I spent a ridiculous amount of time writing my last blog post.  I mean, it was almost 5000 words.  Who writes 5000 words just for fun?  But luckily, all that work will yield not just one, but two (or maybe even more) blog posts.  Just as PhD’s mine their dissertations for journal articles, I will mine the last post for more nuggets of symphonic information.  We will count down the 100 symphonies ever written.  Most of the work has already been done: I’ve ranked every numbered symphony I could think of (spoiler alert: Sibelius has the top 2 spots!) but there are some symphonies I’ve left out.  We need to add some works numbered 10 and beyond; and we need to add a few symphonies without numbers at all.  Likewise, we need to get rid of some of the “throwaways”.  Sorry, Haydn #9.

What, exactly, is a symphony?  I consider it a large-scale work for orchestra, for which soloists don’t play a major part.  That’s a pretty broad definition, but it excludes things like Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, and Beethoven overtures.  There’s some subjectivity here: why exclude Lenore III when, in actuality, it’s longer than some Mozart symphonies?  I don’t have a good answer except to say that Lenore III wasn’t meant to stand on its own…it was meant to be part of an opera.  A symphony should be self-contained.

One further point.  I’m not going to rehash all of the symphonies from the previous post.  I am going to use the scores from that post, but in order to keep this post under 5000 words I’m going to limit myself to one sentence only for each symphony.

Here’s the countdown:

  1. Bruckner Symphony #1

Not the strongest Bruckner symphony, but worth a listen for the promise it conveys.

  1. Schumann Symphony #4

Schumann’s best symphony is well-constructed but kinda forgettable.

  1. Beethoven Symphony #6, “Pastoral”

Most people like it, but it’s too cheery for me (in a “drunken centaur” kind of way).

  1. Tchaikovsky Symphony #1, “Winter Dreams”

Not Tchaikovsky’s best, but sprightly and with a triumphant ending.

  1. Shostakovich Symphony #15

A demented toy shop: just listen for the quotes from the William Tell Overture.

Image result for helnwein paintings

Gottfried Helnwein, Untitled

    95. Borodin Symphony #2

Good and bad in equal measure, it depends upon your mood.

  1. Beethoven Symphony #3, “Eroica”

The first memorable Beethoven symphony, but the funeral march is boring.

  1. Tchaikovsky Symphony #2, “Little Russian”

More serious, slightly improved version of Tchaikovsky’s 1st.

  1. Bax Symphony #7

Bax tries to emulate Holst’s The Planets, but only partly succeeds.

  1. Piston Symphony #7

Almost like a movie soundtrack, with hints of Copeland.

  1. Haydn Symphony #94, “Surprise”

Stereotypical late Haydn, which can be good or bad.

  1. Mahler Symphony #3

A glorious, epic mess; the singing parts are just weird.

  1. Schubert Symphony #6, “Little”

Even a weaker effort of Schubert is better than most people’s best.

  1. Shostakovich Symphony #2, “October”

Experimental, random, chaotic, but ultimately triumphant.

  1. Mahler Symphony #1

All-encompassing journey to a primordial alien world, marred by the presence of an insipid children’s song.

  1. Glass Symphony #9

This is what happens when Glass tries to sound more like Sibelius or Bruckner.

  1. Bax Symphony #6

This muscular symphony could be the soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian.

  1. Brian Symphony #1, “Gothic”

Gargantuan, beautiful, and over-long.

  1. Mahler Symphony #8

Mahler tries to make his own “Beethoven’s 9th” but dispenses with the foreplay.

  1. Bruckner Symphony #3, “Wagner Symphony”

The first fully mature Bruckner symphony…serious and masculine.

  1. Dvorak Symphony #8

Happy and mature…a hike for grown-ups.

Image result for hikes on isle royale

  1. Tchaikovsky Symphony #4

“A sleigh ride through Siberia”, and proof that Tchaikovsky just kept getting better.

  1. Mozart Symphony #39

Underrated Mozart symphony that matches the heft and polish of the more famous last two (#40 and #41).

  1. Prokofiev Symphony #7

Melancholy and percussive, and proof that Prokofiev wrote more than just the “Classical” symphony and Romeo and Juliet.

  1. Shostakovich Symphony #12, “The Year 1917”

Some call it a film score looking for a movie, but it sounds good to me.

  1. Sibelius Symphony #1

The first sign that Sibelius is The Chosen One.

  1. Mendelssohn Symphony #4, “Italian”

It’s like crème brulee that’s been sitting out for an hour or so.

  1. Glass Symphony #3

The best symphony by Philip Glass.

  1. Haydn Symphony #88

This takes refinement to a whole new level.

Image result for vienna in 1787

  1. Vaughn Williams Symphony #8

Great and otherworldly, but the ending has me thinking of all the Who’s singing down in Whoville.

  1. Prokofiev Symphony #1, “Classical”

Hey, look Ma, I can write a classical Haydnesque symphony in the 20th century!

  1. Vaughn Williams Symphony #5

Pastoral and Faux-Sibelius, with Hobbits.

  1. Vaughn Williams Symphony #6

Hey, I know, let’s just depress everyone with this “nuclear wasteland” ending.

  1. Mahler Symphony #6, “Tragic”

It’s got some hammer blows in there somewhere?

Image result for mjolnir

  1. Mahler Symphony #5

A sublime Adagietto padded by an hour of epic Mahlerian mush.

  1. Sibelius Symphony #3

Leaner and more focused, this is a new direction for Sibelius.

  1. Shostakovich Symphony #10

Tense and colorful and oppressive, like a Soviet propaganda poster brought to life.

  1. Mahler Symphony #7

Strange, bleak, demonic, and then…triumphant?

  1. Mozart Symphony #35, “Haffner”

Mozart tries something a little…bigger.

  1. Hovhaness Symphony #63, “Loon Lake”

I have no idea where Loon Lake is, but I want to go there now.

  1. Haydn Symphony #82, “The Bear”

My favorite lesser-known Haydn symphony.

  1. Bruckner Symphony #6

Like Bruckner’s 5th on Xanax.

  1. Bruckner Symphony #4, “Romantic”

The age of chivalry made into music.

  1. Shostakovich Symphony #9

Goofy, sinister, vigorous, and off-putting.

  1. Tchaikovsky Symphony #5

Despair gives way to triumph.

Image result for helnwein

Gottfried Helnwein, Midnight MIckey

  1. Schubert Symphony #5

You could call this “Mozart’s 42nd”.

  1. Schubert Symphony #8, “Unfinished”

Pristine, flawless, menacing…then peaceful.

