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May 20, 2020

Song of the Day #1788

Song of the Day: Stuck with U features the words and music of a host of writers, including the two who duet on this tune: Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber. The song debuts at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart this week. It's got a retro doo-wop feel, and an adorable video that is a sign of the times [YouTube link]. All the proceeds from the song are being donated to the First Responders Children's Foundation.

May 15, 2020

Coronavirus (25): Joseph "Joe Pisa" Sanfratello, RIP

On May 12, 2020, our neighborhood lost the proprietor of Pisa Pork Store on West 6th Street and Kings Highway in Brooklyn, New York, a block or so from our home. He was Joseph "Joe Pisa" Sanfratello, a "legend" to all those who knew of the wonderful store he helped create and sustain all these years to serve loyal customers who came from near and far because they were grateful for the A+ quality of the foods he sold and the A+++ hospitality of Joe, his family, and his workers.

Where else could you get a piece of fresh mozzarella or a rice ball---handed to you by Joe himself---while you waited on line to finally put in your order? You'd go into that store figuring you'd purchase a few items, only to walk out with bagfuls of Italian delicacies, cold cuts, and homemade meals prepared with love.

Joe was one more casualty in our Brooklyn neighborhood from COVID-19. Today, there will be a private family visitation at Cusimano and Russo Funeral Home and a committal service at Saint John Cemetery in Middle Village, New York. We wrote in his online memory book:

Our hearts are broken to read of the passing of Joe. Our deepest condolences to all his family and friends; we will miss him very much. Our neighborhood and community are greatly diminished without him.
Love always,
The Sciabarra Famly

Outside Pisa Pork Store, a makeshift memorial has formed; the sign outside the store promises that they'll be back before too long. And I might add: So will all of New York!

RIP, Joe.

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May 12, 2020

Coronavirus (24): Three Cheers for the Ol' Folks

Having previously addressed one of the more absurd episodes during this Corona-Crisis with regard to calls for old folks to sacrifice themselves for the common good, I was happy to read three human interest stories that I found uplifting in the extreme.

Submitted for your approval: the case of one Maria Rodriguez, 87 years old:

When Brooklyn great-grandmother Maria Rodriguez realized she was losing her fight with coronavirus at home, she braced herself for the worst. She checked into NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn on Monday. And then she told her daughter, Norma Collado, to be strong and to be patient if she couldn’t be buried right away. She asked that her great grandchildren be taken to the cemetery to see her off when the time came. And she put fresh nail polish on her fingernails so the mortician wouldn’t have to. "The color was purple, like a lilac," Collado said. But as it turned out, the 87-year-old Rodriguez was stronger than the coronavirus that put her in the hospital. Rodriguez, of Borough Park, is now recovering at her daughter’s home in Perth Amboy. Three days after she entered the hospital---eight days after she first fell ill---Rodriguez became the 850th patient who tested positive with coronavirus to be discharged from NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn.

I'm all the more happy to hear about how well NYU Langone is handling this situation; I was due to have a lithotripsy there in mid-March, for a stone that has taken up residence in my left kidney since the summer of 2018. Right now, "elective" surgeries are still not available in NYC. But even if they were, as long as my stone continues to defy the laws of gravity, I'm electing to stay as far away from any medical facility in this city for as long as I can. Yes, hospitalizations and intubations are down in the state and in the city, and for two straight days, we have had death toll tallies of under 200 per day. Given a plateau of nearly 800 deaths per day... there is cause for some optimism.

With the gradual improvement of the situation here in the Big Apple, there was another news item in the New York Daily News that was just as nice to read. Score another one for the Ol' Folks.

Submitted for your approval: the case of Tony Vaccaro, 97 years old, famous war photographer:

Tony Vaccaro's mother died in childbirth, and at a tender age he also lost his father to tuberculosis. By age 5 he was ... orphaned in Italy, enduring beatings from an uncle. As an American GI during World War II he survived the Battle of Normandy. Now, a celebrated wartime and celebrity photographer at age 97, he is getting over a bout with COVID-19. He attributes his longevity to "blind luck, red wine" and determination. ... Vaccaro lives in Queens, a New York City borough ravaged by the novel coronavirus, next to his son Frank, his twin grandsons and his daughter-in-law Maria, who manages his archive of 500,000 photographs. He might have caught the virus in April from his son or while walking in their neighbourhood, his daughter-in-law said. He was in the hospital for only two days with mild symptoms and spent another week recovering. Then he surprised everyone by getting up and shaving. "That was it," she said. "He’s walking around like nothing happened."

Since this virus has ravaged the elderly, news about an 87-year old great grandmother and a 97-year old celebrated photographer beating the virus is an inspiration. But they're practically kids next to this next victor!

Submitted for your approval: Frances Abbraciamento, who turned 107 on May 9th:

Centenarian Frances Abbracciamento of Queens had caught a cold in late March during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in New York. Days later the 106-year-old was diagnosed with pneumonia, and her four children prepared for the worst. "We really thought we were going to lose her," her daughter, Alda Spina, told the Daily News. But by the end of April, Abbracciamento ... had made a near-full recovery---and it was only then that her family learned she had survived coronavirus. "We couldn't believe it," said Spina, who received her mom's COVID-19 test results on April 21. "I never thought in a million years she would survive it. People don't survive it."

I am reminded of that 1962 third season "Twilight Zone" episode, "Kick the Can," wherein Rod Serling reminds us, in his closing narration "that childhood, maturity, and old age are curiously intertwined and not separate."

Three cheers to these three ol' folks for having "kicked the can" down the road... and survived their respective bouts with COVID-19. Here's to kicking the can down the road for the thousands of others affected by this pandemic.

May 11, 2020

Coronavirus (23): Mutual Aid During a Pandemic (or Three Cheers for the Volunteers!)

There is a really wonderful, thought-provoking article in New Yorker magazine: "What Mutual Aid Can Do During a Pandemic: A Radical Practice is Suddenly Getting Mainstream Attention. Will it Change How We Help One Another?" by Jia Tolentino. It heralds the greatness of the "Invisible Hand" that guides mutual aid among caring, human beings, in the midst of a pandemic.

Here are a few takeaway points from the article---a rather extraordinary piece to be found in such a mainstream magazine. Of special attention to freedom-lovers is its citing of journalist Rose Wilder Lane, whose book, The Discovery of Freedom, was published in the same year as Isabel Paterson's The God of the Machine and Ayn Rand's novel, The Fountainhead.

In the midst of World War II, these three women, whose books were all published in 1943, heralded the birth of the modern libertarian movement. From the Tolentino article:

We are not accustomed to destruction looking, at first, like emptiness. The coronavirus pandemic is disorienting in part because it defies our normal cause-and-effect shortcuts to understanding the world. The source of danger is invisible; the most effective solution involves willing paralysis; we won't know the consequences of today's actions until two weeks have passed. Everything circles a bewildering paradox: other people are both a threat and a lifeline. Physical connection could kill us, but civic connection is the only way to survive.
In March, even before widespread workplace closures and self-isolation, people throughout the country began establishing informal networks to meet the new needs of those around them. In Aurora, Colorado, a group of librarians started assembling kits of essentials for the elderly and for children who wouldn't be getting their usual meals at school. Disabled people in the Bay Area organized assistance for one another; a large collective in Seattle set out explicitly to help "Undocumented, LGBTQI, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Elderly, and Disabled, folxs who are bearing the brunt of this social crisis." Undergrads helped other undergrads who had been barred from dorms and cut off from meal plans. Prison abolitionists raised money so that incarcerated people could purchase commissary soap. And, in New York City, dozens of groups across all five boroughs signed up volunteers to provide child care and pet care, deliver medicine and groceries, and raise money for food and rent. Relief funds were organized for movie-theatre employees, sex workers, and street venders. Shortly before the city's restaurants closed, on March 16th, leaving nearly a quarter of a million people out of work, three restaurant employees started the Service Workers Coalition, quickly raising more than twenty-five thousand dollars to distribute as weekly stipends. Similar groups, some of which were organized by restaurant owners, are now active nationwide.
As the press reported on this immediate outpouring of self-organized voluntarism, the term applied to these efforts, again and again, was "mutual aid," which has entered the lexicon of the coronavirus era alongside "social distancing" and "flatten the curve." It's not a new term, or a new idea, but it has generally existed outside the mainstream. Informal child-care collectives, transgender support groups, and other ad-hoc organizations operate without the top-down leadership or philanthropic funding that most charities depend on. There is no comprehensive directory of such groups, most of which do not seek or receive much attention. But, suddenly, they seemed to be everywhere.
On March 17th, I signed up for a new mutual-aid network in my neighborhood, in Brooklyn, and used a platform called Leveler to make micropayments to out-of-work freelancers. Then I trekked to the thirty-five-thousand-square-foot Fairway in Harlem to meet Liam Elkind, a founder of Invisible Hands, which was providing free grocery delivery to the elderly, the ill, and the immunocompromised in New York. Elkind, a junior at Yale, had been at his family's place, in Morningside Heights, for spring break when the crisis began. Working with his friends Simone Policano, an artist, and Healy Chait, a business major at N.Y.U., he built the group's sleek Web site in a day. During the next ninety-six hours, twelve hundred people volunteered; some of them helped to translate the organization's flyer into more than a dozen languages and distributed copies of it to buildings around the city. By the time I met him, Elkind and his co-founders had spoken to people hoping to create Invisible Hands chapters in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago. The group was featured on "Fox & Friends," in a segment about young people stepping up in the pandemic; the co-host Brian Kilmeade encouraged viewers to send in more "inspirational stories and photos of people doing great things." ...
Radicalism has been at the heart of mutual aid since it was introduced as a political idea. In 1902, the Russian naturalist and anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin---who was born a prince in 1842, got sent to prison in his early thirties for belonging to a banned intellectual society, and spent the next forty years as a writer in Europe---published the book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Kropotkin identifies solidarity as an essential practice in the lives of swallows and marmots and primitive hunter-gatherers; cooperation, he argues, was what allowed people in medieval villages and nineteenth-century farming syndicates to survive. That inborn solidarity has been undermined, in his view, by the principle of private property and the work of state institutions. Even so, he maintains, mutual aid is "the necessary foundation of everyday life" in downtrodden communities, and "the best guarantee of a still loftier evolution of our race."
Charitable organizations are typically governed hierarchically, with decisions informed by donors and board members. Mutual-aid projects tend to be shaped by volunteers and the recipients of services. Both mutual aid and charity address the effects of inequality, but mutual aid is aimed at root causes---at the structures that created inequality in the first place. ...
Historically, in the United States, mutual-aid networks have proliferated mostly in communities that the state has chosen not to help. The peak of such organizing may have come in the late sixties and early seventies, when Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries opened a shelter for homeless trans youth, in New York, and the Black Panther Party started a free-breakfast program, which within its first year was feeding twenty thousand children in nineteen cities across the country. J. Edgar Hoover worried that the program would threaten "efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for"; a few years later, the federal government formalized its own breakfast program for public schools.
Crises can intensify the antagonism between the government and mutual-aid workers. Dozens of cities restrict community efforts to feed the homeless; in 2019, activists with No More Deaths, a group that leaves water and supplies in border-crossing corridors, were tried on federal charges, including driving in a wilderness area and "abandoning property." But disasters can also force otherwise opposing sides to work together. During Hurricane Sandy, the National Guard, in the face of government failure, relied on the help of an Occupy Wall Street offshoot, Occupy Sandy, to distribute supplies.
"Anarchists are not absolutist," Spade, the lawyer and activist, told me. "We can believe in a diversity of tactics." ... The day-to-day practice of mutual aid is simpler. It is a matter, she said, of "prefiguring the world in which you want to live.” ... In her book Good Neighbors: The Democracy of Everyday Life in America, the Harvard political scientist Nancy L. Rosenblum considers the American fondness for acts of neighborly aid and cooperation, both in ordinary times, as with the pioneer practice of barn raising, and in periods of crisis. In Rosenblum's view, "there is little evidence that disaster generates an appetite for permanent, energetic civic engagement." On the contrary, "when government and politics disappear from view as they do, we are left with the not-so-innocuous fantasy of ungoverned reciprocity as the best and fully adequate society." She cites the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, who helped her mother craft classic narratives of neighborly kindness and became a libertarian who opposed the New Deal and viewed Social Security as a Ponzi scheme. ...
All the organizers I spoke to expressed a version of the hope that, after we emerge from isolation, much more will seem possible, that we will expect more of ourselves and of one another, that we will be permanently struck by the way our actions depend on and affect people we may never see or know.

Whether or not you like the politics of some of the folks cited, the whole article is worthy of your attention.

And three cheers for the volunteers.

May 09, 2020

Song of the Day #1785

Song of the Day: Tutti Fruiti features the words and music of Dorothy LaBostrie and Little Richard (aka Richard Wayne Penniman), who died today at the age of 87. His flamboyant, charismatic showmanship combined the "sacred" shouts of gospel the "profane" sounds of the blues. He would be dubbed "The Innovator, The Originator, and the Architect of Rock and Roll." His influence on American popular music has been felt across musical genres from rhythm and blues to rock, soul, funk, and hip hop. A Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Little Richard opened this signature song with that classic cry of "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-bom"---practically announcing, in 1955, that a new era had arrived. Ranked as #1 on Mojo's "Top 100 Records That Changed the World," the song was later included on the artist's 1957 debut album, "Here's Little Richard". Check out this rock and roll classic [YouTube link]. RIP, Little Richard.

May 08, 2020

Coronavirus (22): Spring Cleaning (Or Three Cheers for Sanitation Workers!)

In July 2019, I was still clearing up the last 50 boxes of over 250 boxes of papers and other items that had been packed by a professional cleaning service in the days after October 10, 2013---when a fire, which nearly consumed our apartment and took our precious lives, was extinguished by the heroic efforts of the FDNY.

Yes, my sister and I grieved for all the treasures that we lost---gifts from our parents that could never be replaced, and objects of great sentimental value. But we count our blessings that we were alive to grieve those losses! I also counted my blessings that, after six years of reorganizing my entire file system, restructuring my entire library, I finally completed the task of going through those 50 boxes last July. I generated over 25 bags of recyclable paper each week for four straight weeks, and was in touch with the Sanitation Department workers at the B11 Sanitation Garage, which services the neighborhoods in South Brooklyn (Bath Beach, Bensonhurst, and my very own beloved Gravesend), to give them a heads-up that they should expect a large haul from our address. Each week, I came to expect the best service from these guys, who break their butts day-in, day-out to keep our streets clean.

During this Coronavirus crisis in NYC, I haven't heard a single public official give a shout out to the "essential workers" of the Sanitation Department who face great personal risk every day, picking up garbage from every neighborhood in the city. I had the occasion to call BK11 last night, before they picked up our garbage in the wee hours of Friday morning, and the supervisor was informed that they should expect yet another large haul from our address. Indeed, we've been doing a little spring cleaning.

As the worker on the phone told me: "Everybody is home and it seems that everybody is doing spring cleaning at the same time! So I don't know how much we can handle, but we'll do our best." He expressed frustration over the fact that his coworkers were among the "unsung heroes" during this crisis in our city, and I couldn't agree with him more. I told him that I'd be proud to give them a shout-out on my blog, and he told me, "I don't do social media." I told him, "Well, I do, and I will be happy to express my appreciation to you guys for all the hard work you do." He chuckled, before hanging up, and said: "Well, hold off on that buddy... let's see if they pick up your garbage. But I'll inform the supervisor!"

When I awoke this morning, all of the recyclables and regular household garbage had been picked up, and I just smiled.

So, this is not a post filled with statistics or political theorizing. It is a simple expression of gratitude to the folks who continue to haul our trash away, twice a week, during a time when cleanliness is next to godliness.

Thanks guys!

May 05, 2020

Coronavirus (21): Lockdowns, Libertarians, and Liberation

[On Facebook, I posted the following introduction to this essay: This is the twenty-first installment in my discussion of the Coronavirus and its implications. It is as much a self-critique as it is a critique of other points of view; it is also an examination of the fault lines I have witnessed over the years that have torn at the soul of libertarian thinking. It started out as a piece that aired my disgust with some of the attitudes I've encountered; it ended as an appeal to human empathy.]

On February 16, 1967, NBC aired the twenty-second episode in Season 1 of "Star Trek"; it was called "Space Seed," known to Trekkies as the episode that introduced the world to the character Khan Noonien Singh, he who would come back with fury in the 1982 film, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."

For those who aren't familiar with this episode, the Starship Enterprise intercepts the SS Botany Bay, a spacecraft with 84 humans aboard, in suspended animation. Only 72 of them survive, including Khan, all of them products of a selective breeding program that led to the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s. Khan led these genetic superhumans to conquer one third of the world, until they were driven to abandon planet Earth.

Toward the beginning of the episode, when all the facts of the unfolding mystery of Botany Bay have not yet been made clear, there's an interesting exchange between Captain James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner) and the ever-logical Vulcan, Mr. Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy):

Kirk: So much for my theory. I'm still waiting to hear yours.

Spock: Even a theory requires some facts, Captain. So far, I have none.

Kirk: And that irritates you, Mr. Spock?

Spock: Irritation?

Kirk: Yeah.

Spock: I am not capable of that emotion.

Kirk: My apologies, Mr. Spock. You suspect some danger, then?

Spock: Insufficient facts always invite danger, Captain.

Kirk: Well, better get some facts.

I recently saw this episode after many years, and just shook my head, thinking of how timely that advice is in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic.

While I'm going to do my best to deal with "some facts," I am not a Vulcan. As a human being, I am very much prone to feeling "irritation." This post is going to express a lot of irritation. But it is a cathartic exercise, one that I hope will go a long way toward healing some of the divisions I've seen among many people who call themselves "libertarians." Rather than "disown" such an emotion, I'm just going to get it off my chest. A wise psychologist once told me: "Don't keep anything in! Give the other guy the ulcer!"

Well, I don't wish any ulcers on anybody, anymore than I wish that the "naysayers" among us get coronavirus and die just to prove a point.

Since I started blogging explicitly about coronavirus (and this is the twenty-first post on that subject, beginning with a March 14, 2020 entry), I have lost count of the number of times that I have found myself irritated---or downright outraged---over the kinds of things I have heard coming out of the mouths of self-described libertarians.

In this post, I am focused primarily on libertarian responses to the virus because that is the community with which I've been associated for the bulk of my professional and intellectual life, albeit advocating a "dialectical libertarianism" that has always tried to push my colleagues and friends toward a greater understanding of the larger context within which human freedom flourishes---or dies. But this confession of my irritation with some folks is as much a therapeutic exercise that I urge everyone to embrace, no matter where you stand on the current debate. Better self-understanding goes hand-in-hand with a better understanding of those with whom you disagree. It also tends to shed more light than heat. And, Lord knows, we've had a lot of heat over these last two months.

For the record, I'll just state the obvious: As a radical libertarian (or radical liberal, in the classical sense), I am typically irritated with folks on both the socialist left and the nationalist right who have never met a crisis they would not use as a means of increasing government power in the spheres of their respective interest for "the common good." But critique must begin at home. And since I find so much discord in my libertarian home, I feel the need for even greater self-examination. I won't allow irritation with others to cloud my vision of their humanity or their very real concerns.

Pandemics as the Pretext for Advancing Statism

Nevertheless, as part of this therapeutic exercise, I wish to make explicit the very first time I began to feel a level of irritation with some of my libertarian colleagues. It came from those who first declared it a hoax or an exaggeration, being used by those in power who sought to augment the power of the state over our lives. To be generous, many of these folks come from a "good" place; they are understandably concerned with the history of corrupt entanglements that mark the state-science nexus, which has given us every instrument of mass terror and every weapon of mass destruction in the modern era. They see that with advancing government control over our society in the name of an emergency, there comes a form of militarization that starts to infect the body politic in ways that are just as insidious as the virus itself.

I am deeply aware of the importance of this issue. As I pointed out in my second Notablog entry on the coronavirus, "Disease and Dictatorship":

First, there is a need to put all this into a larger context with regard to the policies of the Chinese government [which dealt with the first outbreak of the virus in the city of Wuhan]. This is the same government that has maintained concentration camps (euphemistically described as "re-education camps") for nearly two million Muslims, while waging war on those seeking freedom from Beijing's control over the people of Hong Kong. So the "Chinese model" continues to be an authoritarian one, whether it is used to contain people or pandemics. I don't know all the answers on how to confront a pandemic, but clearly the draconian measures enacted by some of those in power will have an impact that far outlasts the containment of any disease. Most governments have referred to this as a war, but all wars have always been accompanied by a vast increase in the role of the state in ways that never quite go-back to "pre-war" levels. This isn't a call to anarchy (at least not yet...)---but it is a call to vigilance on behalf of human liberty, even in the face of a dreaded disease.

Indeed, as my friend Pete Boettke recently reminded us, it was in volume three of Law, Legislation, and Liberty that F. A. Hayek warned:

"Emergencies" have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded---and once they are suspended it is not difficult for anyone who has assumed such emergency powers to see to it that the emergency persists.

The Problem of Confirmation Bias

But there was something about the early response to the coronavirus as a "hoax" or an "exaggeration" that was eerily familiar to me. Back in the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS was killing off a generation of gay men in the West (while ravaging a largely heterosexual population in Africa), some libertarians (including those influenced by Ayn Rand), ever fearful of those who proposed a growing governmental role in both medical research and in locking down bathhouses that were transmission belts for promiscuous, unsafe sex, grabbed onto the work of the molecular biologist Peter Duesberg, who played a major role in what became known as the AIDS denialism controversy. Duesberg was among those dissenting scientists who argued that there was no connection between HIV and AIDS, and that gay men were dying en masse because of recreational and pharmaceutical drug use, and then, later, by the use of AZT, an early antiviral treatment to combat those with symptoms of the disease.

If the scientific community had accepted Duesberg's theories, hundreds of thousands of people would be dead today. The blood supply would never have been secured, since HIV screening of blood donors would never have become public policy, and countless thousands of people receiving blood transfusions would have been infected by HIV and would have subsequently died from opportunistic infections. A whole array of "cocktail" drugs were developed that have targeted HIV, the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and they have been effective in keeping people alive, reducing their viral load down to undetectable levels, boosting their T-cell counts, and allowing them to go on to live normal, productive, and creative lives. Still, safe sex remains the mantra of the day.

So, while many libertarians have been at the forefront of rolling back the state's interference in people's personal lives, advocating the elimination of discriminatory anti-sodomy and marriage laws, there were some libertarians who, early on, in the AIDS epidemic, grabbed onto Duesberg's theories as scientific proof that the whole HIV/AIDS thing was a pretext for the expansion of the state-science nexus. Confirmation bias is an especially strong urge for anyone with strong convictions. All the more reason to constantly check one's premises, as Rand once urged.

My own libertarian approach has always had a dialectical hue---which means that I try not to jump to conclusions with ideological blinders, without first addressing the real conditions that exist, and placing them within a larger context. No state can wipe the canvas clean; the historical attempts to do so have left oceans of human blood in their wake.

And yet, each of us is part of the very canvas on which we wish to leave our mark. This must be recognized especially by those of us who offer a political vision for a noncoercive society free of oppression.

So I can't wipe my own canvas clean. Just as I remain a hard-core libertarian, I am also a New Yorker to my core. And I've seen up close and personal the death and destruction that this virus has caused to the people in my state and in the city of my birth, the city where I will stay until the day I die---because no terrorists, no viruses, will ever drive me away from the place I call home. It is deeply saddening to see my hometown re-discovering, yet again, what it means to be crowned "Ground Zero."

When New York first earned the "Ground Zero" distinction, back on September 11, 2001, the ideological fissures in the libertarian movement were just as apparent. Neoconservatives were leading the way, not merely to strike back at those responsible for the terrorist attacks, but to begin a "nation-building" crusade, with no regard for the cultural or historical context of the countries impacted by their wrongheaded policies. What followed was a vast expansion of the National Security State through the Patriot Act (opposed by only three Republicans in the House of Representatives), which continues to be used in ways unrelated to "Homeland Security," further eroding civil liberties in this country. An unjustified war in Iraq destabilized the entire region, leading to unintended consequences that will be with us for generations to come.

At the time, I found myself at odds with many libertarians of a more "Objectivist" bent who wanted to annihilate the Middle East with nuclear weapons, unconcerned with the side effects of, say, a nuclear winter. Times were tough for any libertarian, like myself, who argued that 9/11 was primarily a blow-back event brought about by years of brutal US intervention abroad, but who also condemned the mass murder of thousands of innocent civilians by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in their terrorist attacks on that tragic day. I supported targeted strikes against Al Qaeda, while also arguing that the United States should get the hell out of the Middle East and the rest of the world's hot spots. I was called a "traitor" by many in Objectivist circles. It never phased these folks that Rand herself had opposed US entrance into World War II, and actively opposed US wars in Korea and Vietnam, the latter, while troops were on the ground, even counseling draftees to get good attorneys, because she was also opposed to military conscription. Unlike her progeny, she saw that there was a highly toxic, organic relationship between domestic interventionism at home and "pull-peddling" interventionism abroad.

Ironically, one of those Objectivists who favored the war in Iraq was Robert Tracinski. Today, I find myself in greater agreement with Tracinski, especially in a recent, wide-ranging essay, which dissects the arguments of those who downplay the impact of COVID-19, people like Richard Epstein, Michael Fumento, Tucker Carlson, Britt Hume, Glenn Beck, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (whom I excoriated here) and various Objectivists. Tracinski criticizes those who argue that

"there are no libertarians in a pandemic,” the idea that the coronavirus response proves how much we need Big Government. ... But there has also been an attempt to portray the pandemic as an overblown hysteria, a hoax designed to impose dictatorship on us in the form of mandatory social isolation. The unstated premise is that if the pandemic were real, it actually would make the case for Big Government, so therefore it cannot be admitted to be a genuine threat. ... The basic facts are that this virus spreads more quickly and easily than the flu and is about ten times more deadly, with a mortality rate in the neighborhood of one to two percent. ... This is not the Black Death or Ebola, diseases with mortality rates of about 50%, and I have no doubt there are eras in history when a mortality rate of 2% would barely have been noticed. But we are very fortunate not to live in one of those eras. Given our high standards of medical care and low death rates from other causes, COVID-19 produces dramatic increases in mortality to levels far above the norm. And just in terms of absolute numbers, a morality rate of one to two percent means that its unchecked spread would be likely to produce a death toll in the millions in the US alone, in the span of just a year. By comparison, a little over 400,000 Americans died in all of World War II. I don't know by what standard a potential death toll greater than that of a major war would not be considered a catastrophe. ... The point is that this is not "fake news" coming from the left-wing media. It is really happening, and people we know are trying to tell us about it.

Facing Facts

In the face of growing evidence, it does seem that the "hoax" theory has ebbed in most libertarian circles. But there are still those who hang onto the belief that this whole "pandemic" (in scare quotes) is overblown and nothing to worry about, except for those older folks with pre-existing conditions (like me, for example), who are going to die at some point anyway (aren't we all?). It's the kind of stance that leads people to view libertarians as not having a single empathetic bone in their crippled bodies.

And some of these folks have claimed further that the New York statistics in particular are being artificially "inflated" to prolong the current lockdown. I addressed that issue directly in this post, and I have yet to receive a satisfactory response to it.

While it may take years to truly understand the full story of this virus, in the end, I must begin with the evidence of my own senses. As I related in that "Reality Check" post cited above, it was on the last day of February that I sat in an Emergency Room at Mount Sinai Brooklyn, dealing with some complications from a lifelong medical condition, and could not believe the growing volume of patients being ushered in for immediate care. The EMTs, doctors, and nurses, all expressed astonishment over the number of people who were reporting upper respiratory distress. The warning signs for COVID-19 precautions were plastered all over the ER that night; it was only a preamble to all that was to come. As it turned out, this was the day before the very first reported death in New York state attributed to COVID-19. Since that date, Mount Sinai Brooklyn has been overwhelmed.

I have spoken to scores of doctors, nurses, EMTs, and first responders, and neighbors from all over the tri-state area. The horror stories I'm being told by people I trust implicitly make the statistics pale by comparison. The bodies are piling up faster than the hospital morgues or the funeral homes can handle. In the Flatlands section of Brooklyn, not far from my neighborhood, friends of mine have complained about the odor of decomposing bodies being stored in U-Haul trucks outside the Andrew Cleckley Funeral Home on Utica Avenue. The news has reported that between "30 to 60 bodies were being stored in two U-Haul trucks outside the funeral home" in "unsanitary and undignified" conditions. This is the reality in New York.

But anecdotal evidence does not take the place of raw statistics. So let's discuss those statistics, because they will sober-up even the coldest utilitarian minds among us.

Today, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New York state are at a staggering 320,000+ and rising; the number of deaths attributed to the virus nears 25,000. And, of these, New York City accounts for nearly 19,000 deaths. New York state has a death rate of 126 per 100,000 people; the city itself has a death rate of 219 per 100,000. Even if some of my libertarian colleagues wish to dismiss 20% of these casualties because they are typically listed under the category of "probable" rather than "confirmed" deaths, that still means that in excess of 20,000 people in my home state are dead from this virus in two months. We need to put this in perspective because I'm tired of hearing how accidents kill more people in a year or how influenza and pneumonia kill more people in a year, and nobody talks about it. In a typical year, like, say, 2017, 7,687 people died in accidents and 4,517 people died from the flu and pneumonia in New York state. COVID-19 has now killed more than the annual total of these two leading causes of death combined in this state in just two months. It is therefore astonishing to me how any person would indict the state's healthcare system as somehow to blame for the horrific death toll---whatever problems that are inherent in that system---especially when it has been stretched to its limits, and its doctors, nurses, and first responders have worked heroically to treat and save so many lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, throughout the United States, there are over 1.1 million cases, and over 67,000 deaths. But Ryan McMaken drives home a crucial point that is fully cognizant of the catastrophe that has befallen New York and New Jersey, in particular. As of April 25, 2020, New York and New Jersey accounted for more than 51 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in the United States. All the other states combined constituted less than 48.5 percent. "The difference becomes even more stark as we move west and south. New York's death rate is now 22 times as large as Florida's and 25 times that of Alabama. Many states now report total deaths per 100,000 that are one-thirtieth the size of New York's toll. ... Were New York a foreign country, the US's total death rate from COVID-19 would be cut by 36 percent." McMaken argues persuasively that "[t]his wide variation means that other variables---like population density or subway use---were more important. Our correlation coefficient for per-capita death rates vs. the population density was 44%. That suggests New York City might have benefited from its shutdown---but blindly copying New York's policies in places with low COVID-19 death rates, such as my native Wisconsin, doesn't make sense."

McMaken asks an important question, though: "Indeed, these numbers are so high that one wonders if deaths are even being counted properly, or if there is something about New York's medical infrastructure that is especially inferior. Perhaps New York is home to a particularly virulent strain of the disease. Perhaps the disease was in circulation for far longer than the experts insist is the case. The experts don't know the answers to these questions."

Sadly, some of the comments following McMaken's essay only escalated my irritation. Some commentators were practically gleeful that NYC was experiencing such a terrible loss of life---punishment, it appears, for allowing "illegal immigrants" into our domain as a "sanctuary city."

It should be noted that the first hotspot in New York state was not even in New York City proper. It was at a synagogue in New Rochelle. Cases swiftly navigated toward "Jew York City" (yes, that's what one "libertarian" told me before I hung up on him). So let's Blame the Jews! Or blame those damn Italians who came here in droves during and after the holidays to visit their families in New York City! Or blame the gays---who were also responsible for bringing us HIV/AIDS. Or let's just blame New York City itself and its "New York Values"---you know, values such as openness, cosmopolitanism, acceptance, tolerance.

When people attack this city for its virtues, they are attacking the American dream. They speak of liberty but they'd prefer to extinguish that Torch in the Harbor. New York has taken the brunt of this crisis because it is the city that people from all over the world want to visit. It is among the greatest cultural and economic accomplishments in human history. For this New Yorker, it's the greatest city on earth.

So let's examine some more facts that might help to explain why New York has been so badly hit. As we all know, the virus was first manifested in the city of Wuhan, China (and scientists continue to debate whether this was a transmission from another species or some kind of laboratory experiment gone wrong). The CDC reports that "after Chinese authorities halted travel from Wuhan and other cities in Hubei Province on January 23, followed by US restrictions on non-US travelers from China issued on January 31 (effective February 2), air passenger journeys from China decreased 86%, from 505,560 in January to 70,072 in February. However, during February, 139,305 travelers arrived from Italy and 1.74 million from" other European countries, "where the outbreak was spreading widely and rapidly." The pandemic first hit Italy at the end of January, ramping up in February. (Interestingly, northern Italy has the largest concentration of Chinese people in all of Europe, many of them involved in business travel between China and Italy.) The vast majority of travelers from Italy and other European countries came to New York City. Gotham attracts an average of 65 million tourists each year---seeded primarily through the three major airports in the metropolitan area: Newark, JFK, and LaGuardia---and of these over 13.5 million came from overseas last year alone. During the holiday season, about 800,000 tourists per day flood into Rockefeller Center. Citing the CDC study, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated: "When you look at the number of flights that came from Europe to ... New York and New Jersey during January, February, up to the close down, 13,000 flights bringing 2.2 million people" came into the metropolitan area. From February 5 through March 16, 2020 alone, nearly 4,000 flights from Europe landed in JFK and Newark Airports, a sobering statistic, given that the vast majority of coronavirus strains were identical to the ones from Europe. And there is growing evidence that mass transit (especially the subways) became one of the chief transmission belts for the spread of the virus. The subways handle between five and six million riders per day, and given that many Latinos and African Americans work at jobs that are least likely to be resituated remotely, it is no coincidence that these communities, which depend on the subways for transit to and from their places of employment, have been disproportionately hurt by this pandemic.

But during this pandemic, as in the days following 9/11, we are seeing once again how New Yorkers are helping their neighbors in every way they know how, and as safely as they can. We are not sheep being led to the slaughter. We are a rowdy bunch. And it didn't take a political lockdown for the vast majority of New Yorkers to respond to the facts of this pandemic. The overwhelming majority of us are social distancing or self-quarantining when symptomatic because it is the most rational thing to do under the conditions that exist here. But through it all, from the growing networks of mutual aid that deliver food to those in need to those working on the healthcare frontlines, this city is showing the guts for which it is known.

Through the concerted efforts of local authorities, healthcare workers, first responders, and the people of this city, things are improving. We are no longer seeing daily deaths hovering at the level of 800 per day. Hospitalizations are down. Intubations are down. New cases are down. And we are now seeing fewer than 300 individuals dying each day. Will there be a second wave? If I had a crystal ball, I'd be able to answer that question.

Opening Up

Moving forward, one of the key principles that must guide our commitment to fully re-opening our communities is that one size does not fit all. The New York "model" is not applicable to Alaska, where only 370 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been identified and only 9 people have died. Given that there are at least vestiges of federalism still in effect in this country, and that centralized institutions at the federal level often cannot respond with as much immediacy to the situation on the ground as do localized institutions (a Hayekian insight, so-to-speak, applied to governmental entities), different localities will muddle through in different ways, with different timelines. Some regions, like the Northeast corridor, will work in concert because they are far more interconnected in such ways that the actions of one state will invariably impact on other states within that region.

Yes, everything in this world is interconnected in the wider context. If somebody had told me that a December 2019 virus in Wuhan, China would have led to 25,000 deaths in New York by May 2020, I would never have believed it. But contexts are continually evolving over time.

Paying attention to context means paying attention to changing contexts. This is not some NORAD computer playing “Tic Tac Toe” (as in the 1983 film, "WarGames"), where the context never changes and the outcome is always a stalemate. Politicians on both sides of the aisle, who have bungled this from the very beginning, understand that they cannot kill the host, the social economy, upon which their very existence depends.

As Pete Boettke argues, a genuinely realist approach must navigate between the false alternatives of "Romance" and "Cynicism"---the Scylla and Charybdis---that we typically face in all crises that have led to an augmentation of government power:

Romance lead[s] us astray by framing political leaders as saintly geniuses, whereas Cynicism leads us astray by framing the system as completely corrupt and devoid of any hope for improvement. Nothing in the Humean dictum that in designing institutions of government we should assume all men are knaves is either descriptive or hopeless. In fact, the hope in that dictum comes from ... minimizing the loss function in the design from the possibility of knaves ascending to power. It is from constructing the institutional rules of our governance such that bad men can do least harm, rather than assuming that only the best and brightest among us will rise to leadership, or that whatever system of governance we talk about it will devolve into corruption and immorality.
Realism forces us to reason through the tricky incentives that actors face in making their decisions. Realism also forces us to place the theorist in the model itself. Why do theorists choose the theories that they do, why do they make the statements that they do. The old political science "law" that where you stand is a function of where you sit, is just as true for scientists and academics as it is for Senators and Congressmen.

I fully agree with Pete that this pandemic has become a "testing ground" for our biases and ideas. The first step toward freedom is liberation from our ideological blinders. That doesn't mean a renunciation of our core values and convictions. It is an admission that human beings are

fallible yet capable creatures that when given freedom from the oppression of servitude (Crown), dogma (Altar), violence (Sword), and poverty (Plough) ... unleash their creative energies and lead to improvement in not only the material conditions of humanity but physical, spiritual and interpersonal. True radical liberalism is an emancipation doctrine, and seeks to cultivate a social system that exhibits neither discrimination nor dominion, and promises a social system that strives to minimize human suffering while maximizing the chances for human flourishing.

***

On the wall next to my desk, I have a small plaque, gifted to me by my family doctor when I was a young boy, who had emerged from life-saving surgery, after suffering for fourteen years without any diagnosis. It's an "Indian Prayer" and it says: "Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins."

I have seen the pain caused by this pandemic on every level, though as someone who has had 60+ surgeries in his life to combat the side effects of my own illness, I naturally share an affinity with those who become sick, for any reason. I have seen neighbors to the right of me and neighbors to the left of me who are sick, dying, or dead.

But I am not oblivious to the other pain that is being experienced by people who are not sick. They too are my neighbors. They are out of work, their unemployment checks are held up, some of them are too "proud" or ashamed to even apply for food stamps, until they realize that they can't afford to feed their own children without some help.

The human costs of this pandemic run deep, among families that are grieving over the loss of loved ones, among those whose businesses may never recover, whose jobs may never reappear, and whose dreams have been aborted. I have seen too much suffering on both sides of this divide.

But if we are to make the case for a new radicalism, each of us must be willing to engage in self-critique, to make transparent and examine our own biases. This must be coupled with a willingness to embrace the very real human need for empathy, the ability to truly share and understand the struggles of other individuals, especially those with whom we may disagree.

Without that empathy, I fear that the things that divide us may become irreparable not just to the libertarian project, but to the ideal of human freedom that we seek.

Postscript: Thank you to Rad Geek for mentioning the Jeffrey Harris study cited here.

Also my thanks to Amir Abbasov for translating this blog essay into Azerbaijanian.

