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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.

September 13, 2019

Song of the Day #1677

Song of the Day: Amazing Grace is a Christian hymn that was published in 1779, written by John Newton. If there had been recording technology back then, I think we could fairly say that there would have been thousands of recordings of this song by now. Since the advent of recording, AllMusic estimates that there have been at least 1,000 recordings of this hymn. Our Summer Music Festival (Woodstock Golden Anniversary Edition) continues with this rendition [YouTube link] by Arlo Guthrie, who closed his six-song set at 12:25 am on Saturday, 16 August 2019. Given this week's nineteenth installment in my annual WTC Remembrance Series, I could think of fewer themes more appropriate to feature this weekend. Also check out this bagpipe rendition [YouTube link], which features a montage of 9/11 images in tribute to the 343 firefighters who paid the ultimate price on that day---so that others might live. [Ed.: Hat Tip to my friend Kurt Keefner, who mentions that the words of this song were matched in 1835 to the melody of "New Britain" by William Walker.]

September 11, 2019

WTC Remembrance: Zack Fletcher - Twin Towers, Twin Memories

Today marks the eighteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001, which, nearly two decades later, continues to affect our lives as New Yorkers, as well as the lives of those whose loved ones were killed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C. My annual series returns this year with a poignant installment: Zack Fletcher: Twin Towers, Twin Memories. It is a profile of Zack Fletcher and his twin brother Andre, both of whom were FDNY first responders on that fateful day. I can't thank Zack and the Fletcher family enough for having provided us with a riveting memoir, in words and photos.

For those who have not read previous entries in the series, here is a convenient index:

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student (Tim was a student at Stuyvesant High School, which is profiled in tonight's HBO film, "In the Shadow of the Towers: Stuyvesant High on 9/11"

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

2013: My Friend Matthew: A 9/11 Baby of a Different Stripe

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial

2015: A New One World Trade Center Rises From the Ashes: A Pictorial

2016: Fifteen Years Ago: Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine

2017: Sue Mayham: Not Business as Usual

2018: Anthony Schirripa, Architect

2019: Zack Fletcher: Twin Towers, Twin Memories

Never forget.

September 09, 2019

Controversy: Left or Right?

In 1981, the late singer, songwriter, and musician, Prince, put out the title track and lead single to his album, "Controversy." With words and music by the gifted musician, Prince wrote:

I just can't believe all the things people say (controversy)
Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay? (controversy)
Do I believe in god? Do I believe in me? (controversy)
Controversy (controversy)
...
Some people wanna die so they can be free
(I said) life is just a game, we're all just the same...(do you wanna play?)
...
People call me rude, I wish we were all nude
I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules

The song was a break-through hit for Prince [YouTube link], going Top 3 on the Hot Black Singles chart and to Number 1 on the Hot Dance Club chart.

If I could have co-written the song for re-release, I'd have to add one more line (in keeping with the spirit of things; after all, "I wish there were no rules" comes pretty close to the conventional "definition" of anarchism!):

I just can't believe all the things people say (controversy)
Do I embrace the right-libertarian or the left-libertarian way?

Well, my Facebook friend, Cory Massimino put up a post today on FB discussing left-libertarianism, providing a breakdown of its four distinct (though interrelated) meanings. I quote him here in full, with his permission:

The term "Left-Libertarian" has taken on four distinct, yet related, meanings. I see them conflated with each other constantly, so it's worth clarifying the differences.
1. The first sense, which is most common in academia, refers to a synthesis of self-ownership and neo-Georgism. Popular proponents of this view are Peter Vallentyne, Hillel Steiner, and Michael Otsuka.
2. The second sense refers to "classical libertarianism" or communist anarchism. Popular proponents of this view are Emma Goldman, Petr Kropotkin, and Noam Chomsky.
3. The third sense refers to "liberal-tarianism," which sees one's leftism and libertarianism as *moderating* each other. Hence, this camp mainly consists of market liberals. Popular proponents of this view are John Tomasi, Brink Lindsey, and Will Wilkinson.
4. The final sense refers to "left-wing market anarchism," which sees one's leftism and libertarianism as *radicalizing* each other. Hence, this camp consists of anarchists. Popular proponents of this view are Benjamin Tucker, Roderick Long, and Gary Chartier.