  1. Shostakovich Symphony #1

A stroll through a museum of artworks by mental patients.

  1. Haydn Symphony #26, “Lamentatione”

Why didn’t Haydn write more symphonies in a minor key?

  1. Hovhaness Symphony #22, “City of Light”

Harmonious and magisterial.

  1. Mozart Symphony #38, “Prague”

The first Mozart symphony with real gravitas.

  1. Bruckner Symphony #7

Great Adagio, even if Hitler liked it, too.

Gottfried Helnwein, Epiphany I

  1. Sibelius Symphony #6

It’s like waking up to a foggy dawn in the Smokies, to discover autumn’s first frost.

  1. Beethoven Symphony #4

The most underrated Beethoven symphony.

  1. Tchaikovsky, Manfred Symphony

This is so good, how come no one has ever heard of it?

  1. Nielsen Symphony #4, “The Inextinguishable”

Eclectic, disturbing, psychological, with a timpani battle!

  1. Khachaturian Symphony #3

“Raw and strident” …it’s a single movement, dominated by an organ and 15 (!) trumpets.

  1. Shostakovich Symphony #8

Like a vacation in East Germany.

  1. Schubert Symphony #3

I challenge you not to like this.

  1. Mahler Symphony #10

 Ah, what might have been…

  1. Bizet, Symphony in C

Here’s a teenager putting the rest of us oldsters to shame.

  1. Nielsen Symphony #5

Nielsen tops his 4th with an even more war-like symphony.

  1. Rachmaninoff Symphony #2

A harmonic mosaic that somehow conveys poignancy, joy, and sadness at the same time.

  1. Dvorak Symphony #7

My favorite Dvorak symphony other than the 9th…I wish I knew why.

  1. Ives Symphony #4

It’s like a church service with goblins besieging the place.

  1. Haydn Symphony #49, “La Passione”

Haydn + minor key = good.

  1. Mozart Symphony #40

Mozart + minor key = good.

  1. Górecki Symphony #3, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”

Threadbare songs of infinite sadness.

  1. Tchaikovsky Symphony #6, “Pathetique”

Tchaikovsky’s best; there’s just so much going on here.

  1. Haydn Symphony #39

Strum und Drang…must I say this was in a minor key?

Image result for sturm und drang movement

  1. Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra

OK, maybe this isn’t a symphony, but holy shit….please, please, listen to more than just the cliched opening two minutes!

  1. Mahler Symphony #9

Funny, how much of the best Mahler is the Mahler that sounds most like Bruckner.

  1. Franck, Symphony in D minor

A French organist tries his hand at symphonic writing, and scores a home run.

  1. Mozart Symphony #29

Maybe the best opening movement of any Classical symphony.

  1. Mahler Symphony #2, “Resurrection”

Mahler’s best.

  1. Beethoven Symphony #5

Skip the first movement if you want to hear this with fresh ears.

  1. Mozart Symphony #25

Agitated, syncopated, minor key…are we sure this was written in 1773?

  1. Shostakovich Symphony #7, “Leningrad”

Trump’s ascent made into music: the banality of evil.

  1. Shostakovich Symphony #11, “The Year 1905”

Highly visual and emotional tour-de-force.

Image result for the year 1905

  1. Dvorak Symphony #9, “From the New World”

Maybe the catchiest symphony of all time.

  1. D’Indy, Symphony on a French Mountain Air

Like a picnic in the Alps, in springtime.

  1. Brahms Symphony #1

Some call it “Beethoven’s 10th” and that’s not far off the mark.

  1. Brahms Symphony #4

Better than the 1st, by a hair…Brahms proves here that rigid structure and control can still yield immense beauty.

Image result for driftwood

  1. Saint-Saëns Symphony #3, “Organ Symphony”

The organ’s entry in the finale is spectacular…and is that a fugue?

  1. Bruckner Symphony #8

Apocalyptic in every sense of the word.

  1. Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique

A fever dream: Downton Abbey on ecstasy, with some Satanism thrown in for good measure.

  1. Beethoven Symphony #7


  1. Mozart Symphony #41, “Jupiter”

Sounds simple, but if you look at the 4th movement along with the score, your mind will be blown by how complicated the fugue is!

  1. Bruckner Symphony #5

So Bruckner…so complex.

  1. Walton Symphony #1

The fragmented motifs, the iron-clad logic…every single movement makes me smile.

  1. Schubert Symphony #9, “The Great”

If this music doesn’t make you feel anything, you might want to check your pulse.

  1. Hovhaness Symphony #2, “Mysterious Mountain”

Subterranean caverns, glistening stalactites, corners with cobwebs, and sunlight glinting off giant broken geodes.

Image result for hang son doong

  1. Sibelius Symphony #4

Music that stares back at you, with a gaze “blank and pitiless as the sun”.

  1. Hovhaness Symphony #50, “Mt. St. Helens”

Mysterious Mountain on steroids, complete with a volcanic eruption unlike anything ever portrayed in symphonic form.

  1. Shostakovich Symphony #5

Even though it predates World War II, this is an invasion by Nazis, turned into music.

  1. Bruckner Symphony #9

Unrequited longing…unresolved harmonies…and then it—

  1. Sibelius Symphony #2

Has the greatest musical orgasm ever written.

  1. Beethoven Symphony #9

Encompasses all of human experience.

  1. Sibelius Symphony #5

The best symphony ever written.

  1. Sibelius Symphony #7

The best symphony ever written [stet].

Image result for sibelius 7th symphony

[Note: after having written all this, I realize there are some good ones I’ve forgotten: Strauss’ Alpine Symphony, Vaughn Williams’ Sea Symphony, Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals.  I could probably justify not calling any of these symphonies per se (even the Sea Symphony sounds more like a cantata to me) but I’ll instead just call these honorable mentions.  Having said that, they’re all very good, and if I wanted to spend another hour or so they’d bump Bruckner’s Symphony #1, Schumann’s Symphony #4, Beethoven’s Symphony #6, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #1 out of the top 100.]

Consider every symphony named Symphony #X, where X is an integer.  For what value of X is the set of Symphonies #X the greatest?

For example, let X = 9.  There are some incredible 9th symphonies: Beethoven’s, of course, but Mahler’s, Bruckner’s, and Schubert’s 9th all come to mind as well.  Is there a value of X which exceeds this collection?

This question is, obviously, absurdly subjective.  Whatever results I get will surely not coincide with yours.  Nevertheless, the question is entertaining, which (in my view) is reason enough to think about it.