Postscript (12 May 2020): A few additional points were raised by this post on the Facebook Timeline; below are some of my comments in response to reader's questions. One reader wrote that the claim by Boettke and Hayek was "over stated. If there are plenty of ordinary cases where government handling of emergencies is not intended simply to augment state power, we can’t conclude that that’s the case in large scale extraordinary emergencies." I responded:

I would say that this is why we need to study history. Once again, it's evidence that must guide us, not an ideological blueprint. When I look at large-scale events in the twentieth century like World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, for example, it's pretty clear to me that each of these augmented state power enormously in the United States, and left institutions in place that allowed for further expansions of state power when the crises were over. In fact, the War Collectivism of World War I (part of the War Industries Board, which basically put in place a corporate state of sorts, while the country was on war footing), laid the basis of the corporatism of the New Deal programs, which were further centralized by the War Production Board in World War II. And the policy of "permanent war for permanent peace" throughout the post-war, Cold War era is what ultimately led even Dwight Eisenhower (hardly a radical libertarian) to warn of the excessive influence of a vast military-industrial complex. His 1961 farewell speech is worth quoting at length, for its insight into the ways in which this complex was distorting American social life:
"Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations.
"Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."
Pretty good for a Republican...

I added:

My post certainly sees the current pandemic as a large-scale extraordinary emergency, and it specifically warns against viewing this through the lens of "hoax" and "conspiracy" theories, which reduce this to a power-grab by the state. It also accepts the possibility that, like any emergency, this can be used as a pretext by political and economic actors in ways that could augment state power in the long-run, something that requires our vigilance. Still, it's clear to me that Boettke does not adopt the kind of strict dualism that one finds in too many libertarian discussions of this kind. He himself makes clear that we can't be led "astray by framing political leaders as saintly geniuses," or "by framing the system as completely corrupt and devoid of any hope for improvement," and that to assume that all political actors are "knaves is either descriptive or hopeless." He explicitly rejects the assumption that "whatever system of governance we talk about ... will devolve into corruption and immorality." Yes, he would prefer an institutional order "such that bad men can do least harm"---but who wouldn't?
I think that natural catastrophes certainly fall under the category of large-scale extraordinary emergencies; I think of things like earthquakes, Hurricane Katrina, even Superstorm Sandy, which devastated the tri-state area. And I think that given the conditions that exist, it was necessary for the institutions in place to step-up actions to save populations and property. I don't think it is necessarily the case that state action under those circumstances is a power-grab. I also think that a lot can be said for the extraordinary efforts made voluntarily by individuals and through networks of mutual aid, which saved the lives of countless numbers of people.

Postscript (25 May 2020): Irfan Khawaja addresses "Puzzles of the Pandemic: 'The Nursing Home Massacre'", in which some folks have blamed NJ Governor Murphy and NY Governor Mario Cuomo for having "spiked" the deaths in their respective states by returning from various hospitals recovering COVID-19 elderly patients to the nursing homes from which they came. I responded in the comments section:

Well, if you listen to the folks at Fox News, Cuomo, Murphy, etc. purposely sent patients, who previously lived in nursing homes and were subsequently hospitalized for and designated as having recovered from COVID-19, back into the nursing homes from which they came. The Fox Folks claim that this was some diabolical plot to kill off the elderly population and/or to inflate the death tallies in NY and NJ, since many of those who were designated as “recovered” were still capable of infecting others. But yes, aside from the Fox Folks, there are legitimate questions about the wisdom of the policy of sending these patients back to the nursing homes—though it is not at all clear that the infection rate within nursing homes was strictly a result of this policy. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the spike in nursing homes was as much the result of nursing home residents coming into contact with asymptomatic infected staff.
The initial policy was adopted because the hospitals in NY were being overrun and taxed to a catastrophic degree, and when the USS Comfort arrived, and the Javits Convention Center (along with four other centers in the outer boroughs) were set up, they were opened to take in patients who were not sick from Coronavirus; they were to be places where folks facing traumatic medical problems unrelated to the virus could be cared for under “virus-free” conditions. The private and public hospital network were to shoulder the burden of the growing population of sick and dying patients from the virus, while these other places (the Comfort, Javits, etc.) would provide medical care for those not infected with the virus, but in need of urgent medical care (so-called “elective” surgeries were all postponed, but, obviously, there are many other medical problems that people face, for which they require treatment, in medical facilities that are not death traps for those with underlying pre-existing conditions).
Though the official reversal came at the beginning of May, the policy actually started to change at the beginning of April. It was at that time that the Comfort and the Javits Center were finally opened up to care for the overflow of COVID-19 patients.
But, yes, the damage was done. And I suspect that’s what Cuomo’s mea culpa is about. He’s certainly not in agreement with the Fox Folks that his policy was designed to kill people; but it was a policy that was shaped by the exponential growths in hospitalizations and intubations that were happening in late March and early April, until the state hit a plateau of 800-1000 deaths per day. Once it became clear that the healthcare network, as taxed as it was, would not collapse, and that these other facilities could take in COVID-19 patients, the practice of sending recovering nursing home patients back into nursing homes started to change. And extra precautions were put into place at the beginning of May, as Michael indicates above.
Clearly, mistakes have been made at every level of government; but it’s a huge leap to characterize something that was a tragic mistake to viewing it as a criminal act. I live in NY; I’ve lost neighbors, a cousin, friends, and even cherished local proprietors, to this horrific disease. There’s a lot of blame to go around; those most at fault, however, were the folks who denied that there was even a virus at work, that the whole thing was a hoax, and that one could just wash it away with a little detergent or by mainlining bleach.

Finally, I note that yesterday (27 May 2020), the United States officially reached a grim milestone: Over 100,000 deaths from coronavirus-related illnesses. What can one say in the face of such a horrific statistic? Stay safe. Wear masks. Practice social distancing. The motto of the day remains "Better to be six feet apart, than six feet under."

April 25, 2020

Coronavirus (20): A Light-Hearted Moment in the Post Office

I have not ventured out much since the Coronavirus pandemic deepened here in New York City. But I did have a chance around the time that I went grocery shopping (three weeks ago) to stop by the Post Office to mail a small package to a friend. I have truly marveled at the hard work---and courage---displayed by all of the men and women who are delivering the mail during a period of high stress and high volume, whether from the USPS, Fed Ex, UPS, or any number of other delivery services, not to mention the folks who deliver from restaurants, pizzerias, and other eateries in the neighborhood.

But my last visit to the Post Office gave me a chuckle. Three postal workers are sitting behind thick plexiglass windows, and the line is short. A window opens as the customer just ahead of me departs. I walk over to the window.

Here's a dialogue worthy of Plato:

She (the postal worker): Oh, I was just going on break.
Me: Oh, I'm sorry. That's okay, I'll just wait for the next window to open.
She: No, no, it's okay, sweetheart. Hand it over.
Me: Are you sure? I can wait, it's not a big deal!
She: No, no, I'll be happy to take care of this quickly... it's just that I gotta pee like Seabiscuit!
Me: (Convulsed in Laughter... happily handing the package over to the postal worker) -- At least I'm old enough to know who Seabiscuit is!
She: Don't make me laugh, sweetheart, or there's gonna be a problem!

Only in New York! :)

April 23, 2020

Coronavirus (19): Reality Check

As many readers know, I have a whole lot of pre-existing medical conditions, including a lifelong congenital intestinal disorder. To enumerate all of the pre-existing medical problems, it would take up a bit more of this post than is necessary. But I am taking two prescribed drugs to control high blood pressure, and on that count, I'm doing quite well. And yet, though there has been no noticeable spike in my blood pressure, I have to say that there are fewer things that make my blood boil than the ongoing stream of naysayers who seem to be completely blind to the stubborn facts of the current Coronavirus pandemic.

The CDC is now combining confirmed Coronavirus deaths and probable deaths related to COVID-19 in its total casualty count. Some of the naysayers argue that this is artificially inflating the numbers.

I can only speak to the situation in New York state, with nearly 270,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus. It is the state with which I am most familiar, because I've lived here my whole life. If anything, from what I see, the number of cases is vastly underestimated. It is highly likely that most people are asymptomatic. And while many businesses have closed---having a disastrous effect on the local and national economy---most people seem to be acting quite rationally in the current context. Most of those who are symptomatic are voluntarily self-quarantining and practicing social distancing. Indeed, to my knowledge, nobody is being arrested in NY state for coming out of their homes whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic. New Yorkers are taking the most prudent actions, under extremely stressful, extraordinary circumstances, without anybody putting a gun to their heads. This is clearly having an effect on slowing the spread of the virus. The state reached a plateau of over 700 deaths per day and for the last few days, there has been an average of 400+ confirmed cases of Coronavirus-related deaths per day.

But there is growing evidence that the number of confirmed cases vastly underestimates (rather than inflates) the number of those who have been infected with the virus. A new random statistical survey of people out and about in public, typically coming in and out of grocery stores, was conducted in New York state, and it is reported that 13.9% of those tested had antibodies for Coronavirus. Some have suggested that up to 2.7 million people in New York may have become infected with this virus. If one could find a silver lining in the cloud hanging over us, that's actually a "good" statistic. It means that the great bulk of people who have been infected are either asymptomatic or have not had symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization. Perhaps some kind of "herd immunity" will eventually arise, but that remains to be seen. There is still no "cure" for this virus and no vaccine.

It should be noted, however, that up to this point, New York state hasn’t been doing much mass testing (though New York City is finally opening testing centers in some hot spots, especially in minority communities). Tests have been conducted almost exclusively on people who are symptomatic---but many of those who are symptomatic don’t even get tested. Their voluntary self-quarantine typically allows the virus to run its course---or not. The "not" refers to those who never make it to a medical facility---and who die at home. They may never have been tested for the virus; hence, they are counted by the CDC as among the "probable" deaths from COVID-19.

What kills me, no pun intended, about the naysayers who doubt the extent of the death and destruction of this pandemic is that even if there are significant pre-existing conditions that predispose many folks to becoming infected with---and dying of---the virus, something about this virus therefore becomes a crucial factor that has led to a horrifying spike in the number of deaths being recorded in the state of New York. Perhaps it becomes the straw that breaks the camel's back, so-to-speak, for people who would not have died otherwise.

So the naysayers need to explain why in hell there have been 20,000+ deaths in less than two months in my home town. Why are so many people dropping dead at the same time? If not COVID-19, then WTF! I'm all ears.

It is almost irrelevant at this point how accurate the statistics are. You cannot deny the evidence of your senses. This is beyond belief. As a resident of what has become the epicenter of this disease in the United States (and certainly one of the hottest spots in the entire world), I feel like I'm living in some sick surreal apocalyptic sci-fi movie or some new incarnation of an epic Biblical film. Indeed, as a fan of "Ben-Hur," I've started referring to this place as the Valley of the Lepers [YouTube link] and to Brooklyn as one of the five Leper Colonies of New York City. (And before the epidemiologists start jumping all over me: Yes, I know the difference between an infectious bacterial disease such as leprosy and a viral infection, such as COVID-19. It's just a metaphor in the spirit of gallows humor.)

But let me speak a bit anecdotally for just a moment.

Due to that lifelong congenital intestinal illness I mentioned above, I had to be rushed to Emergency Rooms five times between December 7th and February 29th. My hospital of choice for such visits has been Mount Sinai Brooklyn, closest to my home in the Gravesend section of the County of Kings.

While ERs are typically overcrowded with people suffering from all sorts of illnesses and accidents, there was a distinct difference between my first visit to Mount Sinai Brooklyn in December and my last visit on the afternoon of February 29th. On that Leap Year Day, the ER was utterly insane, completely inundated by an astounding inflow of patients. It was as if some earthquake had struck, and the place was being flooded by survivors in need of immediate medical attention. I was stuck in there for nearly six hours, even though I'd been rushed passed triage and right into the ER proper. I couldn’t believe what was going on around me. It was, ironically, the day before the first confirmed COVID-19 related case was reported in New York state and fourteen days before its first reported death. But something was clearly wrong.

Most of the incoming ER patients were suffering from acute respiratory distress. The hard-working EMTs, nurses, and doctors I spoke with that night were telling me that they’d never seen anything like this in their lives. That was then. But this is now---and that Mount Sinai ER, like virtually every ER across the tri-state area looks like a battle zone. Just check out the observations of Dr. Peter Shearer at Mount Sinai Brooklyn, way back on March 26th. Since then, the situation has only gotten worse. Yes, the rate of hospitalizations are going down throughout the state. But this is mass death on a scale that none of us has seen in our lifetimes.

So let's return to those controversial numbers of "confirmed" versus "probable" deaths from the virus. From New York magazine:

As of Thursday morning [23 April 2020], there have been more than 263,754 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York, including more than 138,435 in New York City. More than 15,740 people with COVID-19 have died in the state, not including the deaths of people with probable cases.

The CDC lists 20,000+ COVID-19-related deaths here in New York state, so let’s just throw out the 4,000+ "probable" (rather than confirmed) deaths from the virus here in New York. And I mean that with the utmost respect to the families whose 4,000+ loved ones have died suddenly and without full confirmation of cause of death. We’re still talking about close to 16,000 confirmed deaths related to Coronavirus infection, in less than two months. I won't even address this issue globally. So what in hell could possibly account for this spike in mass death in this state?

I have read some persuasive theories about what may have happened here in New York though I know that it is going to be a very long time before this crisis can be fully understood on any number of levels, from the epidemiological to the political to the economic. There is growing evidence that the virus was most likely manifested here as far back as January. And that would make some sense. After all, from mid-December until mid-January, New York City in particular typically attracts millions upon millions of tourists from all over the world. They come here to see the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center or to see the Ball Drop in Times Square (and I'm not even considering the possibility of the millions of folks who came to NYC at the end of November for the Thanksgiving Day weekend). And most of them make use of a mass transit system that typically transports over five million people per day. I can't think of a more perfect petri dish for the transmission of an infectious disease. In fact, Dr. Jeffrey E. Harris maintains in a new study (pdf document) that the subways most likely became a key component in the deadly spread of COVID-19 throughout New York City and the tri-state area.

I already know too many people who have been infected by this disease and several who have died, including one of my sister's former students. My immediate family remains okay, but I would not be surprised if we all test positive for antibodies at some point. Neighbors to the right of me, neighbors to the left of me, remain on ventilators in Intensive Care Units in various local hospitals. We may have reached a plateau. And we will surely come out of this pandemic better than before.

But this "reality check" remains a sobering reminder that something terrible has impacted too many lives.

Postscript (24 April 2020): I wanted to thank Irfan Khawaja for linking to this entry on his Policy of Truth blog. He states there, in an installment of his "Coronavirus Diary (51): Reality Check with Chris Sciabarra":

As philosophers from Plato to Popper have argued, there's enormous value in the dialectical clash of divergent opinions: we learn, and arguably converge on the truth, through the process of disagreement. But there's also something to be said for the solidarity produced by agreement on basic facts and values, as well as a sense of shared purpose. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, I've relied on different people for one or both of those things, but relied consistently on Chris Sciabarra for the latter: for whatever reason, Chris and I basically agree on how to think about the COVID-19 crisis, as well as what to do about it.
To that end, I highly recommend his most recent blog post (the nineteenth in his series), Reality Check, on life and death in New York as a result of COVID-19. And check out the links, especially the paper near the end by Jeffrey Harris of the National Bureau of Economic Research, "The Subways Seeded the Massive Coronavirus Epidemic in New York City." Arguably, the problems Harris describes there haven't yet been resolved, and won't be until New Yorkers deal with the problems of homelessness and housing in their city---yet another indication of the interconnectedness of what are often thought of as discrete "topics." Among other things, Harris’s paper raises a practical question for me: what do I do with my old MTA subway cards? Get them the hell out of my house, or donate them to science?
I have two maps on my office wall, one of Palestine and one of the New York-New Jersey metro area; I think of both, in some sense, as "maps of home." I've often found myself musing on the fact that the one-horse "transit hub" where I live in Jersey, Whitehouse Station, is located at almost exactly the same latitude on the map as Sciabarra's neighborhood in the Gravesend part of Brooklyn. I don't know that that really explains anything, but as far as COVID-19 is concerned, it’s a metaphor that captures what matters.

And while you're at it, check out Ilana Mercer's newest column, "The Ethics of Social Distancing: A Libertarian Perspective."

Postscript: On another thread I posted the following comment:

All crises are used by governments to expand power over our lives---including nightmarish events, like 9/11, which also struck my hometown in a way that made our everyday lives into a total nightmare for months on end... and for years on end---for those who are still dying from diseases contracted while working on "The Pile" at Ground Zero. I've had disagreements with people on this very thread about how the US government used 9/11 as a pretext to make some of the worst foreign policy mistakes in the history of this country---coupled with a never-ending attack on our liberties at home.
Still, for the benefit of those who are reading this thread, several things need to be acknowledged:
First, though flu and pneumonia have killed people in NY state (as they do every year in every state), they have never taken this many lives in this short a period of time the way COVID-19 has done. And in my post, I'm fully cognizant of the fact that people who have pre-existing medical conditions are particularly susceptible to this virus, and that it may be just the "straw that breaks the camel's back" for such individuals. Regardless: The hospitals almost reached the breaking point here in trying to meet the overwhelming flow of patients into emergency rooms. The flu and pneumonia don't even register as a BLIP on the radar compared to what has happened here in the past two months.
Second: I clearly recognize that One Size Does Not Fit All. I do not recommend that Alaska (with 339 cases and 9 deaths) follow the same social distancing policies as New York. In this state, and especially in this city, I am hunkered down in my apartment to preserve my very life---and I'd venture to say that most people are doing this voluntarily and willingly. In my own neighborhood, I don't know a single family that has not been affected: Every person knows somebody who is sick, dying, or dead.
Finally, this crisis does not give local, state, or federal authorities a license to take away any of my rights to liberty, property, or the pursuit of happiness---and there is not a liberty-minded person among us who should not remain vigilant against the very real threats to our freedoms that a crisis like this has ignited.
But at this time I'm far more concerned with preserving the most basic right of all: my right to live. And I'm trying to preserve that the best way I know how.

Postscript (5 May 2020): Thanks to Amir Abbasov for translating this blog essay into Azerbaijanian.

Coronavirus (18): Gallows Comics

In these times, a smile always helps ...

WuMoCorona_1.png

PearlsBeforeSwineCorona.png

April 19, 2020

The Dialectics of Liberty: A Colloquy on Deirdre McCloskey's Chapter

For those of you who have been interested readers of The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, co-edited by Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Edward W. Younkins---and even for those of you who are not---we have a very special treat that we've posted on the home page to the book. The discussion of Chapter 8: Free Speech, Rhetoric, and a Free Economy, written by Deirdre McCloskey, will be featured on her own site shortly. But she has given us permission to reproduce it on the DOL site.

As McCloskey states in her abstract:

Adam Smith declared in 1762: "The offering of a shilling, which to us appears to have so plain and simple a meaning, is in reality offering an argument to persuade someone to do so and so as it is for his interest. . . . And in this manner everyone is practicing oratory on others through the whole of his life." Yes. The market is a form of persuasion, sweet talk. The changing of minds by speech accounts in a modern economy for fully a quarter of labor income. Rhetoric strongly parallels the liberal theory of markets and politics.

For those who don't know much about Deirdre McCloskey (shame on you!), here's her bio (from our volume):

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey taught until 2015 economics, history, English, and communication, adjunct in philosophy and classics, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Author of eighteen books and some 400 scholarly articles ranging from technical economics and statistics to gender studies and literary criticism, she has taught in England, Australia, Holland, Italy, and Sweden, and holds ten honorary degrees. Her trilogy of books (2006, 2010, 2016) on the "bourgeois era" explains modern liberty and riches not from trade or exploitation or science, but as an outcome of a new respect after 1700 and especially 1800 for commercially tested betterment, Adam Smith's "liberal plan of [social] equality, [economic] liberty, and [legal] justice." McCloskey is often classed with "conservative" economists, Chicago-School style (she taught in the Economics Department there from 1968 to 1980, tenured in 1975, and during her last year also in History). She still admires supply and demand. But she protests: "I'm a literary, quantitative, postmodern, free-market, progressive-Episcopalian, Midwestern woman from Boston who was once a man. Not 'conservative.' I'm a Christian libertarian, or a humane liberal."

With special thanks to those who participated in this part of our ongoing discussion of the book (which began in mid-February and will end in mid-June), I present that colloquy here.

Many reviews of the book are forthcoming as is special news of important things to come. Stay tuned!

April 17, 2020

Coronavirus (17): Ilana Mercer on Covidiots!

On my Facebook Timeline, I put up a link to Ilana Mercer's article, "Coronavirus and Conspiracy: Don't be a 'Covidiot'"

As I said there on FB: I always read my friend Ilana Mercer's essays with great interest, and whether one agrees or disagrees with her on this or that issue, she never ceases to be thought-provoking, including in this current piece. For those who talk about this as some kind of central government conspiracy, I remember hearing the words of Murray Rothbard, who told us in his American history lectures that governments are almost incapable of engaging in vast conspiracies of this scope (knowledge problem, anyone?)... but there are always little and lethal conspiracies going on here and there, which have been, in many ways, at the root of the growth of the regulatory state.

In any event, take a look at Ilana's provocative piece!

April 16, 2020

Coronavirus (16): Pearls Before Swine - Comic Gems In These Times

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous, I have been featuring on my Facebook page some absolutely classic comic strip commentaries on these times, courtesy of its creator, Stephan Pastis. Check out a few of the gems from the past few days.

On the COVID-19 Quarantine:

PearlsBeforeSwineQuarantineMid.png

On the Necessities of The Day (during the COVID-19 pandemic):

PearlsBeforeSwineToiletTissueMid.png

And finally, one clearly designed to highlight the importance of dialectical thinking ("the art of context-keeping"):

PearlsBeforeSwineContextSmall.png

"Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan?" Then take laughter as one of the most effective elixirs to a generation now steeped in worry... it's a great stress-reducer.

April 13, 2020

What's In a Number? (Part Two)

On 26 July 2002, the New York Daily News published "New Yorkers of the American Imagination: From The Fountainhead: Howard Roark"---which I'd written for their series, "Big Town Classic Characters." It was later republished on the site of the Atlas Society here.

On that same day, I began blogging on what I would call "Notablog." It started as a page on my home site, until "October 1, 2004," the title of my first post to the new interface with which New York University provided me. Through the years, I have written on subjects as diverse as economics (especially Austrian economics), culture, dialectical method, education and pedagogy, film, TV, and theater, fiscal policy, food, foreign policy, frivolity, music (including a "Song of the Day" feature now up to #1781 and counting), politics (not just elections, but a focus on theory, history, and current events), Ayn Rand studies (including the "Journal of..."), religion, remembrance, sexuality, and sports.

Earlier today, I posted a somber update on the Coronavirus pandemic, asking "What's in a Number?" Tonight, I ask that same question, with a far less somber tone. For with this entry, I have reached the 3,000th post in the history of Notablog over these last eighteen years. In many respects, it seems like a relatively small output, when you consider that there have been nearly 6,500 days since that very first post. But I'm very happy to have reached this milestone, if, for nothing else, to count my blessings that I'm still here and that I've been around long enough to keep writing---shedding some light and, on occasion, some heat, but always doing my best to tell it the way I see it.

To 3,000 more! Or 30,000! Nothing will shut me up after all this time!

Coronavirus (15): What's in a Number?

And so, today, the statistics show that the United States has nearly 580,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus, with 23,000+ deaths (and 33,754 fully recovered).

For this native New Yorker, the numbers are staggering. This state has almost 200,000 confirmed cases, and has hit a horrific one-month total (since the first confirmed NY-state deaths on March 14th) in the number of Coronavirus-related deaths: 10,056.

The nightmare of September 11th brought death and destruction that will forever stay with us, as 2,977 people were wiped out in a single day (not counting all those people who have died from 9/11-related illnesses in the wake of that terrorist attack).

But this is a number unto itself: 10,056.

It's the kind of statistic that puts the numb in number.

For in the end, we are talking about 10,056 individuals in New York state alone. And more than 23,000 across the United States. Each person is somebody's grandmother, grandfather, mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, spouse, partner, friend, neighbor. I knew several individuals who have died of the virus, who were seemingly healthy just one month ago---and they are now gone. I know too many individuals who are infected and self-quarantining, and others who are now in hospitals, on ventilators.

Please pause and remember this sobering reality. However much we are encouraged by the "plateauing" of this pandemic, the increasing numbers remain overwhelming to the families and extended families and friends of every single person who has been infected with this virus or who has lost their life.

My thoughts are with each and every one of them.

April 11, 2020

Jesus Was Italian (and a Happy Western Easter Tomorrow)!

If your PC sensibilities are a little sensitive today, skip this. If not, then watch this politically incorrect video, making the case that "Jesus Was Italian"...

(He's petting the "cat" the way Marlon Brando did in the opening scene to "The Godfather" [YouTube link] ... LOL

On a more serious note, I hope that all my Western Christian friends have a very Happy Easter tomorrow. I know these are tough times for lots of folks, but 'keep the faith'. :)

Postscript (12 April 2020): One FB pal posted this video, featuring Blofeld, the SPECTRE villain in "From Russia with Love" and other Bond films. I responded:

OMG... I just found out something TERRIBLE!!!! From Wikipedia:
"Ernst Stavro was born on 28 May 1908 (which is also Fleming's birthday) in Gdingen, Imperial Germany (now Gdynia, Poland); his father Ernst George Blofeld was Polish, and his mother Maria Stavro Michelopoulos was Greek, hence his Greek name Stavro. After World War I, Blofeld became a Polish national."
My maternal grandfather's last name was Michalopoulos, from Olympia, Greece (home of the gods and goddesses). That's one letter off the spelling of Blofeld's mom. Related??? And, of course, my paternal grandparents were from Porto Empedocle, Sicily (about 60 miles away from Corleone, home of the godfather). I may have gangstas on BOTH sides of my family! ;)

My FB pals had a little fun with me after that comment. GF said: "I always thought I detected in your books a latent desire to take over the world!" While JB said: "Well, I could think of a LOT worse candidates for that august position than Chris! In any case better to follow Chris's book(s) than other candidates (e.g., "The Art of the Deal." Bill Clinton's "Giving," Obamanation's tomes (which I purposefully forgot!). Bernie's "My Struggle" (I think that's the name...or maybe it was another socialist)," to which GF replied: "Sorry, Chris, but in spite of Jerry’s glowing endorsement of you, I’m not a fan of Plato’s philosopher king." To which I replied: "Nor I." To which JB replied: "Alas, the lone dialectician, crying in the wilderness!??" Which led to this final reply for me:

Even Harry Potter broke the Elder Wand in two at the end of the Deathly Hallows and threw it away. He understood that it was better not to have the power to rule. All well and good. On the other hand, the last guy to be a voice crying in the wilderness got his head chopped off and placed on a silver platter. So... I'll try to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis.

April 08, 2020

A Happy Passover to all My Jewish Friends

It is officially 7:28 pm, sundown Eastern Time in New York City.

I know that so many of my recent posts have focused on the difficulties of the time, as we face down the Coronavirus here and throughout the world.

But I wanted to take this opportunity to wish all my Jewish friends a very Happy Passover---in the spirit of "deliverence" that the holiday encompasses, or as said in Yiddish: A zissen Pesach.

Coronavirus (14): Numbers and Narratives

There is real hope that the CORVID-19 pandemic is reaching a plateau in New York state, which leads the United States in all cases. The United States has 420,000+ cases, with nearly 14,500 deaths. New York state accounts for nearly 150,000 of those cases, with nearly 6,300 deaths (and of these, NYC accounts for almost 78,000 cases, with 3,602 deaths). The state suffered its worst single-day, with 779 CORVID-19-related deaths. These statistics are most likely under-representations of the reality, since the state is not mass-testing residents, and many are dying, undiagnosed in their homes. The ripple effects of these numbers on other aspects of healthcare in the city alone have been traumatic to say the least---with a tripling of cardiac calls over the period between March 20 and April 5.

Even more distressing is the disproportionate number of Hispanics and African Americans in the city who have been impacted by this pandemic. Hispanics constitute 34% of all CORVID-19 cases, despite being 29% of NYC's population, while blacks constitute 28% of all CORVID-19 cases, despite being 22% of NYC's population. This is less a racial division than it is a class division, since most of those affected come from poor neighborhoods, who don't have the luxury of relying on working remotely from home.

There are positive things to report, however. Though the daily death toll in the Empire State is likely to increase, the number of new hospitalizations are stabilizing as are the number of ventilators in use. Food establishments---from NY pizzerias to NY delis---are coming to the aid of healthcare workers and first responders, and cities and states throughout the country have stepped up to assist New York in its dire need of medical supplies, even as they face upticks in their own communities.

I do want to address one issue that has been nagging at me from some quarters. If I hear one more time that the "regular" influenza kills more people than CORVID-19, I just might scream. Such folks are trying to downplay the gravity of the situation by pointing out (correctly) that many thousands die of influenza each year, and that most people who become infected with the Coronavirus will most likely be either asymptomatic or will recover completely without any medical complications.

But this ignores a simple truth: If we look at a standard year---2017---we will see that New York state registered 4,517 deaths from "flu/pneumonia", the sixth leading cause of death in the state (behind heart disease, cancer, accidents, chronic lower respiratory diseases, and stroke). But understand that these are statistics covering an entire year. The reason there are makeshift morgues and freezers set up around hospitals like Bellevue and that Randalls Island and Hart Island are being considered as temporary cemeteries to accommodate the growing number of bodies is that the sheer volume of cases and deaths are overwhelming the healthcare system, as would be the case in any natural catastrophe. Funeral homes are being taxed to their breaking point because, since the first two recorded deaths from CORVID-19 on 14 March 2020, there have been nearly 6,300 deaths from the Coronavirus in twenty-six days. Even if, suddenly, these deaths were to cease tomorrow, the tally has already exceeded the typical seasonal total of influenza deaths by almost 2,000 in under a month! This is one of the reasons that the healthcare system has been pushed almost to the breaking point.

Moreover, I've heard from a number of folks who dispute the statistics because, after all, many of the victims may have had pre-existing conditions, and who's to say that it wasn't these pre-existing conditions that did them in? All at once? The point is that even if many with pre-existing conditions are among the most vulnerable populations during this pandemic, the virus may just be the straw that breaks the camel's back, so-to-speak.

The bottom line is that we can't debate these issues with any degree of comfort until such time as more and more information about this pandemic and the deaths left in its wake becomes available. So while the naysayers are busy discounting the virus, we're still counting the bodies at a rate unseen, certainly in my generation.

Finally, I wanted to bring to your attention a new installment on my friend Irfan Khawaja's ongoing "COVID-19 Narratives," in which I was already featured. The newest installment, "A Physician's View of the Front Lines" is a harrowing tale of what life is like within the healthcare industry, as heroic medical personnel are battling a surge of thousands upon thousands of sick people in their Emergency Rooms and hospitals, a tale that has been echoed by so many front line workers that it is becoming horrifically all-too-familiar.

Postscript (8 April 2020): I made a few additional comments on Facebook with regard to this post after being pointed to this video, featuring Professor Knut Wittkowski. I wrote:

I've actually seen this video and also read a number of pieces on Wittkowski on AIER and Hoover. He makes a lot of good points, and certainly brings to bear many questions with regard to the public response to the pandemic. He's certainly not among the fringe group that questions the very existence of the Coronavirus or its impact on the most vulnerable. And I've been impressed as well with his overall logic and its implications for public policy.
But I have to say that there was a serious problem with, for example, keeping the schools open in NYC, where 1.1 million kids may very well have developed "herd immunity"... and still brought it home to older parents and grandparents, who might have pre-existing medical conditions, and therefore would have become susceptible to infection or worse. Not to mention the fact that many older teachers refused to work in such dense conditions in the public schools where they themselves would be put at risk.
Now this may be a good reason to question the wisdom of "herding" kids into large public school systems, but these are, nonetheless, the conditions that exist in the real world of New York City, and I can tell you that I am glad that my sister, for example, who works as the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Technical High School Alumni Foundation, with its office in that school---home to 6,000 kids---is now working remotely from our apartment. She herself has had a history of asthma and upper respiratory problems, and while the kids might have been helped by herd immunity, she may have ended up as yet another NYC statistic.
And the only other point I should raise is that while kids, for example, develop herd immunity, it is no coincidence that the virus is hitting minority communities very hard --- and they are the ones being "herded" into packed subways and mass transit to go to jobs that don't allow them remote access, hence making them far more susceptible to becoming infected, coming down with the virus, or spreading it to those even more at risk at home.
Nevertheless, a worthwhile video to view.

Postscript (9 April 2020): Further discussion ensued on this topic, and I reproduce below some of the key points I made in response to the epidemiological findings of this article, which questions the wisdom of closing schools during the pandemic.

I'm going to be completely forthright ... on this topic. I truly don't know enough to reply one way or the other. But I do believe that the problem here in NYC is compounded because we're talking about 1.1 million kids in public schools, most of whom get to school on mass transit. Somehow, it seems counterintuitive to me that there's not risk involved when 1.1 million school kids join the 8 million or so folks that typically jam the subways and buses during rush hour in NYC...talk about a petri dish! You wouldn't catch me going anywhere under those conditions during this pandemic. I'll play it safe, thankyouverymuch. ;)
I respect that intuition is not a factor in epidemiology. I'm just saying that as a person with serious pre-existing medical conditions, who is, to my knowledge, COVID-19 free at the current time, I don't think I'm being overly cautious in not wanting to mix it up with 8 million people on the NYC subways, even if 1 million of them were noncontagious kids. Not. Gonna. Happen. ... [But] I will be even more forthright. ... I only know that the school system in NYC involves 1,800+ schools, 1.1 million kids, over 75,000 teachers, thousands of administrative assistants and support staff, and given that context, I don't know what else public policy decision-makers could have decided under the circumstances. If I had all the answers, and the power to implement them, COVID-19 would be gone already. (And btw, this doesn't include the populations of parochial and private schools in NYC... which expands the pool of potentially infected people considerably.)
I don't think anybody truly knew that the schools were (or were not) significant factors in transmission. But I've read the eight pages of the study and I don't think it is as definitive as one might suspect at first blush. Quoting from the study:
Models are required because there is little unconfounded experience with school closures during an epidemic, and few analyses of any behavioural changes are empirical. For the USA, and for most states within the USA, κ was not sufficiently high or low to estimate which way a school closure will turnout without more information on β. ... Washington, DC (8·8%, 7·1–10·5), New Mexico (10·0%, 8·6–11·5), and New Jersey (11·2%, 9·7–12·6) might have health-care workers most able to cover their child-care obligations. ... Conversely, school closures might be implemented earlier in COVID-19 outbreaks, which might lead to greater levels of prevented cases. Furthermore, school closures might lead to other adults staying home, which could also reduce cases. These are all important questions when considering school closures.
It's telling that there may be a trade off between school closures and mortality---but it's also telling that all relevant values are not fully known. But let's say we accept the whole argument concerning the impact on parents who need to care for their kids and who still have to maintain a job in order to survive. Then it would still be consistent with closing down the schools and leaving minimal childcare options in place for those children in need of it. I should also note that there is not a single mention of New York state or New York City in the entire study, the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. Nor do I see a single mention of the conditions specific to the NYC context with regard to the use of mass transit, which, from what I see, has been a true petri dish in the transmission of the virus among minority populations who are traveling still by subway in very large numbers to get to jobs they cannot afford to give up because none involves a remote option. And I should also mention that the New York City school system was among the very last systems to close down, the day after NY state had its first two confirmed Coronavirus deaths (which occurred on March 14th). So from where I sit, the study raises more questions than it answers.
[Moreover,] we still don't know if children, who are asymptomatic, are simply bringing the virus back home to infect older parents and grandparents. This speaks to the video linked above. Herd immunity is good in theory, especially among kids, but once those kids infect adults, all bets are off. It's precisely because kids are not impacted in the same deleterious way as adults that the public schools were closed. The teachers threatened all to call in sick if they didn't close the schools; so not even they would have been available as daycare workers, since many teachers could have potentially been infected by asymptomatic kids. But, truly, I don't have the answer. I only know that right now, New York state has more deaths from Coronavirus than any single country in the world. That's pretty scary. I'm doing what I can do to keep myself and my family safe, and I'm well supplied to hunker down for a month or two, if that's what it takes. The deaths keep mounting, but it does appear that the curve is finally flattening in terms of new hospitalizations.

Postscript (11 April 2020): On another thread I repeated some of the information from this post, with a twist, after a commentator pointed out that 40,000 people died in motor vehicle accidents per year, and nobody says anything about it (compared to this

The only thing I'd like to point out is the obvious: Yes, 40,000 people die in motor vehicle accidents in the US... but this doesn't happen all at once. Since the first US death from Coronavirus on February 29th, there have been 20,455 deaths at last count (out of a total of 528,990 cases. In New York state alone, there have been 180,458 cases and 8,627 deaths ... all since March 14th. That's TWENTY-NINE days. Yes, the numbers seem to be hitting a plateau, and we are all encouraged that the numbers will finally start coming down. But this state has had over 700 deaths per day from this virus for four straight days. This is not an argument for shutting down our lives or giving up our liberties; but it is a reality check on just how destructive this virus has been within a relatively short time. That's why we can't compare apples and oranges. In 2017, a typical year for New York state, influenza/pneumonia was the sixth leading cause of death in which 4,517 people lost their lives... over the entire flu season. This state is approaching double that number in less than a single month; it is one of the reasons why the healthcare system has been overwhelmed here. Again: None of this is an argument for draconian measures; I've written enough about "Disease and Dictatorship" and how crises of this nature fertilize the soil from which greater government control over our lives grows... and becomes widely accepted by the population. But let's not pooh-pooh the scope of the nightmarish toll that COVID-19 has taken on the American people in a relatively short time. Yes, a lot less than some of the "experts" predicted, but not any less horrific...
[O]f course ... One Size Never Fits All. In that sense, we can be thankful for whatever remnants of federalism still exist in the United States. The New York "model" surely does not fit Texas or Alaska or Hawaii. But since it is the center of the pandemic in this country, at the very least, it is encouraging that the numbers are "plateauing" ... and nobody more than this New Yorker is hopeful that the Big Apple will come roaring back much sooner than later.

April 07, 2020

Long Live Pussy Galore: Honor Blackman, RIP

In the midst of all the tragedies around us, I just found out that Honor Blackman, who famously played Pussy Galore in my all-time favorite James Bond film, "Goldfinger," passed away at the age of 94 on 5 April 2020. She also played the trailblazing, self-confident, martial arts expert, Cathy Gale, in the British TV series, "The Avengers", alongside Patrick Macnee.

As she once stated in a "TV Times" interview: "Pussy Galore was a career woman --- a pilot who had her own air force, which was very impressive. She was never a bimbo."

Her introduction to 007 (played by Sean Connery in "Goldfinger") remains a golden cinematic moment [YouTube link], no pun intended!

April 06, 2020

Song of the Day #1781

Song of the Day: In the Heights ("96,000"), music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a highlight of the 2008 Tony-Award winning Browdway musical, which offers a snapshot over three days of the largely Dominican American neighborhood of Washington Heights, a community that, today, has the most reported Coronavirus cases in the borough of Manhattan. This rousing production also won Tony Awards for Best Original Score, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestrations (four awards out of a total of thirteen nominations!). Check out the recording from the original Broadway cast production as well as a performance of it on the 2008 Tony Awards [YouTube links]. And finally, check out the Warren Five, my cousins on Long Island, who, after having performed this song live for their growing Facebook Audience [Facebook link] during the #QWARRENtine, have just produced a music video for their own terrific rendition [YouTube link]. Love 'em all!