Naturally, I had to have my say. In response to this, I wrote:

Apparently, according to Wikipedia, I seem to be in camp (4):
Some thinkers associated with market-oriented American libertarianism, drawing on the work of Rothbard during his alliance with the left and on the thought of Karl Hess, came increasingly to identify with the left on a range of issues, including opposition to war, to corporate oligopolies and state-corporate partnerships, and an affinity for cultural liberalism. This left-libertarianism is associated with scholars such as Kevin Carson, Roderick T. Long, Samuel Edward Konkin III, Sheldon Richman, Chris Matthew Sciabarra and Gary Chartier who stress the value of radically free markets, termed "freed markets" to distinguish them from the common conception which these libertarians believe to be riddled with statist and capitalist privileges.

Though, to give credit where credit is due, another Wikipedia entry, mentions that "Chris Sciabarra is the only scholar associated with this school of left-libertarianism who is skeptical about anarchism; see Sciabarra's Total Freedom." In actuality, I have never taken a formal position on minarchism versus anarchism (I've had enough trouble, over the past forty years, defending the concept of a "dialectical libertarianism," so give me a break.)

But if we take even the Randian conception of the ideal limited government (which is closer to a Weberian ideal-type than it is to any concept rooted in the "facts of reality," that is, the reality of current and historical conditions), then there has never been a government on earth, which has been funded voluntarily and fully committed to the protection of the individual's rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. For me, that essentially means that there isn't a single "legitimate" state on earth. But we try our best to live as freely as we can, under the circumstances. And, yet, if we take the typical libertarian conception of "anarchism," with its stark dualistic emphasis on "state power" versus "social power," we are led to believe that by simply lopping off the state, Nirvana is in reach. This gives absolutely no attention to those personal and cultural conditions, which reinforce various forms of repression---so essential to the sustenance of statism. In truth, I merely "punted" the issue in Total Freedom, stating in a footnote (page 168 n. 53): "As to the possibility of a nondualistic libertarian anarchism, some hints are provided in Part Two." And in Part Two, I provide a few hints, but nothing beyond that.

These were my final comments on Cory's thread:

I've never come out as an anarchist ---but did go through a heavy anarcho-capitalist phase, only to critique it in part two of my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. But a later essay by Charles W. Johnson (who, I might add, once took my cyberseminar eons ago on "The Dialectics of Liberty"), which appeared in a wonderful book [Anarchism/Minarchism: Is a Government Part of a Free Country? co-edited by Roderick Tracy Long and Tibor R. Machan]---may have pushed me closer to the anarchist wing. [Indeed, Johnson titled his essay, "Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical Anarchism"---obviously a man after my own heart. :)]
I've always said that even by minarchist standards [see above], there is not a single state in history or in the world, that is legitimate. If you scratch me hard enough, you'll find not just the green-red-and-white of the Italian ancestry or the blue-and-white of the Greek ancestry, but that good ol' black-and-white flag of anarchists! ;)

These kinds of discussions, sadly, often degenerate into variations on "how many angels dance on the head of a pin." Because, in truth, this world is so far away from a society free of government intervention and social repression, and it is going to take a massive cultural and structural change for the very idea of "freedom" to become a historical force to be reckoned with.

But I'm happy Cory gave me the opportunity to provide additional thoughts on this topic. Someday, I'll have lots more to say about all this.

September 08, 2019

Thinking Dialectically: Not So Trivial in Human Relationships

My friend, Ryan Neugebauer, often puts up some wonderfully inspiring posts that provide us with the opportunity to truly contemplate not just the state of our outer world, but the state of our inner world.

Today, he put up a graphic with the following words:

Don't invalidate people's struggles because you've been through worse. If someone is tired after working for 5 hours and you worked for 7, it doesn't mean they can't feel what they're feeling just because you've had it worse.

Wisely, Ryan remarked about the post: "And you rarely (if ever) know all of the factors."