First, some ground rules.  Symphonies without numbers are hereby excluded.  So, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique is out (rightly or wrongly), as is Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony and d’Indy’s Symphony on a French Mountain Air.  That’s a shame, really, since all three of these works are awesome.  But, I didn’t make the rules.  (Oh wait, I did.  Never mind.)

Symphonies which are incomplete are fair game, however, such as Bruckner’s 9th, Mahler’s 10th, or Schubert’s 8th.  I’ll always remember the first time I heard Bruckner’s 9th: lying down, in the dark, with Walkman headphones.  I had no idea that the symphony was unfinished; no idea that the 3rd movement was not meant to be the finale.  I thought that the unresolved harmonies, the unfulfilled longing, was a magical way to end a piece…

Image result for sibelius symphony manuscript score

Brahms #4

Since the question is so subjective, let’s be as objective as possible with scoring.  I will go through integers X = 1 through 9, listing and discussing my top ten symphonies with that X value.  (Sorry, X = 0.  Although I enjoy Bruckner’s Symphony #0, that’s not enough.)  Beyond X = 9, the pickings are sparse.  You’re basically just looking at Haydn, Mozart, Shostakovich, and Hovhaness.  Each of my top ten will get a score (from 60-100, roughly equivalent to a letter grade) and the results for each X will be averaged.  Thus, each X will have a maximum possible score of 100.

[Note: a score of 60, which I would call a D-, doesn’t mean that I think the symphony sucks.  Far from it: any score of 60 or greater I would give a positive review for, much like a Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Remember that there are 90 symphonies here, and that I’m comparing them against one another.]

Let the games begin!

X = 1

Beethoven Symphony #1

It’s hard to like early Beethoven symphonies.  I admire them in the abstract; they’re transitional Classical pieces before Beethoven took off the gloves and became a Romantic.  But really, who wouldn’t rather listen to Mozart’s 41st symphony than this thing?  Score: 68

Brahms Symphony #1

This one’s a giant.  All the movements are solid, but the sunlight pouring in from the door in the middle of the finale, when that Melody comes in, is incomparable.  Score: 92

Brian Symphony #1, “Gothic”

This one’s a giant for a different reason: a performance lasts almost two hours.  There are lots of interesting bits in there, but the whole thing is rather murky.  The youtube link for this symphony has pictures of Gothic cathedrals, which is appropriate: the symphony is stodgy, contrived, yet beautiful.  Score: 81

Image result for gothic cathedrals

Bruckner Symphony #1

I’ve always liked Bruckner, but this is one of his average efforts.  It’s as if he hadn’t learned subtlety yet.  Yet the Brucknerian chordal progressions are there…you can tell there’s greater stuff yet to be written.  Score: 75

Mahler Symphony #1

This is good, I suppose; I like most of it.  As Aladdin said, it’s like a whole new world.  But the Frère Jacques thing in the slow movement puts me off.  Score: 80

Prokofiev Symphony #1, “Classical”

You don’t like 20th century atonalism?  Then try this.  I can hear Prokofiev saying, “Hey?  Whadda ya want from me?”  It’s funny how Prokofiev imitating Haydn sounds a bit like cheerful Shostakovich.  Still, it’s catchy.  Score: 84

Shostakovich Symphony #1

Speaking of Shostakovich, this one ain’t cheerful at all.  It’s warped: it’s like a stroll through a museum of artworks by mental patients.  Near the end of the 2nd movement, the shoe drops.  Am I the only one who hears the Imperial (Death Star) march in there?  Score: 86

Sibelius Symphony #1

No one wrote symphonies more consistently than Sibelius.  Unlike Beethoven or Bruckner, I actually choose to listen to Sibelius #1 on occasion.  The theme of the 1st movement is great; the Andante is relaxing; the finale is hardy and (like much of Sibelius) somehow Arctic. Score: 83

Tchaikovsky Symphony #1, “Winter Dreams”

Most people don’t think of Tchaikovsky as a symphonist, except for maybe his 6th.  But many of his other symphonies are worth a listen.  His 1st is sprightly, Mendelssohnesque, but indisputably Tchaikovsky.  The triumphant ending is worth the price of admission.  Score: 76

Walton Symphony #1

It makes me sad that Sibelius never gave us an 8th symphony (the sketches that survive don’t count).  Walton’s 1st symphony is a consolation, though.  The influence of Sibelius is obvious: the fragmented motifs, the iron-clad logic.  Every single movement makes me smile.  And the ending is so optimistic!  Score: 95


X = 2

Sibelius Symphony #2

Speaking of Sibelius, with only his 2nd symphony, you’re already in rarefied territory.  I have probably listened to this symphony more than any other piece of music written, with the possible exception of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra.  Sibelius #2 transports me to some remote part of Finland, maybe Helvetinjärvi National Park.  I like how the entire symphony builds inexorably to the finale, maybe one of the greatest musical exhalations ever written.  Score: 98

sibelius 2.jpg

Borodin Symphony #2

My opinion of this piece depends upon my mood.  Sometimes I love it.  Other times it’s meh.  The opening movement is dark and energetic, but seems like a prologue.  The 2nd movement is fast yet forgettable.  The 3rd movement is the best: a faultless, serene melody.  The finale is vigorous, rhythmically interesting, complex, yet hollow.  Score:  77

Hovhaness Symphony #2, “Mysterious Mountain”

One of the few symphonies whose nickname adds something to the listening experience.  Picture a mountain, shrouded in mists.  The music takes you onto the mountain, but also underneath it: there are subterranean caverns, glistening stalactites, corners with cobwebs, and sunlight glinting off giant broken geodes.  Listen to it in the dark.  It never gets old.  Score: 96

Mahler Symphony #2, “Resurrection”

One of Mahler’s epic choral symphonies.  I consider this one superior to the more unfocused 8th.  There’s a journey here: from life to death to life.  Heady stuff, and emotional.  Score: 90

Rachmaninoff Symphony #2

Rachmaninoff knew how to write for the piano (his 2nd Piano Concerto would get a score of 100 if it were a symphony).  There’s no piano here, but it’s still sublime.  No real melodies to hang onto, just gorgeous sonorities, key changes, textures, a harmonic mosaic that somehow conveys poignancy, joy, and sadness at the same time.   Score: 88

Shostakovich Symphony #2, “October”

This one’s very experimental.  The music is layered on chaotically, almost randomly.  And the chorus at the end sounds like it is singing on pain of death.  But…there’s energy here, and life.  Score: 80

Beethoven Symphony #2

See comments about Beethoven’s 1st symphony.  I’ll only add that the 2nd has a better, more vigorous opening movement.  But the slow movement is dull, and the final movement starts…and stops…too much…for my taste.  The “melody” of the finale is strange to say the least.  Score: 70

