries. 

When framed within this context, the societally acceptable solution is ostensibly an increase in free trade measures. Free trade decreases consumer costs for durable and nondurable goods, redistributes income to the members of society who truly need it, and leads to irrefutable net gains to society. Its assumed perniciousness must certainly be a result of ignorance rather than a true opposition to its unheralded positive benefits.

May 16, 2014
"Blade Runner" + Montaigne / Freud

Blade Runner is a hard film for me to watch. The darkness that envelops the entire visual and metaphysical landscape, the Vangelis score with its ominous synthesizers and oriental orchestration, the shadowy cinematography – all of these aspects of the film create a culture of immense discomfort. It is precisely this kind of uneasiness and tension that makes Blade Runner so thoughtful and inexhaustible. Complementing the temporal bleeding together of past, present, and future, the film similarly proposes profound questions in a polyphonic way, the most important of which is the difference between replicants and humans. In the film, the difference is gauged by a test called “Voight-Kampff,” and the first scene that we are exposed to this test is when Holden is conducting it on Leon, a suspected replicant. This scene is highly suggestive of one of film’s main motifs: authenticity of one’s humanity being reinforced by having a mother. Rachel, for instance, is the replicant hardest to tell from human because her history (photographs) proves that she has a mother. Leon, however, doesn’t have a mother – or a document “proving” he has a mother – and is therefore sensitive to anybody questioning him about anything related to the maternal. Although it seemed absurd at first, I began to entertain ideas about what Leon substituted in place of a “mother.”  What was the lacuna in that part of his memory filled by?  I began to realize that, in a way, he associated the maternal with war and violence, and that the Voight-Kampff scene, especially with Leon’s final decisive action, presents this mother-as-war association well.

 In Blade Runner lore, replicants were originally created to do hard work; that is, they were exploited for their labor and were used in other planets to assist with humans’ imperialist efforts. It can be said, then, that the replicants are an oppressed species. And if anything can be gleaned from postcolonial theory to suit this discussion, one salient thing that is taken from colonized, oppressed people is their ability to craft their own narrative and identity. As is the case with England, France, Portugal, and even Japan, the colonizer begins to be identified as a “Mother” country. In effect, these replicants are stripped of their individualism and are forced to reconcile their identity in a harsh world, which, as Freud says, “rages against them with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction.” Although we don’t have concrete scenes that exhibit the kind of work these replicants had to do, some of their experiences are intimated in Roy Batty’s final epitaph, in which he discusses some of the injurious and memorable things he had to do, telling Deckard, for instance, that he saw “attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion” and watched “C-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser gate.”

Leon is such an integral part of Blade Runner’s thesis because his situation encapsulates the struggle between Eros and Death that Freud discusses in Civilization and its Discontents. In the film, the reasons that humans were compelled to leave Earth are all rooted in their capacity for destruction. Blade Runner’s visual imagery portrays this in detail: Los Angeles in 2019 is in ruins; it exists as a consequence of economic, cultural, and political collapse, of postindustrial waste and excess. For Leon, then, what could this world be other than a simulacrum of vast destruction? Leon’s mother is war. He was enculturated into a paradigm where he learned through violence and dealt with people by force. His being-in-the-world is essentially mediated by flagrant abuses of power. So when, during the Voight-Kampff test, Leon is asked about his mother, how else would Leon react? His reaction is ultimately a natural one given his circumstances.

 After mulling over these aspects of the film, I became quite despondent. Great art – and Blade Runner is indisputably great art – elicits emotions that beg to be explored. Michel de Montaigne’s essays were an intellectual counterpart to my aimless wanderings, in which the Voight-Kampff scene kept insinuating itself into all of my thoughts.  This particular passage of Montaigne’s essay “On Experience” was the locus of my mental meandering:

"When I dance, I dance. When I sleep, I sleep; and when I am strolling alone through a beautiful orchard, although part of the time my thoughts are occupied by other things, for part of the time too I bring them back to the walk, to the orchard, to the delight in being alone there, and to me. Mother-like, Nature has provided that such actions as she has imposed as necessities should also be pleasurable, urging towards them not only by reason but by desire. To corrupt her laws is wrong."(1258)

I was saddened by the simple fact that, for Leon, there was no “nature” to be “mother-like,” and that in the postmodern wasteland that is his milieu, there aren’t any laws to corrupt, for they’ve all been corrupted to an absurd degree. Leon, as is the case with other soldier-like replicants, is forced to deal with his experiences through the bleak prism of anhedonia, with no true ability to love, which is a death wish in and of itself. I cry at the tragedy of it all, but read a little Montaigne and feel consoled for a short while. I myself am lost, like tears in rain, and my reaction is always so damn destructive. 

