November 19, 2019

A Small Reflection on a Big Wall

As the world was marking the thirtieth anniversary of the falling of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 2019), I was going through some of my old yearbooks---from my graduating years of elementary school (P.S. 215, June 1972), junior high school (David A. Boody Junior High School, June 1974), and high school (John Dewey High School, June 1977). Many treasured memories of days gone by.

But one thing jumped out at me, quite ironically. I could not get over how many of my classmates signed my yearbooks with phrases such as: "To my friend Chris, Love you until the Berlin Wall falls!" I suspect they meant "forever"---because it seemed to those of us who grew up in the shadow of the Cold War that this would be the state of the world long after we were all gone.

Or to be more historically specific: We all have a tendency to reify our current circumstances as if they are unalterable. I look back at any generation that has faced what appear to be insurmountable difficulties: my parents, aunts, and uncles who lived through World War II and even my own generation that has lived under the shadow of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation, and the post-Cold War events that have unfolded since 9/11, coupled with the exponential rise of political tribalism, economic nationalism, and "progressive" democratic socialism offered as panaceas. With a nod toward gallows humor, I chuckle at Marx's classic maxim that history repeats itself, "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

But I think that, in the end, as witnesses to history, we cannot deny that circumstances both echo the past and, at surprising moments in our lives, like the events of thirty years ago, smash its most intractable assumptions.

I know the world is not a pleasant place nowadays; polarization on the home front has not been this pronounced since the 1960s, in my humble opinion. But for those of us who value human liberty, and the vigilance it takes to keep and preserve it, there is a seemingly intractable paradox: The only thing that makes the building of walls possible is the weakest of human desires, motivated typically by fear---the desire to rule or to be ruled---because the prospect of freedom is often overwhelming in the demands it places on personal responsibility and the need to "step up" on behalf of the rights of our neighbors. But the only thing that makes the falling of walls inevitable is the more powerful human desire to embrace that freedom---and all the possibilities it offers for the flourishing of the human condition.

So to my classmates from elementary school, middle school, and high school, I know what you meant when you inscribed my yearbooks with that old Berlin Wall metaphor. I can only offer a very small reflection on a very big wall: Love endures longer than walls. And the fight for freedom requires the dismantling of the walls that continue to separate and constrain us.

Rick Sincere, RIP

Yesterday, I learned of the passing of libertarian Rick Sincere, a person I never met except through the miracle of the Internet and social media.

I extend my heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. I know that I was blessed by having interacted with him over the years, and I am deeply moved by the outpouring of remembrances for him. Rick, RIP.

November 18, 2019

Grace and Rosemary Share the Same OB-GYN?

If anybody tells me I've got too much time on my hands, it'll be "Bang, Zoom!" [YouTube link].

I just happened to be watching episode 4 ("The Chicken or the Egg Donor") of the reboot of "Will and Grace" (season 11), and noticed that ol' SNL regular Vanessa Bayer is back and that "In Living Color" regular Ali Wentworth made an appearance as Grace's OB-GYN (Grace is expecting a child): Dr. Saperstein. Both had their hilarious moments.

But was I the only one to notice that Grace's doctor shares the same name with another famous OB-GYN from film history? And I'm not talking about Henry Winkler's "Dr. Saperstein" from the sit-com "Parks and Recreation."

I'm talking about Rosemary Woodhouse's OB-GYN, Dr. (Abraham) Saperstein, played by Ralph Bellamy in the 1968 classic horror film, "Rosemary's Baby" based on the famous Ira Levin novel.

Now, I don't think that they are intending for "Will and Grace" to take a demonic turn and I doubt that Grace is carrying the Devil's progeny. But this just can't be a coincidence that a couple of OB-GYN Dr. Sapersteins have shown up on TV shows in the post-1968 era! Has to be a paean to the horror classic. Or just an inside joke. Right? :)

November 07, 2019

Sinatra Across the Generations

Hat tip to Stephen Hicks for sharing this on Facebook, showing how the Chairman of the Board, Ol' Blue Eyes, Francis Albert Sinatra, reaches across the generations; check it out here.

It brought to mind my own multi-week Centenary tribute to Sinatra back in 2015.

October 31, 2019

Congrats to the Nats

I watched the 2019 World Series, all seven games, and thought the Washington Nationals, the biggest underdogs in about a dozen years, didn't have much a chance to beat the heavily favored Houston Astros. In many ways, the Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos, a franchise that relocated to Washington, D. C.) reminded me just a bit of the Miracle Mets of 1969, who defeated the much more heavily favored Baltimore Orioles to win their first World Series Championship.