Tchaikovsky Symphony #2, “Little Russian”

This C minor effort is, like the 1st, obviously Tchaikovsky.  The tone is more “serious” than the 1st, though: it’s rousing and Russian in a sort of stereotypical way.  There’s also another triumphant ending.  Tchaikovsky really knew how to end things with a bang.  Score: 79

Schubert Symphony #2

One gets the feeling this is a continuation of Mozart or Haydn, with hints of Romanticism lurking around the edges.  In a way, it’s like Beethoven #1…but more elegant; more melodic; happier. Score: 72

Brahms Symphony #2

Brahms wasn’t able to match his 1st symphony with this attempt.  Still, it’s well-made: bucolic, relaxing; serene.  A little dry. Score: 74



Górecki Symphony  #3, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”

This may be the strangest of the symphonies on this list.  The first movement is a minimalist canon (with strings only) that gradually reaches apotheosis with a soprano, singing laments in Polish.  It’s sad; the other movements are even sadder.  The music might seem clichéd, but that’s only because of over-exposure (the CD from 1992 sold over a million copies). This music never fails to move.  Score: 89

Saint-Saëns Symphony #3, “Organ Symphony”

Monumental but put together with exquisite craftsmanship, the organ symphony is one of those works that will make you stop whatever you’re doing and listen.  The organ’s entry in the finale is spectacular.  And is that a fugue?  Too bad they used the music in the pig-movie Babe.  Score: 92

Sibelius Symphony #3

Sibelius can do no wrong, yo?  Leaner and more focused than #1 and #2, Sibelius #3 looks toward the 20th century with optimism, almost naively missing World War I on the horizon (which will descend 7 years later).  But I can’t help but feeling Sibelius is saying more here than I realize.  Score: 84

Beethoven Symphony #3, “Eroica”

Beethoven symphonies improved almost linearly.  His third effort is the first, in my mind, that might make you say, “hmm, this guy’s got some talent”.  The funeral march is boring, but the other three movements are masterful examples of early Romanticism.  Score: 79

Bruckner, Symphony #3, “Wagner Symphony”

Bruckner also showed steady improvement in his symphonies over time.  This symphony is the first of Bruckner’s symphonies to sound fully Brucknerian: adult, ponderous, serious, incisive, and complex.  It feels to me like the soundtrack to a depressing tale from the Silmarillion, perhaps the fall of Gondolin.  And I mean that as a complement.  Score: 81

Image result for fall of gondolin

Ecthelion vs. Gothmog

Khachaturian Symphony #3

This is a very iconoclastic pick on my part.  The symphony (from 1947) is very obscure, but there’s something compelling about it.  It’s a single movement, dominated by an organ and 15 trumpets.  Wikipedia calls it “raw and strident” and I agree.  That’s why I like it.  Score: 87

Mahler Symphony #3

I want to like this symphony.  Most of the time, I do.  It’s Mahler’s most epic symphony:  it clocks in at an hour and a half.    Depending on your mood, that might be a good thing, or it might seem a tad bit prolix.  There’s definitely some interesting stuff scattered in there.  But then: that weird song an hour in.  WTF?  Then there are some elves singing a Christmas song.  Um, OK… Score: 80

Mendelssohn Symphony #3, “Scottish”

No elves here; just early Romantic stuff disguised as faux-Mozart.  There’s nothing to complain about, but also nothing much to remember.  Score:  73

Glass Symphony #3

Not the best work of Philip Glass, but then, he’s better with opera (The Photographer) and movie scores (Koyaanisqatsi). Still, there aren’t many “Symphony #3”’s to pick from, so Glass makes the cut.  And this is an interesting fusion of Glassian minimalism and traditional symphonic form.  Score: 84

Schubert Symphony #3

The musical equivalent to crème brulee.  There is a Mozartian perfection here, but with hints of Romanticism.  After a stately “French overture”-type intro, the orchestra and a lone clarinet get into a good-natured pillow fight.  Melodic.  Reassuring.  Only the Grinch would dislike this.  Score: 87


X = 4

Mendelssohn Symphony  #4, “Italian”

This symphony covers the same happy ground as the Schubert #3, and much of it is ingenious, but there’s something indefinably missing.  It’s like crème brulee that’s been sitting out for an hour or so.  While listening to this, I daydream about Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is superior.  Score: 84

Tchaikovsky Symphony #4

One reviewer called this a “Sleigh Ride Through Siberia”.  Another said “the composer’s twaddle disturbed my mood”.  I agree somewhat, but rather like this symphony anyway.  Tchaikovsky symphonies, like Bruckner’s, got better as he went.  Score: 82

Brahms Symphony #4

Finally Brahms matches his 1st symphony!  The lilting melody at the opening is sublime.  And the finale—a passacaglia (theme and variations), based on a Bach cantata!—proves that rigid structure and control can still yield immense beauty.  Score: 92

Beethoven Symphony #4

The most underrated Beethoven symphony.  Everybody talks about the odd-numbered ones (3,5,7,9) but this one is right up there.  The ambiguous tonality of the opening reminds me of the great Beethoven overtures like Lenore III or Fidelio.  Score: 87

Sibelius Symphony #4

Not for the faint of heart, this symphony is the bleakest music ever composed.  And I don’t mean pathos; for that, take Barber’s Adagio for Strings if you like, or Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess.  No, the Sibelius #4 is music that stares back at you, with a gaze “blank and pitiless as the sun”.  The universe isn’t a sad place, it’s just indifferent.  Score: 96

Bruckner Symphony #4, “Romantic”

With the 4th Bruckner is really hitting his stride.  I’ve heard it said that the movements depict scenes from Medieval Europe.  There’s certainly a lot of French horn calls in there: Tallyho, and all that.  The Scherzo is great.  Score: 85

Nielsen Symphony #4, “The Inextinguishable”

Composed during World War I, this symphony might have the most dramatic opening of any symphony.  The rest of the piece is eclectic, disturbing, psychological.  Be sure to stick around for the timpani battle. Score: 87

Image result for famous world war 1 art

“The Tanks at Seicheprey” by H. T. Dunn


Ives Symphony #4

And speaking of eclectic and disturbing, the Ives #4 can be downright weird at times.  What’s that piano doing in there?  Is that a church choir?  This music sounds almost ethereal.  But then…it’s like a church service with goblins besieging the place.  Polystylistic in the extreme.  The 3rd movement is downright serene. Score: 89