The quote resonated with me---for obvious reasons. Having lived a life battling a congenital medical condition, and having recently posted on the theme, "Grant That I May Not Criticize My Neighbor Until I've Walked a Mile in His Moccasins," it does upset me when folks say, "I've had this surgery and that surgery, but look who I'm talking to: Given all you've gone through, I shouldn't even complain."

I wrote on this very issue in a postscript to the Folks interview, published back in January 2019, which focused on my medical woes:

Let me just be a little theoretical at this point. As I stated in one of the Facebook threads, this is not about "I've got it worse than you." Economics teaches us that there can be no interpersonal comparisons of utility or disutility---that is, in this context, there is no single scale upon which to measure one person's problems versus another. Or in more philosophical language: everything is agent-relative. Everything is embedded in our personal contexts. Most folks on this planet have some "cross to bear," to use an old metaphor. That's the nature of life, which is why Ayn Rand once claimed that life is the standard of moral values. But this is not a matter of merely taking those actions that further one's survival; it is about surviving and flourishing as human beings---with all that goes into the very definition of being human.
What matters is that you do not lay down and crucify yourself on any cross you might bear. What matters is how you rise to the occasion to combat it---how well you deal with it, using all the medical and personal resources at your disposal, including the nourishing of social networks of support.

On Ryan's thread I echoed and expanded on these points:

Everyone carries their own cross, and the weight of the cross is not inter-personally comparable. Or, in the lingo of the economists: There should be no interpersonal comparisons of utility or dis-utility. All we can ask is that we can summon the strength to carry our own crosses---and count our blessings for whatever loving support we get facing any obstacles along the way.
I can't resist, of course, but it's an important point that applies as much to social analysis as it does to inter-personal relationships: Not knowing another person's context and being judgmental on top of it is just another instance of not being "dialectical". If by "dialectical" we mean: Context Matters, then damn it: It Does Matter. For those who have the audacity to even think they know everyone's context, and can therefore pontificate about every issue under the sun is the surest example of what Hayek once called a "synoptic delusion." It is also one of the best arguments against those who argue that "everybody" thinks "dialectically", and hence, to defend it is a triviality.
Well, you can't be a human being and not at least sometimes think logically and dialectically. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. But people need to be far more sensitive to the contexts of others: It is the cornerstone of human empathy and the building block of loving relationships that provide us with the visibility we all require as members of the human community.

The point is methodological, epistemological, psychological, and ethical. My evidence is only anecdotal, but I have found that those who drop context in their evaluation of anything or anybody show neither wisdom about the complexities of social conditions---nor empathy toward other people in the human community.

I didn't want to hijack Ryan's thread, but as always, his posts give me pause, and offer an opportunity to think a little bit more clearly about issues that touch upon what it means to be human.

September 07, 2019

Roger E. Bissell's New Book: What's in Your File Folder?

I am delighted to celebrate with my dear friend Roger E. Bissell the publication of his new book What's in Your File Folder? Essays on the Nature and Logic of Propositions. It happens to coincide as well with the day, fifty years ago, that he met his wife, Elizabeth (Becky). I wish them at least another fifty years of love and happiness!

RogerBissellFileFolderCover2.jpg

So let me tell you What's in Roger's File Folder! A foreword written by me! Just an excerpt from that foreword will give readers an indication of what I think of Roger's wonderful new book:

[T]hese essays constitute a shot across the bow to the scoffers that Rand’s philosophy has nothing further to offer our culture---and a fitting example of the kind of body of work that can be built by someone with intelligence, insight, courage, and persistent effort. They are the work of an independent intellectual who acknowledges the ideas of those upon which he builds, while daring to evolve both in self-critical fashion and in terms of "thinking outside the box." They are the work of an original thinker whose contributions have been profoundly underappreciated but whose impact, I predict, will be felt for many years to come.

You want to know more about the book!? Well, then, get to it! Check it out here.