This is the first franchise to bring Washington, D. C. a World Series championship since the 1924 Washington Senators did it. It is also the first time any franchise in any major league sports that any team has gone on to a championship by winning all of its games on the road, and not a single game at home! So much for "home-field advantage"! (To be clear, the Houston Astros won all three games played at the Washington Nationals' Home Park, while the Washington Nationals won all four games played at the Astros' Home Park. That's simply unheard of in a seven-game series!)

Anyway, Congrats to the Nats! A truly enjoyable World Series to watch from beginning to end.

October 20, 2019

At Least There Were the Geico Commercials ...

Yes, at least there were the hilarious Geico commercials to watch during the American League Championship Series, like this one about the guy who passes up an opportunity to purchase a new home because of what's in the attic. Yeah, THAT made me laugh.

The American League Championship Series: Not so much.

Kudos to the Houston Astros for beating the Yanks, whom they out-pitched, out-hit, and out-played. I really thought we might be going to a Game 7, but the Astros took the American League Pennant in the bottom of the ninth inning after a thrilling comeback two-run homer by DJ LeMahieu tied the game in the top of that inning. But He Who is Not Mariano Rivera gave up a two-run homer to He Who Shall Not Be Named to lead the Astros to a 6-4 victory over the Yanks in Game 6 in Houston.

I'm super-pissed off at the Yanks for leaving so many guys in scoring position and not being able to come up with the big hit when the team needed it. And for not beefing up their starting pitching. And for ... oh, well, what's the sense?

Anyway, I'm not bitter at the Astros.

(Go Nats.)

October 12, 2019

New York Postseason Baseball Continues ...

And so tonight it begins: A re-match of the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees (who last met in the AL Championship Series in 2017, which the Astros won in 7 games to go on to win their franchise's first World Championship). The winner of this series will represent the American League in the World Series.

There should be no doubt who this Bronx Bombers Fanatic is rooting for.

But while I'm at it, I'd like to extend a Big Congratulations to Pete Alonso of the New York Mets who has been selected unanimously by Baseball America as Rookie of the Year! Next up, I think, should be the bona fide Baseball Writers' Association of America's selection of Alonso for NL Rookie of the Year. It would be well deserved; he broke the Yanks' Aaron Judge's single season home run record for a rookie, hitting his 53rd home run on September 28, 2019.

But it's the postseason now... and it's time to focus on the Yankees quest for a 28th World Series Championship. GO YANKS!

October 08, 2019

Yanks Win ALDS: Advance to the ALCS

The New York Yankees sweep the Minnesota Twins and advance to the American League Championship Series!

Woo-hoo!

September 23, 2019

Song of the Day #1681

Song of the Day: Let Me Take You Dancing features the words and music of Jim Vallance and Bryan Adams. Though this year's Dance Party focused on the Golden Anniversary of Woodstock and its artists, this 1978 dance track takes us full circle---since we started our Fourth Annual Summer Music Festival with Bryan Adams's "Summer of '69", we end it with an Adams recording that, believe it or not, was one of the most memorable disco hits of the decade following Woodstock. Unfortunately, Adams has actively worked to suppress all digital uploads of this song to any site, including YouTube. The original John Luongo 12" dance remix sped Bryan's 18-year old voice up to 122 BPMs without access to the voice compression technology of today---thus making young Bryan sound even younger (or as one critic put it: like a "Disco Chipmunk"). So, hanging onto the last four hours of summer by an eyelash, I can only provide you with the instrumental 12" vinyl version, three snippets from Jim Vallance's website, a snippet of the single's "lost" 3rd verse [Facebook link] and cover versions by David Karr and Vicki Shepard [YouTube links]. We conclude this year's festival with the song's main lyric: "Let me take you dancing, let me steal your heart tonight. Let me take you dancing, all night long." Till next summer...

September 22, 2019

Song of the Day #1680

Song of the Day: Whiskey Cavalier ("Love Me Again"), words and music by Steve Booker and John Newman, was the main title to this 2019 sleek spy comedy-drama with Scott Foley and Lauren Cohan that I actually enjoyed in its 13-episode run on the ABC network---which meant, of course, that the show would be cancelled. The song was actually released by John Newman in 2013 for the album, "Tribute." It can be heard as part of the "Intro Opening" to the show, and in its entirety in this clip with scenes from the series, as well as in its original music video [YouTube links]. Enjoy tonight's Emmy Awards!