Coronavirus (13): New York State of Mind

The news isn't pretty; the United States now has 356,007 Coronavirus cases, with 10,467 deaths. Of these, 130,589 come from New York state, and of these, 67,820 come from New York City. My own area in Brooklyn, New York (Gravesend) has been hit particularly hard, with several neighbors hospitalized and in Intensive Care Units. And then came the upsetting news from the Bronx Zoo, that a Tiger was infected with COVID-19 from an asymptomatic human---and other tigers and lions have also manifested symptoms of the virus. This means that while animals cannot transfer the virus to humans, infected humans can potentially infect their own pets, cats especially. I know that if I ever became infected with the virus and got over it, as most do, I don't think I could bear the possibility of infecting my beloved Cali and seeing her sick or worse as collateral damage.

In the midst of all this, I have seen an outpouring of love and support from friends and family all over this country, and from abroad as well. We are home, doing our work, listening to the news, but keeping ourselves busy with music, movie, and Cali mayhem! And every night, my cousins in Long Island, "The Warren Five", uplift us with their love and their music. I've already posted on my own Facebook Timeline, three of their ongoing #QWARRENtine selections: "Seasons of Love" (from "Rent"), "96,000" (from "In the Heights"), and "Telephone Hour" (from "Bye Bye Birdie").

And this morning, I came upon a piece written by Brian Kerrigan, a guest columnist for Michael Levin, entitled "A Lament for Gotham," which was very moving. I recommend the essay to your attention. Here are a few takeaway passages:

My beloved New York City, my adopted home for the last twenty-five years is at war again. This time though, none of us, not a single one of us can see the enemy coming. It’s the same all over the world, I know. In this city though, nine million of us inhabit just three-hundred square miles. That’s thirty-thousand people per square mile and a recipe for human tragedy on a grand scale. And it’s deafening my ears all day, every day. That’s the other ‘context’. There is an eerie quiet on the streets particularly evident right after the sun goes down. Then it screams again and I remember its 8 pm, not 3 am. The ambulances mostly turn their sirens off, except at intersections, but the sight of the flashing light and idling engine down a city street are equally, if not more haunting. ...
And so it was, at 7 pm last night that I heard a strange and unfamiliar sound outside. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was. Curious, I opened my window and gasped when I saw dozens of people leaning out their windows clapping hands and tooting air horns, blowing whistles. I looked down onto the street and saw whole families with young kids standing there cheering and clapping at nothing and at everything. Neighbors who pass each other all year long always too busy to stop and chat were standing together, at six or more feet apart, waving across the street to other random people, hands raised in the air, banging them together like flamenco dancers. I was stunned into silence, mouth agape. I noticed my neighbor Martin, a very reserved English fellow whooping and cheering like a high school cheerleader. “Martin, what the hell is going on?” I shouted. Beaming, he hollered up that this was a huge citywide demonstration of gratitude and appreciation for the men and women on the front lines of the war against the invisible enemy. I looked around and I saw no fear, just joy. I was completely overcome by a wave of emotion that swallowed me whole in its crest of humanity. The tears streamed down my cheeks, just as they are this very second as I write. I guess I’m no longer working on it. I love being a man because when we succumb to the tears and triumph over our inner voice of criticism, we are reborn. We are reborn not as infants, but as men. I gathered myself, returned to my window and they were gone. The street was quiet. Windows shut, whistles stopped.
And here lies the greatest of all ironies. Almost ninety-nine out of every one hundred of us is strong enough, brave enough and tough enough to beat this enemy on our own. The beast can be beaten if we employ the oldest method of attack known to us --- divide and conquer. Separate and win. Isolate and overcome. Armies, tanks and sophisticated weaponry are useless.

There is good news today, believe it or not: It does appear that the number of cases in New York state seems to be flattening over the last two days. We hope that this just might be the "apex" or the "plateau" we've all been waiting for. When this whole thing is over, have no fear: the people of New York and everybody else who has survived this pandemic---which constitutes the vast majority of folks who become infected with the virus---will come roaring back...

Postscript (7 April 2020): I added a few comments on Facebook for the benefit of some "conservatives" and "libertarians" who continue to debate the extent of the virus or to label the whole thing a "hoax":

I invite everybody who thinks it is a hoax to go into a hospital anywhere here in the Tri-State area and, pick a dozen or so really beautiful-looking COVID-19 patients that they can find---the ones not on ventilators of course, and depending on their own affectational preferences---and, if you'll pardon the expression, French-kiss each of them, and then, let's use them as a laboratory to see if this is truly a hoax.
Just a thought....
You have to keep a sense of humor, even a sense of gallows humor... when you have to deal with this sort of nonsense with each passing day. Yeah, I'm hoping that the virus is hitting an apex or a "plateau" here in NY state, for example, but the fact is that the deaths are still going up on a daily basis, going from 500+ yesterday to 731 deaths just in NY state over the last 24 hours, for a total of 5,489 deaths since March 1 just in NY. The funeral homes and morgues are so overloaded that they are putting bodies in makeshift freezers outside the hospitals (Maimonides is an epicenter here in Brooklyn; Bellevue has practically established a 'cemetery' wing, outside the hospital, for such freezers). They have even discussed digging up portions of Hart Island as a temporary grave site for the growing numbers of dead people.
I don't mind discussing alternative approaches on how to respond to the virus---politically, economically, etc.---but the folks who continue to deny the science are simply mastering the art of sticking their heads in the sand, and, quite frankly, are making it an embarrassment to those of us who are, indeed, libertarians... even "dialectical" ones at that.

April 03, 2020

Coronavirus (12): The Trials and Tribulations of Grocery Shopping ... and Living in NYC

The numbers continue to startle for those of us living through this Coronavirus pandemic: The world now has 1,095,968 confirmed cases, with 58,817 recorded deaths. The United States leads all countries with 275,802 confirmed cases of the virus (with 7,087 deaths---1,094 deaths today alone). The US is ahead of Italy, Spain, Germany, and China (though the skeptic in me actually believes that the US intelligence community just might be right that the numbers in China have been profoundly under-reported by its government).

To bring these numbers even closer to home, New York state now has a total of 102,863 confirmed cases of the virus, with 57,159 of these in New York City. The state reports 2,935 deaths, 1,562 of these in New York City. In fact, in the last 24 hours, the highest single-day increase in both deaths and hospitalizations were recorded in this state.

I have already experienced more grim news than I can bear with regard to friends and neighbors who are dealing with this virus in very personal terms. And all one need do is turn on the television to hear about the growing list of famous folks who have died from this virus over the past week alone, including jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis (father to both Wynton and Branford) and Paterson, New Jersey-born jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli (father of John), who I had the pleasure of seeing many times in New York jazz clubs and concerts throughout the years. And the passing of Bill Withers, from a non-COVID-19-related illness, is just as tragic. Indeed, "we all need somebody to lean on..." [YouTube link].

And yet, with all this sickness and death around us, even with calls for greater social distancing and the omnipresent mantra of "Stay Healthy, Stay Home", you gotta do whatcha gotta do. This morning, I got up at 5 am, did an hour workout, cleaned up, and walked a block and a half to my local supermarket, which opened its doors at 7 am. Determined to shop when the place was relatively less populated, and knowing that we'd earned a 20% discount off our groceries just from our shopping there over the past month, I ventured out and purchased enough food and necessities that could fit into our kitchen cabinets, refrigerator and freezer, in the chance that we have yet to see an apex of this virus that will dwarf the number of people lost on September 11, 2001.

This had to be done with the utmost preparation. I went out, dressed in shorts and a light jacket, carrying an umbrella because of the light mist that was keeping down the tree pollen (which is my nemesis at this time of year) and quickly ran through my shopping list and my checklist:

- Vinyl Gloves: Check
- Facial Mask: Check
- Shopping Bags: Check (except I had all the groceries delivered to our apartment 2 hours after I was done shopping...)

Once I got into the supermarket, the scene was surreal. Everybody was like a mirror image of me. There wasn't a person in there who wasn't wearing gloves or some sort of facial covering. And everybody was keeping a safe distance from everybody else---and if they weren't, you could be sure that some New Yorker would speak up and simply say: "Hey, buddy, back up!"

But despite all the coverings, you could still see people's eyes. And if "the eyes are the mirror to the soul," one could see deep into the soul of almost every person in there. I'd like to say it was pure projection, but somehow, I didn't think so. Not when I could hear the hushed tones of folks saying: "I just want to get these fu@&ing groceries as quickly as possible and get the hell out of here!" Especially heartbreaking was seeing elderly shoppers, walking slowly, and backing up, in fear, as you approached them. Heck, I know, I turned 60 in February, but I was practically a kid next to the husband and wife who were surely in their mid-80s, or the one guy, walking slowly with a cane, who was probably in his late 80s. Most people are wanting to be kind and courteous, but some don't even want you to hold a door for them or to even grab the paper towels that are so obviously out of their reach, because they are simply afraid that, even with your gloves on, you'll be transmitting death to them. I found it a bit emotionally overwhelming. My eyes watered, but I marched stoically to the cashier, gave her my address, unloaded my shopping cart, paid the bill, and walked swiftly back home before the mist turned to a steady rain.

I walked into the hallway downstairs and climbed up one flight to my apartment on the second floor of this two-famly house. I got to the top step and stood outside the door of my home. And in a striptease of necessity, off came the jacket, off came the sneakers, the socks, the shorts, the underwear, the T-shirt---all of it placed in a laundry bag left outside the apartment, to be picked up this evening by the laundromat owners who are pitching in to avoid having any people gathering in their places of business, cleaning our clothes with the utmost sanitary care. And finally, off came the mask and the gloves, which were turned inside out, an art I've begun to master. And I walked into my apartment the way I came into this world... going directly into the shower.

I don't think I'll need to go back out for a couple of weeks---unless I have to pick up something at the pharmacy, which, given my own medical condition, is something of a bi-weekly ritual for me. But even here, our local pharmacists are doing everything they can to get prescriptions to their customers without having their customers come to them, keeping social distancing to a minimum.

***

There are all sorts of theories floating around about why New York City has been hit the hardest; some have argued that it's merely a function of the "leftist" politics of this urban center, which has increased its vulnerability due to overcrowding. A few others have embraced the more absurd position that this is God's retribution for countries that allow LGBTQ Pride Parades (and considering that NYC sponsored World Pride Day in June 2019, I guess that the Big Apple is at the top of the list for divine wrath!).

I think it is going to take a while to truly understand the nature of this pandemic and how it has been spread. But it does seem to me that New York Governor Mario Cuomo was at least partially correct in acknowledging that NYC in particular is "an international hub tightly packed with people from all over the country and the world. What makes New York unique has also rendered it vulnerable to a pandemic."

While I too am upset with the contribution that NYC politics has made to this pandemic and while I too can sometimes find the city's density a bit daunting, the truth of our situation transcends politics or population. This city's "density" has come less from its wrong-headed housing policies than from its promise. That promise is the source of this city's beauty and the diversity of its people, those who were born here, those who have come here from abroad, and those who stay here regardless of the regulations and rules that might constrain them.

"New York, New York" has been a magnet for millions upon millions of people since before the 1898 consolidation of the five boroughs into a single city. Millions of immigrants from every country, every race, every ethnicity, have come through its gates precisely because of its financial, cultural, and spiritual promise, embodied by the statue in its harbor that lifts "the lamp beside the golden door.

This is still a city of neighborhoods, of people who, whatever their differences, seem to find common ground when they are most vulnerable. We saw this in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, when even strangers joined hands to rebuild that which was torn down. Now, of course, as Adam Gopnik writes, unity must take new forms:

The current crisis is, in some respects, the mirror image of the post-9/11 moment. That turned out to be a time of retrospective anxiety about a tragedy unforeseen. The anticipatory jitters weren’t entirely unfounded---anthrax killed a hospital worker in Manhattan---but they arose from something that had already happened and wouldn’t be repeated. By contrast, the COVID-19 crisis involves worries about something we’ve been warned is on the way. The social remedy is the opposite of the sort of coming together that made the days and weeks after 9/11 endurable for so many, as they shared dinners and embraced friends. That basic human huddling is now forbidden, with the recommendations for "distancing" bearing down ever tighter: no more than five hundred people together, then two hundred and fifty, then fifty, then ten.

I am confident that New Yorkers are still coming together---even in the act of social distancing---and that they will rise like the phoenix from the ashes left behind by this pandemic.

Postscript 1 (4 April 2020): Some folks on Facebook inquired why my family wasn't doing more online shopping or resorting to ordering from local supermarkets for delivery, without having to leave the house. I replied:

You have no idea how much we've ordered online (Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc.) with regard to everything from BAND-AIDS to shampoo, napkins, tissues, etc. The thing we can't really get from those places, however, is fresh food or frozen food items, and, in truth, the specialty places around here offer the best stuff of all. So we've tried to cut down on the amount of time we're spending in supermarkets, focusing on milk, dairy, meats, poultry, fresh fruit and vegetables, and so forth---while getting the non-food items from the online services. So that's one way we've severely cut into our grocery-time shopping (which we've been doing once or twice a month during this pandemic; this trip will, however, last us through at least mid-May, I assure you!). We do have delivery, but unfortunately, because our local supermarket is short-staffed, they are no longer taking phone orders. So you have to go and pick out the stuff yourself (which I prefer to do because when one used to 'order' things from the store, they invariably got something wrong!). But they do, in fact, deliver all the groceries to you once you've shopped ... I couldn't possibly carry it, even with a shopping cart, and we wouldn't dare move the car for fear of losing a parking spot... for the situation in parking has only gotten worse since the days of "Seinfeld." But we still get delivery from the best pizzerias in Brooklyn, so on that count, we're in good shape!

Postscript 2 (4 April 2020): Of course, like so many things I write, some folks will offer comments that are critical. But sometimes, criticism crosses the line. One commentator attacked me with such ferocity, taking umbrage that I was "complaining" about grocery shopping in NYC during an uptick in Coronavirus cases, which pales in comparison to the experiences of Anne Frank during the Nazi genocide or the experiences of John McCain during the Vietnam War. There was nothing in this post that compared my experiences to either the Holocaust or the war in Vietnam and there was nothing written that could be remotely compared to "complaining." I am providing an ongoing journal on my Notablog of my experiences during this pandemic; it is a cathartic and therapeutic exercise for me, but also one that I hope will resonate with those who are going through similar experiences. Facing this kind of personal attack, I was compelled to Unfriend, Block, and Delete the comments of this so-called Facebook "Friend" on my Facebook Timeline. I stated on Facebook, and I state here, for the record:

Some people think they can come on my Timeline and insult me. The comments have been removed. I will not hesitate to unfriend, block, and remove comments from any person who thinks that being an FB "friend" is a license to be rude and recklessly stupid.
At one time in my life---and still to a very great extent---I was open to any and all critics, no matter how crazy some of the criticisms of my writings have been. For goodness sake, till this day, I still have on my home page every negative review ever done of any book I've ever written. I welcome criticism and I welcome the give-and-take of discussion. I also recognize that in social media, sometimes things are not as elegantly expressed as they might be and it may require a few exchanges to get things clear (after all, we can only capture so much with regards to tone and intent in simple emojis).
But let me be very clear about what I've written here and in all my installments on the Coronavirus: This is not an ongoing series of essays in the art of complaining. I am simply writing an ongoing diary or journal of my experiences during a very difficult time for my hometown. It's nothing unusual to me; as I said in a comment now deleted, I'm still posting annual installments to honor the survivors---and those who paid the ultimate price---on September 11, 2001.
I count my blessings that I am here and well enough to continue to write and to express myself. I count my blessings that I am here to take care of myself and my loved ones to the best of my ability. I count my blessings that I have so many people in my life who express their care and concern, love and support. I also count my blessings that I have people who offer comments and critiques of my work, for none of us ever stops learning.
Still, there comes a point at which even somebody who has spent the better part of his adult life promoting the value of dialogue (indeed, the "dialectical method" I champion finds its roots in the dialogues of the ancient Greeks), must give pause. And with the rudeness of the commentator, all I can say is: "My cup runneth over".
I will not tolerate somebody who comes onto my Timeline as a so-called Facebook "Friend" only to piss on my back and tell me it's raining. Not. Gonna. Happen. Those days are over. Unfriend. Block. Delete. And I will repeat that exercise any and every time I confront this kind of harassment. Life is too short. That I've devoted any time to explaining this is already a waste of more minutes of my life than was necessary.
But it had to be said. Just for the sake of those who do support my work and even those who do engage in spirited, but reasonable, disagreements with it.

April 02, 2020

Song of the Day #1779

Song of the Day: Keep Your Head Up, words and music by Andy Grammer, is from his 2011 debut self-titled album---and has one of those positive messages fit for the times we live in. In addition, I never thought I'd find a pop song that takes a swipe at philosophical skeptics! "Skeptics mess with the confidence in my eyes. I'm seeing all the angles, thoughts get tangled. I start to compromise my life and my purpose. Is it all worth it? Am I gonna turn out fine? Oh, you turn out fine! Fine, oh, you turn out fine! But you gotta keep your head up, oh oh. And you can let your hair down, eh eh!" Check out the official video [YouTube link], with a cameo from actor Rainn Wilson, and, with a French turn-of-phrase "Releve le tete", in a duet with Melissa Nkonda [YouTube link].

March 31, 2020

Coronavirus (11): "Opening Day" and Pitching In ...

As I previously suggested, one of the leisurely activities I am most missing during this pandemic is watching baseball. Opening Day was scheduled for 26 March 2020. The NY Mets were to open at home at Citi Field on that day; the NY Yankees were due to open this Thursday, April 2nd at Yankee Stadium. As it turns out, the Coronavirus had other ideas: With 75,795 confirmed cases in NY state (and nearly 41,000 cases in NYC)---not to mention nearly 177,000 cases nationally---MLB and virtually all other professional sports have come to a grinding halt. [Ed.: The United States has now passed China in the number of deaths related to CORVID-19: 3,440 deaths to China's 3,309 "reported" deaths.]

But just because baseball is suspended for the time being doesn't mean you can't "pitch in" when the opportunity arises. Brooklyn Technical High School's Alumni Foundation had purchased, with its privately raised funds, hundreds of bottles of Purell for its annual Homecoming weekend, which was scheduled for the 27th and 28th of March. The event, which typically attracts 800 or so alumni back to the prestigious specialized high school, had to be suspended due to the breakout of this pandemic. So the boxes containing the Purell were redirected from the school to my home (since my sister is the Executive Director of the BTHS Alumni Foundation). Then, through the decisive actions of BTHS Alumni Foundation President Larry Cary, the boxes were sent to the workers of the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx. For those who don't know, "[t]he Hunts Point Cooperative Market is a 24/7 wholesale food market located on 60 acres ... in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx, New York City. The largest food distribution center of its kind in the world, it earns annual revenues of over $2 billion."

As Kings County Politics reports today:

The Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation is donating 800 personal size bottles of Purell to IBT Local 202 for distribution among its members working at the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx. The Market is the main hub for the distribution of fresh vegetables and fruit to grocery stores in New York City. These are essential workers still making deliveries. The Alumni Foundation purchased the Purell in preparation for its annual homecoming which takes place at Brooklyn Technical High School every March. The Foundation postponed homecoming until after the epidemic is resolved. "We are happy that the Purell we purchased has been repurposed to help keep these essential workers safe as they deliver much-needed food for New Yorkers during this time of crisis," said Larry Cary, President of the Foundation. The Alumni Foundation is the most successful public high school alumni organization with 50,000 members. Brooklyn Technical High School is one of the city’s specialized high schools.

We're all doing what we can to "pitch in" for our fellow New Yorkers. And we hope the workers at Hunts Point continue hitting home runs as they make deliveries to those in need.

March 30, 2020

Coronavirus (10): "Standing Man" as Metaphor ... or Blessed are the Healers!

Today, I watched yet another harrowing update on the situation in New York State, where, through late last night, there have been more than 66,400 confirmed COVID-19 cases---36,400+ of these in New York City alone. And of the 1,218 deaths from this virus thus far throughout the state, nearly 800 derive from New York City. The United States now has nearly 160,000 cases, and 2,951 deaths from this pandemic.

I could not help but think of the remarkable men and women in the fields of health care and medicine and the first responders, who have put their lives on the line to save the lives of others. Many have themselves become infected. And tragically, some have died. But most keep standing up, no matter how many times they get slammed down.

Their resilience reminds me of a remarkable scene in the 2015 Steven Spielberg-directed film, "Bridge of Spies," starring Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan, who served as the attorney for convicted Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, played by Mark Rylance, in an Oscar-winning turn as Best Supporting Actor.

In this scene, Donovan is about to discuss plans for an appeal of Abel's conviction, and Abel compares Donovan to someone he remembers from his youth, a friend of his father, who, interrogated by border guards in the days of Czarist Russia, kept getting slapped down, only to stand back up again. Again and again, his persecutors beat him down, and yet, he kept standing up. Until the beating stopped. Abel recalls that the guards referred to him as "Stoykiy muzhik"---"which he translates as 'standing man'," though its more accurate translation is "resilient man" or "tough man"... "a man who stands his ground."

It's National Doctors Day, but I dedicate this scene to all the "standing" men and women in the healthcare profession and among the first responders who, somehow, refuse to sit by, while their fellow human beings are suffering and in need of crucial assistance. My deepest appreciation goes out to every single one of them.

In the meanwhile, check out this wonderfully acted scene from the film ... and, in anticipation of some new idiocy, puh-lease, spare me the criticism that, in featuring this scene as a metaphor for those who keep "standing", I am somehow showing my support for the Soviet spies of old!...

March 29, 2020

Coronavirus (9): A Message from New York City

From YouTube ... set to Alicia Keys's "Empire State of Mind", comes this nightly light show at the top of the Empire State Building, dedicated to everyone working in the health care industry, working so hard on the front-lines of this Coronavirus pandemic in New York City:

Coronavirus (8): A Message from Italy

From YouTube comes this message from Italy, the homeland of my paternal grandparents---and of many of my current relatives---which has been hit very hard by the Coronavirus:

March 28, 2020

Coronavirus (7): Corona-Chaos - A Pandemic from the Political to the Personal

This post is not about politics, even if my dialectical sensibility prevents me from looking at any specific problem without considering its relationships to other problems and to the larger system within which they are all manifested, keeping an eye on how such problems first appeared, how they developed over time, and where they might be tending.There you have it---a snapshot description of what it means to be "dialectical."

But dialectical methods, like all methods of thinking, begin with a consideration of the facts. Another US President from another time, John Adams, once said:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

I have to express my total and complete frustration with folks who have been saying to me that this entire Coronavirus thing is "overblown". For those who believe this, this is probably not the post for you to read. I do not intend to get into any arguments with anybody over whether this is as bad as folks are making it out to be, or how it's nothing next to, say, the "Swine Flu" epidemic in 2009-2010. Please move on and leave me alone. Your comments are not welcome.

So the first thing I want to address is facts. It was only on New Year's Eve that China confirmed a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown origin. It was probably around the very beginning of December that the first cases of what has become known as the Coronavirus disease (CORVID-19) was found in Wuhan, Hubei, China. If anybody had ever told me that a little less than four months later, New York City, my hometown, would become the epicenter of what is now a global pandemic, I would never have believed it.

But the virus spread swiftly. Indeed, only a month after China was designated as the country of the virus's origin, Italy reported its first case, and, today, a mere eight weeks later, 92,000+ infected people in Italy, and 10,000+ deaths in that country of my paternal grandparents, have now been eclipsed by the United States, which leads the world in the number of CORVID-19 cases. With over 600,000 reported cases globally, the United States now accounts for over 104,000 cases---with 1,843 deaths reported thus far. But 728 of those deaths have occurred in New York State, which accounts for 52,000 cases, roughly 50% of all the cases in the U.S. Of these, 29,123 cases are clustered in New York City, with the following breakdown in the five boroughs that constitute the Big Apple: Queens has just overtaken Brooklyn with 9,228 confirmed cases; Brooklyn has 7,789, the Bronx has 5,352, Manhattan has 5,036 and Staten Island has 1,718 cases. It has only been 27 days since the first case was diagnosed in this state---and 517 deaths of New York state's total have occurred in NYC, 209 of them within the last 24 hours.

We have now reached the point where President Trump is considering a quarantine of the tri-state area.

It's not my intention to debate any of the politics of this right now, right here. But it is my intention to convey the seriousness of this situation by expressing it in the most personal terms possible. This is not something that comes easy to me. I don't talk much publicly about my own health trials and tribulations. But I'm going to make an exception today---if only because I've been inundated with inquiries from so many friends and relatives, with regard to the state of my health and the health of those in my immediate family. I can think of no better way than this post to get the word out about how things are right now, especially since I know that it will resonate with those who have pre-existing medical conditions and who have justifiable concerns about their health in the weeks and months ahead.

As many of you know, I have had a lifelong bout with a serious congenital intestinal disorder, which required life-saving intestinal by-pass surgery in 1974, when I was 14 years old, and which has necessitated 60+ surgical procedures since, to deal with increasingly difficult and complex side-effects from the condition. Have no fear! I intend to be here for a long time to come.

But the Coronavirus outbreak has affected me and my family on a very personal level. I was due to undergo a procedure to pulverize a rather stubborn and large kidney stone on March 13th, but it had to be postponed to March 30th, due to technical difficulties with the lithotripsy machine at the hospital. But by that point, since the procedure was considered "elective" surgery, it was canceled indefinitely. My only hope is that the stone, floating around and growing in size within my left kidney since the summer of 2018, will continue to defy the rules of gravity and stay put---because there is nothing... NOTHING... on earth that I have ever experienced to rival the pain of a lodged kidney stone. And I am a person who has a pretty high threshold for pain tolerance. Nevertheless, on a scale from 1 to 10, the pain level of a lodged kidney stone is about a 13. It's like giving birth to the Planet Jupiter through a pinhole. Way back in 1995, I suffered agonizing, excruciating pain from a single stone fragment that got lodged in my ureter after a lithotripsy procedure. I was hospitalized for a full week, with routine morphine shots that might as well have been infusions of simple tap water. I had to endure the placement of a stent in me, which stayed there for about a month, before it was removed with the help of nothing but a local anesthetic. I cannot imagine that anything conjured up by medieval torturers could have been worse than that experience; my screams must have cleared out the urologist's office.

But that was 1995. And this is 2020. And if I can help it, I'm going to will that kidney stone to stay put, so that what is currently considered "elective" surgery doesn't necessitate an emergency procedure that would require me to go anywhere near a hospital---at a time when the hospitals in NYC are being overloaded by Coronavirus cases. I had two endoscopic surgical procedures scheduled in April, and they too are being postponed, regardless of my wishes, inclinations, or the dictates of my passion.

But I have a GI specialist, who has been at my side for over four decades, and whose home phone number I have, so that if I suffer any complications from my condition, I can call him at any hour of the day or night to address my concerns. This is a necessity at this point, just to avoid, as much as possible, any treks to hospital Emergency Rooms---rooms that I was compelled to visit five times between December 7, 2019 and February 29, 2020 for problems related to my core medical condition.

And not even a half-hour ago, my primary care physician---our family doctor over these same 40 years---called my home, unsolicited, to make sure that I was okay, and to make sure that both me and my sister---who has her own set of long-term upper respiratory problems related to her asthma---were staying put. We've also had his home phone number for a long time, and we don't hesitate to call him whenever we need to. Doctors like these are rare; to me, they practically walk on water.

In the midst of all this, I have to say that I really, really miss my friends and my relatives---those within New York and from out of town---who are all keeping away, because they must. Thank goodness for things like email, Facebook, phones, and other means of communication, which conquer distance and which keep the people I love close to heart.

But I want to remind everyone that, at least with regard to those of us living in New York, nothing will deter us from conquering these hardships. And I wish that same resolve to everybody else affected by this pandemic no matter where you live.

Still, New Yorkers are a tough breed. We got through the nightmare of September 11, 2001. We survived Superstorm Sandy. We will survive this. Because it's our home and---sentimentality or not---"there's no place like home" [YouTube link].

We look forward to the time when "social distancing" is truly distant in the rear-view mirror, so that our doors will once again be opened... to share the best pizza, the greatest of home-cooked meals, tightest hugs, sweetest kisses, and all the joy our loved ones have come to expect when they visit the Sciabarra family.

Postscript: This post was also published on 29 March 2020 on "Policy of Truth: The Website and Group Blog of Irfan Khawaja" as the second part of Irfan's "COVID-19 Narrative." As Irfan states on that blog:

This is the second in my series of COVID-19 Narratives, by my dear friend Chris Sciabarra, sheltering in place in Brooklyn, New York. Though the series is primarily about what I called the "supply side" of the health care equation during this crisis, I wanted to run some posts that described the "demand side" as well, that is, what it's like to be a patient during the pandemic. Particularly valuable about Chris's post is how it illustrates the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for people with serious medical conditions whose previously scheduled medical procedures have now been deemed "elective." "Elective" in this context doesn't mean "optional." It means downgraded to second or third priority out of sheer, dire necessity: hospital beds, equipment, and personnel have to be left vacant or unused to absorb the overwhelming crush of COVID-19 patients we expect to see. And even at the center of the pandemic, we haven't yet reached the peak of that crush.
Meanwhile, people like Chris and many others have to suffer in patient, uncomplaining silence, hoping that their conditions will remain "quiet" for the acute phase of the COVID-19 crisis. I know one person whose elective procedure has been indefinitely postponed, and who was told that she couldn’t receive treatment unless she went into renal failure; on asking what she ought to do about her condition, she was advised to reconcile herself to God's existence and start "reading the Bible." Obviously, the people I happen to know are just a minuscule fraction of the numbers out there. I've heard people say that they're "bored" having to quarantine in their house, and that "the economy" can’t wait forever for this lockdown. Such claims are myopic and insensitive in the extreme. It's patients like Chris and others who face the real trial here. When we ultimately tally up the medical costs of the COVID-19 crisis, we should resolve to remember secondary victims like him---the non-COVID patients whose care has been delayed because of the COVID crisis itself.
The post ... is taken with permission from Chris's blog, Notablog. I highly recommend the whole ongoing series he's written on COVID-19; the first post dates to March 14.

I added on my Facebook Timeline:

I just wanted to thank my dear friend Irfan Khawaja, for re-posting this Notablog entry on his own website and group blog, "Policy of Truth." Readers should check out the entry there, if only for Irfan's own enlightening introduction (and for his always hilarious "mutual placating" with yet another dear friend of mine, Roderick Tracy Long). I am honored to have my own testimony added to his ongoing "COVID-19 Narrative".

March 25, 2020

Coronavirus (5): C'mon Ol' Folks - Do Your Part for the Sake of the Country and Die!

Just when you thought public commentary couldn't get any worse when a pandemic gets politicized comes this comment from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas:

"The utter collapse of the country’s economy---which many think will happen if this goes on much longer---is an intolerable result," the [69]-year-old told primetime host Tucker Carlson.

Patrick stated in the interview: "No one reached out to me and said, 'As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?' And if that's the exchange, I’m all in."

Fox New's Brit Hume defended Patrick's idiocy with this observation:

"[Patrick] is saying, for his own part, that he would be willing to take a risk of getting the disease if that’s what it took to allow the economy to move forward. He said that because he is late in life, that he would be perhaps more willing than he might have been at a younger age, which seems to me to be an entirely reasonable viewpoint."

Having recently turned 60, all I'd like to say in response to the Texas politician is: "Be my guest!"

Postscript: Well, it's hard to believe, but I suspect that because my post upset some of those who worship at the altar of Fox News, it generated nearly 40 comments. Somebody suggested that the Texas Lieutenant Governor and Brit Hume were not dictating that all the elderly should be sacrificing their lives for the sake of the young, to which I responded:

All well and good: As long as these folks voluntarily choose to put their lives at risk, that's fine by me. But those of us who are part of at-risk populations, with pre-existing medical conditions, are not going to accept unearned guilt for not stepping up on behalf of the Great Collective. Not. Gonna. Happen. ... The fact that this act of self-sacrifice is being extolled as something that is "moral" is an affront to my notion of what it means to be moral. Sacrificing one's life for the sake of the "nation" is something that is not part of the "idea" of America.
The same rhetoric is being used by another Fox Favorite, Glenn Beck: "I would rather have my children stay home and all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working," he said in comments posted online by Media Matters. "Even if we all get sick, I’d rather die than kill the country." "It’s not the economy that’s dying," he said. "It's the country."
You want to know what is killing this country? It is this kind of nationalistic fervor, asking some to sacrifice for the sake of the "country". Well, last I saw, it's still a semi-free country. And as I stated in another thread, quoting Scrooge from A Christmas Carol: "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."
Before you know it, we'll be asked to take the "Logan's Run" oath such that everybody who reaches the age of thirty is killed off for the sake of those under 30. WTF kind of insanity is being advocated by people who profess to understand the principles upon which a free society is based?
Any ethic that promotes the sacrifice of anybody to anybody else is not something anyone should be embracing on moral grounds. I recognize anybody's right to sacrifice their life for any person or cause they like. But I don't believe that what our Texas politician, Brit Hume, or Glenn Beck are extolling is some kind of universal moral ideal. In fact, I think it is obscene.
By extolling the virtue of sacrificing those who are most at risk to catch this virus to put themselves in a position where they might contract it and die for the sake of those who are least likely to die from it is, if anything, the height of immorality, from where I sit. Unless younger folks have pre-existing conditions themselves, they are, at least statistically speaking, the least likely to experience severe complications from either catching the virus or dying from it. They might be carriers of it, but not open to the kind of life-threatening infections that might affect older folks, who have pre-existing conditions that compromise their immuno-response.

The FB critic claimed that I didn’t understand the American Founders, who "espoused and lived the beliefs and philosophies of Beck, Fox, Hume et al." I responded:

The Founders extolled the political values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; they didn't add a proviso: Unless you're an old bastard. We must have a very different reading of our Founders---at least those Founders who were part of the more classical liberal wing at the heart of the American Republic. We must also have a very different assessment of Beck, Hume, and some of the folks at Fox, many of whom once extolled the virtues of a freer market but who, in the age of Trump, have now swallowed the Kool Aid of economic nationalism and all that it entails. So I guess this does make them descendants of the Hamiltonian and federalist wing of the early Republic, which embraced neo-mercantilist protectionism, state banking, and all the things that would ultimately undermine the revolutionary fervor of 1776.
In fact, Trump's politics is actually more in sync with the original Republican Party, than the party of Reagan [at least rhetorically speaking], since the GOP of the mid-1800s advocated high "protective" tariffs, subsidies for industry, "internal improvements", railroads, etc. ... I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree. Or we might get into a debate over whether Trump, at age 73, should be leading the way and setting the example that his Fox Friends are praising, perhaps starting by cleaning bed pans in one of the overrun hospitals here in NYC, in which people in their 70s and 80s are sick and dying.

The FB critic tried to peg my "brand" of politics as part and parcel of the current Democratic Party; I replied:

You know nothing about my "brand" of politics, quite frankly. I didn't vote for Mayor Dumbass. I didn't vote for Hillary, or AOC or any other Democrat. In fact, I didn't vote for anybody in the last Presidential election, so disgusted was I by the choices. I despise the Mayor, and have written tirades against his policies for years on my blog. I have absolutely no use for the Clintons and AOC is like a young Evita Peron. You will find no endorsement of the Democrats from me.
But to act as if there is no "guilt by association" between Trump and FNC is almost willful blindness. Fox is practically the "news wing" (or "fake news wing", depending on your perspective) of the Trump White House. I can't even believe that we are having this conversation on a thread that started with the stupidity of asking at-risk older people to go work and potentially "die" for the sake of their country. If you truly believe that this call for the old to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the young is something to praise, then we've reached a dead-end. And if you are insinuating that Trump is the "savior" in front of our noses... well, permit me to put a clothespin over my 60-year old nose.

I must admit, I'm astonished at the trajectory of the discussion.

March 23, 2020

Coronavirus (4): In New York State ... and Beyond

Yesterday, I reported on Notablog at 4 pm, that New York State led the United States in positive identifications of Coronavirus cases, at over 15,000. Today, with New York conducting 16,000 tests per day, the number of cases has risen to 20,875.

What folks really need to understand is that, at least here in New York State, there is not mass testing of people whether or not they have symptoms. Tests are typically being administered to people who are symptomatic; the vast majority of those being tested are negative. They are typically suffering from cold or flu-like symptoms that have nothing to do with CORVID-19. But among those who are indeed symptomatic, the numbers of identified positive cases is increasing, something which is bound to happen when medical authorities continue to expand the rate of testing.

Moreover, we need to put a few statistics in context. A state like California has conducted approximately 20,000 tests---in contrast to the over 70,000 tests conducted in New York, which has far denser population centers (like New York City)---identifying only 1,802 positive cases. I suspect that even though denser population centers, such as NYC, are far more at-risk, this doesn't explain the fact that the state of New York has numbers that are ten-fold more than a state like California, which has double the population of New York. Clearly, there are many more cases than those being identified at the current time.

This is not a particularly fatal virus, though among the nearly 500 people who have died from the virus in the United States, most have had pre-existing conditions, in which their health and/or immuno-response was already compromised. This means, of course, that many folks who are asymptomatic are carrying the virus and infecting those who subsequently become ill.

Are politicians and the media making the most of this situation to either expand the powers of government or to take advantage of panicking the population? Given the history of these things, this sure sounds like a familiar pattern.

But make no mistake about it. This is a real virus affecting real people. And those of us who are in higher at-risk groups and of an older age, need to take the necessary precautions of social distancing, etc. I'm not among those carrying this virus, and I have no intention of putting myself or my loved ones in the position of getting it. Commonsense would go a long way toward lessening the expansion of this virus---and any potential fatalities emergent from it.

I have been following the blog of my very dear friend, Irfan Khawaja, "Policy of Truth," and have been generally impressed with the level of commonsense that he is bringing to his own analysis of the current situation. I recommend it to your attention.

March 22, 2020

Coronavirus (3): Love, Pets, and Booze to the Rescue!

So, my hometown state, New York is leading the United States in the number of administered Coronavirus tests (over 61,000 at last count) in identifying people who are positive. It now also leads the United States in the number of identified Coronavirus cases (over 15,000)---and of these, my hometown city, New York City, comprises 9,600+, while my hometown borough, Brooklyn, leads the city with 2,800+. Well, let's just say, every time I boast that New York is the center of the universe, this is not what I had in mind.

So, what does a typical day in the Sciabarra household look like, now that New York has once again embraced the status of another "Ground Zero," as we are hunkered down in our apartment?

To be honest: Not much different than it looked before this situation became an omnipresent fact of our reality (despite the fact that I'm seriously missing the springtime resurgence of "America's Pastime": Baseball and my New York Yankees). The apartment is full of food, films, music, and more rolls of toilet tissue than I could count for reasons that most of my friends would fully understand! Cali the Cat is still Queen of the Castle, which is a good thing, because the New York Daily News reports that more and more "self-isolated New Yorkers are becoming foster parents for pets," and no sentient being in this household makes us laugh (or say "Awwwwww") more than our cat!

And, yet, because I always edit and write from my home, I am in the same position---in front of this laptop---that is typical of me. Except for an hour a day on the Gazelle and the Stationary Bike, and the fact that my sister is working next to me, on her own laptop (which makes for very pleasant teamwork), I'm still doing every day, pretty much what I was doing every day, prior to this current situation. When I do go out to the supermarket or the pharmacy or the post office, I run into folks wearing masks and gloves, some of whom I don't immediately recognize as my neighbors (and yes, I'm practicing social distancing to the best of my ability).