- Yousef

December 6, 2013
The Iron Cage

Americans have a certain way of doing things.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiL7XoADFEU

Charles Ives - “The Cage”

The Cage by Charles Ives is one of the shortest pieces of music I’m ever going to review, clocking in at one minute and nine seconds. The good part about having such a short work to review is I can listen to it on repeat about thirty times or so in the half-hour it usually takes me to write these entries. This lets me gain an intimate familiarity with the piece, and really ponder even the finest details of the work. The bad part is that in a piece this short, the difficulty of writing an analysis of respectable length is akin to squeezing orange juice from a rock. However, if I’ve learned anything thus far in my musical studies, it is to never underestimate any piece of music. With that attitude in mind, I begin my listening.
The piece opens with a succession of a series of chords on the piano that spiral upwards and end as abruptly as they started. At around the halfway mark, after a few repetitions of the opening motif, a voice enters the mix. The voice is female, a soprano, and begins to sing in English. The lyrics of the song describe the experiences of a leopard trapped in a cage (hence the name of the piece), and a boy who observes the trapped leopard and wonders, “Is life anything like that?”
The boy’s profound thought is very reminiscent of the theory of the Iron Cage, coined by German sociologist Max Weber. Essentially, Weber posits that as a result of an increasingly rationalized world brought about by the modern capitalist system, man is trapped in a metaphorical iron cage. Contrary to what he may think, man is not free to do as he wishes. Instead, he is a wage slave as he must work to earn money, as without money, living in the capitalist system is impossible. Weber was concerned that the bureaucracies of capitalism were stripping man of his passion, and that the assembly-lines of Fordism were creating “specialists without spirit,” or workers who specialize in an action, but in reality their specialization is meaningless, as the real specialists are the specialists of old who specialized in a trade rather than a single assembly-line action. The modern man is trapped in an Iron Cage, and the irony is that he himself smelted the iron and wrought the very bars that keep him captive.
In The Cage, the leopard, a ferocious beast, is meant to represent the spirit of mankind, trapped helplessly inside a cage. The young boy pondering the situation from outside is Ives himself, casting a critical eye upon the situation of his fellow man. That leaves one character unaccounted for. Who is the zookeeper? Is it God? Is it Mozart? (Is that a redundancy?) Is it Ives’ mentor, Horatio Parker? I am genuinely puzzled. I’ll have to think long and hard about this one.

December 6, 2013
Joe Green the lean mean machine.

Giuseppe Verdi aka Joe Green (if you get that reference we can be friends) is one of the top 2 greatest opera composers of all time (the other being a certain German). This piece should be recognizable to anyone that hears it. But take a moment to really listen to it closely.

Giuseppe Verdi - Requiem: “Dies Irae” & “Tuba Mirum”

Here is a great recording by the Berlin Phil: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up0t2ZDfX7E