September 21, 2019

Song of the Day #1679

Song of the Day: I Want to Take You Higher, words and music by Sly Stone was actually the "B" side to "Stand!", the first bona fide Woodstock performance [YouTube link] I featured in this year's Summer Music Festival, coinciding with the Golden Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. Even as a "B" side, "I Want to Take You Higher" hit the Top 40 chart in 1970 for both Sly and the Family stone and Ike and Tina Turner, who did a cover of the song [YouTube links]. This song was one of the highlights of "Woodstock: The Director's Cut", an expanded version of the 1970 Oscar-winning Best Documentary Feature. Check out the Woodstock performance [YouTube link], which took place in the wee hours of Sunday, 17 August 1969. It's the final entry in our Fiftieth Anniversary Tribute to Woodstock. Tomorrow's entry marks the 71st Annual Emmy Awards, but we return in the wee hours of 23 September 2019, to conclude this year's Summer Music Festival with the same artist who opened it---all before the Autumnal Equinox hits the East Coast of the United States at 3:50 AM.

September 19, 2019

NY Yankees Take the AL East

The New York Yankees just clinched the American League Eastern Division title with their 100th win of the season!

Long way to go! But for now: Woo-Hoo!!!

September 17, 2019

Rothbard Lectures on American History: Lost and Found

The following essay can be found on the Mises Wire; check out the newly available Murray N. Rothbard lectures on "Libertarian Paradigms in American History" and "The Crisis of American Foreign Policy" on that site.

RothbardLecturesS.jpg

***


As Jerome Tuccille famously wrote: "It usually begins with Ayn Rand."

For me, it began in my senior year of high school. I took a year-long "Advanced Placement" course (for college credit) that offered an in-depth survey of American history, from the colonial period to the modern era. My early political views, shaped by both relatives and influential teachers, always tended toward a pro-free market stance. Invariably, the contentious discussions I was having in class were shared at home with my family. One afternoon, after listening to my tirades concerning the current events of the day, my sister-in-law told me that she'd been reading a novel called Atlas Shrugged, and that a lot of what I was saying seemed to echo the themes in this book. When she showed it to me, I took one look at it and saw that it was more than a thousand pages and said: “I have homework. I’ve got no time for that! No way!"

But as I thumbed through the back pages of the book, I noticed that there was an advertisement for a collection of essays by Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden, Alan Greenspan, and Robert Hessen called Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. So in lieu of the hefty novel, I bought a copy of that much shorter book—and as I began reading it, I was completely stunned. Here was the most stylized moral, practical, and historical defense of the free market that I'd ever read. So, before I stepped foot into college---and in place of reading a 1000+ page novel---I swiftly devoured all of Rand's nonfiction works before reading a single work of her fiction.

Perhaps the greatest revelation of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal was the vast free-market literature referenced by its contributors. Austrian-school economist Ludwig von Mises was prominently cited throughout the essays, and in the bibliography, no fewer than eight of his classic works were listed. In addition, there were citations to classic works by Frederic Bastiat, Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk, and Henry Hazlitt, along with books by such Old Right thinkers as John T. Flynn and Isabel Paterson.

I had learned that Ludwig von Mises had once given seminars at New York University's Graduate School of Business, and I had applied to New York University partially because of my knowledge that there was actually a program in Austrian economics that had taken shape there. Even though my intended major was history, I eventually took on a triple major in economics, politics, and history. Among the first talks I heard on campus were those given by Richard Ebeling and David Ramsay Steele, who gave me further insight into the remarkable diversity within the libertarian and Austrian scholarly community. It didn't take me long to register for courses with one of Mises's finest students: Israel Kirzner. Courses with Mario Rizzo, Gerald O'Driscoll, Stephen Littlechild, and Roger Garrison would follow later, as did attendance at regular sessions of the Austrian Economics Colloquium (which met weekly) and the once-a-month Austrian Economics Seminar, where I was privileged to see presentations by everyone from Ludwig Lachmann (also a member of the NYU Economics Department) and Murray Rothbard (on "The Myth of Neutral Taxation"). It was at these and other sessions that I met such folks as Don Lavoie, Larry White, George Selgin, Joe Salerno, Roger Koppl, and Ralph Raico. For me, it was as if I'd stepped into Scholarly Nirvana. Even between classes, I could just walk on over to the corner of Bleecker and Mercer Streets and thumb through the literature on display at Laissez Faire Books. And when the academic year was over, there was always a whirlwind summer weekend libertarian conference to go to, sponsored by either the Cato Institute or the Institute for Humane Studies.