I am not oblivious to the fact that there is a certain palpable fear that one sees in my neighbor's eyes---not just over the virus, but also over employment, the next rent payment, travel restrictions, and even a concern about the growing encroachment on basic liberties---because you can't keep rambunctious New Yorkers down.

Still, as I discovered long before 9/11, New Yorkers are among the kindest, most supportive people one can find, especially in a crisis. Folks are affable, assisting one another, holding doors when they see other folks whose arms are full of groceries, inquiring about the health of each other's families, and wishing each other well. Yes, we are running low on some essential sanitizing items, like alcohol and Purell, but I am inspired by my friend Allen Mendenhall's article that even here, "booze comes to the rescue," as distilleries are now producing hand sanitizers!

So that's what things are like here at home, in New York, New York. Indeed, "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!" [YouTube link].

I'm expressing my warmest wishes to everyone---to stay safe, healthy, and vigilant---as we get through this.

Postscript: The numbers on Coronavirus infections in New York City alone are increasing hour-by-hour at a staggering rate. As reported by the New York Post: "There were 10,764 confirmed cases of the virus in the Big Apple as of 6 p.m. . . . Brooklyn had the most cases out of any borough, 3,154, followed by Queens, with 3,050; Manhattan, 2,324; the Bronx, 1,564; and Staten Island, 666."

Postscript (23 March 2020): Check out Sally and Ken from Penzance in Cornwall, England, both in their 80s, self-isolating in style to Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm." Indeed, as I put it on Facebook: "They've got each other ... who can ask for anything more?"

March 12, 2020

Song of the Day #1778

Song of the Day: Passion Dance, composed by jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, is featured on three of his albums, including the 1967 quartet album, "The Real McCoy" [YouTube link] (with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Elvin Jones), the 1978 live album, "Passion Dance" [YouTube link] (with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams) and the 1992 Big Band album, "The Turning Point" [YouTube link], for which Tyner won the first of five Grammy Awards. I just learned that the great pianist died on 6 March 2020 at the age of 81. He was the last surviving member of the legendary John Coltrane Quartet. Tyner developed a virtuoso distinctive "maximalist" style, incorporating and integrating the "two directions" pioneered by Coltrane into his piano playing, what Sami Linna has described as "playing chordally (vertically) and melodically (horizontally)" simultaneously, with complex use of pentatonic scales---which had a great impact on many pianists to follow in his wake, including Chick Corea. This NEA Jazz Master remains one of my all-time favorite jazz pianists. RIP, McCoy [YouTube links to Aimee Nolte's discussion of Tyner's distinctive contributions]. Think of this as a prelude to what is forthcoming in Summer 2020: My Fifth Annual Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition)!

March 08, 2020

SNL Spoofs NYC's LaGuardia Airport

For those who have never had the pleasure of going through New York City's LaGuardia Airport, here's a recent "Saturday Night Live" skit that should have you in stitches (which is what you may need if you go through that airport anyway!):

February 12, 2020

Democratic War Socialism and "Medicare for All"

My friend, Irfan Khawaja has an interesting thread on his "Policy of Truth" blog: "In Defense of Democratic War Socialism." I've posted a comment there, after some discussion about the meaning of "capitalism" versus "socialism" and the historic sins committed in the name of each, and how this debate frames the discussion of "Medicare for All." Here is what I had to say:

I’d like to make just a few points about terminology and finally, about the context that has led us to the proposition that “Medicare for All” is somehow a panacea for our current healthcare woes.

1. Friedrich Hayek once pointed out that the very word "capitalism" was introduced by socialist historians; it's not a term I like to use for a variety of reasons that I explain here.

The U.S. had a relatively freer economy in the nineteenth century, but markets have never been truly free, and the U.S. has progressively moved in the direction of a neo-fascist, corporatist state. As Hayek once said, when political power comes to dominate social and economic life, political power becomes the only power worth having. And those who are most adept at using political power usually end up leveraging the most influence in matters of political economy. That's why, as Hayek put it, the worst get on top. I see no difference between that process in a society that ostensibly began with 'freer markets' (like the United States) and 'socialist'-leaning societies in which the state is at the center of decision-making. In both cases, the dynamic is such that the worst almost inexorably get on top.

2. One thing clear from U.S. history is that war has typically been an enemy of free trade; and yet, it has been key U.S. wars that have vastly expanded not only the role of government, but also the advance of the corporate state. The Civil War was the first nightmarish advance in this regard; the North, dominated by a Republican party committed to income taxes, excise taxes, tariffs, land grants, and subsidies to transcontinental railroads, also embraced significant forays into the centralization of banking, which wasn't fully realized until the years prior to U.S. entrance into World War I. (One could argue that Trump is a truer Republican than those who paid at least lip service to free trade during the Reagan era; he harks back to the nationalist, tariff-driven, protectionist roots of the Republican Party.)

The expansion of the regulatory state, as documented by New Left historians such as Gabriel Kolko, James Weinstein, and others, was the result of larger businesses using government to destroy rivalrous competition in the relatively freer markets of the nineteenth century, which were generating rising wages and falling prices. The thwarting of freer markets was fully institutionalized in the twentieth century by the establishment of the Federal Reserve System (and the 'boom-bust' cycle that it could engineer), and the U.S.-corporatist experiences during the "war collectivism" of World War I, the New Deal, and World War II (in which businesses closely aligned with government provided the industrial czars who consolidated the gains from the emergence of the regulatory state).

3. Since war is a state-guided policy, differing only in terms of its profiteers from country to country, it's not hard to understand why state-guided policies are, essentially, built on the principles of militarization (see especially Don Lavoie's book, National Economic Planning: What is Left?). Whether those principles are aimed outward, manifesting themselves in "perpetual wars for perpetual peace" (which enrich those industries closely aligned with the production of munitions, the 'military-industrial complex' warned against by none other than Dwight D. Eisenhower), or inward, manifesting themselves in state-guided economic 'plans' (which enrich all those interests that benefit from the regulatory state that they themselves helped to design), the bottom line is the same. If you believe in human liberty, it is the principle of militarization that must be combated in all its forms, whether "capitalist" or "socialist."

4. Since we should not kid ourselves about the history of "capitalism" and its war against free markets, let's not kid ourselves either with regard to the history of "socialism", which has little to do with what Marx envisioned, and which only illustrates further how economic militarization eradicates markets and destroys the price system upon which entrepreneurial creativity rests, leading to calculational chaos and economic devastation, while showing its most "efficient" side in the building of weapons of mass destruction and vast gulags to control its dissidents.

5. And so we finally get to health care. The same pattern of militarization within the health care industry, which has led to escalating costs and nightmarish choices for consumers, began during the Progressive Era during which medical suppliers acted on the same anti-market principles as their industrial counterparts: first, through the usage of medical licensing laws to limit the supply of doctors (and thus raise the price of medical care), gaining control over accreditation of medical schools, and crowding out schools dedicated to homeopathic and preventive treatments; the state-sanctioned rise of Big Pharma, which used patents to destroy competitors, and the rise of quasi-monopolistic health insurance companies (nearly all of whom were silent in the lead up to Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare, since each program helped to further socialize their risks).

The movement away from free markets led to the crisis in healthcare, just as it has led to economic crises across all sectors of "capitalist" economic systems. Since it is not on the political agenda to remove all the regulations that have led to the crisis of healthcare (and to crises across U.S. political economy), we are simply advancing one more step toward total calculational chaos and poorer delivery of healthcare services by embracing "Medicare for All".

In any event, given the current political dynamics in this country, don’t expect "Medicare for All" to be instituted until or unless those on top figure out a way to make it work for them rather than the vast majority of people who need quality healthcare.

On these issues, check out these two short pieces here and here.

Ed: I should add that for those who have trouble getting healthcare insurance, none of what is said above is a moral indictment of doing whatever you can to get yourself insured. We all live in a particular time and place and we don't control the effects of the system in which we live. Milk the inner contradictions of the system for all they're worth when the choice is between health or illness, life or death. The problems are systemic; the human lives affected are precious and it is no sacrifice of principle to seek out whatever you can to get the healthcare you require.

January 10, 2020

Neil Peart, RIP

I just learned from my friend Irfan Khawaja that Neil Peart, drummer and primary lyricist for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, Rush, passed away on January 7, 2020 at the age of 67.

I once wrote a Fall 2002 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies article, "Rand, Rush, and Rock" that spawned a Fall 2003 JARS symposium on "Ayn Rand and Progressive Rock," featuring contributions from Durrell Bowman, Steven Horwitz, Ed Macan, Bill Martin, Robert M. Price, Peter Saint-Andre, and Thomas Welsh, with a rejoinder by me. It was a lively symposium, indeed, but it would never have been possible without the contributions of Neil Peart---whose Randian phase ultimately provoked my original essay.

RIP, Neil Peart.

Ed.: As I added to a Facebook thread by my friend Steve Horwitz:

And you're right, Steve: I have no words either [to express my sadness over this loss] ... but plenty of lyrics and music to remember him by. ❤️

January 01, 2020

Song of the Day #1740

Song of the Day: Happy New Year, words and music by Gordon Jenkins, is featured on the 1957 studio album, "Alone," by Judy Garland. It has a certain sadness to it, but given the recent resurgence of interest in Judy (see the 2019 film with Rene Zellweger), I thought it was a poignant way of bringing in the new year [YouTube link]. To better days in 2020, filled with love, health, and happiness!

December 23, 2019

Gaslighting? Watch the Films Today on TCM --- From Which That Word Derives

For years, I have heard lots of folks use the phrase "gaslighting," especially in a political context, which describes, as Stephanie Sarkis observes, "a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn't realize how much they've been brainwashed." Wikipedia tells us:

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim's beliefs. ...
The term originated from the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play Gas Light and its 1940 and 1944 film adaptations (both titled Gaslight), in which a character tries to make his wife believe that she has gone insane to cover his criminal activities.

Now, I don't own shares of stock in Turner Classic Movies, but for those of you who have never seen the 1940 or 1944 film adaptations of the Hamilton play, especially the latter, for which the great Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for Best Actress---please turn on your televisions today (or, if you have a DVR, set it up to record!). TCM is showing both films back-to-back in its monthly feature, shining a spotlight on the original and remade versions of films over the years.

The 1940 British version is on at 1 pm (ET) and the 1944 remake is on at 2:30 pm (ET). You owe it to yourself to discover the original context from which this common political term derives. And you'll be entertained twice as much.

Enjoy!

December 22, 2019

Ayn Rand and the Dialectics of Liberty

I was asked on Facebook about my thoughts concerning the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, about whom I wrote a book (now in its second edition) called Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. I replied:

In brief let me at least answer the questions you ask: Yes, Ayn Rand was a philosopher and a novelist, and I think there is much value in her writings. I do not agree with everything Rand ever wrote; I do not consider myself an Objectivist. But I do believe that she offers a model for interpreting and critiquing the social, cultural, and political context in which we live, providing a more full-bodied defense of freedom than one strictly centered on the "political" and the "economic" to the exclusion of the personal and cultural factors that are both preconditions and effects of the political and economic structures predominating in any particular society.
Now Rand was not an academic philosopher and did not present her ideas with the rigor of a typical academic philosopher. As I argue in my book, her work emerged from a particular time and place and should be understood within that context. I go to considerable lengths in Part One of that book (and its three appendices in the second edition) in spelling out the context within which her ideas emerged (the Russian Silver Age) and I spend a lot of time analyzing the ideas that were current at that time---ideas that shaped how she looked at the world. I also spend a bit of time analyzing the ideas and methods that she was exposed to in her college education---and my book remains the only book available that provides a detailed discussion of every course she took, as well as the professors with whom she most likely studied and the texts she most likely read.
In essence, I argue that she rejected much of the substance of Russian thought (in both its Marxist and non-Marxist varieties), while embracing the dialectical methods endemic to it. By "dialectical method," I mean that she thought in grand, systemic terms, analyzing every social problem as part of the larger context in which it was embedded, and as it related to every other social problem. My book focuses more attention on Rand as a social theorist (in Part Three), rather than as strictly a philosopher---even though it presents (in Part Two) an overview of her take on the various branches of philosophy.
But I should add that my book on Rand is part of a trilogy that sought to reclaim dialectical method (properly understood) as an analytical tool that can be used to mount a better understanding and defense of the larger context upon which the achievement of human freedom depends. That trilogy began with Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (Act I, if you will), followed by the book on Rand (Act II), and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism as the finale (Act III).
Here is a link to a brief essay, written on the tenth anniversary of the completion of my trilogy (2005) and published in The Freeman: "Dialectics and Liberty" [pdf format]. Some of that essay is reproduced in The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, which I co-edited with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins. The essay should give you a better idea of what I find of value in Rand's thought (and the thought of others in the libertarian tradition).
Ultimately, I think one must approach Rand's work with a scalpel and not with a sledgehammer (something that she often didn't do with regard to her views of other thinkers). One must have the courage to give credit where credit is due, and to criticize those aspects of her approach that were problematic, in some instances, highly problematic. One must also be careful to distinguish between those ideas of hers that were "essential" to her approach from those views that were expressions of her personal aesthetic or even sexual tastes (views that I don't believe were "essential" to Objectivism, and were sometimes in conflict with her broader commitment to the integrity of individual or "agent-relative" judgment, so essential to human flourishing).

There was, of course, discussion of this post, and I made a few other remarks, which I reproduce here for Notablog readers:

Well, whatever her ideas were on "masculinity" and "femininity" (which i regard as personal views, rather than ideas essential to her philosophical system of thought), it is also the case that she forged a path in which she was the main bread-winner of her own home, and she provided us with many strong female protagonists, including Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged---who has inspired more than a few feminists along the way. Excuse this commercial break, but if you've never read the remarkably diverse anthology featuring many Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand---check it out. It is a part of the Penn State Press "Re-reading the Canon" series, co-edited by Mimi R. Gladstein and myself.

And then there was a Facebook reader who claimed that Rand was financially dependent on her husband to gain success, a so-called "boss babe"... I replied:

Rand came to America in 1926, and found employment as a waitress, and then made her way to the Studio Club, where she stuffed envelopes, and later sold newspaper subscriptions, living on about thirty cents a day. She married Frank O'Connor, who was also struggling financially, in 1929.
Ironically, the one thing that Rand depended on her husband for above all other things was her U.S. citizenship. She met him on the set of Cecil B. DeMIlle's "The King of Kings" (in fact they are both "extras" in the crowd scenes of that classic epic), and was married to him just in time to avoid deportation. But she was soon working in the RKO wardrobe department, and within six months, according to Barbara Branden's biography The Passion of Ayn Rand, she was head of the department, making about $45 a week. This job solved the financial problems that both Frank and Ayn were having. So, if anything, Rand established herself quite early as the bread-winner. The Depression hit, but by 1932, Rand had sold her original screen story, "Red Pawn", to Universal, for $1,500. She would then go on to write a play that debuted on Broadway in September 1935 as "Night of January 16th"---and it gave her substantial royalties, even before she published her first novel (We the Living) in 1936, and her first best seller (The Fountainhead) in 1943 (a work for which she also wrote the screenplay for its 1949 adaptation with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal). She wrote other screenplays, including one for "Love Letters" in 1945, a film which received four Oscar nominations, including a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Jennifer Jones. So she was no boss babe, imho.
Her family certainly helped her get to America, but by the time she left Russia, her father's pharmacy had been confiscated by the Bolsheviks, and the family was reduced to poverty. She got help from extended family members in America, but she did work hard to succeed.

And someone else questioned her attitudes toward conservatives; I replied:

I know nothing about Rand being bisexual, but she was an atheist, and though many conservatives have liked her support of free markets, she was extremely critical of conservatism---its ties to religion, institutional racism, and its support of wars in Korea and Vietnam, wars that she opposed. She voted for neither Carter nor Reagan---and opposed Reagan for, among other things, his stance on abortion. Rand said that she was trying to appeal to those on both the left and the right: "the 'non-totalitarian liberals' and the 'non-traditional conservatives'."

Song of the Day #1738

Song of the Day: A Week and a Day, words and music by I Have No Clue, made its debut on the 19 December 2019 "Late Late Show with James Corden." A parody of 90s-era boy bands, the song was performed in a music video setting by "Boyz II Menorah," featuring Zach Braff, James Corden, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Josh Peck and Charlie Puth. For years, the only Hanukkah songs we could rely on were "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel" [YouTube link] and, of course, Adam Sandler's "The Hanukkah Song" [YouTube link]. So check out this funny, good-natured celebration [YouTube link] of the Jewish festival of lights and a Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends! And a Happy Solstice, especially to all those who live in the Northern hemisphere, as we now march toward the light!

December 17, 2019

All I Want for Christmas Is ... A #1 Single! Wow!

I'm sure many of you are probably tired of hearing this 25-year old song, and it's not even a Song of the Day, since I featured it way back on December 28, 2008. But today, with its sales and streaming combined, Mariah Carey's perennial ol' time song ("All I Want for Christmas Is You") has finally ascended to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first Christmas song to hit #1 in sixty-one years! The last Christmas song to hit #1 was "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" [YouTube link] (which I featured on December 28, 2005). Mariah's song was a true original from her 1994 holiday album, "Merry Christmas."

That gives Mariah nineteen #1 singles (first among solo artists and only one behind the all-time Beatles record twenty #1 singles)! Check out three different videos to the song [YouTube links]. And while you're at it, check out Mariah's appearance on "The Late Late Show" with James Corden and her brand new video celebrating the song's ascent to #1 [YouTube links], where the production gives a wink to Busby Berkeley. And check out this chat with Mariah Carey about the song [YouTube link].

Plenty of folks have said that the song has a 50s or 60s vibe, but don't kid yourself: You could easily do a Lindy Hop (or, if you prefer, a Jitterbug) to this song with no problem---and that sound goes all the way back to the swing era, which is why "All I Want for Christmas Is You" has been embraced by children of all ages!

So, we're decorating for the holidays---there's no "war on Christmas" in this house---and cranking up the volume, mixing those great traditional carols and popular songs delivered by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Diane Reeves, Henry Mancini, Donny Hathaway, Joe Pass, Bobby Helms, Brenda Lee, Jose Feliciano, Paul McCartney, Karen Carpenter (speaking of which, unrelated to Christmas, check out this remarkable duet of Karen and Ella), Vince Guaraldi (with the "Peanuts" gang), Wham!, and, yes, Mariah Carey too [YouTube links]! It's time to Deck the Halls (and the windows and every other room in the apartment)!

December 16, 2019

Song of the Day #1737

Song of the Day: You're No Good, words and music by Clint Ballard, Jr., was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick [YouTube link] in 1963. Other renditions of this song by Betty Everett and The Swinging Blue Jeans [YouTube links] charted in 1963 and 1964, respectively. But it wasn't until 1975 that Linda Ronstadt [YouTube link] took this song to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was one of the highlights on her #1 breakthrough fifth solo studio album, "Heart Like a Wheel." Last night Ronstadt was among the honorees at the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors, where Trisha Yearwood [YouTube link] delivered this song in tribute to the artist. Though retired since 2011 due to ill-health, Ronstadt was in attendance and clearly moved by the tribute to her remarkably diverse musical legacy [YouTube link]. Other honorees included Michael Tilson Thomas, Sally Field, Sesame Street (which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year), and Earth, Wind & Fire. A tribute to that seminal group served as the rousing finale to this year's festivities, with some wonderful performances by John Legend, Cynthia Erivo, Ne Yo, the Jonas Brothers, and an all-cast performance of "September," which brought down the house [YouTube links]. It was a really entertaining night. Bravo to all the recipients! But, note to the committee: I'm still waiting for Chick Corea to become a Kennedy Center Honoree!

November 28, 2019

Song of the Day #1733

Song of the Day: We Gather Together is a Christian hymn, derived from a Dutch poem, "Wilt heden Nu Treden," written by Adrianus Valerius, which celebrated the Dutch victory over the Spanish in the Battle of Turnhout in 1597. It was later wedded to an 1877 score arrangement of Eduard Kremser, with English lyrics provided by musicologist Theordore Baker in 1894. Recognized as an American hymnal in 1903 by the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, it was adopted by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1937 as its first non-psalm-related hymnal, but gradually made its way into the hymnals of many interdenominational institutions, especially on this holiday. Check out various renditions of this hymn from the Grace Community Church in California, the Joslin Grove Choral Society, and, finally, as a tribute to the late actor John Ingle (who played the character of Edward Quartermaine from 1996 to 2012 on "General Hospital") [YouTube links]. Whatever one's religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, I think of this hymnal on this Thanksgiving Day as a way of counting the many blessings I have. And I wish all my Notablog readers a "Happy Thanksgiving" as they gather together with family and friends to celebrate this holiday.

September 21, 2019

Song of the Day #1729

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 04, 2019

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? :)

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. :)

August 29, 2019

Song of the Day #1721

Song of the Day: Don't Matter To Me is credited to numerous writers including Paul Anka, Aubrey "Drake" Graham, and Michael Jackson, who was born on this date in 1958. As I explained in my essay, "Michael Jackson: Man or Monster in the Mirror," published on Notablog on the tenth anniversary of MJ's death this past June, I believe that even if it could be proven that some artists engaged in destructive behavior during their lives, it need not erase our appreciation of the art they created. Ultimately, it's something that each person has to decide for themselves. But the case of Michael Jackson is particularly troublesome because there are so many contemporary artists who have openly acknowledged how deeply they were influenced by him. One of these artists, Drake, had been very vocal in his acknowledgment of MJ's influence on his music [MTV clip]---so much so that he asked the Jackson estate if he could include samples from a previously unreleased MJ song for his 2018 album, "Scorpion". Today's "Song of the Day" is that "collaboration"---a duet that drove the track into the Top Ten on Billboard's Hot 100 and R&B/Hip Hop charts. It's not as if allegations of MJ's exploits with children were unknown prior to the release of the documentary, "Leaving Neverland"; but in the film's wake, Drake decided to remove this song from his setlist on his current world tour in support of his album. Jackson's lyrical contribution to the track is now all the more ironic: "All of a sudden you say you don't want me no more. All of a sudden you say that I closed the door. It don't matter to me. It don't matter to me what you say." Even MTV, on which MJ made a huge impact, has been pressured to strip his name from the Video Vanguard Award at its VMAs. Protests from his most recent accusers may have led MTV to drop his name during the presentation of the Award this past Monday. But this year's recipient, Missy Elliott, would have none of it---her epic performance and acceptance speech proudly paid tribute in both choreography and words to MJ [YouTube links]. She even thanked MJ's sister Janet for all her support through the years.

For reasons I explained in June, I continue to celebrate MJ's artistry. Deep down, I'm sure Drake still acknowledges Jackson's impact on his music. But if he fears a public backlash or feels that guilty about this particular song appearing on his album to the point that he won't even perform the "duet" publicly, maybe he ought to send all the proceeds he made off this Certified Gold Single to charities supporting victims of child abuse, as SNL's Pete Davidson [YouTube link] once bitingly suggested. Either way, I remain undaunted in highlighting Jackson's contributions, even if they are featured on present or future posthumously released singles. Check out this track's original music video, with its haunting MJ vocal chorus. And then check out the Zanderz dance remix [YouTube links].

August 26, 2019

Grant That I May Not Criticize My Neighbor ...

. . . until I Have Walked a Mile in His Moccasins.

So says a plaque on my wall, by my desk, in my home office. In response to several Facebook threads documenting a recent visit to New York City by a dear friend of mine, Ryan Neugebauer, I received some feedback from other folks who were a bit upset that I had not done X, Y, or Z in the past with them but somehow had found a way to go on the Staten Island Ferry and see the fireworks in Coney Island with Ryan, while he was here in NYC. My response was restricted to Facebook, but I decided to post it on Notablog because as a secondary, unintended consequence, it seems to have resonated with lots of folks, especially those who deal with various disabilities and who are exhausted having to explain their constraints over and over again even to loved ones. Here is what I said on Facebook:

Folks, I'm really sorry I have to even post something like this as I don't like talking too much about my private life or its constraints, but it seems that quite a few friends have gotten upset because they saw that Lo and Behold, Chris Matthew Sciabarra was OUT OF THE HOUSE FOR ONE NIGHT and how dare I do such a thing when I've not been able to do X, Y, or Z, when asked by somebody else.
This post is not directed to any person in particular, but to the situation in general. Given the number of FB messages I've received and my inability to address every single one of them, I think this is better. For those of you who truly understand (and I know who you are... so don't even think of apologizing), no explanation is necessary. But for those who don't really know what I've gone through, even though I'm not inclined to justify one minute of my life, here it goes:
A dear friend of mine, Ryan Neugebauer, made his first trip to NYC, and on one of the nights of his visit, my sister was kind enough to drive over to Staten Island so we could take the ferry and see the skyline of NYC, and to get back in time to the see the fireworks in Coney Island. A very New York experience, indeed.
And I had a lot of fun.
But for somebody who has undergone 60+ surgeries and who talked about it extensively in a "Folks" interview (see here), it might seem odd, as I put it in my post with Ryan, that I was able to get out at all. I even remarked that "some nights they actually let me out."
I haven't been on the Staten Island Ferry since before 9/11---that's twenty years or more; I've been to about ten or so concerts or films in ten years. I am a Yankee fanatic who has yet to see the New Yankee Stadium, even though it's been open for ten years. I don't remember the last time I went to any of NYC's museums.
What it takes to get out of this apartment is nearly two days of starvation in order to ATTEMPT it, and a carefully laid-out plan that involves logistics with regard to accessibility to a restroom!
So please: Just celebrate with me for a few minutes the fact that I was able to get out one night and have a damn good time with a great friend. Anyone else who is a friend certainly knows that, unless I'm scheduled for a surgical procedure, the door is open. Which is why I have folks come through these parts to visit for a few hours at a time, AT MY HOME, which puts the least pressure on me, to have a good time with caring friends. You are no less loved because you didn't go on the Staten Island Ferry with me.
We all seem to carry crosses in life; everybody has their issues and problems. Cliches though these are, I truly can't and won't criticize my neighbor until I've walked a mile in their moccasins.
Though I'm being flattered in a way to be loved by so many, let me emphasize: Before you get all depressed that you didn't get to go on the Ferry with me, please take a look at my song of the day today: You Need to Calm Down. If you personalize the fact that I couldn't get out with any one of you on some other night, I can't do anything to help you out of your depression. Every day, every hour, changes contexts for me. And dialectical guy that I am, I have to evaluate every thing I do according to the constraints of the context of every day I live.
DO NOT FEEL SORRY FOR ME. I neither ask nor seek your pity or permission. I do the best that I can.
Having the stars align for one night of fun with one special friend is not a statement against any other special friend I have. And Lord knows I have a lot of folks here and elsewhere with whom I share very close bonds and who have been amazingly supportive, both spiritually and materially, over the years. For this, I am profoundly grateful.
But cut me some slack. Life is too short.

I added a postscript to the FB thread, because my post seems to have led in an uptick in shares on the "Folks" website of my interview from January 2018:

Thanks to everyone who has responded to this post and for all the support I received here and privately. I decided to post this comment on my own Notablog; apparently, just by including a link to the "Folks" interview here, in just four hours time, it has gone from 307 shares to 360 shares [and growing by the hour, apparently] at the Folks website. And though this post was not meant to be a public service announcement, I am happy that it may have resonated especially with those who have to deal with a disability and find special ways to cope with its constraints. Love to all...

And for the record, there are a ton of photos on Facebook of my night out with Ryan, but here are two pics of us on the Staten Island Ferry---one on the way to Manhattan, the other on the way back to Staten Island:

RyanChris1S.jpg


RyanChris2S.jpg

Ed. (10 September 2019): My FB post resulted in an uptick of "shares" on the site of "Folks", "an online magazine dedicated to telling the stories of remarkable people who refuse to be defined by their health issues." Shares increased from 307 on the day of this post to 456 today. I'm delighted that more "folks" had a chance to read the Robert Lerose-penned profile of me on that site---and if it helped or enlightened anyone, I'm very grateful.

Song of the Day #1720

Song of the Day: You Need to Calm Down features the words and music of Joel Little and Taylor Swift, who released this as the second single off her new album, "Lover." Swift ties Ariana Grande with ten nominations each for tonight's MTV Video Music Awards. The truly bold video single [YouTube link] to this infectious song has more cameos than one can count and its message of tolerance (which extends even to her long-time feud with Katy Perry!) has led to over 100 million views on YouTube alone. Check out Swift's live "Prime Day" performance of the song as well [YouTube link]. And check out the Video Music Awards tonight! Missy Elliot will be the recipient of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. In three days, we'll be marking the 61st anniversary of MJ's birth with a new song that has an interesting history.

August 18, 2019

Song of the Day #1717

Song of the Day: Spinning Wheel was written by the Canadian lead vocalist David Clayton-Thomas of that quintessential jazz-rock hybrid band, Blood, Sweat, & Tears. The song's studio version peaked at #2 in 1969 [YouTube link]; it was from the group's eponymous album "Blood, Sweat, & Tears," which won the 1970 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. They stretched out in their performance of the song at the Woodstock Festival [YouTube link] in the wee hours of this very day, fifty years ago.

August 17, 2019

Song of the Day #1716

Song of the Day: Green River, words and music by John Fogerty, was the title track to the third studio album of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The song was a Certified Gold Single that peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Check out the single version [YouTube link] and the live version [YouTube link] of the song, which the group performed on this very day fifty years ago at Woodstock (it was the second song in their set, which lasted from 12:30 a.m. to 1:20 a.m.). The song has been heard in several films through the years, including "The Post" (2017), in which it is used anachronistically---since it plays over a scene in 1966 Vietnam, three years before this single was released! One film that it was not heard in was "Easy Rider," which debuted on 14 July 1969 (during the same month that our song of the day was also released). This is therefore the Golden Anniversary Summer of a landmark "counterculture" film, which starred Peter Fonda, who, died at the age of 79 yesterday (16 August 2019). Fonda considered himself a part of the counterculture of the 1960s and was "Born to Be Wild" [YouTube link], indeed. It was all the more ironic then that, in 1999, he would receive a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for a Miniseries (for the Showtime movie version of Barbara Branden's book, "The Passion of Ayn Rand"), playing Frank O'Connor, opposite Helen Mirren, who assumed the role of his wife, Ayn Rand, and who would go on to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Television Movie.

August 16, 2019

Song of the Day #1715

Song of the Day: Lady Madonna, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was a Top Five hit in 1968. The Beatles may have been going through some troubles, which led to their inevitable breakup in 1970, but their music lived on in the voices of several Woodstock performers. Richie Havens, who opened up the Woodstock festival on 15 August 1969, performed a few Beatles covers in his marathon set, such as "With a Little Help from My Friends" (and he needed a little help with the lyrics!) and a medley of "Strawberry Fields Forever and Hey Jude" [YouTube links]. This Beatles song was also a part of his repertoire, but not performed live at Woodstock. I feature it today nonetheless because it gives us a chance to say Happy Birthday to a different Lady Madonna, who, was born on this date 61 years ago---a full eleven years before the festival took place. Madonna would go on to rock the charts of the 1980s and beyond, along with such artists as Prince, George Michael, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston, all of whom are now gone. But Madonna is still kickin' in 2019, scoring her ninth #1 album on the Billboard Hot 200, "Madame X," which debuted at #1 in 58 countries on iTunes in the last week of June. But getting back to this year's Summer Music theme, check out a rendition of our song of the day by the guy who kicked off the Woodstock festival, Richie Havens [YouTube link] (though the highlight of his set was, undoubtedly, the improvised "Freedom" [YouTube link], based on the Negro spiritual, "Motherless Child"). The Brooklyn-born Havens died in April 2013, and his ashes were later scattered on August 18th of that year, across the Woodstock site, that 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York, to coincide with the festival's anniversary. Finally, let's not forget the original rendition of this classic song by the Beatles [YouTube link].

August 15, 2019

Song of the Day #1714

Song of the Day: Pinball Wizard, words and music by Pete Townshend, was featured on "Tommy," the rock opera recorded by The Who in 1969. Check out the original album version [YouTube link]. Today marks the first of four days coinciding with the Golden Anniversary of the Woodstock Festival. I will be focusing primarily on some of the songs and artists who appeared at that festival (with one quasi-exception tomorrow). But our Woodstock tribute will continue until the end of the Summer (in September). Since I will be posting entries over these next four days, which coincide with the dates of the original festival, I think we should note a few things about Woodstock itself---given the bad press it received with its legendary rampant drug use and "free love" in the mud on open display.

This festival took place on Max Yasgur's 600-acre farm in Bethel, New York. Having received $75,000 for the use of his private land for the very public festival, Yasgur, who was a pro-Vietnam War conservative, was also deeply committed to the American principle of free expression. He addressed the crowd that had come to his property and openly celebrated the "kids" in attendance at the event [YouTube link]. He observed correctly that this was one of the largest gatherings of youth "ever assembled in one place"---one marked by no violence, despite some very real "inconveniences" (like severe rainstorms and shortages of both food and toilets). Even the local community rose to the occasion; the largely conservative, rural town residents, who would not have ordinarily sat down with anyone from the "hippie" generation, gladly donated food, water, and other resources to aid the young people who were overwhelmed by the sheer size and unpredictable scope of the event and its hardships. Even the Medical Corps of the armed forces flew in supplies---to monumental applause from the hundreds of thousands of people who were there.

The Summer of '69---which we have been commemorating in this year's installment of our Summer Music Festival---is a study in contrasts (Ayn Rand herself saw it as a battle between "Apollo" and "Dionysus"). But it is also a study in convergence. In July 1969, two human beings walked on the surface of the moon for the first time, while in August 1969, nearly half-a-million human beings embraced the music and message of a festival, featuring more than 30 artists and/or bands, embracing 'cosmic' peace (I'm sure some of the participants thought they were walking on the moon themselves, at various times over that four-day period!). Whatever one's attitudes toward the views of that era, of its culture or its "counterculture", this remarkable convergence of events demonstrated what was possible when people reached across a "generation gap." At Woodstock, the "counterculture" [pdf to one of my encyclopedia entries]---many of them left-wingers who were not particularly enamored by the institution of private property---nevertheless assembled on private land to very publicly voice not just their disenchantment with the Vietnam War and the draft, but to nonviolently celebrate "peace" and "love" through the music of their day, at the end of one of the most turbulent, violent decades in American history. In the summer of 1969 alone, there were thousands of military and civilian casualties in Southeast Asia, not to mention ongoing unrest and violence at home, including a sensational murder spree in early August committed by the Manson cult that led to the horrific deaths of five people in Los Angeles (including actress Sharon Tate, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant). And yet, for all its "countercultural" hoopla, only two people died at Woodstock (one from a drug overdose; another from a tractor accident). It's as if a Wizard had simply waved a wand to show, in a single unforgettable summer, what was possible---in the stars and on earth---when people of different ages, backgrounds, views, and perspectives could claim to have "come in peace for all mankind."

And so we kick off the height of our Woodstock Summer with a song of Wizardry. It was featured about half-way through The Who's set at the festival [YouTube link], in the wee hours of 17 August 1969, followed by what has become known as the "Abbie Hoffman incident" [YouTube link] (one of the few disruptions during any musical set, not counting delays due to pouring rain!). Of course, for those of us who saw the 1975 film version of "Tommy," it's not possible to forget Elton John's performance of this song [YouTube link] or its re-imagining in this year's Elton biopic "Rocketman" [YouTube link]. But wizards work magic, and in that summer, fifty years ago, there was pure magic on display in so many significant ways.

August 01, 2019

Erika Holzer, RIP

I have learned that author Erika Holzer has passed away. She was a dear friend for many years, from whom I learned much.

Erika and I developed a warm, personable relationship back in 2004, as she worked on a wonderful essay, "Passing the Torch," which was published in the first of two Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposia marking the Rand Centenary. That particular issue was devoted to Rand's literary and cultural impact---and Erika's essay served as a springboard to her 2005 book that traced her "mentor-protege relationship with the author of Atlas Shrugged": Ayn Rand: My Fiction-Writing Teacher (the book was reviewed by Kirsti Minsaas in the Fall 2006 JARS).

Erika's literary contributions were discussed at length in the pages of JARS by writers such as Jeff Riggenbach, whose essay, "Ayn Rand's Influence on American Popular Fiction" appeared in the same issue as Erika's "Passing the Torch" and Robert Powell, whose essay, "Taking Pieces of Rand with Them: Ayn Rand's Literary Influence," appeared in the December 2012 issue of JARS.

Erika's body of work included some very fine thrillers, Freedom Bridge: A Cold War Thriller (which is actually a revised version of Double Crossing) and Eye for an Eye, which was made into a suspenseful 1996 film, directed by John Schlesinger, starring Sally Field, Kiefer Sutherland and Ed Harris. She also co-wrote two nonfiction books with her husband Henry (Hank) Mark Holzer.

Significantly, in the late 1960s, Erika and Hank had tracked down the original negative of the 1942 Italian film adaptation of Rand's first novel, We the Living, starring Alida Valli and Rossano Brazzi. Under Rand's initial guidance, Erika was immensely helpful to director Duncan Scott, in the re-editing and restoration of the film, which was released in 1986, with English subtitles.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Erika Holzer was among the most empathetic of human beings I've ever known, greatly supportive of me through some of my most difficult periods grappling with a life-long illness. I loved her and I will miss her very much.

My deepest condolences to her husband Hank, her family, and friends. Her literary work and her pro bono work as a lawyer on behalf of human rights cases stand as her ultimate legacy.

July 30, 2019

Ayn Rand and Martial Arts: Barrowman on Bruce Lee

JARS contributor, colleague, and friend, Kyle Barrowman, has written a provocative new piece, "Bruce Lee and the Perfection of Martial Arts (Studies): An Exercise in Alterdisciplinarity." Here is the abstract to the article:

This essay builds from an analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of Bruce Lee’s jeet kune do to an analysis of the current state of academic scholarship generally and martial arts studies scholarship specifically. For the sake of a more comprehensive understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of jeet kune do, and in particular its affinities with a philosophical tradition traced by Stanley Cavell under the heading of perfectionism, this essay brings the philosophical writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ayn Rand into contact with Lee’s writings during the time that he spent formulating his martial arts philosophy. Additionally, this essay uses the philosophical insights of Emerson, Rand, and Lee to challenge longstanding academic dogma vis-a-vis poststructuralist philosophy, the methods of academic intervention, and the nature of philosophical argumentation. Though pitched as a debate regarding the content and the status of Bruce Lee and his combative philosophy, this essay endeavors to inspire scholars to (re)examine their conceptions of Bruce Lee, martial arts, and martial arts studies.

The article appears in the latest edition of Martial Arts Studies, hosted by Cardiff University Press, devoted to "Bruce Lee's Martial Legacies" and is co-edited by Kyle. In his contribution, he brings Bruce Lee together with Ayn Rand and Ralph Waldo Emerson---while taking a few additional jabs at poststructuralism, as he's done in such articles as "Philosophical Problems in Contemporary Art Criticism: Objectivism, Poststructuralism, and the Axiom of Authorship" and "The Future of Art Criticism: Objectivism Goes to the Movies," which appeared in the December 2017 and December 2018 issues, respectively, of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

What is of particular interest about Kyle's essay is how he highlights Rand's relationship to a philosophical tradition of perfectionism (which, of course, has Aristotelian roots) and his view of Ralph Waldo Emerson as an ally of Objectivist philosophy. Folks can download the article here [pdf link].