Mahler Symphony #4

OK, OK, I know it’s Mahler.  By default, it’s good.  But…sleigh bells?  This is a kid’s symphony, like Mahler writes the soundtrack to a Harry Potter book.  Score: 70

Schumann Symphony #4

In the beginning of the Romantic period was Beethoven.  At the end, there was Brahms.  In between was…Schumann.  This is well-crafted and well-orchestrated stuff, but kinda forgettable.  Score: 76


X = 5

Beethoven Symphony #5

I’ve heard this so many times it’s clichéd—it’s hard to hear it “objectively”.  But there’s not a dull moment, and the transition from C minor to C major (going from the Scherzo to the Finale) is awe-inspiring.  The coda is a tad over-long (OK, we get it, we’re in C major now) but all is forgiven.  Score: 90

Shostakovich Symphony #5

When I first heard this, I had no expectations whatsoever.  I knew nothing about the piece.  It starts with a strange, jumping, disturbing melody, and seems agitated, almost anxious.  Then: holy shit, what just happened?  Dear lord, it sounds like Nazis have invaded.  Just writing this, I have to listen to the symphony again.  Score: 96

Sibelius Symphony #5

Best symphony ever written.  The final movement gives me hope for humanity.  Nothing more needs to be said.  [Note: make sure you listen to Vänskä’s version.]  Score: 100

Bruckner Symphony #5

There’s so much going on here, I don’t know what to say.  So Bruckner.  So complex.  The finale takes every theme of the symphony, and creates a sonata-like movement, or is it a fugue?  Or something else?  Score: 94

Tchaikovsky Symphony #5 “Fate”

Tchaikovsky just gets better and better.  Despair, ultimately, gives way to triumph.  Score: 86

Mahler Symphony #5

For people familiar with the Adagietto from the 5th, this symphony has a lot more to offer.  Sure, the Adagietto is beautiful and achingly poignant, but the rest of the symphony is epic.  Like most Mahler, however, he makes Bruckner look laconic.  Score: 84

Image result for melancholy flowers

Nielsen Symphony #5

I like this Nielsen symphony even more than his more famous 4th.  It continues on the World War I theme.  This time, the snare drum tries to destroy the orchestra.  Eventually, the orchestra (barely) wins.  Score: 88

Schubert Symphony #5

Schubert continues to channel Mozart well into the Romantic period.  But this is late Mozart, with some heft and substance to it: if you said this was Mozart’s 42nd symphony I wouldn’t be surprised. Score: 86

Vaughn Williams Symphony #5

I suppose I’m fond of this because of the Sibeliusian influence.  The symphony was, after all, dedicated to Sibelius.  It’s very pastoral; it reminds me of the Shire.  See the hobbits, walking over there?  Score: 84

Prokofiev Symphony #5

There aren’t as many 5th symphonies as I thought.  I decided to round-out the 5’s with this effort of Prokofiev.  It’s got many of the qualities (novel orchestrations, percussive melodies, dramatic fortes) that drew me to, say, Romeo and Juliet.  Score: 75


X = 6

Beethoven Symphony #6, “Pastoral”

Many people rank this as Beethoven’s best symphony, but it’s too cheerful for me.  Maybe I can’t get the image of the horny centaurs from Fantasia out of my head.  But if you want cheerful, this is it.  It’s hard to believe the guy who wrote this was a grumpy middle-aged man going deaf.  Score: 76

Tchaikovsky Symphony #6, “Pathetique”

And we come to Tchaikovsky’s best symphony, the 6th.  That wistful melody from the opening… The dance movement in 5/4 time… The weirdly addictive scherzo march theme… The finale: is it sadness, or resignation?  Score: 89

Mahler Symphony #6, “Tragic”

Unlike Sibelius or even Bruckner, many of Mahler’s symphonies kind of blur together in my mind into a sort of Mahlerian mush.  This is the one with the hammer blows, I think.  I know that I enjoy this one; it’s suitably epic and dramatic.  But as for the details, well, I’m not in the mood right now to listen to this for an hour and a half.  Score: 84 (?)

Bruckner Symphony #6

Even Bruckner fans often diss the 6th, but it sounds good to me: more contained, more modest than the 5th, but still full of organ-like pedal-point harmonies and the “Bruckner rhythm” of two quarter notes followed by a triplet.  It’s like Bruckner’s 5th on Xanax.  Score:  85

Sibelius Symphony #6

A great symphony, but it’s overshadowed in my mind by the 5th and 7th which bookend it.  Snowy harmonies, and a mixture of serene contentment and vague unease.  It’s like waking up to a foggy dawn in the Smokies, to discover autumn’s first frost.   Score: 86

Image result for frost in the great smoky mountains

Shostakovich Symphony #6

And just like that, I’ve run out of 6’s which come to mind instantly.  I’m not that familiar with the Shostakovich #6, but have heard it a few times, and the impression I’ve always had was that the movements, although good individually, don’t quite jive.  The first movement is the best: depression and despair.  Nobody does despair and oppression quite like Shostakovich.  The other two movements are jolly, and good in a “Festival Overture” sort of way, but don’t quite mesh with the opening.  Score: 74

Dvorak Symphony #6

This is a standard late-Romantic symphony.  Brahmsian.  It’s a good effort: good enough to pay the bills, at any rate.  Score: 71

Vaughn Williams Symphony #6

Oh wait: I forgot about the Vaughn Williams #6.  This is good shit: we have the utter chaos of World War II giving rise to an austere nuclear wasteland.  You have to turn the volume up to 11 in the final movement just to hear anything.  Crap, now I’m depressed.  Score: 84

Schubert Symphony #6, “Little”

This is a transitional piece.  It’s as if Schubert was tired of being a faux-Mozart and wanted to go in a new direction.  That new direction was to be a faux-Beethoven.  Still, the melodies are superb.   Score: 80

Bax Symphony #6

The last of the 6’s is Bax’s 6th, which almost sounds like the soundtrack to a Conan movie.  That’s not meant to be derogatory; the music is muscular, modal.  There’s meat on these bones.  And gristle.  Score: 81


X = 7

Beethoven Symphony #7

Not much can be said about the 7th that hasn’t already been said.  For a while, I was obsessed with the slow movement—maybe the best Romantic slow movement ever written.  (Speaking of which, why are Classical slow movements, like Mozart’s, so boring?)  The finale is vigorous.  Score: 93

Sibelius Symphony #7

Forget what I said about Sibelius #5.  This is the best symphony ever written.  I could listen to the opening 7 minutes on infinite loop, no joke.  And the mysterious, abrupt ending makes a transition to C major seem (somehow) like a defeat!  Note that some conductors wimp out and change the ending, which I consider heresy.  Stick to Vänskä’s interpretation.  Score: 100