September 06, 2019

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: Happy Twentieth Anniversary

On 28 August 1999, I had sent out to various lists and forums, an announcement of the imminent publication of the very first issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. The journal was co-founded by Bill Bradford, Stephen Cox, and yours truly. I provided the lead essay, "The Rand Transcript," which appeared in the very first issue of the journal, dated "Fall 1999" (long before we adopted real-time month dates of publication). That first issue also included essays by Stephen Cox ("Outsides and Insides: Reimagining American Capitalism"), Roger E. Bissell ("Music and Perceptual Cognition"), the late Larry J. Sechrest ("Rand, Anarchy, and Taxes"), Robert L. Campbell ("Ayn Rand and the Cognitive Revolution in Psychology") and Gregory R. Johnson ("Liberty and Nature: The Missing Link").

On this date, twenty years ago, the first hard copies of the new journal began arriving in the mailboxes of contributors and brand new subscribers. The September 10, 1999 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education announced:

It probably won't come close to the continuing sales of The Fountainhead (several hundred thousand a year), but Chris Matthew Sciabarra hopes that The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be another coup in his campaign for the conquest of academe in the popular author's name. Mr. Sciabarra, a visiting scholar at New York University and the author of multiple works on Rand, has predicted an unstoppable wave of Randianism in academe (The Chronicle, April 9). With this month's publication of his new semi-annual journal, he hopes to push the crest higher still. He'd like to sweep the naysayers along with him. Mr. Sciabarra says the journal will be open not only to Objectivists---orthodox believers in Rand’s philosophy of selfishness and capitalism---but to those of every perspective and in every discipline. "We're actively seeking Marxists, leftists, socialists," he says. "I hope we'll have literary critics, feminists, whatever!" The first issue will include an essay by Mr. Sciabarra on Rand's college education; an essay by the co-editor, Stephen Cox, a professor of literature at the University of California at San Diego, on Rand's celebration of capitalism; and two essays challenging Rand's views.

From the Fall of 1999 through December 2012, we were an independently published periodical. Since our July 2013 issue, however, the journal has been published by Pennsylvania State University Press. It remains the only interdisciplinary, multi-perspectival, double-blind peer-reviewed, biannual academic journal, published by a university press, dealing with Ayn Rand and her times. We are now indexed by twenty prestigious abstracting services, including Project Muse and JSTOR, which make the journal and all of its back issues available electronically to institutional, public, private, business, not-for-profit, and educational libraries the world over. We have gone from a mere 2000 downloads only a few years ago to over 13,000 downloads this past year alone, while our subscriber base has increased substantially. And we will forever be preserved by the dark archives of Stanford's CLOCKSS for all future generations.

We are the only scholarly journal where one will find critical perspectives on Rand's philosophy and impact from folks left, right, and center, engaged in civilized discourse. And we've been doing it for two decades.

When our December 2019 issue comes out (the 38th issue in our history), we will have published 353 articles by 171 authors from all over the world. Back in 1999, I don't think I could have counted more than two or three dozen bona fide academic scholars qualified to write on Rand's work and legacy. Clearly, there has been an enormous increase in Rand scholarship---and we are happy that we have both reflected that growth and perpetuated it.

Our December 2019 issue will feature a special symposium on the 60+ year anniversary of the publication of Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged. But 2020 will officially mark our twentieth anniversary volume. We have decided to devote substantial space in the two issues that constitute Volume 20 to a review of the literature on Rand that has been published over the past two decades, but that was never discussed formally in our pages. It will give more than two dozen contributors an opportunity to provide a wide array of viewpoints on the growing literature in Rand studies. What better way to celebrate a twentieth anniversary devoted to that very subject!?

I want to thank not only my fellow editors and the journal's advisory board, but also Pennsylvania State University Press and all of the people associated with it, who have made our adventurous journey so enriching. Most importantly, I want to express my profound gratitude to the readers of this journal, who have made its existence possible and its future inexorable.

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The First Issue (Fall 1999) of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies


Happy birthday to us!

Song of the Day #1676

Song of the Day: The "Fish" Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag, written by Country Joe McDonald, was first released as part of a 1965 extended play vinyl, "Rag Baby Talking Issue No. 1," recorded by Country Joe and the Fish. In 1967, it became the title song of this psychedelic rock band's second studio album. With its biting satire, this was one of the most iconic counterculture protest songs ever recorded in opposition to the war in Vietnam. And so our Summer Music Festival (Woodstock Anniversary Edition) continues with this classic song. Check out the original EP version and then the unedited live Woodstock performance [YouTube links] that ended the group's Saturday afternoon set on 16 August 2019.