Song of the Day #1708

Song of the Day: Old Town Road (Remix), words and music by Kiowa Roukema and Montero Hill (aka Lil Nas X) with a sampled beat from "34 Ghosts IV" [YouTube link] by Nine Inch Nails (credited to the Oscar-winning duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), breaks the all-time Billboard Hot 100 record today, logging its seventeenth straight week at #1. It passes both "Despacito" (by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, featuring Justin Bieber) and "One Sweet Day" (by Mariah Carey and Boys II Men), each of which held the previous #1 record at sixteen consecutive weeks. Lil Nas X paid $30 for the right to use the Nine Inch Nails sample and added Billy Ray Cyrus to the performance, producing one of the most interesting crossover sounds, merging elements of country, rock, and rap. And I'm just going to say it: Whoever dreamed that a song that started as a meme [YouTube link], which went viral, featuring the 57-year old country-singing father of Miley Cyrus and the 20-year old African American rapper who recently came out would be the longest running #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 charts? Goes to show you---life offers us a rainbow of possibilities! But it helps if your song is really catchy. Check out the mini-movie video version of the song [YouTube link] (with some hilarious cameos) and the truly infectious single version [YouTube link].

July 20, 2019

Song of the Day #1705

Song of the Day: Moon Maiden, words and music by Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, was commissioned by the ABC News Network to debut on the day of the Apollo 11 moon landing and moon walk. Awaiting the first walk upon the surface of the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, while Michael Collins orbited above in "Columbia," the command module, ABC anchor Frank Reynolds introduced the piece. This performance by Duke was actually recorded live on 15 July 2019 but aired on the ABC network on this date fifty years ago, after the lunar module, "Eagle," touched down in the Sea of Tranquility. Check out the rare footage of its debut by Duke Ellington and a later studio recording [YouTube links] with Duke "speaking" the lyrics, accompanied by his own playing on the vibes-sounding celeste. As a 9-year old kid, I cannot even begin to describe the level of utter elation I felt watching the grainy images of human beings on the surface of a celestial body other than the Earth. I had followed the space program from the earliest moments of my consciousness of such things (the politics of it never crossed my mind at the time); I remembered John Glenn's orbit around the earth, the Apollo 1 fire, and the Christmas Eve moon orbit of Apollo 8. But nothing could compare to the excitement I felt watching my TV fifty years ago this day [YouTube link], the sense of awe I felt hearing Neil Armstrong's first words on the lunar surface, and the sense of hope that was inspired in me, hearing him enunciate the words on the lunar plaque: "We came in peace for all mankind" [YouTube link]. It gave credence to Robert Browning's poetic tribute to human potential: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?" The promise of that which seemed impossible made real inspired me to use that line from "Andrea del Sarto" as an epigraph to Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, the first book in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy."

July 04, 2019

Song of the Day #1701

Song of the Day: The Star-Spangled Banner features lyrics taken from an 1814 poem by Francis Scott Key, "Defence of Fort M'Henry," written during the War of 1812, with music based on a popular British drinking song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men's social club for amateur musicians. In truth, my personal all-time favorite "patriotic" song remains "America the Beautiful" (especially as delivered by the great Ray Charles [YouTube link]). Quite apart from the controversies that have surrounded the U.S. national anthem over the years (and to all my 'anarchist' friends, chill a moment!)---from those who claim that one of its rarely sung stanzas expresses racist content to those who have taken to kneeling during its presentation prior to sports events---I have marvelled at the way it has been performed by some of the most diverse artists through the years, including Yankee stadium stalwart, the late opera singer Robert Merrill, the late Whitney Houston [YouTube links], who delivered a heartfelt rendition at the 1991 Super Bowl XXV, and the "controversial" Latin-tinged, acoustic version performed in Detroit in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series by Jose Feliciano [YouTube link]. His version became the first recorded rendition of the anthem that ever charted on the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at #50; Whitney's version peaked at #20). But in keeping with the theme of our 2019 Summer Music Festival, there remains one truly electrifying instrumental rendition of the anthem by rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who performed as the last artist to appear at Woodstock [YouTube link]. To some, this performance was a sacrilege; to others, it was a sign of the turbulent and violent era to which it spoke. Hendrix actually plays a couple of notes from 'Taps' to drive home the point of a nation at war abroad---and at home. Nearly all the critical commentators on the event have viewed this as the most iconic performance of the four-day festival. It reflects both the fireworks of its time and, in a twist of irony, the fireworks set off on this day in 1776 when American rebels---whatever their own flaws, embodied in the contradictions of their time---pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, in declaring their independence from the British Empire. A Happy and Safe Independence Day to all!

Postscript #1: Context: I'm a native Brooklynite and a lover of film scores.

Having been on the Brooklyn Promenade back in 1983, when there was a fireworks display to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, I thought I'd never see a better fireworks display. But the Macy's Fireworks display tonight, which focused its attention on NYC's East River and the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the world's great, iconic spans, against the backdrop of some of the greatest film themes ever written (by everyone from Alfred Newman and Max Steiner to Elmer Bernstein and John Williams) was one of the best I've ever seen.

If the program hasn't reached your time zone yet, I'm sure it will be on YouTube or the NBC site soon. But definitely check it out! You won't be disappointed. Truly wonderful. (Yes, and they even included the love theme from "The Godfather." :) )

Postscript #2: Here is a link on YouTube, starts about 16 seconds in, from the national anthem to Alfred Newman's Fox Fanfare to Casablanca (Steiner), and so forth. Somebody on the YouTube thread objected to "The Godfather" being included. But what's America without the Family? ;) And don't miss Jennifer Hudson's wonderful rendition of "Over the Rainbow," which includes the rarely heard opening verse or that absolutely spectacular John Williams segment. At 55 mins., the fireworks display is shown again, with an introduction by historian David McCllough, discussing the Brooklyn Bridge---built by immigrants---completed in May 1883.

Postscript #3 (6 July 2019): Remarkably, one reader interpreted the fireworks display as symbolizing the destruction of the Bridge. My response was light-hearted, but I think it made a few essential points. As I stated:

Maybe you need a high-definition television. :) I mean, they were by no means "covering" the bridge [with explosives]. They were cascading off the bridge like waterfalls; they were shooting straight out of the cathedral towers of the bridge. And they were---believe it or not---in complete sync with the magnificent film score medley; even during the love theme to "The Godfather" there were red, heart-like shapes forming over the bridge; rainbow colors accompanied "Over the Rainbow", and "celestial" shapes accompanied the John Williams segment, and so forth. But as I said: To each his own. I opened the original thread about this fireworks display with "Context": That I was a native Brooklynite and a lover of film scores. I was also there when the Grucci Family celebrated the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge; here is a link to that fireworks display; Macy's actually adapted the very same "waterfall" and cathedral firework effects from that celebration, as a paean to the Centennial display. Why on earth are we debating this display as if it were a symbol of celebration or nihilism? Inquiring minds want to know...

The reader responded that there was a distinct difference in context between the 1983 display and any displays after 2001. I replied:

Well I appreciate that; but I truly am not interpreting this as some kind of expression of post-9/11 terrorism. Remember that part of the glory of fireworks on the Fourth of July is that despite all the explosives, the iconic image still stands (whether it be the flag in "The Star-Spangled Banner" or the Brooklyn Bridge). To me, the effects highlighted the Bridge and its glory; to you, it is destruction. I just think we should agree to disagree. You're no less a Brooklynite if you despised the display then or now. Cheers!

June 28, 2019

Song of the Day #1699

I introduced this song and essay on Facebook with the following preface: Whatever your social, religious, philosophical, or cultural views, if you embrace the basic principles embodied in this country's "Declaration of Independence"---and its enunciation of the individual's rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness---then it is time to take a "Stand" for Stonewall on its Fiftieth Anniversary. Indeed, as the lyrics to today's song of the day state: "Stand! You've been sitting much too long. There's a permanent crease in your right and wrong." Check it out:

Song of the Day: Stand!, words and music by Sly Stone, was recorded by Sly and the Family Stone in 1969. This was the title song to the group's fourth studio album and was the last song they played on their set list at Woodstock---this year's first bona fide Woodstock Golden Anniversary moment, the theme of our 2019 Summer Music Festival. It was also a song that was featured on the jukebox of the Stonewall Inn, which in the wee hours of this very day, fifty years ago, was raided for the umpteenth time by the New York City Police Department. Perhaps the police didn't get the payola they expected from the Mafia-owners of the bar, since bars that served alcohol to people engaging in "disorderly conduct" (code for simply being gay) would be denied a liquor license in New York City. But this time, the patrons had had enough; they were, indeed, 'mad as hell and not going to take this anymore' [YouTube link]. They pushed back, rioted, and fought for six days in a siege against political oppression---giving birth to the modern gay liberation movement.

For those who are uncomfortable with this whole subject, as if it were some "leftist" expression of "identity politics," we need to make one thing perfectly clear (a phrase often attributed to President Richard Nixon, who took the White House fifty years ago this year): Both "liberals" (going all the way back to the policies of FDR) and "conservatives" (of both the McCarthyite and religious right variety) have played a part in crafting repressive laws in the United States aimed at crushing homosexuality. It is neither our job nor our responsibility to change the minds of those who find "alternative lifestyles" repugnant or who believe that same-sex relationships are a sign of "sickness" or "sin". Whatever one's cultural, religious, philosophical, or political views, it all comes down to liberty. If one values human liberty, one must recognize that state-sponsored terrorism against individuals---simply because of who they love or how they love---continues to this day across the world. Seventy countries still maintain laws that make it illegal to engage in same-sex sexual activity, and so-called "leftist" regimes have been among the most repressive, in this regard. Whether in the name of politics or religion, these countries have used imprisonment, flogging, and torture to punish those who are different, and in ten countries, execution---by stoning, hanging, beheading, or being thrown off buildings---is government policy, legitimized by various states' interpretations of Islamic law. The battle cry of Stonewall is as prescient today as it was fifty years ago. Indeed, "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." And those who value liberty need to embrace a future in which the Rainbow Railroad [CBS News link] is no longer required to save those who are being persecuted in other countries for their sexual orientation.

In the United States, there were heroes in the battle for individual rights prior to Stonewall, who fought government entrapment and discrimination against "the love that dare not speak its name"---going all the way back to the 1920s, with the Society for Human Rights and into the 1950s, with organizations such as the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society, and, among individuals, the courageous Frank Kameny, who challenged "The Lavender Scare" [PBS video link].

But the significance of the Stonewall Uprising by a group of individuals who were too often marginalized and brutalized by the police, the courts, and the culture-at-large is that, in its fundamental premises, it was based upon a sacrosanct libertarian principle: that every human being, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, race, or sexual orientation, has a right to equal protection under the law, a right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness, without infringement by the coercive, oppressive tools used by municipal, state, and federal governmental institutions. This month, New York City's Police Commissioner James O'Neill apologized for the NYPD's actions fifty years ago at the Stonewall. This was no mere nod to "political correctness." The commissioner recognized that "[t]he actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple. The actions were discriminatory and oppressive and for that I apologize." Even the New York Yankees unveiled a plaque in Monument Park to commemorate this date in history.

We can listen to the lyrics of today's song as an expression of the libertarian spirit of the Stonewall Rebellion: "Stand! There's a cross for you to bear. Things to go through if you're going anywhere. Stand! For the things you know are right. It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight. … Stand! You've been sitting much too long. There's a permanent crease in your right and wrong. … Stand! They will try to make you crawl. And they know what you're saying makes sense and all. Stand! Don't you know that you are free. Well at least in your mind if you want to be. ... Stand! Stand! Stand!" I stand in solidarity with those brave men and women who fought for their rights half-a-century ago on this day. Check out the album version of this song and its energetic performance by the group at Woodstock [YouTube link].

Postscript (29 June 2019) Justin Raimondo, Outlaw, RIP. Justin lost his battle with lung cancer and has died at the age of 67, on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. I knew JR from way back when---going all the way back to when he wrote that monograph for Students for a Libertarian Society, "In Praise of Outlaws: Rebuilding Gay Liberation," which saw Stonewall and the rise of the gay liberation movement as a distinctively libertarian event. And he was right. A lightening rod for many people, antiwar.com was his passion, and though we had our disagreements through the years, he was always fighting against the policy of "perpetual war for perpetual peace."

Postscript #2 (30 June 2019): In another thread on Facebook, I had a bit of a discussion with regard to whether the struggle for "gay rights" is over in the United States, and I made the same point in that thread that I make here in my Notablog post: Seventy countries across the world still treat same-sex activities as a crime punishable by imprisonment, flogging, and torture, and ten of those countries treat it as a crime punishable by execution (beheading, hanging, and being thrown off buildings).

It was suggested that I might be implicitly advocating trying to intervene in those other countries to change their domestic policies; as a firm non-interventionist in foreign policy, I am totally against such intervention even for the purpose of human rights abuses abroad. But that does not mean that I favor the long history of foreign aid policies practiced by the United States, which involves expropriating the American taxpayer for the purpose of sending "foreign aid" to despotic regimes abroad, like Saudi Arabia, which are then required to use that "foreign aid" to purchase US munitions, which they can use in their wholesale slaughter of people in Yemen and elsewhere. US relationships with such despotic regimes is legion, and our current President believes "it is good for the economy."

Considering that the Saudis gave us 17 of the 19 hijackers who flew planes into the Twin Towers and elsewhere and that they were probably complicit in the 9/11 attack, I would say that what might be "good for the economy" is most definitely not good for the stability of the Middle East and other hot-spots around the globe, where the US has a record that even Trump himself once said was not so "innocent."

No, we cannot change the domestic policies of foreign governments that engage in violations of human rights. But that doesn't mean the U.S. taxpayer should be subsidizing them. This is not a battle for "gay rights"; it is a battle for individual rights, and individual rights don't cease at the borders of the United States.

But yes, Stonewall 50 is a a cause for celebration for all those who believe that individual rights apply to every person regardless of sexual orientation. And I stand in solidarity will all those who sacrificed their lives over the past century to get this country to recognize those rights.

Postscript #3 (1 July 2019): I added this comment to a Facebook post by Tom Palmer, who provided a link to a fine 2016 article by David Boaz, "Capitalism, Not Socialism, Led to Gay Rights:

Good piece by David Boaz and thanks for posting, Tom!

I've heard from quite a few of my very orthodox Marxist colleagues over the years who believe that homosexuality is one of the decadent offshoots of capitalism (guess they missed all that stuff that went on in the ancient world) and that it would wither away, like the state, under full communism.

They also leave out the part that gulags will play in helping the withering-away process.

Of course, orthodox Marxists actually reject the whole development of 'identity politics' (which the fight for same-sex individual rights is most certainly not) as a way of obfuscating the "essential" conflict between proletarians and capitalists.

I've argued this past weekend that the Stonewall Rebellion was in its essence a libertarian expression of the fight for the individual's right to live his or her own life, socialize in privately-owned establishments without police harassment, and pursue happiness without the interference of state-sanctioned terrorism. That fight goes on globally and even within this country; the battle for "gay rights" is not over, as James Kirchick says in "The Atlantic." If it is over, I invite anyone to go into the reddest of red states (or any sections in "blue" states in which "tolerance" is not a key cultural value), holding hands with their partner, and in open spaces, sharing a romantic kiss as the sun sets. Then we'll take a poll and see how many folks get their heads bashed in.

On all these issues of markets having changed traditional notions of the family, women, and sexuality, over time, I highly recommend the work of Steve Horwitz, especially his book Hayek's Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions and, of course, his essay in The Dialectics of Liberty: "The Dialectic of Culture and Markets in Expanding Family Freedom." Check out the abstract here.

I agree that the essential political and legal battles have been won, but changing political culture and mores is a long-term process, and often leads to a kind of political/legal backlash against which one must always be vigilant.

And as a noninterventionist in foreign affairs, while I would never advocate interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries, the fact remains that seventy countries still categorize homosexuality as a crime punishable by imprisonment, flogging, and torture, and in ten of those countries, it is punishable by execution (beheading, hanging, or being thrown off buildings). No, the US has no business being the world's policeman on violations of human rights, but the least it could do is to stop expropriating its taxpayers into providing "foreign military aid" (a fancy phrase to describe providing U.S. financial assistance to foreign governments that are then obligated to purchase U.S.-manufactured munitions) to reactionary governments, such as Saudi Arabia, which has a horrendous human rights record, and is using all those munitions to slaughter people in Yemen.

Ah, but our President says it's "good for the economy."

June 27, 2019

The Dialectics of Liberty: Some Nontrivial Thoughts About Its Meaning

I've written on quite a few threads throughout Facebook, and am collecting on Notablog, as I go along, all the random (though not unrelated) points I've made in response to those who question (again) the very meaning of "dialectical method", which is the basis of the new anthology, coedited by Ed Younkins and Roger Bissell: The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom. Check this link periodically, if you're not following the multiple threads on which I've commented, with regard to this work:

o In my use of the term "dialectics", it is a prism through which to understand social problems. It is the "art of context-keeping", which asks the social theorist to grasp the larger systemic and historical context within which social problems arise. No social problem is to be looked at as if it were an atomistic, isolated unit, separable from the context in which it is embedded. So in "exploring the context of human freedom" (our subtitle), we're asking libertarians to show a profound regard for that larger context, which includes personal, cultural, and structural (political-economic) elements especially if their aim is to change society. It's not simply: Get rid of (or minimize) the state and everything will be fine. There are other, deeper issues that must be addressed in understanding social problems and attempting to resolve them. This way of looking at the world may have been taken up by the left, but it originated with Aristotle, who wrote the first treatise on dialectical method ("Topics"), even though his discussion of viewing issues from multiple "points of view" is peppered throughout the entire Aristotelian canon. Hegel himself called Aristotle "the fountainhead" of this dialectical method. I'm not going to deny that I learned much about dialectical method from a very high profile Marxist scholar, my mentor Bertell Ollman---and it was through him that I learned to use the method as one of social analysis. My "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" (which consists of Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism) was geared toward taking back the method for use by libertarians to bolster their approach to the study of freedom---and of the forces that constrain it.
o Even logic can be abused if it is based on false premises; some philosophers have deduced whole systems of philosophy from a single faulty premise. Dialectics is the handmaiden of logic, and can be undermined by false premises, faulty induction, incorrect identification or interpretation of historical facts, etc. And each "art" can be used as a rationalization for any kind of lunacy. All the more reason to fight against its ties to lunacy. One of the guiding purposes throughout my entire intellectual life has been to take back dialectical method and to build a paradigm by which to strengthen libertarian thinking, which itself can succumb to nondialectical, utopian lapses. And if implemented would lead to dystopian consequences.
o The Soviets---and the Nazis---were masters of distortion and propaganda; it was one of the elements that they used to defend their authority and maintain their power over their own populations. Whether it was the claims to being based on "scientific socialism" in the case of the Stalinists or of admiring the eugenics work of U.S. scientists in the case of Hitler and his genocidal tyranny, each regime had a propaganda machine that allegedly used "science" as the basis for their claims to power. The irony is that not even Marx would have approved of the "Soviet" application of "scientific socialism"---given that he believed genuine socialism could only emerge out of a very advanced stage of capitalism that had basically solved the problem of scarcity (to the point where the society could afford to give 'from each according to his ability to each according to his needs'). Of course, as I argue in two of the books of my trilogy, scarcity is never resolved (because, at the very least, we are all mortal and time for each agent is inherently scarce), and Marx's predictions of a post-scarcity society were a product of what Hayek called a "synoptic delusion." Not a very "dialectical" insight on the part of Marx; where he was so good at criticizing the "utopian socialists" for their contextless proposals, he, himself, succumbs to the very utopian pitfalls he criticized.
o I think that even if Marxists are not into post-scarcity as a goal, they can't have their cake and eat it too: they can't endorse the maxim "from each according to his ability to each according to his needs" if there is not enough ability---and not enough goods and services to go around. That's why Marx predicated the achievement of communism as an outgrowth of a very advanced stage of capitalism, which, in his view, would have essentially solved the problem of scarcity. If everything is abundant, no need to worry about expropriation, and the state will wither away. If you believe that, I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn I could sell you.
o I think that in the case of conservatism, for example, there is a very real understanding of what conservatives believe is essential to the sustenance of a free society. For them, it is typically tradition and the slow evolution of mores over time (at least in the Burkean and Hayekian sense) that serves as the context upon which a stable free society can be built. My disagreement with the approach of many conservatives on this issue is that though they understand the need for a larger cultural context that is supportive of free institutions, they don't recognize how free markets themselves often undermine traditions and challenge traditional mores. As I may have mentioned, Steve Horwitz's article on the family, in The Dialectics of Liberty (and in his own book on Hayek and the family) makes this case quite well. As for "dialectical objectivism"---I can think of one book in particular that reconstructs Rand's philosophy through that prism of interpretation, but the title escapes me at the moment. :)
o A postscript to my above comment, something I shared with my friend Ed Younkins: While it is true that we can use "dialectical" as an adjective to modify any "ism", it is also true that just about anybody can be "dialectical" and "logical", for as Aristotle said, dialectical thinking is like the "proverbial door, which no one can fail to hit" (or even a broken clock can be right twice a day). The point however is that we aim for it to be anchored to the facts of reality, which is why, even at their best, when conservatives try to be dialectical, they are missing something in their contextual arguments--namely, that the market itself challenges the very mores they claim to be the only basis upon which a stable market society can be built. Every person and virtually every school of thought can exhibit dialectical and logical thinking -- since these are constituents of thinking as such. That doesn't make them fully dialectical (or fully logical) by a long shot; hence--the need for a "dialectics of liberty." But even in our book... we don't settle on one vision of what that means. I would like to think that we're getting closer than anybody else toward hammering out a more context-sensitive, fact-based model for thinking more clearly about liberty and the context it requires for its sustenance.
o I agree that the Marxist appropriation did much to destroy what was a supremely important methodological approach. All the more reason to resurrect it with a throwback to its realist Aristotelian beginnings. The Marxists didn't own dialectical method, and in many ways, destroyed the enterprise altogether by falling into the pitfalls of nondialectical, utopian thinking. We hope not to make the same mistake---and suffer the same dystopian consequences.

In response to those who think that "dialectical method" is a fancy phrase for a "trivial" mental process, I state:

o The point, however, is that as "trivial" as it sounds, there are not many folks who can think in a consistently logical or dialectical manner---look at the entire field of U.S. politicians for a lesson on how disintegrated their views are, and the effects that such views can have on the world at large. Indeed, right here in New York City, capital of the world, the DeBlasio administration is engaging in a systematic attack against education for the gifted and talented, those few schools that actually do teach children in a more enriched and systematic way.
o Ayn Rand herself talked about how modern education often put children on an unequal cognitive footing because pedagogical methods tended toward dis-integration and rote memorization, while also teaching a whole generation of kids about the nature of obedience to authority. That which seems "trivial" is, in fact, not trivial at all. Training children in the principles of efficient thinking, providing them the tools by which to think through an argument, follow it to its logical conclusions, understand its potential unintended consequences, and trace the interconnections between topics and problems within a larger system across time (in which those topics and problems often become preconditions and effects of one another) is a highly sophisticated art. It's not something that is typical of American education, whether in the early grades or in college. In fact, as "specialization" has proceeded, and as studies have become more and more compartmentalized, integrated, interdisciplinary work is put at a disadvantage. One of the best things about The Dialectics of Liberty and the series of which it is apart, edited by Ed Younkins ("Capitalist Thought: Studies in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics") is its emphasis on the interconnectedness of the humanities and the social sciences. I'm delighted that our new book is part of that series, thanks to Ed and his monumental efforts. [And check out one of Ed's new entries in the series, Perspectives on Ayn Rand's Contributions to Economic and Business Thought]

I'll add to this entry, if and when I say anything more on this subject. Of course, it would really be nice if folks read the new collection before commenting on its themes, but I've been through this before and have been blessed with the patience of a saint---even if what I say sometimes does not sound too saintly. :)

June 26, 2019

Pope Francis and the Caring Society: A Review

A couple of years ago, I received Pope Francis and the Caring Society (Oakland, CA: Independent Institute, 2017) from David J. Theroux of the Independent Institute. I very rarely review books for Notablog, but this sure did look like an interesting work. And it is, in fact, a challenging volume worthy of attention.

Consisting of seven chapters written by a diverse group of authors, it is edited by Robert M. Whaples and includes a foreword by Michael Novak. The book engages in a dialogue of sorts with Pope Francis specifically on matters of political economy and social justice. Novak states upfront that "the book shares [the Pope's] commitment to Judeo-Christian teachings and institutions. In the process, the book's authors are seeking constructively to engage and educate civic and business leaders and the general public to understand the legacy and meaning of the natural law, moral and economic principles of liberty, personal responsibility, enterprise, civic virtue, family and community, and the rule of law" (xix).

But editor Whaples makes it clear in his Introduction that this book is designed "to advance the dialogue at a critical juncture" in Pope Francis's papal reign (2). It seeks to educate the papacy on the virtues of free markets in resolving many of the problems that the Pope has blamed on "capitalism"---whatever that term means. Indeed, referring to Pope John Paul II, Novak suggests that "capitalism" means different things to different folks: for some, it is about the liberating force of free trade and open markets; for others, it is about special privileges vested in the wealthy by a state that bolsters their power at the expense of the poor (xxv). And nothing could be more un-Christian than embracing a system that is designed to exploit the least-advantaged people in a society.

One of the most important contributions of this book is that it places Pope Francis's views of capitalism in an understandable context. This is a man who came from Argentina---with its history of Peronist corporatism, which enriched its business clients. And if this is what Pope Francis views as "a model of capitalism," one "that friends of free markets rightly reject as capitalism at its worst," not reflective of how markets work under different institutional and cultural contexts (3), then it certainly helps to explain the Pope's "much lower opinion of capitalism and market economies than most economists" (25). This is a crucially important point in any exploration of the Pope's economic perspective. As one who has embraced dialectical method, the supreme "art of context-keeping," I have grown wary of using the very term "capitalism"---despite Ayn Rand's own projection of the "unknown ideal" that such a social system would embody. Her concept of "capitalism" is almost a Weberian "ideal type," organically connected to the notion of individual rights, in which all property is privately owned. But even she argues that such a system has never existed in its purest form. In many ways, her ahistorical re-conceptualization of terms such as "capitalism" and even "government" (ideally viewed as a voluntarily funded institution strictly limited to the protection of individual rights)---differs fundamentally from "the known reality."

Indeed, as Friedrich Hayek reminds us in "History and Politics," his introductory essay to Capitalism and the Historians: "In many ways it is misleading to speak of 'capitalism' as though this had been a new and altogether different system which suddenly came into being toward the end of the eighteenth century; we use this term here because it is the most familiar name, but only with great reluctance, since with its modern connotations it is itself largely a creation of that socialist interpretation of economic history with which we are concerned” (14-15, 1954 edition, University of Chicago Press).

Given this reality, I found Andrew M. Yuengert's chapter, "Pope Francis, His Predecessors, and the Market," to be especially important. Yuengert argues that, as a "citizen of Argentina---a country that is without political institutions capable of putting the economy at the service of the common good and that instead uses and is used by business and political interests to increase the power of business and political elites," the Pope witnessed "a prime example of how crony capitalism and statist control of the economy can wreck a country that deserves better" (43-44). Nevertheless, it is also true that the Pope's analysis of the market economy has been in keeping with an emerging tradition of "Catholic social teaching" that is increasingly at odds with the very idea of a market society (47).

Samuel Gregg, in his chapter, "Understanding Pope Francis: Argentina, Economic Failure, and the Teologia del Pueblo," reinforces Yuengert's points. He argues correctly that the Pope's views of the market economy "did not emerge in a vacuum" (51). Likewise, Gabriel X. Martinez focuses on the oligarchic nature of Argentinian economic nationalism, pointing out that even attempts to "liberalize" the economy have benefited entrenched interests. All of this is the prism through which the Pope views market societies; is it any wonder that he is at odds with those who offer market solutions to government-created problems? Instead, he has adopted a state-centered approach of massive government redistribution as the means to alleviate poverty.

Lawrence J. McQuillan and Hayeon Carol Park take on this issue with vigor. The authors point out the obvious: A market economy generates the wealth that makes possible charitable giving on a scale hitherto unknown. Government "redistribution" does not generate wealth; it can only "coercively" take money from one group and give it to another (89). They argue that "[f]orced government transfers actually destroy genuine charity within society. They serve primarily to make people more accepting of the use of force to achieve ends they consider worthy and produce resentment and division among those forced to give to 'charitable' endeavors they do not choose to support. Freedom of choice and the exercise of conscience are better suited to making people more compassionate citizens" (90)---something that should resonate with the Church's teachings. The authors also analyze Pope Francis's early writings (under his given name, Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires), in which he focused on "the limits of capitalism"---which accepted many of the premises of the Marxist-hued liberation theology that bloomed in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s (92). The authors make fine use of the Hayekian argument on "the knowledge problem" that permeates nonmarket societies, and why governmental intervention is not the best way to achieve the equality that the Pope seeks.

My favorite quote in this chapter comes from none other than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who gave us the corporatist New Deal as an answer to the government-induced 1929 Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression of the 1930s that followed. FDR saw the dangers of fostering a "culture of dependency" in the welfare state he himself was building: "Continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit" (109). For the same reason, these authors argue, Papal support for increased governmental redistributive efforts will only undermine the ability of entrepreneurs to produce the wealth that can support private charity. They warn that "[t]he road to hell and to poverty is paved with good intentions" (111).

While this book does not address this Pope's views on non-economic topics (e.g., on the sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church or any evolution in Church teachings on birth control and sexuality), it does focus some additional attention on the environment, conservation, and the family, in chapters written by A. M. C. Waterman, Philip Booth, and Allan C. Carlson. Booth is especially good on the "tragedy of the commons" (164) in generating environmental decay and industrial pollution.

Robert P. Murphy provides a bold conclusion to the volume: "Historically, there has been an undeniable tension, if not outright conflict, between religion and economics" (199). He laments the "impasse" (199) and hopes that the current work can contribute to "a foundation of mutual respect" as each side engages the other (201).

All I can say is: From Murphy's lips to God's ears.

June 25, 2019

Michael Jackson - Ten Years After: Man or Monster in the Mirror?

This essay makes its Notablog debut on the tenth anniversary of the tragic death of Michael Jackson. It can also be found in the essay section of my home page here. It deals with one of the most difficult issues we face in evaluating art---and its creator.

Can Bad People Create Good Art?

Writing in The New York Times, Charles McGrath asks: "Can bad people create good art? If that question pops up on an exam or at a dinner party, you might want to be wary. The obvious answer---so obvious that it practically goes without saying, and ought to make the examinee suspicious---is that bad people, or at least people who think and behave in ways most of us find abhorrent, make good art all the time." McGrath then gives us a laundry list of folks who are frequently cited as pretty bad people who created good art, among them such notorious anti-Semites as the proto-fascist Ezra Pound, composer Richard Wagner, who "once wrote that Jews were by definition incapable of art," and Edgar Degas, whose anti-Semitism led him to defend "the French court that falsely convicted Alfred Dreyfus." (And Lord forbid any of you should respond with a slight nod of aesthetic approval to just one of these paintings, for it will only prove that you are a secret admirer of young Adolf!)

But the list of "bad artists" who may have created "good art" is legion: There's Norman Mailer who "in a rage once tried to kill one of his wives"; the "painter Caravaggio and the poet and playwright Ben Jonson [who] both killed men in duels or brawls"; Jean Genet, gay prostitute and petty thief; Arthur Rimbaud, who flaunted all the conventions of his time; Gustave Flaubert, who "paid for sex with boys," and so it goes.

We can add to that list: Director Roman Polanski, who fled the United States after pleading guilty to a statutory rape charge, but who gave us the classic horror flick, "Rosemary's Baby,"; the great neo-noir mystery "Chinatown," and "The Pianist," a harrowing biopic of Holocaust survivor Waldyslaw Szpilman (played by Oscar-winning Best Actor Adrien Brody). Most recently, let's not forget: Producer Harvey Weinstein, who may not have been an artist, but who produced Oscar Award-winning films and Tony Award-winning plays, and was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a series of horrific allegations leading to his arrest on charges of rape and sexual assault---practically giving birth to the #MeToo Movement; R&B singing sensation R. Kelly, who was once indicted (and found not guilty) on charges of child pornography, only to be re-indicted this past Februrary on ten counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse; funk musician Rick James, who gave it to us with "Super Freak," only to end up in prison on everything from draft evasion to rampant drug use that led to kidnapping and sexual assault convictions; long-beloved comedian Bill Cosby, who is now serving a three-to-ten year sentence for aggravated indecent assault.

In the ideological sphere, honorable mention goes to Dalton Trumbo, among the blacklisted Hollywood Ten, whose trials and tribulations were the subject of a fine 2015 film starring Bryan Cranston, which doesn't once mention that Trumbo was an apologist for the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. But it does remind us of what a gifted writer he could be, when you see re-created scenes from the momentous 1960 epic "Spartacus." And let's not forget Kate Smith, whose recording of "God Bless America" has now forever been banned from Yankee Stadium during the seventh-inning stretch, because she recorded a couple of records almost ninety years ago (in 1931) with racist lyrics.

Indeed, once we open up that ideological and historical can of worms, we're faced with calls to obliterate various monuments to the American revolutionaries who fought for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, including Thomas Jefferson, who, despite penning the Declaration of Independence and speaking out against slavery, owned over 600 slaves himself, freeing only seven in his lifetime.

Human beings are a complicated lot. As McGrath points out, however, it is very misleading to ascribe "badness" and "goodness" especially in the context of artists and art, because these concepts can have different referents: they can point either to the person's moral worth or to the aesthetic merit of that person's work. Take Wagner. For this film score fan, the impact of Wagner on the art of the score is immeasurable. Even "[t]he conductor Daniel Barenboim, a Jew, is a champion of Wagner's music, for example, and has made a point of playing it in Israel, where it is hardly welcome. His defense is that while Wagner may have been reprehensible, his music is not. Barenboim likes to say that Wagner did not compose a single note that is anti-Semitic." McGrath states further that "the disconnect between art and morality goes further than that: not only can a 'bad' person write a good novel or paint a good picture, but a good picture or a good novel can depict a very bad thing. Think of Picasso's Guernica or Nabokov's Lolita, an exceptionally good novel about the sexual abuse of a minor, described in a way that makes the protagonist seem almost sympathetic."

McGrath recognizes that art, like ideas, is one of those realms of human experience that can inspire us, enlarging "our understanding and our sympathies." He hits upon an even more interesting point when he states, in almost Randian fashion, that "the creation of truly great art requires a degree of concentration, commitment, dedication, and preoccupation---of selfishness, in a word---that sets that artist apart and makes him not an outlaw, exactly, but a law unto himself." Of course, from a Randian standpoint, there is a virtue of selfishness, even if it is typically viewed as a vice. And it needn't mean that the artist qua selfish is necessarily tortured or bad. Yet, it is nevertheless true that many artists have been tortured souls throughout the centuries. Finding ways to express their inner conflicts and tensions through the sheer act of creation can provide for a kind of cathartic experience. For those of us who respond to that art, it provides a form of objectification that allows us to appreciate the art work on its own terms, whatever the moral merits of the person who created it.

But comedian Pete Davidson scored a few points in the Gallows Humor Department in one of those "Weekend Update" segments on "Saturday Night Live" [YouTube link]. "Once we start doing our research," he quipped, "we're not gonna have much left, you know, because it seems like all really talented people are sick." Well, I wouldn't go that far. Moreover, not every artist has a cesspool for a soul. Thank goodness.

But when we admire a piece of art, whether it be a painting hanging on the wall of a museum or a work of music, we don't have to contemplate how lost, how tortured, or how awful the artist may have been as a person when they engaged in the act of creation. If the work speaks to us, whether we respond to it on the level of "sense of life" or just because of our mood on that particular day, what we are responding to is that work, not necessarily to the person who created it.

Distinguishing Between the Creator and the Creation

If we focus long enough on the artist, rather than the art, or the writer, rather than what is written, we might be led to airbrush out of existence some of the most important and influential artists or intellectuals---be they "good" or "bad"---throughout human history. This is a subject that hits close to home for a scholar such as myself. In my work, I have spent much time analyzing the legacies of many individuals whose ideas stand in diametric opposition to one another. Though I stand by the dialectical mantra that "context matters"--that is, though I am inclined to place the work of a thinker within the larger context of that thinker's life and the culture within which that thinker came to maturity, all of which helps us to better understand his or her ideas---it would never lead me to dismiss that thinker's work on the basis of their personal or cultural context. Let's take Karl Marx as an example; many have focused on evidence that he "lived in filth and neglected his own children." That may be true. But I would not treat his work with a sweeping ad hominem dismissal---especially since one of my goals has been to grapple with his intellectual legacy and his use of a dialectical method of social analysis, so important to my own project of rescuing dialectics for libertarian theory. And, as a Rand scholar, I have had to face all sorts of criticisms of Rand the person---from those who despise her work, and who dismiss it wholesale on the basis of her questionable personal attitudes toward everything from Beethoven to homosexuality, or who view her as nothing more than a pop-novelist and cult-leader who had a scandalous sexual affair with her protege, Nathaniel Branden, twenty-five years her junior, which destroyed their personal and professional relationship, and which she never acknowledged publicly. And on the other side of that equation, I've had to come to grips with those Rand acolytes who dismiss all of Branden's work on the importance of self-esteem to human survival, because he lied repeatedly to Rand as that relationship dissolved, thus showing him, and, by extension, his ideas, as, at best, hypocritical, or at worst, a sign that he was nothing other than a self-aggrandizing con man.

Michael Jackson and "Leaving Neverland"

And so, finally, we come to the subject of Michael Jackson, the boy who became a man before his time, as he led his brothers in the Jackson Five straight into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and who, as a solo artist, amassed a discography that has sold hundreds of millions of records worldwide, giving him his own place in that same famed hall. Jackson's impact on music, dance, fashion, and culture has influenced scores of artists over the past fifty years. His music has been sampled, reinterpreted, and resurrected by everyone from Justin Timberlake and Drake to Alien Ant Farm, Chris Cornell, and the 2Cellos [YouTube links].

But there were those allegations that first emerged in 1993, when police descended on his Neverland Ranch, investigating claims that Jackson had molested a 13-year old boy. An exhaustive search found no incriminating evidence, though a civil case brought by the boy in question, Jordan Chandler, and his parents, was eventually settled out of court. Later, in 2005, Jackson was charged with the child molestation of Gavin Arvizo, serving alcohol to a minor, conspiracy, and kidnapping, facing twenty years in prison. His homes were ransacked by the LAPD, but nothing incriminating was found, and an in-depth investigation by the FBI came up with no evidence of wrongdoing. In the end, Jackson was acquitted of all charges.