I promessi sposi, perhaps the most famous and widely read Italian novel, was written by Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist. While the novel contains in its pages a remarkable tale of drama and betrayal, the work is acknowledged on a broader basis as a precipitator of Risorgimento, or the Italian Unification movement; a movement that served as the basis for the consolidation of the different states of the Italian peninsula into the Kingdom of Italy. Additionally, the novel also played a role as a significant milestone in the development of a unified Italian language.
While it is undeniable that this great novel played a great role in shaping modern Italy, what does it have to do with my analysis of Verdi’s Requiem? On the face of it, this is an excellent question. And the answer lies within the context of the inception of the work. Verdi wrote this Requiem in the memory of the (then) recently deceased Alessandro Manzoni, who, as mentioned earlier, is the author of I promessi sposi, and a central figure in Italian heritage. It is known that Verdi greatly admired Manzoni, and this is evident in the work, as it takes a great deal of admiration for compose to compose a work of this size in their memory.
And with this mention of size, we transition to our analysis of the piece, beginning with its simply massive scale. For the full effect, I recommend viewing of the work in video form. The massive romantic orchestra, along with four soloists and a choir, all play in unison to produce a massive battery of music.
The incredibly chilling and hair-raising Dies Irae pits themes of agony and intense pain against moments of forgiveness and mercy, in which Verdi explores the rites of death and the tribulations that follow in the after-life. Indeed, much of what follows in the Requiem as a whole consists of dramatic contrasts. The text of the Dies Irae is very powerful, and Verdi assumed the responsibility of composing equally powerful music to accompany it.
The following Tuba mirum takes magnitude to a whole new level: “The combination of brass and choral quadruple fortissimo markings result in some of the loudest unamplified music ever written.” One can only imagine what the poor souls sitting in the front row of the first performance must have been going through. A very interesting, albeit contrived, connection to be made here lies in the casting of the trumpet as the “caller to judgement”. Upon reading this, my mind immediately leapt in another direction, that of the Islamic faith. In Islamic eschatology, the trumpet is the instrument that will be played by the angel Israphel, upon the command of God, to resurrect the dead so that the Day of Judgement may begin. Islamic scholars have spent years debating the symbolism of the trumpet in the Quran, and most Muslims are aware of the mystery surrounding the trumpet. When I read that the 19th century Romanic opera composer also cast the trumpet as his “day of reckoning” instrumental harbinger, I was fascinated. Merely a coincidence, or something more? 

Verdi, you sneaky son of a bitch

December 6, 2013
New Feature: Classical Music Reviews

For the next few weeks or so, I’ll be writing reviews of some of the greatest classical works in the Western Classical tradition. They won’t be very technical, so even non-musicians can find them accessible. I would call this Musical Mondays or something but: a) its not monday and b) i suck at commitments (i’m less reliable than a pregnant girl’s period). First post will be up later today. 

If you’ve ever wanted to get into classical music but don’t know where to start, this is a good opportunity.

Rules: 

1. You must listen to the piece before or while reading the review.

2. You must listen to the piece through decent quality headphones. (Senn or AKG, etc.) You’d be depriving yourself otherwise. 

3. No beats by dre allowed. If you own a pair, kill yourself. 

4. Feel free to leave me a comment for pieces you want reviewed. 

October 2, 2013
Paradox of Governance

Recently, I have encountered an interesting conundrum, one I have yet to find a solution for. I call this the paradox of governance. 

This paradox involves the interplay between small and large governments, namely, the problem each extreme poses. 

Large governments have the advantage of control, and the ability to enforce desired ends. However, history has showed that large governments often become tyrannical, infringing upon the rights of others. Worse, control of the government often falls disproportionately into the hands of specific interest groups, leading to skewed governmental policy. 

Furthermore, a large government is understandably lacking in efficiency, requiring much from its citizens (by way of taxes, service, etc.) This invariably inhibits the growth of the private sector, simply due to the resources being monopolized by the government. 

While the prevalently heard response to such a danger is to suggest a reduction in the size of government, this solution is equally dangerous. Simply, a government that is not large enough may grant its citizens freedom, but may ultimately be ineffectual, altogether negating the very utility of a governing body. (ie anarchy)

Taken from an economic standpoint, a large government may attempt to control the economy, ultimately failing to do so (Because such a task is nearly impossible). However, a small government will be unable to enforce necessary regulations, leaving a power vacuum only to be filled by large corporations, thus leading to a corrupt capitalistic system. 

We thus find that the ultimate (assumed) goal is an economic system that is left to itself, but is governed by a government strong enough to enforce fair competition. However, neither a small nor big government help achieve this goal, producing a nearly unsolvable quagmire. 

Claiming moderation between two extremes is not an appropriate solution to the problems posed by each, but only a compromise between two undesirables. While it may be true that a government that is neither small or large limits the problems posed by each, it in no way solves the inadequacies posed by both systems completely. 

I am open to suggestions.

-Yousuf Hafuda

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