September 05, 2019

In Praise of Footnotes!

For years, I've heard from "fans" and "foes" alike that I had a curious obsession in my scholarly reliance on extensive footnoting. A former professor of mine once said that virtually every footnote in my books was so extensive that each could provide a portal to a whole other book! But my critics dismissed it as "scholarly dressing" for preposterous theses bolstered by the "trappings of scholarship" (in other words: footnotes!).

Not counting in-text "author-date" citations in my books, I count a total of 2,045 notes and 89 pages of bibliographic references in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" alone: Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (429 notes; 21 pages of references); Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical (second edition; 999 notes; 20 pages of references); and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (617 notes; 48 pages of references).

But I have now learned from historian Karin Wulf that the very practice of footnoting is a bulwark of our democracy! In a recent Washington Post essay, "Could Footnotes Be the Key to Winning the Disinformation Wars?" (hat tip to my pal Brandon!), Wulf argues that the practice of footnoting has been aligned with the emergence of the Enlightenment and democracy, important to information transparency, the art of argumentation, and the noble practice of giving credit where credit is due. As Wulf states:

But footnotes do even more: They also teach us how to be active and knowledgeable citizens. The transparent exposure of the evidence being used to make claims puts the reader in charge of assessing their relationship. This is precisely the deliberative process that self-governance asks of us. … Accurate, full and contextualized information is the most important weapon wielded on behalf of accountable and transparent government. That is why despotic regimes want to control and restrict it. It is why we have the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of the press. It is the heart of the Freedom of Information Act. Information itself is democracy’s shield and sword, and the footnote every American’s birthright.

Well, damn! Footnote Fetishists of the World Unite! You have nothing to lose but your despotic governments---and a world to win!

September 04, 2019

"Conversion Therapy": From Straight to Gay

My friend, Ryan Neugebauer, posted a piece from People magazine, "Conversion Therapy Founder Comes Out Publicly as Gay After 20 Years of Leading Homophobic Program," which I've shared on my Facebook Timeline. I stated there:

As I commented on this thread, posted by Ryan Neugebauer, there is a similarly sad story portrayed in the book "Boy Erased," a memoir by Garrard Conley, and adapted into a well-received 2018 film starring Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and Lucas Hedges.
In "Boy Erased," the character Victor Sykes, based upon real-life "conversion therapist", John Smid, underwent his own similar "conversion" to same-sex relationships---after all the damage he'd done. Indeed, prior to this self-realization, he had been "director of the Memphis, Tennessee ex-gay ministry Love In Action, a group that claims to convert lesbians and gay men to heterosexuality," as a Wikipedia entry states. In his memoir, "Ex'd Out," he admits to having "wounded" many young teens during his years at "Love in Action." The entry on Smid states: "In 2011, three years after leaving Love In Action and stepping down from its leadership, Smid announced he was still homosexual and stated he had 'never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.'" Further:
"In the 2018 film 'Boy Erased', based on the book of the same name, the character Victor Sykes, portrayed by Joel Edgerton, is based on Smid.
"A November 2018 Radiolab podcast titled "UnErased: Smid" features Smid's life story. Before claiming he had changed from homosexuality to heterosexuality, Smid lived for years married to a woman and fathering children. It was during this marriage that he realized he was gay, divorcing his wife in 1980. Four years following his divorce, Smid became a Christian and sought conversion from homosexuality to heterosexuality. In November 2014, Smid married his same-sex partner, Larry McQueen. The couple live in Texas."

When will these folks ever learn the first principle of healing from the "Hippocratic Oath": "First, do no harm"?

Or as Johnny Fontaine, played by Al Martino, sings in "Godfather III": "To Each His Own" [YouTube link] (the Livingston-Evans song, with an Italian twist, is more like "Salsiccia His Own"... translated colloquially as "to each his own sausage", no pun intended!)