History remained my deepest passion. By the spring of my sophomore year, I had been an active member of the NYU Undergraduate History Club and enrolled in the History Honors Program. Hand-in-hand with my scholarly studies, I was a co-founder of the NYU chapter for Students for a Libertarian Society (SLS). With the Soviets bogged down in Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter was calling for a return to draft registration. It was fortuitous that on April 30, 1979, the House Military Manpower Subcommittee voted unanimously to have the House Armed Services Committee consider the resumption of Selective Service registration. A planned protest in Washington Square Park on May Day became that much more prescient, as SLS joined a diverse coalition of groups to resist the growing political support for conscription.

Time spent as a growing libertarian activist took nothing away from my deepening academic studies. When I returned in the Fall of 1979, the beginning of my junior year at NYU, I had already taken courses with some of the finest historians that the Department of History had to offer, including Richard Hull and colonial historians Patricia Bonomi and Gloria Main. Simultaneously, my acquaintance with Murray Rothbard had developed into a collegial friendship; Murray's work had an enormous impact on my growing libertarian perspective and he never hesitated, in countless phone conversations, to provide me with insightful guidance and advice on the development of my professional course of study (see "How I Became a Libertarian"). Virtually every term paper I wrote---covering everything from the colonial era to the Progressive era, from the “war collectivism” of World War I to the Great Depression, from the New Deal to World War II and the postwar emergence of the welfare-warfare state---reflected a maturing libertarian perspective, informed by Rothbard's unique interpretation of American history. This work culminated with my first professional article published in The Historian (the NYU undergraduate history journal) in 1980 on "Government and the Railroads in World War I" [pdf] and in my undergraduate senior honors thesis, directed by labor historian Daniel Walkowitz, "The Implications of Interventionism: An Analysis of the Pullman Strike" [pdf].

In fairness, many years later, I criticized aspects of Rothbard's work in a full scholarly exegesis of its scope, as a segment of my doctoral dissertation, from which I derived Part II of my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, the culminating work of my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" (which began with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia and Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical). That critique, however, is itself evidence of the impact that Rothbard had made on my libertarian studies---since it was simultaneously my attempt to make visible, and to grapple with, his many contributions, something that too many contemporary scholars had simply ignored.

It was in part my commitment to making those contributions visible that I approached Professor Richard Hull in the fall semester of 1979. At the time, Professor Hull was the amiable advisor for both undergraduate students of history and The Historian. I told him that there was, indeed, considerable interest among the members of the Undergraduate History Society in Rothbard's iconoclastic approach and I urged him to extend a departmental invitation to Murray to speak before students and faculty of the Department of History. The result of that invitation was Murray's talk on "Libertarian Paradigms in American History," a lecture that he gave on December 4, 1979 at 4 pm in room 808 of the Main Building. Professor Hull encouraged me to introduce Murray to a standing-room only crowd of well over 200 people. I highlighted virtually all of Rothbard's historical works, in particular, while cautioning the crowd that it would not be easy to pigeonhole him as a New Right or New Left historian; clearly, I suggested, Murray Rothbard was forging a unique interpretive approach to the study of history.

Virtually all of the department's historians were in attendance that afternoon; Murray knew many of them personally, and after the lecture, he exchanged some warm words with Gloria Main, since he had referred in his talk to Jackson Turner Main, her husband, whose work on the Antifederalists he recommended highly.

The central theme of Rothbard's lecture was the conflict between "Liberty" and "Power" throughout history. He did not deny the complexities of historical events and did not disapprove of alternative approaches to the understanding of history. Drawing from Albert Jay Nock, however, he believed that the contest between "social power" (embodied in voluntary institutions and trade) and "state power" (in which certain interests used the coercive instruments of government to expropriate others for their own benefit) was central to understanding the ebb and flow of historical events. Social power, which reached its apex in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, breeds prosperity, civilization, and culture; state power, which came to dominate the twentieth century, produced the most regressive period in human history—as government expanded its powers through warfare and a maze of regulatory agencies, central banking, and welfare-state bureaucracies. Throughout his talk, he drew on the pioneering scholarship of Bernard Bailyn on the ideological origins of the American Revolution; Jackson Turner Main on the role of the Antifederalists in restraining, through the Bill of Rights, the "nationalist" forces that forged the counter-revolutionary Constitution; Paul Kleppner, who provides an enlightening take on the struggle between "liturgical" and "pietist" cultural forces, the latter viewed as a key element in the emergence of the Progressive Era and the growth of government intervention; and Gabriel Kolko, whose revisionist work on the role of big business in the move toward the regulatory state explains much about the rise of corporatist statism in the twentieth century and beyond.