As Forbes magazine reported, however, choreographer Wade Robson had testified in the 2005 trial under oath, that as a child and young adolescent, in the many years that he knew Michael Jackson, the artist had never touched him inappropriately or sexually abused him. James Safechuck, who spent time with Jackson in the 1980s, also defended Jackson back in the 1993 case. Various events thereafter occurred which led these two men to eventually file suits against the Jackson Estate, nearly four years after Jackson's tragic death on June 25, 2009 (a decade ago this very day), seeking $1.5 billion in damages, claiming that they had, in fact, been sexually abused by Jackson: Robson, when he was between 7 and 14 years of age; Safechuck, when he was 10 to 12 years of age. Both the Robson and Safechuck cases were dismissed in probate court.

On January 25, 2019, at the Sundance Film Festival, the documentary, "Leaving Neverland," directed by Dan Reed, featuring both Robson and Safechuck, as well as some of their relatives, made its debut. HBO showed the four-hour documentary over two nights in March 2019, followed by an Oprah Winfrey-hosted special, with Reed, Robson, and Safechuck as guests. I watched the documentary in full and the "After Neverland" Winfrey interviews, and was left feeling deeply saddened and sick at heart. The dead cannot defend themselves, and the documentary offered no cross-examination, no counter-testimony [YouTube links], and no alternative narratives [Quora Digest link]. But that didn't take away the sting of hearing the shattering testaments or of observing the body language of the two men as they painted shockingly graphic portraits of their sexual abuse by someone who had befriended them, groomed them, and subsequently betrayed their trust.

If none of what they say is true, it is a travesty to the memory of a man, who was probably abused as a child himself, and who went on to raise millions of dollars in humanitarian aid for children worldwide with his "We Are the World" single (co-written with Lionel Richie) and his Heal the World Foundation.

If only 10% of what they say is true, it is a horrifying portrait indeed. But for the sake of this essay, which marks the tenth anniversary of the tragic death of a truly unique artist, let's say it's all true.

What does this mean for those of us who grew up listening and dancing to Michael Jackson's music?

Reassessing Jackson's Artistry? Reassessing Myself?

Michael Jackson's music was, for all intents and purposes, like the coming-of-age soundtrack of my youth.

Indeed, I can tell you that as a 9-year old kid, in December of 1969, I sat in front of my black and white television and was inspired to see somebody about my own age stepping out onto the stage of the "Ed Sullivan Show" to belt out "I Want You Back" [YouTube link] like he was an old pro. I can't count the number of times, as a mobile DJ in my college years, how I lit up the dance floor with the propulsive beats of the Jacksons' "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" or "Walk Right Now" [YouTube links] or how I got a group of tired teachers up at a school reunion to dance over and over again to "The Way You Make Me Feel" [YouTube link]. Or how MJ drew me into a world of romantic intrigue with his "Heartbreak Hotel" (aka "This Place Hotel") [YouTube link]. Or, more personally, how I danced, with a blind date, to the disco beats of "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" and "Rock with You" [YouTube link] from MJ's pathbreaking solo album, "Off The Wall." Or how awestruck I was when I saw him on the "Motown 25" special doing his sensational signature Moonwalk to "Billie Jean" [YouTube link] (predictably, on the recent "Motown 60" special, he was practically airbrushed out of existence). Or the first time I saw the chilling, thrilling video to the title track of the album [YouTube link] from which "Billie Jean" emerged, the all-time global best-selling "Thriller." Or that first sensuous kiss I experienced with somebody, in a moment of intimacy, listening to the "Quiet Storm" sounds of "The Lady in My Life" [YouTube link] from that same album.

I saw MJ perform live in concert two times, once with his brothers (on the "Victory Tour") and once as a solo artist (on the "Bad" tour). He was a lion on stage, the quintessential song-and-dance man of his generation who merged the grace of Astaire and Kelly with the grit of the street. Filled with irrepressible energy that fueled more than two hours of one greatest hit after another, his choreography was staggering to watch, his vocals were purer than anything you'd hear even on a carefully produced studio album. Even my mother went to those shows, she loved him so much!

So, where does this leave me? Am I to feel guilty that my foot still starts to tap, almost involuntarily, every time I hear that bass line that opens "Billie Jean" or "Bad"?

Maybe Michael Jackson was really trying to tell us something literally when he sang, "I'm bad, I'm bad, you know it." Or maybe when he metamorphized into that monster in the "Thriller" video, he was giving us a glimpse of the horror within. Or maybe he was telling us something even more personal when he sang: "I'm gonna make a change for once in my life. ... I'm starting with the man in the mirror. I'm asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer. If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself. And make a change."

Perhaps he was that Man in The Mirror [YouTube link], who was incapable of taming the monster within. Perhaps not. All I know is that my heart broke when I heard of his death on the radio ten years ago this day, and my heart breaks today every time I hear one of his songs. I can't erase what he did or may have done to those children, but I am equally incapable of erasing the part his music played in my life. And so, today, I can only be brutally honest: I highlight one of his recordings as my "Song of the Day"---"Who Is It?"---still wondering who he really was, but unflinching in my appreciation of his artistry.

June 06, 2019

Song of the Day #1692

Song of the Day: I Love You, words and music by Cole Porter, was the #1 song on this day, June 6, 1944, for the fifth week in a row, as sung by Bing Crosby with John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra. The song came from Porter's 1944 stage musical "Mexican Hayride." It was first recorded by Wilbur Evans (who played the character David) in that musical, but it was Bing Crosby's recording of the song that took it to the top of the charts. This weekend, other musicals will be honored at the Tony Awards. But it is of particular interest that the American public had embraced a sentimental song of love for the five weeks leading up to the Allied invasion of Normandy, the largest air, land, and sea invasion in human history that proved to be the beginning of the end of World War II. That war, which led to estimated fatalities of 70 to 85 million people, may have signified the "nadir of the Old Right"---but it also brought forth the intellectual seeds of a libertarian resurgence in the decades to come. Nevertheless, I post this song today as an expression of love to my own family members who fought and died in that most horrific of wars, and in honor of those who survived that battle on the beaches of Normandy, and who have returned to those beaches today, to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of that invasion, knowing that, in the words of Herman Wouk: "The beginning of the end of war lies in remembrance." Check out the original Wilbur Evans version of this song and the #1 Bing Crosby hit [YouTube links] that serenaded Americans at home, who listened to the music on the radio, with news bulletins that, they prayed, would move the world one step closer to peace.

May 21, 2019

The Dialectics of Liberty: Cover Design and More

I am happy to unveil the new cover to The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom.

DOLCoverB.jpg

I'd also like to share with Notablog readers the endorsements that appear on the back cover, from my long-time friends and colleagues Stephen Cox, Lester Hunt, and Mario Rizzo:

"The Dialectics of Liberty is a remarkably wide-ranging study of libertarian ideas, conducted by writers of great authority but of different views and approaches. Mature yet lively, it is full of surprises. If you want to know the state of libertarian thought right now, you will need to read this book."

--- Stephen Cox, University of California, San Diego

"This book of original essays by thinkers from a very wide array of disciplines opens the fascinating possibility of recasting the libertarian and classical liberal points of view in terms of "dialectical libertarianism." This way of looking at the matter promises to lay to rest once and for all the charge that these points of view are atomistic and ahistorical. I hope it inspires further research along these lines."

--- Lester H. Hunt, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"This stimulating collection maps out exciting new directions in the philosophy of liberty. The essays are authored by some of the best minds in scholarly libertarian thought today. Whether you are a libertarian or not, you will find many important---and challenging---ideas developed here. An important and lively book."

--- Mario Rizzo, New York University

For those interested in obtaining a hardcover or e-book edition of this book at a 30% discount, download the promotional offer here. Visit the Lexington Books website or Amazon.com for additional information. A softcover edition is sure to follow in early 2020. Stay tuned!

Much more information will follow as we near our release date of June 15, 2019. Thanks to everyone who has made this trailblazing volume possible. The best is yet to come.

May 13, 2019

Artists Seen and Unseen

On Facebook, I was prompted by my cousin Michael J. Turzilli, to participate in a game of sorts, in which one lists twenty bands/artists one has seen in concert, which includes one lie. Folks were invited to leave a comment on who they think is the lie. Here was my list---but after lots of guesses and countless Facebook PMs, I spilled the answer. Scroll down.

Here's my list:

1. Stevie Wonder
2. Michael Jackson
3. Chick Corea
4. Chuck Mangione
5. Joe Pass
6. Charlie Puth
7. Bruno Mars
8. Justin Timberlake
9. Michel Legrand
10. Benny Goodman
11. Sting
12. Phil Woods
13. Stephane Grappelli
14. Bill Evans
15. Pink
16. Prince
17. Madonna
18. Barbra Streisand
19. Sarah Vaughan
20. John Williams and the New York Philharmonic

The one artist I didn't see, to my great dismay, was #19, Sarah Vaughan. In honor of The Divine One---the singer of whom Frank Sinatra once said: "Sassy is so good ... that when I listen to her I want to cut my wrists with a dull razor"---I'm re-highlighting my "Song of the Day #1079," in which jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan gives a Master Class in the Art of Scatting.

I literally taped this off my own television back in 1974, when I was 14 years old, from "In Performance at Wolf Trap", a live-recorded concert for PBS, where Sassy's voice shows its four-octave range. Years later, I was able to digitize it. Check out "Scattin' the Blues."

May 07, 2019

A-Okay in Brooklyn

I awoke to a flurry of emails from folks concerned that I may have been affected by a terrible accident that occurred late last night, after a car slammed into a building on the corner of Avenue P and East 5th street in Brooklyn, causing the building to collapse. Amazingly, nobody except the driver was injured, let alone killed. I appreciate the concern, but just a reminder: there's about 10-12 blocks separating East 5th Street from West 5th Street. In any event, over 100 firefighters appeared on the scene in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, clearing up the rubble, and the driver was apprehended attempting to flee from the wreckage. We awoke to news helicopters flying overhead, but everything is A-Okay in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, New York where I live.

I had every intention of focusing on another "only in New York" story this morning, highlighting the not-for-profit Riverside Park Conservancy's GoATHAM program, which is using a unique group of summer interns, goats, who will be involved in intense weed consumption to clear the area surrounding Grant's tomb in Riverside Park. The goats are impervious to the stretches of poison ivy, which cover the area.

In any event, again, my thanks to all those concerned, but we're all safe and sound---which means, I go right back to work on forthcoming publications: the June 15th release of The Dialectics of Liberty and the July release of the first issue of the nineteenth volume of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

On Facebook, I received some kind words by several FB friends, but added:

Not to make light of this, but apparently, the Anti-Dialectical Brigade missed their target by half a mile! The work goes on. ;)

Roger Bissell, one of the co-editors on the Dialectics of Liberty project added:

They're blasting every (week) day about a quarter of a mile from here, clearing tons of rock from the area they're going to build new homes in, and I shudder a little each time the house does a regionally-inappropriate shudder. From now on, I think I'll appropriate your term and say: "Whoops, there goes the Anti-Dialectical Brigade again!" LOL.

To which I added:

I guess Ed Younkins [the third of the three co-editors on the DOL project] better look out for suspicious activity in his neighborhood. We won't be silenced!

To which Roger replied:

Dialecticians of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your Appalachians! ;-)

As an afternoon postscript I wrote:

The news reports that the guy was Driving Under the Influence and must have been traveling at high speed, but reports say that the Department of Buildings had received complaints up to nine years ago that there was falling debris from the building and that there were "non-structural cracks on the exterior"---so maybe the structural weaknesess were a lot worse than that! Fortunately, none of the residents in the building were home, and Flatbush Shomrin, a Jewish neighborhood watch group was able to detain the driver until the police arrived. Thanks again for the good wishes! X-Files indeed!

April 21, 2019

Happy Passover and Happy Easter to the Westerners

Well, it's just after midnight here in New York City, and the ABC Network is showing "The Ten Commandments," and Chuck Heston (as Moses) just parted the Red Sea, all of which can mean only one thing: A Happy Passover to all my Jewish friends and a Happy Easter to all my Western Christian friends. (Yes, I was going to say "A Happy Western Easter", but my dear friend, Roger Bissell, said that the phrase sounded a bit like an oxymoron.)

Either way, for those who celebrate, enjoy the holidays, and for those who don't, embrace the joys of Spring (though my tree pollen allergies put a damper on its joys!). Next week, it will be "Christos Anesti" to all my Eastern Orthodox friends, something with which I'm much more familiar, having been baptized Greek Orthodox not too long after I was born!

Postscript (added on 22 April 2019, from Facebook):

I wrote on Sanford Ikeda's timeline, after he commented that he couldn't believe how few Biblical films were on television this weekend; I figured I'd share my reply to him here---because the link I posted is still (to me) hilarious:

I agree! Something was very wrong with TV this weekend. I saw more listings for slasher films and films of demonic possession than any Biblical epics.
However, as noted, "The Ten Commandments" was on the ABC network on Saturday night, and while "Demetrius and the Gladiators" played on FX Movie Channel, "The Robe" was nowhere to be found---either in its widescreen or flat-screen versions (the latter, far better acted version of that classic, hasn't been seen in about 30 years on any station!).
However, the great "Ben-Hur" was making its rounds last week on the big screen for its 60th anniversary, so it too was nowhere to be found (TCM regularly plays "Ben-Hur": it was shown around Christmas, during their "Sword and Sandals" January feature, and again during their "31 Days of Oscar" in February).
But TCM did play "The Silver Chalice" (with Paul Newman) and "Barabbas" (with Anthony Quinn) in the early afternoon, and, at night, after "Easter Parade", they played the Nicholas Ray-directed "King of Kings" (1961)---with the blond-haired, blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus, the film that sent Oprah Winfrey to confession because after she saw it, she felt she had sinned for having 'lusted after Jesus'. The was followed by the silent DeMille version with H.B. Warner as Jesus (known as "The King of Kings").
But an obscure cable channel did play the 1965 epic, "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (with Max von Sydow as Jesus, who would become Father Merrin in 1973's "The Exorcist"), of which I caught only the last scenes---starting with the absolutely classic lines uttered by John Wayne as the Centurion. The film is filled with cameos from many Hollywood stars, but the Duke sounds like he just got off his horse in some old Western: "Truly this man was the son of Gaad."
And that's your sparse Biblical movie round-up for this past holiday weekend!

March 22, 2019

Getting Old, Ageism, and The Alternative

Yesterday, Paul Jacob had an absolutely classic piece on his Common Sense site, an essay called "Trans-philosophical." Apparently, The Journal of Medical Ethics published a piece by Joona Rasanen, a bioethicist, who argues that individuals who feel that their legal age does not correspond to their "experienced" age should be allowed to legally change their age. And this was published in a peer-reviewed academic journal.

Well, having recently turned 59, I have been reminded that, yes, I'm getting old, or at least older.

But today, I read in the New York Daily News that Jimmy Carter, now 94 years and 172 days old, has become the longest-living President in the history of the United States. While not a fan of Carter when he was President, I do have to applaud one thing he said in 1998:

What could possibly be good about growing old? The most obvious answer, of course, is to consider the alternative to aging. . . . But there are plenty of other good answers --- many based on our personal experiences and observations.

Or as another President, John Adams (who also made it to 90) once said: "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

And the fact is, biologically and temporally, you are what you are. And in the end, does it really matter? We are all headed in the same direction anyway. What matters most is not your biological age, but how youthful you are in spirit.

And on that score, Trans-Ageists be damned! I'm still a kid with all the wondrous spirit of a 2 year old!

March 14, 2019

The Mafia in NYC: Dead and Alive

Just the other day, it was reported that longtime Colombo family boss, Carmine Persico, died at the age of 85. It prompted a discussion among a couple of friends as to whether the Mafia was really a force in organized crime anymore. Seemingly crushed in the 1980s by a series of then-federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani's indictments and convictions of "Five Family" major Mafia figures, the Italian-American contingent of organized crime was rocked to its core. We remembered back in the 1970s and early 1980s, how often we'd watch our local WABC's "Eyewitness News," with report after report [YouTube links] by famed journalist Milton Lewis ("Now listen to this") about the comings and literal goings of Mafia chieftains.

So it came as an almost creepy surprise this morning when we awoke to hear a report by John Montone on the "all news all the time" AM radio station, 1010 WINS, that Gambino-family crime boss Frank "Franky Boy" Cali was gunned down outside his Todt Hill house in Staten Island last night, the first Mafia rub-out in New York City since the Paul Castellano hit in 1985, ordered by Dapper Don John Gotti! (Jeez, did he have to have the last name, Cali, which is the first name of my cat, who has no ties to organized crime?)

Montone ended his report with a bit of his classic, stinging sarcasm, saying that there was no gun found at the scene, and no cannolis either [YouTube "Godfather" link]!

February 27, 2019

The Dialectics of Liberty: A New Anthology is On The Way!

It is my distinct honor---and pleasure---to formally announce a forthcoming book: The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, a trailblazing collection of essays by a diverse group of scholars, coming from a variety of disciplines and perspectives. The anthology has been coedited by Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Edward W. Younkins. It is slated for publication by Lexington Books in June 2019 and it is sure to be a provocative read for anyone interested in liberty and the contexts that nourish---or undermine---it.

Readers can find the book's home page here (which is redirected from both Dialectics of Liberty.com and Dialectics and Liberty.com). As we state on our abstracts page:

These essays explore ways that liberty can be better defended using a dialectical approach, a mode of analysis that grasps the full context of philosophical, cultural, and social factors requisite to the sustenance of human freedom. The contributors represent a variety of disciplines and perspectives who apply explicitly dialectical tools to a classical liberal / libertarian analysis of social and cultural issues. By conjoining a dialectical method, typically associated with the socialist left, to a defense of individual liberty, typically associated with the libertarian right, this anthology challenges contemporary attitudes on both ends of the political spectrum.

Abstracts for all the articles that are included in the anthology can be found here and contributor biographies can be found here. For those who just can't wait to read through those links, here is a glimpse of what to expect:

Table of Contents

Introduction - Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Edward W. Younkins

Part I: Foundations and Systems of Liberty

Chapter 1: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Chapter 2: Freedom and Flourishing: Toward a Synthesis of Traditions and Disciplines - Edward W. Younkins

Chapter 3: The Unchained Dialectic and the Renewal of Libertarian Inquiry - John F. Welsh

Chapter 4: Whence Natural Rights? - Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen

Chapter 5: Dialogical Arguments for Libertarian Rights - Stephan Kinsella

Chapter 6: Dialectical Psychology: The Road to Depassement - Robert L. Campbell

Part II: Government, Economy, and Culture

Chapter 7: Don Lavoie's Dialectical Liberalism - Nathan Goodman

Chapter 8: Free Speech, Rhetoric, and a Free Economy - Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

Chapter 9: Exploring the Interconnections of Politics, Economics, and Culture - Robert Higgs

Chapter 10: Context Matters: Finding a Home for Labor-Managed Enterprise - David L. Prychitko

Chapter 11: The Dialectic of Culture and Markets in Expanding Family Freedom - Steven Horwitz

Chapter 12: Up from Oppression: Triumph and Tragedy in the Great American Songbook - Roger E. Bissell

Part III: Justice, Liberation, and Rights

Chapter 13: Why Libertarians Should Be Social Justice Warriors - Roderick T. Long

Chapter 14: Radical Liberalism and Social Liberation - Gary Chartier

Chapter 15: Social Equality and Liberty - Billy Christmas

Chapter 16: Formal vs. Substantive Statism: A Matter of Context - Kevin A. Carson

Chapter 17: The Political Is Interpersonal: An Interpretation and Defense of Libertarian Immediatism - Jason Lee Byas

Chapter 18: Aesthetics, Ritual, Property, and Fish: A Dialectical Approach to the Evolutionary Foundations of Property - Troy Camplin

Index

About the Editors and Contributors

********************

Anyone taking a look at the contributors to this book might be scratching their heads a bit, wondering how some of the authors associated with the volume may very well not associate themselves with the views of other authors herein represented. Let me say by way of introduction, that this collection falls under the category of "Big Tent" classical liberalism / libertarianism: It is not presented as a monolithic view of what a dialectical approach to human freedom must be. Rather, it is a sign of the fruitful interplay of ideas and theories that might result when classical liberal and libertarian thinkers adopt a context-sensitive dialectical approach, making their political project a living research program that will necessarily generate a variety of perspectives, united only in their ideological commitment to freedom and their methodological commitment to a dialectical sensibility.

I should just add that this is purely an announcement: I'd like to save the debates for when the book is published and folks actually have a chance to read the essays, before passing judgments, either positive or negative on the contents of the volume. I know that our authors would greatly appreciate critical feedback; but nothing advances human knowledge when judgments are reached on the basis of reading short abstracts or brief biographies. Suffice it to say: We are going to have plenty of time and many forums in which to debate the contents of this book.

For now, I would simply like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to my hard-working fellow editors, and our remarkable group of superb scholars, whose commitment to the project has been a delight to behold.

So many more Notablog posts with further information on the forthcoming book to come ...

Postscript: This Notablog announcement was shared on Facebook by quite a few people, reaching potentially thousands of readers. I'm delighted by the response, and added a few points in several threads. The most important point I made, however, was in response to some folks who criticized the inclusion of people whose views they oppose. Here was my response:

If I may add a point: One of the reasons that folks as diverse as Stephan Kinsella and Kevin Carson are in the same volume is because each applies a dialectical sensibility to the topic of their essays; we wanted a volume that would represent the wide range of perspectives and disciplines that might be engaged in a genuinely radical classical liberal / libertarian research program.
And if I may be so bold: I think that the volume constitutes a virtual paradigmatic shift in its explicit embrace of a dialectical sensibility in furtherance of a radical libertarian social theory. From the early 1980s through to the publication of my Dialectics and Liberty trilogy (from 1995 to 2000), I felt like "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." But I argued that many classical liberals and contemporary libertarians had already embraced a dialectical approach to libertarian social theory, even if they had not named it as such. That today, 30+ years after I started this project, I am a co-editor of a volume that features such talented scholars who are not afraid to utter the words "dialectic" and "liberty" in the same sentence is of great significance to me. I'm very proud to be associated with this project, and prouder still of the work that each author contributed to it. It's a Big Tent folks: Get under it! :)

Postscript II: The debate over the contents and its contributors has continued, so I made the following observation on one of the Facebook threads:

I have to admit that if this is how worked up folks are getting over the list of contents and contributors, i just can't imagine what will happen when the book is actually released and its contents are actually read, comprehended, and commented upon.
As a matter of fact, even I don't agree with every essay in the book; this is of little consequence, however. What was more important to me was to amass a group of writers from every discipline and a variety of perspectives, who demonstrated an attention to the larger context within which freedom might be nourished---or undermined. There is not a single author in this book who does not qualify on those grounds. I may disagree with the way some folks apply certain dialectical tools of analysis to their subject matter, but in a sense, the book itself is an example of the very "dialectics" of liberty it proposes, at least in terms of its original intent of meaning: that in viewing the issues at hand, we look at them from as many different vantage points and on many different levels of generality as is possible, to reveal relationships that might be obscured by one-dimensional readings.
Even in disagreeing with this or that author, it is my hope that folks, especially those who adhere to classical liberal / libertarian ideas, might actually embrace the "rivalrous" readings offered in this volume, in much the same way that they embrace the "rivalrous competition" they extol as one of the virtues of free markets. Embrace the differences; you don't have to agree. But celebrate the fact that the editors had the audacity to put this volume together and that the contributors, even those that found themselves on opposite sides of certain issues, were courageous enough to be a part of what is sure to be a provocative, trailblazing anthology.
As I said: If this is the reaction we're getting from a Table of Contents, abstracts, and biographies, I can only imagine what might happen when the volume comes out in June! Mount Vesuvius ain't got nothin' on us! :)

This post was shared on quite a few Facebook pages, and also noted on several blogs, including that of Center for a Stateless Society, Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Austro-Athenian Empire, and StephanKinsella.com.

February 10, 2019

Dispensing Advice on Relationships

No, I'm not the next Ann Landers or Dear Abby, but I figured I'd pass on this advice, given on a Facebook thread, to Notablog readers as well. My friend Nick Manley who started a Facebook discussion on the difficulties of being in relationships when one is a "radical political type" who tends "to categorize whole groups of people as friends or enemies to a degree that more centrist and less conflictual minded political types generally don't." I dispensed a little personal advice (which pertains to friendships as much as it does to romantic relationships):

All I can say is that I have rarely been in relationships with folks who agreed with me ideologically (it's not as if there is a multitude of "dialectical libertarians" out there); I tend to have a live-and-let-live attitude in this area. There are many areas where people can find commonality: "sense of life", likes and dislikes on a wide palette that goes from food to film to music, etc.

So, being "dialectical" about it: Don't 'reify' any single aspect of any single person and let it represent the whole person. Look at the person's whole context in conjunction with your own; I tend to look for commonality on a very wide scale. Life does not have to be an intellectual dog fight. If you are going to make friends or enemies on a strictly ideological litmus test, you'll be a very lonely person---for absolutely no reason at all. Complementary or even deep ideological differences should not be "deal-breakers" in human relationships; people are much more than what they believe (or claim to believe). Why seal yourself off from folks just because you disagree over politics?!

A Green "New Deal"?

In New York, our very own "Democratic Socialist," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has been a vocal proponent of a so-called "Green" New Deal, aimed at solving the problem of "climate change" with massive government intervention. I replied to a Facebook question on the issue, and will share what I said with Notablog readers:

I think there are two very real issues that need to be examined with this climate change question. Let us assume that every point by those who argue for the validity of climate change is correct.

With regard to pollution issues, why assume that the government has any more "knowledge" in resolving the issues than actors in a competitive market system in which there are different players acting on their differential "know how" of the market for clean energy? Central planning didn't work for any other issue, so why assume it will do anything but shift billions of dollars in taxpayer money to industries created or favored by a government-sanctioned scientific and technological elite? Typically, the only "products" that governments have been been good at "creating", in league with scientific and technological elites, are weapons of mass destruction.

And secondly, folks who advocate stronger government involvement in this area should focus on the so-called "tragedy of the commons" (which has been a principal cause of much pollution) and the need to allow courts to take on class action suits against corporate polluters (many of them already politically-privileged monopoly energy utilities).

To simply hand over billions of dollars of taxpayer money to favored industries allegedly committed to resolving the problems caused by climate change is to think that, somehow, government will change its stripes and not be what it has always been: a dispenser of privilege to those who are most adept at grabbing and using political power. That's what happened with the New Deal (which was based on the corporativist model of "War Collectivism" from World War I and was praised by Benito Mussolini for its fascistic character); why will it be any different with a "Green" New Deal?"

With regard to the view that "government has only been good at 'creating' weapons of mass destruction," one reader asked: "What about the space program, interstate highway system, NIH. the internet, etc.? I responded:

It is very good at socializing the costs for building large projects that are typically related to 'national defense': typically, it takes market actors to take these projects and to develop them for the benefit of consumers.

And with regard to the issue of fossil fuels and oil, it has had a primary role in developing a foreign policy of war and interventionism to benefit Big Oil, whether it has been in propping up "friendly" autocratic regimes, like that in Saudi Arabia, or in benefiting ARAMCO, with which Exxon-Mobil has always been intimately involved.

I added the following point when a reader proposed that a government, freed of corporate power, could act in the public interest:

But in my view, the government will always be captive to corporate power. On this point, I think Hayek was right when he said that the more politics comes to dominate economic and social life, the more political power will be the only power worth having---which is why those most adept at using political power get the most privileges. Which is "why the worst get on top."

Another reader rejected my view as a libertarian article of faith, to which I responded:

[Giving the government the power to make decisions about climate change] still does not solve the essential knowledge problem or class problem. Talk about an article of faith: Why would you put faith in a single institution (the state) to come up with the necessary knowledge (which is not simply "data" but both articulated and tacit, and tied to differential contexts) to introduce a whole "Green New Deal" that would cost trillions of dollars and benefit specific industries?

And if we are living in a state capitalist-corporatist system, how do we avoid the central problem of state-generated privileges being handed over to whole industries invested in "alternative" energies (if you actually believe that the energy industry wouldn't just seek to cash-in on the newly generated expropriated funds to take advantage of the instituted changes)?

P.S. - And I didn't say central planning never works; I just said that it is typically best at producing weapons of mass destruction or socializing the costs and risks of a political economy in a way that does not take into account the tragedy of the commons.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for example, where the government subsidized the great expansion of "infrastructure" long before any private investment would have taken the risk, some of that expansion didn't really work out. The railroads "benefited" from this kind of subsidization but were, of course, eventually undermined by the lack of market support. The results were fairly typical: eventually these railroads went bankrupt and were 'nationalized'.

Typically, "crony" state capitalists are at the forefront of getting the government to make the big "infrastructure" investments because it does socialize the costs of their expansion. But it doesn't always work out in the long run. (The experience of World War I was also typical in this regard; see my article on "Government and the Railroads During World War I.")

The reader rejected my reasoning and argued that the state was the only institution available that could make the changes required to save the planet from climate catastrophe. To which I replied:

Well, then all I can say is we'll have to agree to disagree. I don't see how effective it will be to institute the kind of massive shifts you envision in the current state-capitalist context, whose class character will be fundamentally the same. No change of the sort you envision comes to this country without a massive amount of under-the-table deal-making where the worst seem to always get on top and profit the most.

I don't think of this as a libertarian article of faith; I think of it as a simple fact of reality.

The discussion continued and I shared a link to a post by my dear friend and colleague, Steve Horwitz, on the timeline of the thread:

Steve Horwitz['s post] ... speaks to the effects of such a massive state expansion, which is what would be required to achieve the kind of change that is being advocated here. These kinds of expansions amount to the militarization of the economy, and given what we have seen in other such militarizations (from the War Collectivism of World War I to the original New Deal to the War Collectivism of World War II, and so forth), I do not see how a Green New Deal avoids the problems inherent in the proposed 'solution'. As Steve puts it:

The irony of the supposedly anti-militaristic Left selling the Green New Deal as the economic equivalent of the mobilization for World War II is not lost on me, anyway.
Whenever you hear the rhetoric of "We need a war on X" or "this is the moral equivalent of war," run the other way. That rhetoric is just a mask for a grab for power reflecting the common belief on both the left and right that we can only accomplish great things when we have a collective end and structure society from the top down to achieve it. That belief is the most fundamentally anti-liberty argument there is, whether the war rhetoric is about actual or metaphorical war. Replacing the market with economic planning has always been about replacing freedom with militaristic and hierarchical rule by an elite. Both actual and metaphorical wars require that we give up pursuit of our preferred ends united by agreement on means for a society where any means are justified for the common end.
As Don Lavoie wrote 34 years ago: "Planning does not accidentally deteriorate into the militarization of the economy; it is the militarization of the economy....When the story of the Left is seen in this light, the idea of economic planning begins to appear not only accidentally but inherently reactionary. The theory of planning was, from its inception, modeled after feudal and militaristic organizations. Elements of the Left tried to transform it into a radical program, to fit it into a progressive revolutionary vision. But it doesn't fit. Attempts to implement this theory invariably reveal its true nature. The practice of planning is nothing but the militarization of the economy." (National Economic Planning: What is Left?, p. 230)

I should add that Don Lavoie's work, especially his Rivalry and Central Planning and his National Economic Planning: What is Left, is among the most radical and highly dialectical work in the Austrian tradition. His integration of hermeneutics, his use of Hayek's work on knowledge (especially the Polanyi-Ryle 'tacit' dimension of knowledge), and a dialectical understanding of the interrelationships of politics, economics, and culture, make his contributions all the more significant and worthy of study. He was a fine scholar and a dear friend, and Steve's quoting of him is "spot on" indeed!

January 29, 2019

Who Shaves the Barber? Ryan Neugebauer and William Gillis on Anarchism

I just listened to a nearly two-hour podcast interview with William Gillis and my dear friend Ryan Neugebauer on the subject of anarchism, a broadcast of "Who Shaves the Barber?" [YouTube link to interview], hosted by William Nava.

I really enjoyed it; it raises lots of questions that, in my view, continue to point to a much more nuanced, dialectical understanding of the nature of social change. I've written in the past about how libertarians of whatever variety, be they "minarchists" or "anarchists", need to avoid the pitfalls of what I have denigrated as utopian thinking: the belief that all we need to do is get rid of the state (or "minimize" it) and life will be Heaven. These gents are clearly aware of the wider issues of social oppression that make a strictly 'political' stance little more than a 'one-dimensional' view of human freedom.

This topic, in particular, is going to be thrashed about quite a bit among several contributors to the forthcoming volume that I am co-editing with Roger E. Bissell and Edward W. Younkins, The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom.

I keep encountering folks who ask me: When am I going to spill the beans on who is among our contributors? Soon. Very soon. All I can say is that this book has evolved into one of the most stunningly provocative anthologies I've ever had the honor of being associated with. And we're getting mighty close to submitting the final version to Lexington Books, our publisher. Can't wait to share the contents of what is yet to come...

Anyway, as I said, check out the YouTube podcast. Whether you agree or disagree with the anarchist solution makes no difference. It's worth a good listen and raises many important questions about the wider context necessary to the sustenance of human freedom.

January 21, 2019

Eishenhower's Nightmare: Military-Industrial Complex 2.0

On January 17, 1961, fifty-eight years ago, almost to the day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his farewell speech [YouTube link] to the nation, warning, famously, of the rising influence of a "military-industrial complex":

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea. Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence---economic, political, even spiritual---is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government. Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite. It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system---ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

Today, I share with my readers a provocative article from The American Conservative, written by Franklin C. "Chuck" Spinney (hat tip to my dear friend and colleague Walter E. Grinder), "Eisenhower's Nightmare: Space Wars Edition."

For those who doubt the staying power of the National Security State and the "military-industrial complex," President Trump's proposed missile defense plan "will be a bonanza for political patronage in Washington, and a huge fail for peace." I recently wrote of the need for "A National Dialogue on U.S. Foreign Policy," which spoke not only to what now appears to be a waning resolve to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and other global hotspots, but also to the omnipresence of so-called "Deep State" forces that no President will be able to dismantle. While Trump's expressed desires to cutback on U.S. overseas commitments seem to have emboldened both "hawkish Democrats and anti-war Republicans," as Jack Hunter puts it, Spinney's article casts greater doubt than ever that Trump will do anything to alter the "Deep State" forces that sustain that military-industrial complex so responsible for global and domestic instability.

December 25, 2018

Song of the Day #1652

Song of the Day: Christmas Swing [YouTube link], composed by Django Reinhardt, was recorded by the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, with the immortal Django on guitar and the legendary Stephane Grappelli on violin. You can swing your way into Christmas Day, watching Santa make all his stops on NORAD, in keeping with the situation [Yarn clip]. A very Merry Christmas, with peace on earth, and good will to one and all.

December 21, 2018

Wanted: A National Dialogue on U.S. Foreign Policy

Whatever one's views of Trump's overall politics, the real question, at least with regard to foreign policy remains: Will he stick firmly to his commitment to start bringing U.S. troops home---now that he has raised the possibility of withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria over the next 30 days? This was one of the only issues on which I believed that candidate Trump raised legitimate concerns about the extent to which the U.S., which indeed has not been "so innocent," could sustain its un-ending commitment to "perpetual war for perpetual peace."

Of course, even if Trump pulled all U.S. troops out of the Middle East, the National Security State, with its infringements on our civil liberties at home and its destabilizing influence abroad, will remain unscathed. Still, though I've heavily criticized Trump on many issues [and folks like Patrick Buchanan], at the very least, let this start a national dialogue on the problems inherent in U.S. foreign policy.

The neocons within the Democratic Party and the Republican Party would have you believe that it is possible to engage in democratic "nation-building"; if the last seventeen years has taught us anything, it is that no "democracy" can be imposed from without on countries that don't even have a concept of individual rights, let alone "democracy."

Postscript: Here's another interesting take on the character of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East (hat tip to Ryan Neugebauer for alerting me to this article by Andrew Sullivan): "The Establishment will Never Say No to War."

November 11, 2018

Veterans Day: A Centenary Remembrance of the "War to End All Wars"

Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day, when the guns of World War I were laid down on the Western front at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. In 2018, the United States marks this day as Veterans Day.

My family gave many of its native-born American sons to the armed services; my maternal grandparents came from Greece and my paternal grandparents came from Italy, and their American-born children went off to war---the Second World War, to be precise, a war that was not supposed to happen after the "war to end all wars," the "Great War," which led to the deaths of over 16 million people, including 7 million civilians. Some of those in my family who fought in World War II came home as veterans: my Uncle George Sciabarra and my Uncle Al, who fought in the European theater, as part of the Allied invasion of Italy, from which their parents had emigrated; my Uncle Charlie Sciabarra, who ended up in a German POW camp, liberated after the war; my Uncle Anthony "Tony" Jannace, who as a member of the Second Infantry Division eventually became part of Patton’s Third Army, in the second wave of the D-Day invasion on June 7, 1944, spending over 300 days in combat, involved in five campaigns---in Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe---as they fought to liberate Paris, Belgium, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. My Uncle Tony got frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge, and after being hit by mortar on April 7, 1945, he received the Purple Heart. My Uncle Frank was not as lucky; he was killed in that battle, in which American forces suffered heavy casualties, under the weight of a German tank offensive. Other than my Uncle Frank, all of my uncles came home as veterans of World War II.

One of those veterans, my Uncle Sam (Salvatore) Sclafani, I had the honor of interviewing in 1976; that interview formed the basis of a 2004 Memorial Day tribute to him---but as a naval veteran of World War II, he was one of those Veterans of Foreign Wars who, perhaps more than any other relative, had the greatest impact on my early thinking about politics. I remember Uncle Sam telling me about a 1939 film, "Idiot's Delight," starring Clark Gable (in the same year in which he starred in "Gone with the Wind") and Norma Shearer. The film was an adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood's 1936 play, for which the playwright won a Pulitzer Prize. It was Uncle Sam who had introduced me to several antiwar films from the early days of cinema that had a profound effect on his thinking about the horrors of war. Among these films were the 1925 silent movie, "The Big Parade" and the 1930 version of "All Quiet on the Western Front," based on the Erich Maria Remarque antiwar novel.

And yet it was the 1939 Clark Gable movie that left a profound effect on my Uncle Sam, just for a couple of lines of dialogue that resonated with him through the years---precisely because he experienced first hand the nightmares of war, as he was stationed in the Aleutian Islands, the closest U.S. base in proximity to the Japanese mainland. The character Achille Weber (played by actor Edward Arnold) asks: "Who are the greater criminals [in war]? Those who sell the instruments of death or those who buy them and use them? It is they who make war seem noble and heroic . . ."

In fact, my Uncle Sam cast his first vote in the 1940 Presidential election for Franklin D. Roosevelt for his promise that American boys would not fight on foreign soil. As my Uncle Sam later observed: "He forgot to add: 'They'd be buried in it.'" His distrust of politicians from that moment on lasted for more than three decades, as he refused to walk back into a voting booth. He was outspoken in his political views, always politically incorrect, but whatever views he held were colored deeply by his experiences in World War II. I'd like to highlight a link to my 1976 interview with Uncle Sam, which was the basis of a Memorial Day tribute to him back in 2004, on the site of the History News Network. It's still a good read, especially on this 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. You can find the essay here.

Whatever one's view of war and peace, my Uncle Sam always honored veterans; coming from a family of veterans, I too honor them---because they lived to bear witness to the horrors of war, and fought for the ideals they held dear, despite the dishonesty of the politicians who helped to make the twentieth century the bloodiest century in the history of humanity.