Ed.: In response to one critic who argued that my "worldview" blinded me to the ways in which children are "indoctrinated" into being gay, I wrote a series of replies:

Before I begin, I am not adopting any "worldview" in this post; I'm discussing how certain folks involved themselves in so-called "conversion therapy" that has destroyed lives---including the lives of those who ostensibly were trying to do the "conversions."
Now, confusion and evolution are human conditions; what you say about folks who might be confused and who engage in same-sex activity is just as applicable to folks who might be confused and who engage in opposite-sex activity, when in reality, they have a same-sex orientation. In fact, I suspect that the proportion of folks doing the latter is far greater than those doing the former. That's where the very notion of "living in the closet" came from. Culture, religion, conventional parental upbringing, etc., favor heterosexual relations, and it takes a lot for individuals who are experiencing same-sex feelings to face potential rejection from loved ones, fear of social acceptance, and even fear of self-acceptance, should they act on these feelings.
I also believe that you have to distinguish between an orientation and behavior; just because a man is able to marry a woman and have children does not make him a heterosexual---not if he's spending all his spare time "in the closet" looking at gay pornography or engaged in self-destructive actions (often manifesting themselves in substance abuse, etc.) to repress feelings that are part of who he is.
And just because adolescent experimentation often spills over into same-sex interaction does not mean that the adolescent is "gay" through-and-through.
Personally, I believe that there is much more fluidity to human sexuality than most people are comfortable to admit.

This was followed by yet another exchange that provoked this response from me:

Do you honestly think that children are being "indoctrinated" into being gay? Please do tell. I'd like to meet these kids. If you're referring to the actions, say, of priests who abuse children, and how these kids emerge from their time as altar boys as drug addicts and psychologically damaged---that's got nothing to do with indoctrination and everything to do with criminality.
But I've never met anyone who was "indoctrinated" into being gay. I think the socialization process that goes on throughout childhood is complex, but the deck is way stacked against kids who are "different."
And why on earth would anyone choose to engage in an activity that is condemned by virtually every religion, and that is still illegal in over seventy countries worldwide, which have used imprisonment, flogging, and torture to punish those who are different---and in ten of those countries, such behavior is punishable by execution by stoning, hanging, beheading, or being thrown off buildings as official government policy, legitimized by various states' interpretations of Islamic law?
It seems to me the most significant conspiracies that have been advanced worldwide are the ones mounted against those who express the "love that dare not speak its name"---and who have paid with their lives.

Yet another exchange was provoked, in which the critic insisted that I was still blind to gay "indoctrination" that led to a disproportionate number of kids engaging in same-sex activities because they were being "exposed to propaganda" and that "most gay men report some sort of abuse scenario in their childhood." (As an aside: the data on this is not as clear as the critic thinks: most gay men were not molested as boys and men who were molested as boys do not necessarily "become" gay. One thing is fairly certain: among the most socially abused and bullied members of our society, one finds that one in four pre-teen suicides are LGBTQ-related, a catastrophic indication that, "propaganda" to the contrary, those who are perceived as "different" are disproportionately victims, rather than victimizers.) Somewhat fed-up with the continuing exchange, I gave this final response:

Do you have any clue what you're talking about? I mean, truly? Every cultural signal that bombards every child from the moment they are brought into this world is of a heterosexual nature. We are taught by virtually every religion that homosexuality is immoral. Just because the government now applies equal protection under the law to folks who are gay who serve in the armed forces and would like to get married legally does not mean that the entire culture has changed into this massive Gay Onslaught!
The whole celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion was about basic individual rights. It wasn't about ramming down your throat, or anybody else's, the idea that everybody should be gay. This is the last I'll have to say about the matter and we'll have to agree to disagree.

Boy, this subject really does get folks riled up. Sheesh.

Checking out "Truth" on The Policy of Truth ...