Mahler Symphony #7

The Mahler #7 is not part of the Mahlerian mush: I recall this one in more detail.  It’s strange, bleak, demonic.  It makes me think of the movie The Descent.  The ending always strikes me as a tad absurd, though.  There’s a dawn-like triumph into C major.  The entire work is good, but rather incoherent and naïve.  Score: 85

Bruckner Symphony #7

Bruckner’s just plodding along, cranking out solid Brucknerian symphonies.  The 7th is memorable (to me) for its wonderful Adagio.  Hitler is said to have liked the 7th, but fuck it, I like it too.  Score: 86

Shostakovich Symphony #7, “Leningrad”

I didn’t understand this when I first heard it.  But then repeated listening have carved out a channel in my brain where this symphony resides.  The first movement dominates: the “invasion” theme is ridiculous, almost a joke, but then it gets repeated over and over, louder and louder, until it’s scary and threatens to take over the world.  This is Trump’s ascension, portrayed in music.  The good news is that in the 7th, at least, good triumphs, and all is restored by the end. Score: 90

Image result for Siege of Leningrad. Diorama at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War of St. Petersburg.

Dvorak Symphony #7

OK, it’s not just Mahler; the Dvorak symphonies aren’t too distinct in my mind, either.  I just know that the 7th is my favorite other than the 9th.  (Come to think of it, that’s like Beethoven.)  Score: 89

Prokofiev Symphony #7

I’m floundering to get a total of ten 7’s.  This one’s pretty good: quite melancholy, with echoes of Shostakovich.  The Prokofiev flair for drama and violence is there, too.  Score: 83

Bax Symphony #7

The Bax #7 is theatrical, and galactic in ambition.  Think: Star Trek.  It almost wants to be a sequel to Holst’s The Planets.  It’s only moderately successful in that ambition.  Score: 79

Piston Symphony #7

Walter Piston’s #7 is, like Bax #7, very cinematic.  But this one owes more to Copeland than Holst.  I don’t know which #7 I prefer.  Score: 79

Haydn Symphony #7, “Le Midi”

A total throwaway; it’s fine, such as it is, but not even in Haydn’s top 10.  Still, there aren’t that many Symphony #7’s to choose from.  Score: 65


X = 8

Dvorak Symphony #8

I’m listening to this right now.  It’s like a happier version of the 7th.  It’s mature.  It’s like a hike for grown-ups. Score: 82

Bruckner Symphony #8

Some call this “The Apocalyptic”.  Seems a fitting description.  It’s one of my “go-to” selections, matching any mood I feel.  I especially enjoy the timpani in the Scherzo, and the finale has gravitas.  Score:  92

Image result for apocalypse

Mahler Symphony #8

Mahler’s attempt at a gargantuan choral symphony, a la Beethoven’s 9th.  It starts right up in there (no beating around the bush; the chorus is rarin’ to go!) but it all eventually bogs down.  Score: 81

Schubert Symphony #8, “Unfinished”

Pristine; maybe even flawless.  The first movement is rich, lyrical, pretty, and almost menacing…like an elf who stabs you in the kidney.  The second movement is all peace and kittens.  Score: 86

Shostakovich Symphony #8

A tragic symphony from Shostakovich (surprise, surprise).  It’s heavy, oppressive.  When you’re done listening, you feel like you spent a vacation in East Germany.  The muted triumph at the end feels like walking across Checkpoint Charlie into safety.  Score: 87

Beethoven Symphony #8  

I’ll take the word of experts and say this is “good”.  But I don’t really enjoy it.  It’s hard to like.  Did Louie forget he even wrote the 5th and the 7th?  Score: 71

Vaughn Williams Symphony #8

Here is music for the Elohim, those of Donaldson’s The One Tree.  I want to use Donaldson words to describe the symphony: “…as edifying as crystal, as clinquant as faery promises…but obdurate, uncompromising.  [Full of] whorled and skirling shapes…”  Vaughn Williams is channeling both Copeland and Hovhaness here; the orchestration is inventive.  But that ending is Who’s in Whoville!  Score: 84

Glass Symphony #8

The rest of the 8’s are reaches, to be sure.  This one’s typical Philip Glass, which is all you need to know.  It’s interesting, but not much of a “symphony”.  Score: 72

Kabeláč Symphony #8, “Antiphonies”

Pretty obscure, I know.  Basically, a half hour of horror music, written by a madman.  Score: 71

Brian Symphony #8

Another shout-out to Havergal Brian, who wrote so many symphonies he needs to be on the list twice.  This one is decent enough.  Score: 74


X = 9

Beethoven Symphony #9

At various times in my life, this has been my favorite symphony.  It encompasses all of human experience.  If you’re only familiar with the Ode to Joy, listen to the rest.  There’s an hour of great music in there before the people start singing.  My only (minor) complaint is that the finale goes on maybe 5 minutes too long.  Score: 98

Bruckner Symphony #9

Perhaps the symphony I connect to the most on an emotional level.  The opening movement’s great, and the scherzo is sinister and delicate at the same time.  But it’s the unresolved harmonies of the “finale” that choke me up.  Score: 97

Dvorak Symphony #9, “From the New World”

Might be the most rousing, and “catchiest”, of the symphonies.  I can hum the theme of every movement.  Sing along to the Largo: “Crisp and clean, no caffeine, cool refreshing beverage…”  And it ends with Jaws.  Score: 91

Image result for zion national park

Mahler Symphony #9

My second-favorite Mahler symphony, this is Mahler’s farewell to life.  Good times.  The finale reminiscent of Bruckner’s 9th.  Score: 89

Schubert Symphony #9, “The Great”

It’s the first movement that you’ll remember, which takes its time to build to one of the most triumphant expositions in the symphonic canon.  I can’t get the pulsing sextuplets out of my brain!  If this music doesn’t make you feel anything, you might want to check your pulse.  Score: 95

Shostakovich Symphony #9

A cheeky symphony.  It’s like Shostakovich smoked some weed, got high, and tried to emulate Mozart.  Does the 1st movement come across as goofy, or sinister?  Maybe it’s a little of both.    Then, WTF?  The rest of the symphony is different in tone: more serious.  The ending is vigorous and off-putting.  I have no idea what’s going on here.  But I like it.  Score: 85

Vaughn Williams Symphony #9 

Speaking of not knowing what’s going on here…  There is undefinable strangeness in this symphony.  But also lyricism.  Is this a battle of modalism vs. melody?  I have no idea.  Score: 73