November 01, 2018

Midterm Madness

In a comment on a Facebook thread begun by my colleague Susan Love Brown, I made a stark political admission, not without a lot of consideration as to the damage that Donald Trump has created in his wake. As I stated on Facebook:

I am sick of this President and virtually everything he stands for. He has done nothing to shake up the Establishment he allegedly fought against (the "Deep State", made up of the Fed, the National Security complex, and the regulatory apparatuses---all beyond the ballot box, are still at the core of U.S. power), and instead of pulling back on U.S. interventionism abroad, he has given us the largest defense budget in U.S. history, unprecedented deficits, and an exponentially expanding federal debt. The GOP, which once stood for "fiscal conservatism", has gone back to its nineteenth-century origins, with its advocacy of high tariffs and pronounced economic "nationalism," something this President now boasts as a political label.
Unfortunately, I am just as sick of both the Republicans and the Democrats who have voiced opposition to him, but have done next to nothing to stop the insanity. And if the Democrats offer nothing but "democratic socialism" to oppose him, they will be crushed in the next election. The U.S. has survived Civil War, two World Wars, a Great Depression, the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s (from the Vietnam War to the Civil Rights struggles to Watergate), and it is my hope that this too shall pass.
But what will replace it---when the bar has been lowered with each passing day that this man occupies the White House?

Now, for those who have claimed that Trump has reduced regulation and, to that extent, has freed up the economy, all I can say is: No action of the government is neutral and selective de-regulation benefits some interests at the expense of others. Likewise, no change in tax laws is neutral; the effects on higher standard-of-living (and hence, higher cost-of-living) states, like New York, and other Blue States that didn't cast their Electoral votes for Team Trump, have every indication of being catastrophic for those who pay higher local, city, state, and property taxes, but who cannot list these taxes as deductions on their federal income tax returns (beyond an individual ceiling of $10,000). My own family has felt the impact of the Trump Tax Plan up close and personal. It has been disastrous and it's going to undermine the economic health of the city of New York---which has provided nearly $150 billion in federal tax revenue, nearly 10% of federal income taxes.

As I state above, my opposition to Trump is not a vote of confidence in the alternative being presented by so-called "Progressives" in the Democratic Party, who favor "democratic socialism." One Facebook member took issue with my opposition to "democratic socialism" and I offered this response:

[When people mention "democratic socialism,"] I am not thinking central planning or Stalin at all. I'm thinking that power is fundamentally held by those Deep State elements I mentioned above. Nothing is going to change that reality; to adopt a larger "social welfare" net for those who are institutionally disadvantaged does nothing to solve the structural issues that have created the need for a welfare state or the sustained practices of a warfare state.
Every so-called "Progressive" advance advocated in the history of the United States, from the establishment of central banking to a host of regulatory agencies designed to "protect" the public have invariably protected the very industries they were allegedly established to regulate. That is because the real push for these "progressive" agencies came from the industries themselves as a way to stifle competition and destroy competitors. Note that the most powerful advocates of "Obamacare" were the largest health insurance companies, which benefit from the socialization of risk (those whom they would have had to insure regardless of pre-existing conditions), while augmenting their profits, and, of course, the pharmaceutical industry.
Whatever "democratic socialism" means, in the context of these United States, it will only be implemented if it can serve the needs of those already deeply embedded in the structure of privilege. That is the context we live in, and it is not likely to change. Except that it would most likely erode those remaining productive sectors of the economy that would be taxed out of existence in order to provide a whole host of new "progressive" programs costing trillions upon trillions of dollars.

If only "None of the Above" were a ballot choice, we might, at least, be able to de-legitimize the entire government. It would be a vote against the damage that government has done to human liberty---whether in the name of corporatist nationalism or corporatist welfare statism.

Sorry to disappoint Trumpsters and Non-Trumpsters alike. I'm just tired of voting for the lesser of two evils, and I've had it with this One-Party System that offers two variants of statist tyranny.

After posting this on Facebook, I offered some additional observations, and will update this blog entry should I have anything else to say (as of November 6, 2018, there have been 119 comments on the thread):

One thing that seems to go unnoticed is that Trump, who may or may not have read Machiavelli's sixteenth-century work, The Prince, has become the supreme Machiavellian in politics. Or to use another metaphor, he's played his supporters and his opponents in the language of Alice in Wonderland, where up is down and down is up. It's a great strategy for holding onto political power.

Another respondent claimed that in a choice between Trump and the left, the choice for Trump is clear, given the left's penchant for "identity politics." I responded:

As I have made clear, I do not support the left. The problem is, however, that identity politics has been fully embraced by the right, as well. As Rand herself once observed, statism and tribalism are fraternal twins; once political power becomes the central principle for the organization of social life, no power on earth can stop the formation of rival pressure groups warring against one another. This tendency will balkanize a society, splitting it into groups that emerge from virtually every distinguishing characteristic of human existence as a cause for the aggrandizement of political power. See my discussion in "Statism and Tribalism: Fraternal Twins."

That same respondent claimed that my comment that the right has embraced identity politics as much as the left was "utter bullshit" ("with all due respect," as he put it), to which I responded:

Well, "with all due respect," there are elements of the alt-right (which has supported Trump) that has cashed-in on identity politics by appealing to a whole panoply of disgusting racist and sexist attitudes. Pick 'em from this glorious list: those on the "right" who are anti-Semitic, anti-gay, misogynist, White Supremacist, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, and so on and so on.
They play the game as well as the left, and have come out of the woodwork in the Age of Trump. But they've been around since long before even the age of Reagan; they are as woven into the tattered American social fabric as any other nefarious forms of identity politics that one sees on the left.
With all due respect.

Persisting in his attack on my perspective, the reader alleged that I had swallowed the "hysterical" "drivel" of the politically-correct Left, which blamed all white men for society's sins. I replied at length:

I don't accept the belief that all white men are irredeemably evil. In case you haven't checked lately, I'm a white man.
But you cannot for a moment doubt that there is an element on the right that has clung to racist, sexist, misogynistic bigotry. What the hell was Southern apartheid, which was rampant through the 1960s, if not the state using Jim Crow laws to keep the descendants of freed black slaves in their place? What the hell were all those lynchings by the KKK about if not to keep African Americans in their place? Do you honestly wish to embrace that legacy of right-wing bigotry as part of the classical liberal or libertarian ideal? That is not part of the ideals upon which the United States was founded, but it is part of the historical record of this country. And it is also a part of our contemporary society. Racism exists. Sexism exists. Anti-gay fervor exists.
And so does all the ugly identity politics on the left, which I equally abhor.
But this is what happens in a society in which the group becomes the only political unit that matters. This is why Ayn Rand condemned collectivism on the left (she was, after all, a refugee who emigrated to the United States because of the bloody collectivism that was practiced by Marxist-Leninists in the Soviet Union). I don't know if she would have gotten into the United States if she tried to emigrate today.
But she was equally abhorred by the collectivism on the right---as expressed in her essay on "Racism" in which she condemned Southern conservatism (dominated by the way, by the Dixiecrats of the Democratic Party) for what it was: a racist culture that sought to dehumanize people because of the color of their skin.
If you think that racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, misogyny, and anti-gay fervor are absent from this society, then you're living in some other country. It exists. It is real. But I do not accept the collectivist premise that all white men are to blame for this.
The central reason why this kind of culture exists is that it is both a precondition and effect of a society that emboldens the group as the only political unit that matters. A society at war with individualism is a society at war with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But Rand recognized that as statism spreads, so too does the balkanization of a society. That is what gave such political impetus to the insane identity politics of the left. As I wrote in my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical:
Rand argued that the relationship between statism and tribalism was reciprocal. The tribal premise was the ideological and existential root of statism. Statism had arisen out of "prehistorical tribal warfare." Once established, it institutionalized its own racist subcategories and castes in order to sustain its rule. The perpetuation of racial hatred provided the state with a necessary tool for its political domination. Statists frequently scapegoated racial and ethnic groups in order to deflect popular disaffection with deteriorating social conditions. But if tribalism was a precondition of statism, statism was a reciprocally related cause. Racism had to be implemented politically before it could engulf an entire society: "The political cause of tribalism's rebirth is the mixed economy---the transitional stage of the formerly civilized countries of the West on their way to the political level from which the rest of the world has never emerged: the level of permanent tribal warfare."
In Rand’s view, the mixed economy had splintered the country into warring pressure groups. Under such conditions of social fragmentation, any individual who lacks a group affiliation is put at a disadvantage in the political process. Since race is the simplest category of collective association, most individuals are driven to racial identification out of self-defense. Just as the mixed economy manufactured pressure groups, so too did it manufacture racism.
As the mixed economy careens from one crisis to another, warfare between and within pressure groups intensifies. In this social context of wild uncertainty, each group attempts to deal with perceived threats to its efficacy by relying on the state. State action provides an illusory sense of control, since in the long run, political intervention necessarily undermines the stability and efficacy of every social group and every individual. Rand was adamant in this regard: she maintained that every discernable group was affected by statist intervention, not just every economic interest. Every differentiating characteristic among human beings becomes a tool for pressure-group jockeying: age, sex, sexual orientation, social status, religion, nationality, and race. Statism splinters society "into warring tribes."
The statist legal machinery pits "ethnic minorities against the majority, the young against the old, the old against the middle, women against men, welfare-recipient against the self-supporting."
Last time I checked, Rand was not characterized as an hysterical member of the politically correct Left or an advocate of original sin.
She simply saw what you apparently refuse to recognize.

Another reader asked if I was giving a "moral equivalence" to the identity politics on the right to the identity politics on the left, and I responded:

I understand what you are saying; but as I believe I made clear in my reply above, the initial "identity" politics that infected this country came from the bigotry of the racist South, with its history of slavery and Jim Crow laws. The left's identity politics was almost an inevitable by-product of such social conditions.
It's not so much a question of moral equivalence; perhaps it is best for me to simply state that I abhor the social conditions that make such group identification a tool for the jockeying of political power. Under these conditions, it doesn't matter who on the right or the left is clubbing me over the head for some special privilege. It's the system that must be attacked and fundamentally overturned.

I was asked, given the choices, "What should we do?" I replied:

Of course, the cause of liberty will go on; as I said in my post, the United States has survived Civil War, two World Wars, a Great Depression, the turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s, and it will most likely survive our current political and cultural upheaval, which, as far as I can tell, does not light a candle to the other events I've just mentioned. That said: The system has had an amazing resiliency---some of it good, some of it not-so-good.
[Indeed,] given the massive devastation the U.S. has faced from war and depression, I don't think that we are as yet facing the death of the republic (or whatever is left of it). Unfortunately, I don't have any answer as to what we should do in the meantime except to keep speaking up. And to defend the rights of others to speak up, whether or not we agree with them. ("Speaking up," however, stops short once violence is introduced, whether by White Supremacists, Anti-Semites, or "Antifa.")
Trump has made a whole lot of noise about "Fake News." And we hear endlessly about how the "leftist media" is against him. But in truth, the whole media is not "leftist." In fact, the vast majority of loud voices on talk radio are of the "right"; and the largest, most popular news outlet is the right-of-center Fox News.
Let's also not forget that sometimes the media can become a good punching bag, but that's only because in the past it has exposed a lot of truth that has shaken the ground of the politically powerful (for example, in laying bare the outright lies that led to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, with the publication of "The Pentagon Papers", as well as the vast corruption of the Nixon administration in the scandal that became known as Watergate). Trump, however, has used his masterly social media skills and adversarial relationship with the press to his benefit.
On the other hand, a subservient press can easily become what Rand once called a "servile press," for its embrace of "voluntary 'self-enslavement'" that relies on government manipulation of the news "as an instrument of public policy." It was the basis for the "yellow journalism" that brought us the Spanish-American War to the galloping insanity that a mostly supportive popular press gave to George W. Bush in the lead-up to his Iraq adventure, which has had an unending series of both intended and unintended deleterious consequences.
We need to be vigilant against Trump's wholesale condemnation of the press and of political speech in general, or you can kiss the First Amendment goodbye. At which point, you better hold onto the Second Amendment to protect yourself against the powers that be.

I was criticized by another reader for my "moralizing and sanctimonious" post, somebody who wondered whether I was a "Never-Trumper." I wrote:

I was never a Never-Trumper, and I certainly did not vote for Hillary Clinton. And I don't find anything I've said as sanctimonious or moralizing. As an advocate of libertarianism, I reject economic nationalism, root, tree, branch, and leaves. It is a form of neo-mercantilist statism, and it is being opposed by Democratic politicians who favor yet another form of statism.
Ronald Reagan, for all his faults, would be rolling in his grave over Trump's nationalist rhetoric (Reagan was no libertarian, but his rhetoric made it possible to say the phrase "free markets" without being criticized as if one uttered some other "F-word" phrase.) And at least Reagan talked of tearing walls down, rather than building them up.
One thing Reagan said was clear: government has always been a part of the problem, not a part of the solution. Trump has instead used government as a tool to "solve" problems that government itself has created. And the tools at his disposal will never dismantle the central institutions at the heart of this system over which neither politicians nor voters have any power. And considering that the system has created a vast structure of dependency on government, it becomes an almost impossible task to uproot it fundamentally.
So what you see as "moralizing" is to me only an observation of fact. It is true: No one man, or even one party, can dismantle political institutions that pervade every aspect of our lives. As Hayek once said: When political power becomes the predominating principle for the organization of social life, then political power becomes the only power worth having. Hence, only those who are most adept at using political power (that is, the power to coerce) are the ones who tend to rise to the top. That is why, as Hayek put it in The Road to Serfdom, "the worst get on top."
Trump is certainly not the worst that we've seen. But I'll agree with you on one thing you've said: Give him a chance. :)

And, by the way, while we are on the subject of Reagan, I also wrote:

Just one word about New York [which is typically viewed as a Democratic-liberal stronghold]: Ronald Reagan won this state in both 1980 and 1984; and this very liberal Democrat-dominated city elected Republican Rudy Giuliani as mayor for two terms. Whatever your views of the current Rudy, his Compstat approach to crime brought this city from more than two thousand murders a year to around 300 murders a year. The Compstat approach has been so effective that not even a leading left-wing "progressive" Mayor De Blasio has abandoned it. Considering this is a city of nearly 9 million people, it is amazing to me how other cities (from Chicago to Detroit) have not learned something from the New York experience (which, yes, has had its ups-and-downs, but has largely kept crime rates way down).

Another comment questioned my views on Trump as a political outsider, and on Trump's approach to border security, the U.N., and aid to foreign states, and I replied:

I should state that the fact that he was not a political hack was one of the things I liked about him initially. If you see my review of Mercer's book on Trump, you'll see I voiced my concerns about the candidate, but applauded especially his anti-establishment views on neo-conservative foreign policy and his voiced opposition to both Bush's and Obama's policies abroad. I even predicted a Trump victory back in July 2016, and had a nice word to say about his family's support of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which gave my mother, who was dying of lung cancer in 1995, and our family, an all-expense paid limousine round-trip to Atlantic City.
I certainly had no personal animus toward him, and given the endless cycle of the Bush-Clinton dynasties, I hoped there might be a sea-change in American politics. But my views have obviously evolved...
Oh, as to your other questions: I like the idea of auditing the Fed, but would much prefer abolishing the Fed.
I understand the Trump concern with the border (though too much of his rhetoric fans the flames of xenophobia and hatred of "the other"), but I have a much more radical view of what's wrong systemically. Certainly, I think that the most legitimate concern has been that gangs and drugs are flooding into this country across the Mexican border (but this does not stop the U.S. government from encouraging the production of opium in Afghanistan because it is a "stabilizing" influence on the Afghan economy---even though the money made from that opium production typically funds terrorist activities abroad).
If drugs and crime are at issue, then the solution is much more radical than "protecting the border": end drug Prohibition, for the same reason that it was ended in the 1930s: because it has done nothing but enrich drug gangs, cartels, and organized crime. I realize this is a controversial view, but even conservatives such as William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman, and George Will, have advocated a saner "medicalized" policy toward drugs (the current policy has given the U.S. the distinction of having the highest mass incarceration prison rate in the world).
On feeding the U.N. and other states: Trump is unfortunately talking out of both sides of his mouth. I'm no fan of the United Nations, but the "foreign aid" that goes to states that are even considered "allies", like Saudi Arabia, is, for Trump, a matter of U.S. jobs. "Foreign aid" has always been a tool of crony capitalism: the U.S. gives money to all sorts of despicable regimes around the world with the stipulation that it be used to purchase U.S.-produced munitions. That 17 of the 19 hijackers who rammed planes into buildings on 9/11 came out of Saudi Arabia, and that the regime was probably complicit in the horrendous attack on that day, means nothing---so why should the murder of a Washington Post reporter affect such "aid" (I'm still waiting for somebody to say: "Why make such a big deal over the death of a reporter from yet another 'Fake News' outlet?").

Another reader also questioned why I had not placed more emphasis on Trump's anti-immigration policies, and I replied:

I think I've clearly addressed that issue in many of the linked essays in today's Notablog post, and I have continued to address that issue. I agree that Trump has fanned the flames of xenophobia and hatred of the "other"---but to a certain extent, this is only one man we are talking about. He is a reflection of so much of what is wrong with America's tattered social fabric. And that is going to take generations to fix. Ultimately, in my view, his policies are an attack on basic values, the most important of which is liberty.

Another reader asks, given the conditions that exist, which side of the political divide in this country offers the most hope for repairing American society? I replied:

I guess deep down I do not believe that American politics can be repaired as long as we retain the current system. It is going to take a fundamental change in the cultural, social, and political conditions before any kind of sanity can be achieved in the United States.
I realize this sounds hopelessly pessimistic and perhaps not realistic, because I don't see either side of this divisive debate as offering the kind of fundamental change necessary for its resolution. Cliche or not, if one is to retain a sense of the radical, of "going to the root," then one sees more clearly that both sides are offering a state-centered approach to social change that can only lead to further social decay.

The Facebook discussion generated a lot of comments, not all of which I could possibly address, but I've tried to keep the essence of that discussion centered on this Notablog entry for the sake of posterity. One reader raised the question of Trump as a superior strategist, and I made the following comment:

I think we all know by now that Trump doesn't play by the rules---which gives him a strategic advantage. He also has been on outsider in dealing with governments in his life as a businessman, so he has seen the filth in business and the filth in politics from both sides of the camera. To what degree that filth has affected his personality or his policies is anyone's guess, but the man clearly can run rings around a lot of his opponents. People who dismiss him as dumb don't realize that he's a lot more savvy than most of his critics. Naturally, even though he fights the Establishment---he is now a part of it. And for anyone concerned about state-centered "solutions" to our political problems (which is what he offers as a self-admitted "nationalist"), you have to take pause.
The tantrums on both sides are likely to continue, but I do predict that if, in 2020, the Democratic Party embraces a full-throttled support of open "Progressive Democratic Socialism" (barring a major economic downturn), Donald Trump will be re-elected for four more years. Call it a gut instinct.
Now here's one that I've heard from the conspiracy theorists! Let's say we're all wrong. Let's say Trump is really trying to undermine the Deep State. If that's the case, the conspiracy theorists will tell you that he won't survive. There's this really terrible anecdote that has circulated for many years among those who embrace such conspiracy theories. But it goes a little like this: right before the President-elect is sworn in, the Deep State agents take him into a room and they shut the lights, and on a screen there appears the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination. The horrifying images flicker away into darkness... but the impact remains. The lights are turned on, and the agents ask the President-elect: "Any questions?"
Anyway, thanks for the kind words, and I enjoyed reading your post.

The discussion has proceeded through the weekend of November 3-4, 2018; I posted a few additional comments. On Trump being among those who could change history, I stated:

I don't accept the Great Man Theory of history; people are as much the product of their context as they are the producers of it. And as far as I see it: PC culture has not silenced anyone. It has had a deadening effect in many sectors of our society, but it certainly has not silenced conservative talk radio hosts or the people who run Fox News, or the people who voted for Trump. Yes, he put a voice to discontent---but the discontent is not monolithic. He gave voice to out of work blue collar workers, but has also given license to hate-mongering racists. As a lifelong native resident of Brooklyn, New York, who has always lived in a middle class neighborhood, I have seen this man in action for decades in New York City, and he rarely struck me as a soldier for the common man. Too often, he came across as a smart-ass blabbermouth demanding to be the center of attention.
My biggest problem with him, however, remains with his politics. It is not the politics of freedom; it is the politics of economic nationalism, which does little to quell social divisiveness, since the very principle of nationalism feeds off of such divisiveness quite explicitly. I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree.

I was asked to expand on who I thought might embody the principles of freedom, in contrast to Trump; my reply was not an optimistic one:

There is nothing neat about politics: the left, which used to embrace civil liberties (and now too often attacks free speech on PC grounds), has been consistently opposed to genuine economic freedom; the right, which used to embrace economic liberties, often attacked civil liberties. But the reality has changed so markedly over the years. Former left-wingers, even Trotskyites, having seen the failure of socialist central planning, have now embraced the idea of imposing democracy on the rest of the world through U.S.-nation-building, and the war hawks among the post-World War II generation of conservatives were all too willing to jump aboard that bandwagon. This formed the core of the neoconservative political agenda that candidate Trump opposed (correctly, in my view).
And former advocates of more free-market solutions to economic problems have instead embraced more "pro-business" economic nationalist "solutions" that have encouraged higher tariffs, and manipulation of fiscal and monetary policy to encourage booms (while paying little attention to the busts that inevitably follow). (This is a policy that President Trump embraces, incorrectly, in my view.)
There is no current politician who embodies the ideals of a free market politics that is also friendly to civil liberties. And that is the tragedy of the current system: every political strain has a stake in bolstering some aspect of government power to regulate those areas of social life it considers most important. And neither the left nor the right have stood up to roll back the "Deep State" elements that are the most protective of the privileged: the Fed, which protects the big banks---and those high-debt, capital-intensive industries that benefit from inflationary monetary policies---all of which are deemed "too big to fail"; the National Security State, which eradicates our civil liberties, while emboldening what even Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against, in his farewell Presidential address: the rising influence of the "military-industrial complex," which emboldens industries tied to the production of military hardware, while crowding out peaceful commerce and trade; and the regulatory apparatus, which has grown exponentially to include a host of alphabet soup regulatory agencies whose policies benefit the larger, more powerful industries they allegedly regulate, for the "common good," while, in essence, destroying smaller, up-start competitors and the entrepreneurial spirit that they embody.
So, that is why I remain extremely pessimistic about the future of freedom in America. The possibility of resurrecting an industrial "base" is almost non-existent, given how much outsourcing there has been over these many decades; blue collar workers have been screwed; the middle class has been crushed, while "entitlement" programs are out of control; the tax base has been eroded; those who are "too big to fail" are ultimately bailed out by the U.S. taxpayer, and the U.S. remains deeply involved in every area of the world that it deems "strategically" valuable (which led candidate Trump to say, correctly, "Do you think we're so innocent?"---when asked to compare U.S. foreign policy actions to those of Russia).
I'm sorry to say, I have very little hope for the future of the United States. Sanford Ikeda, in his book, The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy, gives us a provocative thesis: governments that often regulate an economy too much such that they start to strangle the host upon which the parasitical privileged feast, may loosen up an economy just enough to encourage freer production. But this is a dangerous game---of loosening up and tightening up controls over economic life---because it introduces massive chaos into markets over the long run.
As Keynes once said, "In the long-run, we are all dead." I guess that's one of the reasons folks see economics as the "dismal science."

On November 5, one of the original discussants on Susan Love Brown's thread asked me once again to address the central question: "Would you choose fascism or 'democratic socialism' (which I believed I also identified as 'welfare capitalism')?" The reader claimed that I seem to be relying on a "deus ex machina" resolution that would entail people waking up one day and miraculously turning to libertarianism as a cure-all. But this is hoping for a "miracle," which the reader defined as "something outside of the ordinary course of experience and events." The reader continued: "At least the guys on the street corners who proclaim 'The End is Near; offer a solution. Since you apparently believe there is no solution, I continue to be puzzled about why you spend all this time discussing ideology." I provided two replies, reiterating points already made, but giving both the case for pessimism and the case for optimism:

I have not "answered" that central question because I reject both. However, if you are defining "welfare capitalism" as generally what we have today, I would be forced to say that if a gun were put to my head, I'd prefer what we have today than an even more authoritarian form of fascism. I have pretty much repeated myself about a dozen times in this thread, so I'll try one more time.
I believe that what we have today is, essentially neofascism, or a form of "liberal fascism" or "liberal corporatism," or "state capitalism", terms that are all, more or less, synonymous. The current situation meets all the economic criteria of that type of system: It features governmental action that largely operates to protect the most powerful economic interests through three insidious forms of support: 1) the Federal Reserve System, in which the state and the banking system are in an incestuous relationship, such that neither can exist without the other. Inflationary central banking is required for the growth of both the welfare and the warfare state. The banks and its largest debtors (capital-intensive industry) benefit from extensive inflationary policies, and when the inexorable busts come, they are bailed out for being "too big to fail." 2) The National Security Apparatus is another central feature of this system, and it is everything that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against: a vast military-industrial complex that undermines our civil liberties and benefits industries that are intimately related to munitions production and foreign military aid and intervention, protecting corporate interests both at home and abroad. And finally, (3) the entire alphabet soup of regulatory agencies that has been built over a long period of time, in which the most privileged businesses use regulation as a means of crushing competitors and consolidating their political and economic power (in some cases, drawing monopoly profits).
I do not believe that one day the people will wake up and embrace libertarianism. I am extremely pessimistic about the future of global politics and I do not believe that current social or cultural conditions favor the establishment of a libertarian politics.
What is outside the ordinary course of experience and events is that the state can be used in any way that fundamentally benefits the "common good": it is an institution that has evolved over time that can only benefit some interests (those who are able to wield the apparatuses of political power) at the expense of other interests. Because state action serves those who are most adept at using politics as a means of achieving their goals, as Hayek pointed out in The Road to Serfdom, the more political power comes to dominate social life, the more political power will be the only power worth having---which is why "the worst get on top." The network of social welfare agencies that has arisen over the last century has largely been a way of quelling popular discontent against problems that have largely been caused by the booms and busts of monetary policy, the structural problems caused by various fiscal policies, and the expansion of the warfare state and its effect in "crowding out" peaceful commerce and trade.
What is outside the ordinary course of experience and events is to believe that somehow a "democratic socialism" can come to this country that is not molded in such a way as to preserve the essential power structures that exist while throwing a few more bones to the disenfranchised at the cost of trillions of dollars that can't be sustained---since it will necessarily choke off those who do produce goods and services and who would be taxed out of existence to support such a system. Either way, don't kid yourself: The system is rigged, and has been rigged for more than a hundred years, to structurally benefit those who are among the most privileged politico-economic interests. So I say again: Any form of "democratic socialism" that arises out of this structure will find a way of enriching those interests even more, by continuing to socialize their risks, while exponentially expanding their profits at the expense of the rest of society.
So no, I don't believe in political miracles. It would take a massive cultural change that is unlikely to occur for any society to emerge in which people deal with one another in ways that are noncoercive. I don't know how many other ways to say what I've already said, without being redundant.

I then added the following:

I've made the case for pessimism. Now here is the case for optimism. But it's not so simple.
Essentially there are two ways of looking at the world in terms of social analysis: the first posits some utopian goal that can somehow be imposed on the conditions that exist. This is a very simplistic way of looking at social change and thinkers as diverse as Karl Marx and Friedrich Hayek criticized it for its "nondialectical" character: that is, it paid no attention to the given context and tried to impose social change as if from an Archimedean standpoint. Marx's critique of the utopian socialists and Hayek's critique of the constructivist rationalists are parallel in this regard; utopia, after all, strictly translated, means "nowhere."
The second way of looking at social change is to view it radically, or "dialectically": that is, taking into account the conditions that exist as the context from which any possible solution might emerge. One must understand these conditions by studying them in all their complex interrelationships within a larger system that has developed over time and that continues to develop. Just as we can trace where we came from by looking at where we are, so too can we attempt to project what real possibilities for social change exist by comprehending the context that has shaped current conditions.
So, yes, I do believe that there is a possible solution: but it is a long-term one, and it involves changing the underlying culture. That would take several generations and a massive shift in thinking or, more precisely, in how to think about the nature of social change.
In terms of practical things that can be done now, it might involve the development of "parallel institutions"; to this extent, libertarians can learn a lot from the Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who himself warned that a Marxist "state" could not usher in a better society until all the institutions of civil society had been changed fundamentally, involving a shift in cultural attitudes, education, pedagogy, and so forth, which would support the kind of political change that he, as a Marxist, envisioned. (Some would say that the left's dominance of educational and cultural institutions has already laid the basis for the kind of change that Gramsci embraced.)
To this extent, as Ayn Rand once said, "Those who fight for the future live in it today." As libertarians, we can try to work within the system by milking its inner contradictions, while also working outside the system, to develop alternative institutional means that undermine the current political and economic structures. But ultimately, it is a massive cultural shift that will be required if one wishes to change a society radically, that is, by "going to the root." Revolutions are possible. They have happened. They are real. But none of us wants to simply change the slate of bosses; those who are libertarians aim to shift the whole dynamic of power such that coercion is not the fundamental means by which human beings relate to one another.
Hence, the institutions that would have to "wither away" could not do so in the absence of this kind of fundamental, radical shift. It took over a hundred years to produce the welfare-warfare state; it might take another hundred years to dismantle it. The power of ideology lies not in its projection of a utopian future or in its imposition of a utopian goal (with all the dystopian consequences such an imposition would entail), but in its commitment to radical change that emerges from a fundamental understanding of the real conditions that exist. Understanding these conditions, how they interrelate, how they work---is the first step toward undermining them.
That's about the best I can offer you as an answer, which would at least allow us to drop those placards proclaiming "The End is Near."

On November 6, the Day of Midterm Madness (Election Day), I responded to readers who had questions about how to get "from here to there":

[I have been] trying to present a short-run versus a long-run view of how things could/might happen. Power is held by many groups, including those who have a stake in the bureaucracy that perpetuates it, and the reason it is so difficult to alter such power is because whole groups of people have a vested interest in holding onto it, and will do virtually anything to keep it. And they often have the means (and the guns) to do it.
If I had a step-by-step manual on how to get from here-to-there, I would have published it a long time ago and become a best-selling author. Instead, I have presented at least two fundamentally different ways of thinking about how to get from here to there, and I have rejected one of them as fundamentally utopian. Unfortunately, that utopian (or dystopian) pattern---of simply trying to impose solutions on societies as if they have no systemic or historical context---has been tried across the world with literally bloody intended (and unintended) consequences, over and over again.
I must admit a certain fondness for the practical strategies outlined by Gene Sharp, author of numerous books on the effectiveness of nonviolent opposition to power and its ways of de-legitimizing current institutions and undermining them (I recommend especially his work, The Politics of Nonviolent Action).
Now, as to how far away we are from getting from here to there, I'd say in some respects you're correct---that we may be further away from such a goal today than we were thirty years ago---precisely because we are often dealing with a larger population that has been cognitively stunted in its ability to think about things in an integrated fashion. As technologically savvy as the general population is, the ability to write (and "think") in 160 characters per text is something that does not lend itself to analytical depth.
On this point, Rand had some interesting things to say about "The Comprachicos" in today's educational institutions, whose pedagogical methods militate against integrated thinking and who mold too many minds into obeying authority. One excellent book about how this process works was published in 2017, a transcription of lectures by Barbara Branden entitled, Think as If Your Life Depends On It: Principles of Efficient Thinking and Other Lectures. Branden presents a fine overview of the kind of dialectical (that is, contextual) techniques that are necessary to radical theorizing. (And I promote this book not just because I wrote the foreword to it.)
I agree [with Wyatt Storch] that there is at least a potentially revolutionary implication to the technological changes we have witnessed: There is an upside to this technological age, though I say this with a big caveat: Because so many folks have so much access to social media, there is a democratizing effect on the spread of information, and hence more opportunities to undermine the Establishment's "narrative." But there is also a democratizing effect on the spread of dis-information. Sorting this out is something made all the more difficult when you factor in interests who purposely spread dis-information and who hack into the net in ways that are meant to disarm, disinform, and disrupt.
While I don't have the "How To Get From Here To There" manual on hand, I will do a little more promotion with regards to another book that I am coediting with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins, which will be published by Lexington Books in 2019-2020, entitled The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom." It brings together the work of nearly twenty high-profile authors who write in the libertarian/classical liberal tradition and presents a variety of perspectives that have important strategic implications for the "here-to-there" problem. I'll have more to say about this when the book is published.

On another thread initiated by Anoop Verma (but on a related note to much of what has been discussed above), the question at hand was: "What will be the verdict of the intellectual historians, who are living more than 100 or 150 years from today, on the twentieth century?" and my answer was:

The twentieth century gave us the worst atrocities in the history of humankind: two World Wars, the rise of totalitarianism and various other forms of statism, a Cold War and the consequent rise of fanatical terrorism, that in toto probably brought about the deaths of around 180 to 200 million people. It also gave us the technology for weapons of mass destruction that could wipe out the rest of the human race. That makes it the blackest century in history.
But it also gave us the hopes of a technology used for peace, the rebirth of the freedom movement (no matter how small it still is), and some terrific cultural milestones---from the development of radio, film, and television to the triumph of film scores and the evolution of such American art forms as jazz, the Great American songbook, and Broadway, not to mention some of the greatest moments in the history of sports. Which goes to show you that despite War and Depression, the human spirit lived on.

On November 10, 2018, I added a link to an essay by my long-time colleague and friend, Barry Vacker, who has contributed a controversial, thought-provoking piece to Medium, "Texas vs. the World: Cruz, Beto, and Planetary Civilization in the Lone Star State" that is worth a read.

September 25, 2018

Dance and The Revolution: Emma, Chubby, and Dick

On Facebook, in introducing the last song ("Let's Twist Again") in my "Summer Dance Party," I said:

I just know some of you cringe at the frivolity of my "Song of the Day" entries, but as Rosa Luxemburg once said: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be a part of your revolution." And so our Summer Dance Party ends with the same artist who kicked it off: Chubby Checker. The Autumnal Equinox arrives at 9:54pm ET, at which point you'll want to "Twist Again... like we did last summer"

Well, I made a mistake folks. Of course, that statement about dance and the revolution is derived from Emma Goldman, as my friends and colleagues, Susan Love Brown and Joel Schlosberg pointed out in the thread. In fact, Joel pointed to an essay by Alix Kates Shulman, "Dances with Feminists" (published initially in Women's Review of Books 9, no. 3, December 1991), published online on The Emma Goldman Papers, which casts doubt that Goldman ever uttered those words in precisely that fashion.

Switching gears, and also as part of that thread, another friend of mine, Kurt Keefner, raised the point that Chubby Checker ripped off the original Hank Ballard version of "The Twist," and of course, one can see the similarity in the recordings (and I mentioned the Ballard version in my first Summer Dance Party entry). But I pointed out that cover versions are rich in the history of music:

This happens quite a bit sometimes. And sometimes you can get two megahits from the same song: "Light My Fire" (The Doors; Jose Feliciano); "MacArthur Park" (Richard Harris!!!, Donna Summer); "I Saw Her [Him] Standing There" (The Beatles; Tiffany); "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (The Supremes; Vanilla Fudge; Kim Wilde; Reba McEntire); "You Can't Hurry Love" (The Supremes; Phil Collins); "Walk This Way" (Aerosmith; Run-D.M.C.); "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" (Gladys Knight and the Pips; Marvin Gaye); "For Once in My Life" (Stevie Wonder; Tony Bennett); "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye; Diana Ross; Inner Life); "Twist and Shout" (the Isley Brothers; the Beatles)---and the list goes on and on and on. And let's not forget how many early R&B hits were remade by a guy named Elvis Presley who took them to another chart level entirely.

But I brought the discussion back to "The Twist", which set off a worldwide dance revolution of its own, and the force behind its revolutionary impact on pop music, Dick Clark:

You can definitely compare the two [versions of "The Twist"] and see the similarities; why one gets the hit and the other doesn't is difficult to measure. Ballard's version went to #28 on the Hot 100. But Checker's version set off a dance craze that went worldwide. In fact, his version is the only single in the history of the Billboard charts to reach #1 on the Hot 100 in two different "Hit Parade" runs: once in 1960 and again in 1962, riding the crest of Twist-mania. Billboard magazine credits it as the biggest hit of the decade. But here's the best explanation of why Ballard's version didn't become the hit that Checker's version became. Yeah, Checker's version had that driving sax and those rolling drums, but ultimately, it went to the top because of a guy named Dick Clark. From Wikipedia:
The [Ballard version of the] song became popular on a Baltimore television dance show hosted by local DJ Buddy Dean; Dean recommended the song to Dick Clark, host of the national "American Bandstand." When the song proved popular with his audience, Clark attempted to book Ballard to perform on the show. Ballard was unavailable, and Clark searched for a local artist to record the song. He settled on Checker, whose voice was very similar to Ballard's. Checker's version featured Buddy Savitt on sax and Ellis Tollin on drums, with backing vocals by the Dreamlovers. Exposure for the song on "American Bandstand" and on "The Dick Clark Saturday Night Show" helped propel the song to the top of the American charts.
And this was only one example of the power of Dick Clark and "American Bandstand" and its impact on pop music culture.
P.S. - I bet Ballard was kicking himself in the head for a while for not having made himself available on that day!

So, I hope I've straightened out some things here; either way, ever the dialectician, as far as I am concerned, there will be no political revolution dedicated to liberty unless it preserves and extends the cultural revolution that the dance embodies. So, yep, whether it was Emma Goldman who ever said it, or Rosa Luxemburg, or some entrepreneurial T-shirt-making rabble-rouser, I can say with confidence: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be a part of anybody's revolution"---including the libertarian one I favor!

August 29, 2018

The Dialectics of Liberty: A Forthcoming Collection

I am honored to announce that our contract with Lexington Books, a subsidiary of Rowman & Littlefield, has been signed, sealed, and delivered [Hat Tip to Stevie! YouTube link] and that a superb new collection entitled The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom will be published in 2019-2020.

The book, co-edited by Roger E. Bissell, Edward W. Younkins, and yours truly, features the contributions of eighteen extraordinary scholars in fields as diverse as aesthetics, business, economics, higher education, history, the humanities, law, philosophy, politics, psychology, and social theory. Despite spirited disagreements among them, and the diversity of perspectives represented, all of our authors work under the Big Tent that is "dialectical libertarianism"---a form of social analysis that seeks to understand the larger dynamic and systemic context within which freedom is nourished and sustained.

The homepage we have developed is sparse right now, because we are in the process of collecting, editing, and organizing essays from our contributors and integrating them into an organic unity; in other words, you might say that the very creation of this trailblazing volume will be an unfolding dialectical process---so, for now, we are purposely not providing a list of our contributors. That will come in time; indeed, very soon, we'll unveil our stellar cast of authors.

But the news of the book's acceptance for publication was just too wonderful not to share with you. I look forward to filling in the blanks very soon. But most importantly, I look forward to the publication of the volume itself.

And speaking only for myself, as a person who felt as if his was the voice of one crying in the wilderness over the past forty years, in championing the very notion of a "dialectical libertarianism" with my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy" (Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism), I have immense personal satisfaction in having played a part in bringing together this remarkable group of contributors from whom I've learned so much---and who have honored us with their presence in what promises to be one of the most important and provocative contributions to the scholarly literature of its generation.