There is a nice discussion of Truth on "Policy of Truth: The website and group blog of Irfan Khawaja", featuring comments by Stephen Boydstun, Roderick Tracy Long, and Irfan himself who, in his comment, truly honors me---and the indefatigable resistance necessary to a genuinely human survival. Irfan writes (and then quotes a passage from Ehrenreich):

A decidedly non-Augustinian take on truth that I encountered in last night’s reading. Almost Sciabarra-esque?
I aspire here to something more modest than objectivity, which is truth. It is a slippery creature, and elusive, one that lives most of the time in contradiction. Its pursuit requires not only the employment of rigorous doubt and thorough research but the capacity for empathy and discernment, qualities available only to individuals embedded in bodies, places, histories, and points of view. There is blood in us, to paraphrase Eid Suleiman al-Hathalin, whom you will meet [later in the book], and spirit and a heart. This is not a handicap but a strength, and the source of our salvation. I brought a lot with me when I set out to write this book. You carry no less as you set out to read it. If our meeting is fruitful, and I pray that it is, it will be because of what we both brought to it, and not in spite of that.
There are surely arguments contained in its pages, but I do not intend this work primarily or even secondarily as a polemic. The arguments it makes, it makes along the way. It is first of all a collection of stories about resistance, and about people who resist. My concern is with what keeps people going when everything appears to be lost. These pages represent an attempt to understand what it means to hold on, to decline to consent to one’s own eradication, to fight actively or through deceptively simple acts of refusal against powers far stronger than oneself. It is also a reckoning with the consequences of such commitment, the losses it occasions, the wounds it inflicts.
–Ben Ehrenreich, The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine, p. 3.

Speaking truth to power. Ain't it the truth? :)

Song of the Day #1675

Song of the Day: Bootylicious features the words and music of Rob Fusari, Falonte Moore, and Beyonce Knowles, who turns 38 today. This was the third single from the 2001 album "Survivor" by Destiny's Child, the "girl group" which consisted of Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams, and Beyonce. The song actually features a sample from "Edge of Seventeen" by Stevie Nicks (who makes a cameo in the music video) and went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 2001. To date, amazingly, it is the last song by a "girl group" to achieve a #1 hit in the United States. Though the word "bootylicious" was first used by rapper Snoop Dogg in 1992, this song's title became so much a part of the American vernacular that it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004! Check out the Matthew Rolston-directed music video [YouTube link], where Destiny's Child and their supporting dancers perform choreography made famous by Michael Jackson. A Rockwilder remix [YouTube link], featuring a rap by the 2019 Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award recipient, Missy Elliott, was featured in the 2001 MTV musical, "Carmen: A Hip Hopera." The song was also featured in two prominent "mash-ups": one with Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and the other with Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" [YouTube links].

September 03, 2019

"Enemy Aliens": The Italian American Experience

For years, I've commemorated a "day of remembrance" in February, where I've focused attention on the internment, during World War II, of Japanese Americans, by executive action from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Less known is the internment of German Americans during that same period, and while I was aware of similar actions taken against Italian-Americans (and I'm half-Sicilian by ancestry), I was taken aback by the level of political and cultural repression faced by my ancestors.

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently completed an enormous re-organization of my library and file system and have quite a collection of newspaper clippings, which I've organized by topic and which will become the subject of various blog entries in the coming months. I am going to get into the habit of posting on Notablog and on Facebook, links to some of these articles, which, I believe, provide enlightenment on topics of interest.

As some may know, there was a recent Twitter war that erupted when Chris Cuomo of CNN was caught on a YouTube video, going ballistic in public. Out with his family, he was confronted by a person who referred to him as the "Fredo" of the Cuomo family. President Trump had a little devilish Twitter fun with Cuomo (brother of the current New York governor, Andrew Cuomo), after Cuomo's "meltdown" over being so characterized. Cuomo saw it as an ethnic slur against Italians. Trump responded that he too believed Chris to be the "Fredo" of the Cuomo family. And Trump's son, Donald Jr., piled on, saying: "Take it from me, 'Fredo' isn't the N word for Italians. ... It just means you're the dumb brother."