Glass Symphony #9

We’re running out of 9’s… So… How about Glass #9?  It’s better than the 8th.   It’s qloomy, but not as minimalist as most other Glass works.  I want to say it even starts channeling Bruckner and Sibelius later in.  Score: 80

Haydn Symphony #9

A total throwaway.  Yet there’s a paucity of Symphony #9’s, so Haydn makes the list.  You really want to listen to a Haydn symphony, try #26, or #39, or #49, or #82, or #88.  Score: 60

Hovhaness Symphony #9, “St. Vartan”

Another throw-away.  You really want to listen to a Hovhaness symphony, try #2, or #22, or #50, or #63.  Score: 67


Before we tabulate the results, here are some honorable mentions with higher X-numbers:

X = 10

Mahler Symphony #10 [unfinished]

Shostakovich Symphony #10

X = 11

Shostakovich Symphony #11, “The Year 1905”

X = 12

Shostakovich Symphony #12, “The Year 1917”

X = 15

Shostakovich Symphony #15

X = 25

Mozart Symphony #25 in G minor

X = 26

Haydn Symphony #26, “Lamentatione”

X = 29

Mozart Symphony #29 in A major

X = 35

Mozart Symphony #35, “Haffner”

X = 38

Mozart Symphony #38, “Prague”

X = 39

Mozart Symphony #39 in E flat major

X = 40

Mozart Symphony #40 in G minor

X = 41

Mozart Symphony #41, “Jupiter”

X = 49

Haydn Symphony #49, “La Passione”

X = 50

Hovhaness Symphony #50, “Mt. St. Helens”

X = 88

Haydn Symphony #88 in G major


Here, then, are the average scores for the ten symphonies in each X-number:

#1: Average score: 82

#2: Average score: 82.4

#3: Average score: 83.6

#4: Average score: 84.8

#5: Average score: 88.3 The Winner!

#6: Average score: 81

#7: Average score: 84.9

#8: Average score: 80

#9: Average score: 83.5


The gold medal goes, without a doubt, to X=5.  The silver goes to X=7, and the bronze to (surprisingly) X=4.

Notice how scores go up steadily, as composers perfect their craft.  There’s a drop-off after 5, I think, because fewer and fewer composers write that many symphonies in their careers.

One final note: three composers had every one of their symphonies make my list: Sibelius, Beethoven, and Mahler.  In terms of average score, Sibelius (92.4) beats Mahler (82.6) who beats Beethoven (81.3).  Bruckner misses out because I didn’t include his 2nd; Tchaikovsky misses out because I didn’t include his 3rd.  C’est la vie.

I saw this post on Facebook a while back (don’t ask):

flat earth for post.png

Most people ridiculed the post, saying that it didn’t make any sense—that it was just the ramblings of a crazed flat-Earther.

I disagree.  Much of the post makes perfect sense.  I think it deserves to be answered scientifically, and the conclusions might surprise you.

What is the poster trying to say, exactly?

“…the atmosphere near the equator would be spinning around at over 1000 mph…”

True.  The velocity of anything on the surface of the Earth at the equator would be v = 2πr/T = 463 m/s = 1036 mph.  Way to go, flat-Earther!

“…and gradually slower down to the poles where the atmosphere would be unaffected at 0 mph.”

True.  So what’s the problem?

“…this alleged force…[is] proven non-existent by the ability of airplanes to fly unabated in any direction without experiencing any such atmospheric changes.”

So apparently, the flat-Earther is bothered by the idea that you can be going 0 mph at the North Pole and 1000 mph at the equator, and that if you flew from the North Pole to the equator, you would speed up by 1000 mph, which would seem to be noticeable.

Well, that objection seems reasonable to me!  It doesn’t sound totally absurd.  But since we know the Earth is round, where has our intuition failed us?  If I flew from the North Pole to the equator, how come the 1000 mph difference wouldn’t, in fact, be noticeable?

First, the 1000 mph at the equator won’t show up on your speedometer, of course.  I’m not exactly sure how an airplane speedometer works, but it’s surely going to tell you your velocity relative to the ground (or air) around you.  So if you’re at the equator and you’re spinning with the Earth, that speed won’t be apparent.

But maybe you can feel the change in your speed as you go from 0 to 1000 mph?  Why don’t we notice this acceleration?

It’s a matter of scale.  Suppose I’m in a 747 cruising at 255 m/s, and I fly from the North Pole to the Equator (I know, I know, that’s a bit too far without refueling…)  The distance is about 10 million meters, so it takes 10,000,000/255 = 39,216 s (not quite 11 hrs.)  My North/South velocity doesn’t change, but in the lateral direction my velocity goes from 0 up to 463 m/s, to catch up with the spinning Earth.  This represents an acceleration of Δvt = 463/39216 = 0.0118 m/s2, which is below the threshold of human detection (around 0.065 m/s2 for lateral motion).  For a 100-kg person, this represents a force of around 1 Newton (i.e. about a quarter of a pound) which would be easily detectable with laboratory apparatus, but is not noticeable by an individual, since the 980 N pull on you downward (due to gravity) drowns it out.  (For the same reason, a 100-kg person doesn’t feel the pull of the Sun, even though it’s a respectable 0.6 N).

The conclusion is simple: the flat-Earther is right except for one thing: the change (going from 0 to 1000 mph as you travel South) happens too gradually for humans to detect.  I believe this is just a matter of underestimating the size of the Earth.  0 to 1000 mph seems like a big difference, but the Earth is huge.

Not every objection to science is ridiculous.  The best way to combat ignorance is with scientific argument, not ad hominem attacks.  So please, please, don’t make fun of these fusty nuts with no kernels.  They’re too dumb to get most insults, anyway.

This is a follow-up to the last post, in which I “composed” three poems in some nefarious way.

All of these poems were “written” with the help of Google Translate.  I simply took the source material in English, cut-and-pasted into Google Translate and then cycled through 3 others languages before returning to English.  The result is just the original poem in English again, but twisted linguistically.

To illustrate the process, let’s take a single sentence from Poe’s “Conqueror Worm”:

And the angels, all haggard and wan,

Uprising, unveiling, affirm

That the play is the tragedy “Man,”

Its hero the Conqueror Worm.


Let’s go to German:

Und die Engel, die alle hager und blass,

Aufstand, Enthüllung, bekräftigen

Dass das Spiel der Tragödie ist “Mensch”

Sein Held, der Eroberer Wurm.


And now to Turkish:

Ve melekler, tüm bitkin ve solgun,

Ayaklanma, meydana çıkarma, teyit

Oyun trajedi “Adam” olduğunu

Onun kahraman, Fatih Worm.