The entire 90-minute talk, which included a brief question-and-answer session, is peppered with that edgy Rothbardian wit, which entertained as much as it informed. By the end of the lecture, Rothbard was given a standing ovation.

So enthralled was I by the success of that December 1979 lecture that in September 1980, I extended an invitation to Murray to be among the speakers featured in a nearly week-long "Libertython" sponsored by the NYU chapter of Students for a Libertarian Society---dedicated to exploring the politics, economics, and philosophy of freedom. On September 23, 1980, he gave the second of six scheduled lectures that day. His lecture focused on "The Crisis of American Foreign Policy," wherein I introduced him to a slightly smaller audience than the event sponsored by the History Department. The size of the audience didn't matter; for Rothbard, there was nothing more important than the issue of war and peace. As he put it, libertarians were usually quite good in opposing the regulations of OSHA or criticizing the destructive effects of price controls. But when faced with the role of the warfare state as the single most important factor in the expansion of government power: "Blank out"---a turn of phrase he used, giving credit to Ayn Rand---was the typical response he'd witnessed from far too many libertarians. By not focusing enough attention on the role of "war and peace," all the other issues concerning price control, free will versus determinism, and so forth, become "pointless ... if we're all washed away" as a species. With a bit of gallows humor, he couldn't resist criticizing the U.S. military's plan that would whisk away politicians to safety as nuclear warfare becomes imminent such that the "goddamn government" will go on in bomb shelters, while the rest of us perish. As the antidote to war, he cited W. C. Fields, who, when asked by the Saturday Evening Post how to end World War II, remarked: "Take the leaders of both sides or all sides, in the Hollywood Bowl, and let them fight it out with sackfuls of guns." The Post didn't publish the comment, Rothbard says, but he yearns for a world that gets back to jousting between the leaders of warring governments, rather than a policy of what Charles Beard once called "perpetual war for perpetual peace," in which twentieth-century technology had made possible mass murder on an unimaginable scale.

Some will have difficulty accepting Rothbard's argument that in any clash between "democratic" and "dictatorial" countries, the latter is not necessarily the source of contemporary conflict. In fact, Rothbard argues, the foreign policy of the "democratic" United States has been at the root of many of the global conflicts in the post-World War II era.

During the Q&A session, folks who are familiar with the voice of Don Lavoie will recognize him instantly. Included here as well are several self-acknowledged "digs" that Rothbard takes at the Libertarian Party's 1980 Presidential candidate, Ed Clark, with some surprising comments on subjects such as immigration policy.

Except for those who were present at these two events, these two lectures have not been heard by anyone since 1979-1980. I had been the only person with recorded copies of these Rothbard lectures and it is remarkable that these recordings survived. Indeed, an apartment fire in October 2013 nearly consumed my library—and my family. Fortunately, we survived, as did most of my books, audio and video cassettes, and other recordings. The "lost" Rothbard lectures were found under two feet of ash and sheetrock. I later digitized them for the sake of posterity and have donated these materials to the Mises Institute, which has become a repository of so much of Rothbard's corpus. I am delighted that they will now be heard for the first time in nearly four decades.

September 16, 2019

Song of the Day #1678

Song of the Day: Sucker is credited to six writers, three of whom constitute the group that recorded it in 2019: The Jonas Brothers. Today happens to be Nick Jonas's birthday; he turns 27, the baby of the bunch. (His brother Kevin Jonas is 31 and his brother Joe Jonas turned 30 on August 15, the date that Woodstock turned 50!) This is the first song recorded by the brothers in six years---and it went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 2019. Check out the music video and a few dance remixes by: DJ Lacqua, Fraze, and the Barry Harris Sweet Dreams & Andy Ajar Video Club Mix.

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Welcome to Notablog.net:  The Blog of Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Information on email notification, comments policy, and the meaning of "Notablog" or write to me at: chris DOT sciabarra AT nyu DOT edu. Thanks to Don Hamerman for this poignant photograph from 1999.

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