Now, with all due respect to the Trump and Cuomo 'families' (no ethnic slur intended), I couldn't care less who scores points in any Twitter slug-fest. But aside from a note in a Roderick T. Long Reason Papers essay, "The Justice and Prudence of War: Toward a Libertarian Analysis," I have to confess to an embarrassing ignorance of the history of bigotry and violence against Italian Americans in this country. I remain an unreconstructed fan of "The Godfather Epic" and don't agree with some of what Rosario A. Iaconis states in a New York Daily News op-ed piece, "Cuomo was Right to Be Offended" about "The Godfather" reference. Iaconis believes that the Coppola classic "has been as toxic to Italo-Americans as 'The Birth of A Nation' was to African Americans." To me, there are fewer films that depict so brilliantly the rise of organized crime in America with such transparency, or that illustrate the corruption of the human soul through the inversion of values, allegedly designed to protect loved ones from harm. From its sprawling, truly epic storytelling to its magnificent editing, cinematography, and score, it remains one of the triumphs of the American cinema.

But here's the takeaway material from the Iaconis essay that shattered my illusions of the government's relatively "hands-off" policy toward Italian Americans in the wake of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, which drew the United States into World War II:

In his landmark book Vendetta, Prof. Richard Gambino states that between 1870 and 1940, "Italians were second only to blacks in numbers of lynch victims." And this murderous spree spanned such states as Colorado, Mississippi, Illinois, North Carolina and Florida.
In a missive to his sister regarding the 1891 massacre of Italians in New Orleans, Theodore Roosevelt wrote: “Monday we dined at the Camerons; various dago diplomats were present, all much wrought up by the lynching of the Italians in New Orleans. Personally I think it rather a good thing, and said so.”
After Dec. 7, 1941, as the result of FDR’s executive order, some 600,000 Italian Americans were labeled “enemy aliens.” On both coasts, Italian-American homes and businesses were confiscated; newspapers ceased publishing; and draconian curfews were established. Fishermen were not permitted to sail their boats and earn a livelihood.
In California, 10,000 were evacuated from coastal areas and sites near power plants, dams and military installations. Another 257 Italians were shipped to internment camps for up to two years.

Sacco and Vanzetti and the Mafia to the contrary, many of my own relatives fought and died in World War II for the Allied cause.

As Karl Marx once famously said in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon: "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

With continuing talks of the "enemy aliens" among us, it's a sobering reminder that my own ancestors were often treated as enemies of the state. My crystal ball tells me that both tragedy and farce will continue to haunt the American experience.

September 02, 2019

The Paperboys Who Never Were

I recently did a remarkably thorough re-organization of my library and file system, and have an endless number of clippings that I've classified by subject. I'm going to get into the habit of passing on links to articles that I find of interest, and this is one from "New York's Home Town Paper", the New York Daily News. It tells the story of the change from print to digital media and the effect it has had on those young boys and girls who will never have a paper route... or learn the spirit of entrepreneurship it instilled.

For the record, we still get our paper delivered in Brooklyn! Check out "The Paperboys Who Never Were" by John Ficarra.

As I mentioned on Facebook, in reply to FB buddy Scott Schiff, I realize that the paper delivery route began to change in the 1980s, with the rise of small business, but this was a tale from the 1960s.

In truth, my paperboy is more of a paper guy. And he throws the paper from his car each morning, and typically hits my stoop. Sometimes in-between our house and the house next door. Sometimes in the front yard. No, he's not a pitcher for the Yankees, but, as I said, we still get our paper delivered. :)

Song of the Day #1674

Song of the Day: Sundream, words and music credited to the alternative dance group, Rufus du Sol, is featured on their debut album, "Atlas". It is Labor Day today, which makes it all the more ironic that it was on this date in 1946 that Ayn Rand began writing a book she had initially entitled "The Strike"; it became Atlas Shrugged, which was published by Random House in 1957. (The December 2019 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will feature a symposium on the novel, in honor of its 60+ year anniversary!) And this date shows up in the novel several times as well, which is why September 2nd has been called, in some circles, "Atlas Shrugged Day." This song, with an almost ambient dance groove, features a line reminiscent of the book as it tells us to "fall into the Atlas"---just one of the reasons I've highlighted it today. The album itself debuted at #1 on the Australian album chart on 19 August 2013, and this was the fourth single issued from it. Check out the official video, and several remixes: Claptone, Hayden James, X3SR, Classix, and Casino Gold. I know two people, including somebody very, very special to me, who are celebrating their birthdays today---and you know who you are! My love always ...