And then to Greek:

Και οι άγγελοι , όλοι εξαντληθεί και χλωμό ,

Εξέγερση , αποκαλυπτήρια , επιβεβαίωσε

Τραγωδία παιχνίδι ” Man” είναι

Ήρωά του , Πορθητή Worm.

Finally we get back to English:

And the angels, all exhausted and pale,

Uprising, unveiling confirmed

Tragedy “Man” game is

Hero, Conqueror Worm.

This particular stanza is not much worse for the wear.  The only editorial choices I made were what languages to phase into, along with a bit of cleaning-up of the punctuation.  The process is much like the “telephone game” (“Chinese whispers” in other countries) where a phrase gets distorted gradually, like a Philip Glass melody, until it no longer resembles the original in any way.

I’d be interested to see other people’s attempts at Google Translate poetry.

Here are three poems.  How did I compose them?



Turn to the waters of the Atlantic,

falcon-resistant falconer;

Everything is broken; site control;

the chaos, released on the world.

Blood-gray in the political tide is loosed,

and everywhere at the innocent drowned;

a good general lack sin guilty full of deep flavors.



I am the oldest bank receives tourists.

He said, “two legs and trunk

they stop in the desert . . . There, on the sand,

half-frown, lying face broke down,

and lip curling and the face of cold command.

They say that they read their own passions and sculptor.

This is the seal of the living things to survive,

beating them and nourishes the soul.”


This is real life?  The right of this?

Caught in the slip (no escape from reality).

Open your eyes, looking at the sky and see,

I’m just a poor boy, I have no girlfriend,

because I do not come easy, go easy—

High and low, low, low—

But the wind blows: there is a lot of significance for me


A poem

What are you?

The quaternions form a strictly skew field under addition and multiplication;

Let us say the quaternions are you.

To form is to have once been;

A strictly skew field is the stuff of stars;

Addition and multiplication are the pitiless gaze of the Milky Way.

The quaternions form a strictly skew field under addition and multiplication.

Sphinx of Giza--color 600wide

[An updated version of a post from 2012 which first appeared here.]

Economics don’t matter in this year’s election.

At least, they don’t matter to me.

There are smart people who think Hillary’s economic plan is better for America than Bernie’s.  There are smart people that think Cruz’s’s plan is better.  (Of course, Trump has no plan.) We have some idea of what a Democrat as president would be like, and with Obama at the helm the economy has improved greatly since the Wall-street induced recession of 2008, even with an obstructionist do-nothing congress.  But maybe you think a Republican could do better.  Who knows?  I don’t really know as a fact which candidate would be better, from an economic standpoint.  (Except for Trump.  Trump would be a disaster by any measure.)

And let’s be honest.  You don’t know who would be better, either.

Oh, there are a few people who claim to understand the economic issues involved.  But let’s face it, “experts” can’t really pick stocks better than monkeys or dartboards.  Why do we expect the American economy to be any more tractable?  In the language of mathematics, the economy is a chaotic system.  Any small change in policy is likely to produce unpredictable results.  So when you pick a candidate based on “economic principles” you’re really just saying “I believe this candidate’s meaningless economic rhetoric more than the other guy’s meaningless economic rhetoric.”  If you have a PhD in economics, maybe I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt…but if you’re a truck driver, or a doctor, or a waitress, or a welder, then your ideas about the economy are probably total bullshit.

I am a physicist.  My ideas about the economy are bullshit.

Ever play one of the Civilization computer games, such as Civilization V?  If you have, you see how complicated and interconnected every decision is.  You have to juggle money, and the happiness of citizens, and threats foreign and domestic, and culture, science…the tiniest decisions can have huge ramifications, and no monolithic blanket ideology will get you to the promised land of victory.  It’s a balancing act.  Sometimes you have to raise taxes.  Sometimes you have to cut them.  Sometimes you increase education, sometimes you build infrastructure, sometimes you go to war, sometimes you seek a diplomatic solution.

If the pundits are to be believed, being president is simpler than this.  Just drink the Flavor Aid, follow the party line, and everything will be great.  Being president is as simple as doing everything that Rush Limbaugh (or Michael Moore) says.

I don’t buy it.  And if you’re honest with yourself, you won’t either.  Just say it to yourself: “I know nothing about economics.  I know nothing about economics.”

Why is it that people who admittedly know nothing about chemistry, poetry, physics, differential equations, music theory, pottery, animal husbandry, statistics, number theory, ancient history, modern Japanese culture, biology, leatherworking, genetics, Shakespeare, phonetics, linear algebra, astronomy, geology, philosophy, music history, Greek, marketing, calculus, modern history, evolution, quantum mechanics, medicine, world religions, and engineering, think that they know anything about complex economic issues?

(Not you, Ken Rogoff.  I know you know economics.)

Why is it that people who are ignorant of 99% of the world’s body of knowledge still have strong beliefs concerning tariffs or debt ceilings or free trade agreements or progressive taxes?  Let me be frank: if you don’t know what something is, you have no logical right to an opinion about it.  (Do you think that decoherence is sufficient to explain effective wave collapse, a la the Copenhagen interpretation?  Or do you feel that, ultimately, some non-local theory will gives us the loophole we need to sweep Bell’s Theorem under the table?  I didn’t think so.)  Just once I’d like to see a fry cook from Burger King say, “I have no opinion regarding stimulus money…I don’t understand all the complex economic concepts involved…but you know, the Thirty Year’s War was less about Catholic/Protestant bickering and more about the Bourbon-Habsburg rivalry.”

Economist John Maynard Keynes

If you don’t know who I am, then why do you even pretend to know the first thing about economics?

So.  The economy shouldn’t matter in your voting decision.  So where does that leave you?

Well, what’s left are social issues.  Issues like civil rights for the LGBT community, civil rights for women, civil rights for immigrants, the failed war on drugs, the continuing (attempted) theocratization of America, and the stranglehold that the vile NRA has on our political system.  I can’t in good conscience vote for a party that denies the fact of global warming (and here’s where I will play the “PhD in physics” card), the fact of evolution, the fact that the Earth is billions of years old.  The Republicans give every impression that they are the anti-science party, the anti-women party, the party of a solely-Christian America, the party of Wall Street.  If that is not the case, it is still true that very few Republicans distance themselves from such stances.

If you vote for someone, anyone, don’t hide behind the “I just prefer his economic policies” defense.  At least have the courage of your convictions.  Say what you truly are, and why you prefer the social ideas of your preferred demagogue.

I am a liberal, in the best sense of the word: the world could be better, and we have a long way to go.

What are you?