August 21, 2018

N Train Goats Saved in Brooklyn

The Kids are alright! The New York Daily News tells us of this "Greatest (story) of All Time: Goats on Subway Tracks Head to Upstate Sanctuary." Just 6 stops away from the N-train Kings Highway station that is closest to my apartment, between 8th Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway in Brooklyn, two goats, Willy and Billy, spent two hours on the tracks. Eating grass. Chilling out.

They backed up subway traffic for a couple of hours, but were eventually rescued, with the help of former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart and his wife Tracey, who runs a New jersey animal shelter. The goats are now residents of Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. Hooray for the Goats!

Check out yesterday's action on WABC's Eyewitness News.

August 09, 2018

Pizza Museum in Chicago? Fuhgedaboudit!

My long-time pal Nick Manley alerted me to this article in the Chicago Tribune: "New Yorkers are angry U.S. Pizza Museum is in Chicago." Invariably the question comes down to: Chicago Pizza or New York Pizza? Having had a classic Chicago deep-dish, I could not help but say: "Is there really a debate here? New York, Hands Down... Fuhgedaboudit!" As I said on Facebook:

Let's just be historically specific for a change, since even a leftie (Doug Henwood) and a libertarian (me) can agree on this: The first pizzeria in America was Lombardi's and the first baker of that first pizza later came to Coney Island in Brooklyn to establish the second pizzeria in America: Totonno's---both of these classic Neapolitan pies! [Ed: Papa's Tomato Pies in Trenton, New Jersey may actually have beaten Totonno's by a couple of years to earn the second historical spot.]
Add to this, the greatest Sicilian slices you'll ever get (L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn), and there is nothing else to talk about. As I said: Fuhgedaboudit!!! [YouTube link to the memorable "Donnie Brasco" linguistic explanation of that phrase].

July 30, 2018

Rothbard, Rand, and Revisionism

Very soon I hope to provide some information on some important resources that will be made available to scholars of the work of Murray Rothbard, thanks to my preservation of them for nearly 40 years.

However, a recent discussion on Rothbard has broken out, especially with regard to his contentious relationship with the inner circle of Ayn Rand, on the FB site of "For the New Intellectual" and I just wanted to bring together, in a single Notablog entry, the various comments I made about Rothbard, especially in light of that forthcoming announcement. I observed that I was

second to none in criticisms of Murray Rothbard; Part Two of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism criticizes him especially for the context-dropping that is inherent in his dualistic view of the triumph of anarcho-capitalism as a panacea for society's ills. But my book also praises his highly dialectical (read: context-sensitive) analyses of the boom-bust cycle, the incestuous relationship of the state and banking, and the class conflicts that arise under a political economy of statism, as well as the emergence of the welfare-warfare state from the Progressive era, and so forth.
But it should be noted that when so few came to Rand's defense in the time after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, it was Murray Rothbard who wrote a rousing endorsement of the book in the magazine Commonweal. In Barbara Branden's Passion of Ayn Rand, he would later state that he was "in agreement basically with all her philosophy," and that it was Rand who convinced him of the theory of natural rights that his books would champion.
But there are such things as deep personality clashes and there was a lot of bad blood between Rothbard and Rand when their circles came into contact with one another. Rothbard headed the "Circle Bastiat" which had some intellectual fireworks with Rand's Collective: in the end, Bastiat "members" Robert Hessen and George Reisman hitched up with Rand, while Leonard Liggio, Ralph Raico, and others stayed with Rothbard.
But I don't think it can be denied that Rothbard was a remarkable intellect; his Man, Economy, and State and Power and Market are brilliant re-statements and extensions of the insights of Ludwig von Mises; his various historical works, from his four-volume work, Conceived in Liberty, to The Panic of 1819 to America's Great Depression and a recent collection of his essays on The Progressive Era were path-breaking studies. And his essays in A New History of Leviathan, which he coedited with, then "Democratic Socialist" (now, neoconservative) Ronald Radosh, is one of the great classics of revisionist history. Add to that his two-volume work on The History of Economic Thought, works on The Mystery of Banking, and so many other books---and it is simply hard to dismiss his work as unoriginal or unserious . . .
I also should acknowledge that [Rothbard] was an important figure in my intellectual evolution on "How I Became a Libertarian."
I think Rothbard was imperfect; I have criticized him even in his later years, when he attempted to correct for the obvious hole in his strategy to achieve libertarianism. When he finally recognized the role of culture in the fight for liberty, what he embraced was a kind of social conservatism that, to me, was anathema to the achievement of freedom.
But I don't think he was a nihilist looking to make a name for himself; he was just as much an outsider as Rand. To focus on minor comments he made when Patrick Buchanan was running for President and to dismiss his entire corpus because of it does seem to lose a sense of proportion. It would be like somebody fixating on Rand's idealized picture of William Hickman, using it as the pretext for dismissing everything she later wrote because she seemed to be celebrating a serial killer.
For the record, Rothbard talked much about the importance of the relationship between science and ethics; when folks argued that the state could do things better than the market and that all we needed were those who adhered to more efficient "scientific" policies of state planning, he remarked famously that there was a high-IQ high-culture Western European nation that once embraced more efficient "scientific" policies of exterminating millions of people in gas chambers and that it should not be our goal to have I.G. Farben help the Nazi Germany's of this world to come up with more effective means of mass destruction. I don't think this amounted to denial of the Holocaust at all.
And while I disagree with some of Rothbard's revisionist historical work, I think most of it is spot on: it is eminently clear that it was big business that worked toward destroying the free market by lobbying for and helping to create the entire regulatory apparatus, which they used to destroy entry into whole fields of economic endeavor and to consolidate their profits; I think his view of the rise of "war collectivism" in World War I was key to our understanding of the roots of the creation of the New Deal, which even Mussolini applauded for its corporatist ideal. You don't have to accept all his conclusions to appreciate some of his contributions.

In another post, I acknowledge that Rothbard's personal biases became the basis of raging interpersonal wars even among those in libertarian circles. But for Objectivists to point to this as proof that he was off his rocker is a bit like: Pot. Kettle. Black. The same stuff has happened within Objectivist circles for eons, and Rand's behavior was not exemplary at all times and in all cases. But that doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. I also acknowledge my disagreements with Rothbard on such subjects as Gandhi and the strategic use of nonviolence, mentioning that no single theorist has done more for that area of study than the late Gene Sharp, who was a friend and colleague. Check out especially his book, The Politics of Nonviolent Action and his many works on Gandhi's political strategies. But the charges that Murray Rothbard was enamored by folks connected to the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review led me to post further on the charges of Rothbard's alleged "anti-Semitism":

I knew Rothbard personally; to my knowledge, his later attraction to some of the ideas in Charles Murray's book ("The Bell Curve") is ironic (in the context of any alleged anti-Semitism), especially since Charles Murray talks so much about the high IQs and cultural commitments to learning among Jews.
It was not so controversial to observe, as Rothbard certainly did, that many Jews were among the intelligentsia of the left. But considering that Rothbard himself was Jewish, as was his mentor Ludwig von Mises, his Austrian colleagues Israel Kirzner and Fritz Machlup, among others, the idea that he was a supporter of anti-Semitism sounds a bit strange to me. For God's sake, the Nazis drove Mises out of Europe and confiscated his library---which they preserved and which, ironically, ended up in the hands of the Soviets, when the secret police recovered the library of a Jewish free-market economist and preserved it under Stalin's directives (See here.) They were later recovered with the help of Richard Ebeling.
Even Rothbard's admiration for some of the work of Harry Elmer Barnes had nothing to do with any Holocaust denial. It was because Barnes correctly characterized America's political economy as one based on "perpetual war for perpetual peace." This was an argument that one could find among revisionist thinkers of the Old Right (John T. Flynn, Isabel Paterson, Albert Jay Nock, and incidentally, Ayn Rand, who opposed U.S. entry into World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam**) and the New Left (Gabriel Kolko, James Weinstein, William Appleman Williams, Ronald Radosh), and even President Dwight David Eisenhower who, in his farewell address to the American people warned of the growing and destructive power and influence of the "military-industrial complex."
I don't know how Donald Trump's foreign policies will ultimately pan out---but this is certainly a guy who stirred enormous controversy with his statements that the U.S. hasn't been "so innocent" in its policies abroad and who has assailed U.S. intelligence agencies, which have corrupted more elections and toppled more regimes abroad than one can count. So I find it odd that [some] Trump-supporter[s] can be so upset with Rothbard, given Trump's own expressed views of the corrupting influences of U.S. policies at home and abroad. I may not be a Trump supporter, but at least his campaign rhetoric to pull back U.S. intervention abroad was, to me, the only thing that I could genuinely applaud. I guess that makes him as revisionist as the America Firsters of the Old Right and the antiwar New Left---the same folks that Rothbard interacted with over his many years of intellectual life.

In a later post, somebody presented anecdotal evidence of somebody else who had a conversation with Rothbard, in which he showed skepticism about the Holocaust. I replied:

Unfortunately, this is also too anecdotal for evidence. I read virtually everything Rothbard ever wrote in preparation for Total Freedom and I have never come across a single published statement that doubted the Holocaust. But there is this classic statement of his from a Free Market essay, "The 'Partnership' of Government and Business":
"In our enthusiasm for privatization, . . . we should stop and think whether we would want certain government functions to be privatized, to be conducted efficiently. Would it really have been better, for example, if the Nazis had farmed out Auschwitz or Belsen to Krupp or I. G. Farben?"
Does this read like the works of a man who denied the existence of the Nazi concentration camps or the producers of the Zyklon-B insecticide that was used to gas millions of people? Not to me it doesn't.

I received some criticism from readers who argued that Murray Rothbard wasn't a very nice guy and that he did things that were not above board, especially in his dealings with Rand, Branden, and others in the Objectivist movement. I replied:

The whole point of the second (and bulkiest) part of my book, "Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism" was to separate what I believed was the dialectical (radical) wheat from the nondialectical (utopian) chaff that formed Rothbard's theoretical worldview. One cannot engage in a study of that worldview without having read it. And what emerged, I think, was a powerful critique that kept what was valuable, tossed what was not, and moved on, in its final chapter, to discuss promising future trends in libertarian scholarship that would avoid the pitfalls of utopian thought in Rothbard and in the works of other libertarians ("utopia" after all, means "nowhere") while moving libertarian social theory to the next, far more radical, far more "dialectical" level.
To be clear, my entire trilogy ("Marx, Hayek, and Utopia", "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical," and "Total Freedom") has been based on the assumption that there is this distinction between utopian and radical thinking, and that utopian thinking---whether it be right or left---leads us down a road to "nowhere", sometimes a very destructive "nowhere", while the more dialectical alternative will provide us with the analytical tools to understand the "root" of social problems (the essence of radical theory) as a means of resolving them.
On that score, Rothbard's works offer us a mixed bag, but that which is valuable, in my view, cannot be denied. This is quite apart from what he was or wasn't as a human being. Karl Marx, as some studies of his personal life have revealed, may not have been that nice of a guy, but I learned a lot by reading him and understanding him. "Take what you want and pay for it," as the Objectivists used to say; precisely what I've done: taken what I have thought of value, from every thinker I've read, giving credit where credit is do, and moved on.

I will have more to say about the forthcoming original resources that will soon be available to Rothbard scholars.

---
** For those who doubt Rand's opposition to U.S. involvement in the European theater of World War II, I added this note:

Check "The Roots of War" but also check out the discussions of Rand's relationship with Isabel Paterson in Stephen Cox's book The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America. It is there that Cox makes clear that both Rand and Paterson found it obscene for the United States to be sending Lend Lease aid to the Soviet Union in its fight against the Nazis; in their view, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were both evil dictatorships and should have destroyed each other. And then, if the U.S. were forced into the conflict for any reason, it would have faced a much-weakened foe. (Some of the feel of this can also be found in Rand's appearance before HUAC.)
This, of course, was all a moot point after December 7, 1941, when the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor---followed by the joint declarations of war by Germany and Italy against the United States in the days that followed thereafter. But for Rand, World War I, the "war to make the world safe for democracy" produced Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and Fascist Italy, while World War II handed over Eastern Europe to the Soviets and led directly to an endless "Cold War" that consumed the lives of thousands of Americans in other wars to stop communist aggression and to bring "democracy" to countries that had no concept of either democracy or individual rights.
For that matter, also read what Heller has written (in Ayn Rand and the World She Knew) about Paterson and Rand ("They preferred to let Hitler march unimpeded into Russia and then enter the war against whichever dictator was left standing") and Barbara Branden's Passion of Ayn Rand, where she states that "Ayn was passionately opposed to any American involvement in the war in Europe" and "was horrified that Willkie [the candidate she supported against FDR] did not speak out unequivocally against such involvement."
And where on earth does one find in any essay Rothbard wrote about Barnes that he agreed with Barnes that the Holocaust never happened? I've written quite a bit about the contributions of Karl Marx in his application of dialectical method to social analysis. Does my "association" with Marx and Marxist scholarship imply consent to Marxist ideas? It is possible to acknowledge that there are writers in intellectual history who have provided important work without it implying that one agrees with everything the writer ever said on every subject.
My mentor was a Marxist: Bertell Ollman; he provided blurbs for each of the books of my trilogy. I was even the cofounder of a discussion group called "marxism-thaxis" (THeory and praXIS). I consider myself a "known libertarian author"---but I have openly associated myself with many on the left. What does this say about me?
I must be a closet Marxist. And here I thought I was out of the closet all along. :)
In many ways, I believe that Ayn Rand was the libertarian movement's answer to Karl Marx---using that word "libertarian" loosely. But be that as it may, do you realize how many folks in the "America First" movement were smeared as Nazi-sympathizers or anti-Semites? Well, in fact, some of them were (Charles Lindbergh was dogged by those charges for years). But Rand, Flynn, Paterson, Nock, and others were also a part of that "America First" movement. And yet, I didn't see a single one of them as having a soul shaped by the swastika.
It is no coincidence that Trump has resurrected that very phrase, "America First"---and I don't think he's a dumb man; he knows perfectly well what problems that very phrase once caused among those in the establishment. Anyway, Mike, you know I like you a lot, even with the disagreements we've had. I'm willing to just agree to disagree; I've got so much work to do, and it is to your credit for sucking me into this discussion! LOL

July 18, 2018

Rand, Darrow, and "The Power to Think"

On Facebook, James Peron posted an interesting article, "Ayn Rand, Nietzsche and the Purposeless Monster." I shared it on FB, but also commented on a couple of points raised by the essay with regard to Rand's understanding of the wider context and similar themes that showed up in the courtroom presentations of Clarence Darrow. For me, the best fictional representation of the latter comes from the 1960 film, "Inherit the Wind." Here's what I had to say:

A very interesting discussion, Jim. Ironically, it shows that Rand as an individualist was still willing to understand the context within which human beings grew---and how that context either nourished, stunted, or utterly distorted what they might become. After all, "We the Living" is a grand-scale indictment of a social context that crushes the possibility for individual enrichment, since it must necessarily corrupt individuals, leading them to a living death---where even the possibility of escape is robbed as you're shot attempting to cross the border (it's original working title was "Airtight"---since dictatorship, in Rand's view, creates an airtight environment in which all that is possible to the individual is suffocated).
On Clarence Darrow, I have to say that, for me, the best fictional representation of him (as Henry Drummond, played by Spencer Tracy) remains "Inherit the Wind," where in his courtroom questioning of the opposing lawyer (the William Jennings Bryan-based character, Matthew Harrison Brady, played by Frederic March), he presents one of the most powerful tributes to the power of the individual human mind you'll ever see on film. [Check it out on] YouTube.

July 11, 2018

Marx, Hayek, and Utopia: Kindle Edition Finally!

For the first time, the first book in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy," is available in e-book form. SUNY Press had long made it available as a Google ebook on Google Play, but it was not a searchable document. Today, for the first time, my book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, has been made available in a searchable Kindle Edition! Of course, as editor of an academic journal, on these "wages", I can barely afford to purchase it! But it's still nice to know that "MHU" is now available as an e-book. (Special thanks to Janice Vunk at SUNY for making it all happen!)

mhuamazon.jpg

Soon, I'll have some great news to share about the forthcoming Kindle edition of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, because when that finally happens, with the second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical already Kindle-ized, my trilogy will have finally entered the twenty-first century!

Stay tuned!

July 07, 2018

Steve Ditko, RIP

I have just learned that on June 29, 2018, Steve Ditko, "the legendary artist who co-created some of the most iconic characters for Marvel Comics"---and even some at DC Comics---died in New York City. He was 90 years old.

I had the great fortune to correspond with Ditko in the months leading up to the publication of an article I was working on for the first of two Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposia celebrating the Ayn Rand Centenary. I had invited Ditko to contribute to the symposium devoted to the subject, "Ayn Rand: Literary and Cultural Impact," but as I expected, he politely declined, stating that he preferred that his work speak for itself.

But he expressed interest in my work and certainly acknowledged his debt to Rand---a debt that showed up in many of his comic book characters, including Mr. A (as in "A is A") and The Question. His most famous creation was among my favorite comic book heroes---if only because he was situated in real-life New York City: Peter Parker, a boy from Queens, who would become Spider-Man (making his debut in 1962).

Ultimately, I wrote the lead-essay to that Rand centenary symposium, "The Illustrated Rand" which is still available on my home website as a pdf file here. The essay devotes a section to Ditko and the impact that Rand made on his work.

I cherish my correspondence with him and celebrate the gifts he left us.

June 28, 2018

Song of the Day #1590

Song of the Day: It's Your Thing, words and music by Ronald Isley, O'Kelley Isley, Jr., and Rudolph Isley, otherwise known as the Isley Brothers, was released in February 1969. This song, from the album, "It's Our Thing," would reach #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B charts, and would go on to win a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. It was one of the singles featured on the jukebox at the Stonewall Inn, which was raided by police in the early morning hours of June 28th of that year, in what proved to be the final act of state violence against this private establishment catering to a largely gay and lesbian clientele. With lyrics such as "It's your thing, do what you wanna do! I can't tell you who to sock it to! I'm not trying to run your life, I know you wanna do what's right. Give your love now, to whoever you choose. How can you lose!"---it became a perfect funk anthem to celebrate the birth of the modern gay liberation movement as the Stonewall Inn patrons fought back in defense of their rights to live their own lives in liberty and to pursue their own happiness, without social or political oppression or the need for the Mafia-owned bar to continue making police pay-offs---a libertarian moment if ever there were one!

June 27, 2018

Song of the Day #1589

Song of the Day: Bloom features the words and music of Brett McLaughlin, Oscar Holter, Peter Svensson, and Troye Sivan Millet, a 23-year old South African-born Australian who used social media to "come out" [YouTube link] and to gain an impressive pop following with his music. But even Ian McKellen was impressed as was Larry King [YouTube links to Larry King interviews]. He recorded this title song for his forthcoming second album. He provides us with an exercise in human authenticity in a revealing interview for Billboard's 2018 Pride Issue. Tomorrow, we'll have more to say about the 'prideful' meaning of these dates in late June. For now, check out the song's original video single, Cliak Remix, Mysterio Remix, and Craig Welsh Remix.

June 05, 2018

RFK Assassination: Fifty Years Ago

I was only three years old when President John F. Kennedy, had been shot and killed in Dallas on November 22, 1963 [graphic YouTube link]. I was at my grandmother's house that day; she had fallen, and my mother took me in her arms and ran to the house to help out. While there, "As the World Turns" was on TV, and Walter Cronkite had interrupted the broadcast with a series of special reports about the JFK shooting in Dealy Plaza. For days thereafter, all the TV networks devoted 24-hours of coverage leading up to the funeral and burial at Arlington Cemetery. Among the shocking events that unfolded before my young eyes was to witness live, on television, the shooting of the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jr., by Jack Ruby [graphic YouTube link].

This was my introduction to the 1960s. Those who speak much today about how polarized our society is tend to suffer from a case of historical amnesia. I don't think I ever lived through a more turbulent period than that which lasted from 1963 through the mid-1970s.

By the time I was 8, I had already seen a President shot, followed by years of nightly news coverage of civil rights and antiwar protests, both violent and nonviolent, along with scenes of carnage coming from Southeast Asia and thousands of body bags of U.S. soldiers returning to American soil each week. Within a few years, there were revelations of government lies about that war coming to light from the "Pentagon Papers," followed by all the lies that could be summed up in one word: "Watergate." Trust in government institutions was at an all-time low. Sound familiar?

On April 4, 1968, I felt bewildered by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We watched as the special reports came in on television, around the time of the evening news, with regard to King's assassination [YouTube link]. That night, Robert F. Kennedy gave a famous speech about the assassination in Indianapolis, Indiana [YouTube link], as cities across the United States were lit up with riots and violence. I returned to my neighborhood school the next day; it was P.S. 215, and our principal's name was Morris H. Weiss, and we were all encouraged to talk about the events of the previous day. (By the time I had graduated from that school, it had been renamed the Morris H. Weiss School!) But I remember all-too-well, the sadness that I saw in the eyes of one of my classmates. Her name was Wanda and she was a young, bright, African American girl. She said to me: "One of your kind of people shot one of my kind of people." And I said to her: "That white guy was a bad man. Not all white people are bad. There are good and bad in every group." And she seemed to relax after I had said that. What I said wasn't as profound as the speech RFK had given, but it seemed to have had a similar effect.

Little did I know that almost two months later, to the day, Robert F. Kennedy would fall to another assassin's bullets. It was June 5, 1968, around 3:30 a.m., fifty years ago today, when the phone rang. Usually, when a phone would ring at that hour in our home, it could only be bad news. It was my Aunt Georgia, who was a late night TV watcher, back in the days when Johnny Carson was hosting "The Tonight Show" on WNBC and WCBS was showing movie after movie with something it dubbed "The Late Show" and "The Late Late Show," and so on. She told us to turn on the TV: "Robert Kennedy was shot!" [graphic YouTube link].

We turned on our black-and-white television, and what we saw was pure pandemonium [YouTube link], but I remember seeing photos of RFK laying in a pool of blood. I don't recall going to school after daylight arrived, and the following day, June 6th, was Brooklyn-Queens Day, when schools in Brooklyn and Queens were closed. And it was in the early morning hours of that day, nearly 26 hours after being mortally wounded, that Robert F. Kennedy was pronounced dead.

We watched the RFK funeral, which took place at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on June 8th, and I remember well the eulogy given by another Kennedy brother, Ted, as he spoke through his tears [YouTube link]. Ted quoted RFK's words, which were actually a paraphrase from a work of George Bernard Shaw. It is a quote etched on the side of a building in downtown Brooklyn, once belonging to the Brooklyn Paramount, taken over in 1954 by Long Island University: "Some men see things as they are, and say 'Why?' I dream things that never were and say 'Why not?'".

It was an inspiring quote to me at the time. And I suspect that with all the intense news coverage that I watched as a child, my interest in history and politics took root. It was not all doom and gloom, because I was also a kid enthralled with the space program, and the images of seeing Neil Armstrong taking his first steps upon the moon on July 20, 1969 [YouTube link], were heroic enough to make me truly realize that the things that never were, could be.

And so I mark today's fiftieth anniversary of RFK's assassination. It makes no difference if you were a fan or an opponent of his politics or the politics of other public figures who were shot down in the 1960s. I mark this date because, like other moments from that difficult time period, it was one of the defining events that shaped my own political consciousness and that of a generation to come.

April 15, 2018

Great Connections: Light Your Own Path

I wanted to alert folks to a wonderful introduction to The Great Connections Program, an outgrowth of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute (of which I am an advisory board member). It is written by my very dear friend and colleague, Marsha Familaro Enright. "Light Your Own Path: The Science and Educational Principles of the Great Connections Program" can be accessed (in PDF format) here.

It is a call to creativity, inspiration, and the importance of pedagogical integration as essential to education. Bravo, Marsha!

March 27, 2018

Ayn Rand and the World She Knew

The title of this blog entry is a take-off on Anne Heller's biography, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. The reason for this will become apparent.

I've been having a conversation with a few friends, and among the issues we were discussing was why it seemed that the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand set herself up against so many on the left and the right, and burned so many bridges to folks across the political spectrum, who might have been her allies.

It is as if Rand and her acolytes created a world, a "Galt's Gulch" of their own, which became hermetically sealed from the rest of the world. Even as Rand warned against the fallacy of "thinking in a square," too many of her devoted followers have been incapable of stepping out of that box and critically engaging with the wider intellectual world.

This is not just a debate between those who have advocated a "closed system" approach, which views Rand's thought as consisting only of whatever she wrote or endorsed in her lifetime, versus those who have argued that Rand's philosophy is an open system: that is, we can agree on the fundamentals she set forth in each of the major branches of her philosophy, but that with intellectual evolution over time, there will be many additional contributions that will fill in the many gaps that were left by Rand and consistent with her fundamentals.

On this point, I've always had one major question for those on either side of the divide: Where do we draw the line as to what is "essential" or "nonessential" or "fundamental" or "not fundamental" to Objectivism?

o Her views on why a woman should not be President?
o Her views on the "disgusting" character of homosexuality and on the sexual roles played by men and women?
o Her views on Native Americans?
o Her very specific tastes in painting, sculpture, film, literature, and music?

And the list goes on and on and on. I've never quite heard a satisfactory answer to these questions. It is ironic, too, that so many advocates of the "closed system" approach almost always find a way to bracket out of that closed system the very real contributions made by both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden---when Rand herself argued that the work of these individuals, prior to her break with them in 1968, were among "the only authentic sources of information on Objectivism."

And regardless of whether one ascribes to a "closed" or "open" system approach, what is the ultimate goal of those who claim to be Rand's intellectual progeny? To be consistent with "Objectivism" or to be consistent with reality? In one sense, the work of anybody influenced by Rand may not be consistent with "Objectivism" but consistent with a "Randian" approach to philosophy and social theory, broadly understood. To this extent, "we are all Randians now."

One thing I think is fairly clear, however: Over her lifetime, Rand definitely became more and more insulated and isolated, unwilling to engage those on the left or the right. And even though she clearly had no problem with "purges" during the days of the Nathaniel Branden Institute, today, those associated with the Ayn Rand Institute have turned such "purges" into an art form.

But I think that at least with regard to Ayn Rand, too many people on either side of the "closed" or "open" system debate tend to be extremely ahistorical in their understanding of Rand's intellectual evolution, which sheds light on why she became more isolated and less ecumenical in her approach to her perceived opponents.

I have argued in my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, that, despite her claim of challenging the ideas of 2,500 years of cultural and philosophic thought, neither she nor anyone could possibly extricate themselves from the culture in which they were embedded as they came to intellectual maturity. Every thinker---every person---is of a particular time and place.

On this point, it must be understood that there was always a genuine Russian streak in Rand insofar as she was both a novelist and a philosopher. Throughout the history of the Russian literary tradition, especially during the Silver Age, when Rand was born and came to intellectual maturity, writers were almost always considered both novelists and philosophers (or at the very least advocates of a certain set of intellectual ideas), and virtually all of these writers found themselves on the outskirts of power, using literature as a means to struggle against various kinds of social oppression. Dostoevsky comes to mind and Rand, of course, was a great admirer of Dostoevsky’s methods, especially his penchant for using various characters as expressions of certain ideas.

It therefore comes as no surprise that when asked whether she was a novelist or a philosopher, Rand answered: "Both." She is also on record as saying that virtually all novelists are philosophers whether they wish to be characterized as such or not; it is just a question of whether they choose to express their philosophical ideas or assumptions explicitly or implicitly. Most, of course, were writers of implicit "mixed" premises. For Rand, the realm of ideas was inescapable for novelists. She was a master of projecting philosophical ideas in the context of fiction---a very Russian project. And like all the Russian dissident writers before her, those ideas were almost always opposed to the status quo, seeking to alter it fundamentally. In the end, Rand may not have become a full-fledged technical philosopher, but she was a fully radical social theorist, much like her Russian forebears.

Rand did say that the goal of her writing was the projection of the ideal man (and whether she meant it or not, the ideal woman as well). She realized that she had achieved at least a certain aspect of that goal in her creation of Howard Roark, the triumphant architect in The Fountainhead. But she turned to the larger social questions in Atlas Shrugged because, as she has written, there could be no projection of ideal men or ideal women without also projecting the kinds of social relations that such individuals required in order to fully flourish, to bring forth their talents and creativity in a social environment. Sociality was inescapable. Don’t be fooled by all her comments about how “society” doesn’t exist, that only individuals exist. She stated many, many times that “society” must be treated as a unit of analysis, insofar as it constituted the various social relations among individuals. These relations were expressed in organizations, institutions, and throughout civil society. So the reason she became such an unbending advocate of capitalism “the unknown ideal” was because she recognized that the fullest flowering of ideal individuals could not occur under social conditions that were anything less than free. Even in her essays on the conflict of men’s interests, she says that in a less-than-free society, conflicts are a necessary part of the kinds of social relations that both reflect and perpetuate the various forms of statism that had so distorted the character of human social interaction.

Rand may never have wanted to become a technical philosopher, but she was writing nonfiction essays early in her career and the equivalent of philosophical tracts within every novel she authored. You can find these in Anthem, We the Living, The Fountainhead, and, of course, Atlas. Her first nonfiction book, For the New Intellectual, basically extracted all of the philosophical speeches from her works of fiction to show the kinds of ideas she was projecting, even if she had not yet reached the point of full integration. But it is there, right in her novels.

So many people from so many political persuasions were attracted to aspects of her thought. Even Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama admitted to having gone through a "Rand" phase. But Rand would have had none of it. Over time, she had systematically demonized conservative, liberals, libertarians, and socialists. But she once stated that her appeal was ultimately to the nontraditional conservatives and the nontotalitarian liberals. I think that as she aged, she realized there were fewer and fewer representatives of those groups.

Among conservatives, she became increasingly frustrated by the ways in which they seemed to “water down” the defense of a free society: she watched as the conservative movement, so committed to the Old Right ideas of noninterventionism both at home and abroad, morphed into a group of rabid anticommunists, hell-bent on fighting a Cold War without end, endorsing everything from military conscription and the emergence of the National Security State to fighting in wars that she opposed (from World War II to Korea and Vietnam). And then there were those conservatives who embraced the Jim Crow laws of apartheid in the South as a means of perpetuating institutional racism, which utterly disgusted her. As the years went by, and her close relationships with those among the Old Right collapsed, she witnessed how conservatives increasingly embraced a religious defense of capitalism, while she was fighting for the idea that capitalism must be defended as the only rational and moral social system (an odd parallel with those atheistic, secular leftists who fought for "scientific socialism").

As for the libertarians, I think a lot of Rand's falling out with that group was due to her experiences with folks from the Circle Bastiat (Murray Rothbard chief among them). I think she was so appalled by the idea of anarcho-capitalism (as both ahistorical and acontextual) that she ended up branding all libertarians as anarchists, something she did not do in the late 1940s and early 1950s (when she even referred to Mises as a “libertarian” and was apt to consider herself a libertarian strictly in terms of her politics). But she lived during a time when, to her, "libertarianism" was as much of a mixed bag as conservatism. And when Rothbard became Mr. Libertarian, she became increasingly hostile to a group of fellow travelers in politics (most of them advocates of limited government rather than of anarcho-capitalism). She repudiated libertarians as "hippies of the right," who then turned around and attacked her with as much ferocity as the religious and traditional conservatives.

Finally, I should add that Jeff Riggenbach has made a persuasive case that Rand had a decisive impact on those among the New Left, those he termed the “disowned children of Ayn Rand," but who were, at various points in their lives, inspired by her call to individualism and to activism (and this included an impact on the emergence of individualist feminism and the gay liberation movement). But, of course, Rand was just as adamantly opposed to the New Left as she was to the conservatives and the libertarians.

So what are we left with? We’re left with a woman who wanted very much to reach the minds of people on all ends of the political spectrum, in the hopes that she could decisively alter the trajectory of American politics. And in the end, she had made so many enemies on the left and the right that it became almost impossible for her---or any of her acolytes---to truly engage their philosophical opponents. And those opponents became so hostile to Rand that they sought to remove her from the canon as a thinker worthy only of disdain and dismissal.

Rand's acolytes have only dug-in their heels in response to such attacks, clinging to a siege mentality that cultivated isolation from the wider world. Either you were for Rand in toto or opposed; either you were among the Chosen or the Damned.

For those of us who are so inclined, I think it is essential to address those on the left and the right in a spirit of critical but respectful engagement. That has been the strategy of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. This was a woman who fought the Welfare-Warfare state, who battled on the front lines against U.S. entry into World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and who understood the institutional workings of the warfare state---as much as she fought against the regulatory state that enriched certain business interests at the expense of others and a welfare bureaucracy that became inevitable.

Rand reminded us that those who fight in the future must live in it today. She fought for that future and advocated the kinds of ideas that she believed were essential to the fundamental social change that was possible---and necessary---to the survival of the human species.

March 09, 2018

Easter: Western versus Eastern Orthodox Christian Practices

With Easter fast approaching (though you'd never know it in New York City, given that Ol' Man Winter is still hanging around), I have contributed to a couple of Facebook threads with regard to the differences between the Western Christian versus Eastern Orthodox Christian dates for both Easter and Christmas. I decided to put this on my Notablog because it has sparked some discussion.

I was baptized Greek Orthodox. In fact, my grandfather, the Rev. Vasilios P. Michalopoulos, was the first pastor of one of the first Greek Orthodox churches in Brooklyn, the Three Hierarchs Church on Avenue P and East 18th Street. A monument to him can be found in this Google pic; it is the concrete monument in-between the two trees on the right side, outside the front of the church building.

I was asked on one Facebook thread about the significance of Midnight Mass on Christmas, and I remarked that I had never attended a midnight service in the Greek Orthodox church for Christmas, though I had attended a midnight "divine liturgy" for Easter Sunday. Midnight Mass is a practice that apparently began in the 400s.

There are certain differences with regard to the dates on which both Christmas and Easter are celebrated among the Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches in the Western tradition versus the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy. First, with regard to Christmas, the Greek Orthodox celebrate the day on December 25th, along with Western Christianity. There is a difference in dates, however, between the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox celebrations of Christmas. The Greeks follow the revised Julian calendar (which corresponds exactly to the modern Gregorian calendar, adopted by Western Christians), while the Russian Orthodox celebrate Christmas Day on January 7th, the date of the old Julian calendar.

Here's another piece of religious trivia: I was always puzzled, growing up, why the Greek Orthodox commemorated Christ's crucifixion on the evening of Holy Thursday, with the Twelve Gospel readings pertaining to the events that Western Christianity commemorates on Good Friday. On Friday afternoon, however, the Greek Orthodox commemorate the taking down of the body of Christ and its placement in the Epitophios (signifying Christ's tomb).

I later learned that the reason the Greeks begin their commemoration of the Passion on Thursday evening is that, following the Jewish tradition, the new day begins after sundown; so Thursday evening is treated as Good Friday, and the taking of Christ's body down from the cross takes place on Friday, before sundown (which would have been the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, a day on which the body could not have been removed from the cross).

Also, another important fact: the Orthodox Easter almost always follows the Jewish Passover, because tradition holds that Christ came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover; the Last Supper is treated like a traditional Passover Seder. Every so often, the Eastern Orthodox, Western churches and the Jewish Passover all fall together, but typically, you'll always find the Eastern Orthodox Easter following Passover. So, take this year as a perfect example: In 2018, the Jewish Passover takes place from Friday, March 30th to Saturday, April 7th. The Western churches, however, celebrate Easter on April 1st. But according to the Greeks, April 1st would have been Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus came into Jerusalem during the Jewish High Holy days of Passover. And he is resurrected on Sunday, April 8, after the conclusion of Passover (and the end of the Jewish Sabbath).

So if you treat Thursday evening as the beginning of Day 1 and Friday evening as the beginning of Day 2 (and the onset of the Jewish Sabbath), then Saturday evening is the beginning of Day 3. In some churches, the resurrection is celebrated at midnight, while in other churches, it is celebrated at dawn---but in each case, it is meant to signify the Third Day. Having attended the midnight liturgy in the Greek Orthodox church, I can attest to the moving symbolism of the service: It begins with the lighting of a single candle from the altar, signifying the light of the resurrection, and that light is passed from the priest to a member of the congregation, who then passes it to another and another, until the whole church is lit up with the candles of the faithful to celebrate the resurrection. And the congregation sings the hymn of "Christos Anesti" or "Christ is Risen." "Anesti" is "of the resurrection", which is why people who are named Anastasiya or Anastasia, celebrate their "name day" on Easter Sunday, the name being a derivative of the resurrection. Ironically, my mother was named Anastasiya; she passed away during the Greek Holy Week in 1995. At her funeral, the priest remarked that it was just like my mom to have passed away on the Greek Orthodox Good Friday so that she could be resurrected with Christ on Easter Sunday, her name day.

My name day is, of course, Christmas---my actual name is just Chris, but in Greek, it is pronounced "Christos", which is the "annointed one", the word from which Christ is derived.

I have always found these subtle but important differences in the cultural and religious traditions to be of historical interest.

Now I just have to finish up that essay I've been promising for a few years comparing the 1959 version of "Ben-Hur" to the 2016 version. Oy vey.

February 04, 2018

Rand as Social Theorist

In a Facebook thread, a question was raised as to whether Ayn Rand had created a complete philosophical system and I remarked:

Just as an aside, I think that in many ways, I have dealt with Rand as a radical social theorist who presented a systematic critique of statism based on broad principles in the major branches of philosophy. She constructed a genuinely radical and critical understanding of social relations of power in a system biased toward state control of our lives. I construct a "tri-level model" in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism that shows how that model plays out, that is, how Rand indicts contemporary social relations as they are manifested on reciprocally related levels of generality: the personal (entailing psycho-epistemological, psychological, ethical practices); the cultural (entailing aesthetic, pedagogical, and educational practices); and the structural (entailing political and economic practices and institutions).
Whatever the "orthodox" view, I do not consider Objectivism a closed system, when Rand herself said that nobody in their own lifetime could possibly complete a philosophical system. She knew there were large gaps in her philosophical writings, and left it to future generations to work toward that goal [of filling in the gaps]. In the end, the truth of such a system will not be its consistency with Rand's views but its consistency with reality.
What I do credit Rand with is having presented the rudiments of a system in language that most laypeople could understand; when you consider that so much of contemporary philosophy is impenetrable in its jargon---that was an accomplishment. And she has inspired so many others in the individualist and classical liberal / libertarian traditions to "fill in the blanks". It's a theoretical project that will be going on for a very long time to come.

January 20, 2018

Folks Interview: "How the Queen of Selfishness Taught Me to Accept My Disability"

Freelance writer Robert Lerose recently interviewed me for Folks, an online magazine "dedicated to telling the stories of remarkable people who refuse to be defined by their health issues." The interview is featured in this week's edition and can be read here---though for some reason, it also appears here. (Disclaimer: I am not responsible for the title of the essay or the accompanying links provided at either site.)

The piece focuses on my lifelong medical adventures with the congenital gastro-vascular disorder, Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome (SMAS); an intestinal by-pass (known as a duodenojejunostomy), performed by the gifted surgeon, Dr. Bochetto, saved my life at the age of 14.

I was diagnosed with this extremely rare condition when I was literally near death. It was my family physician, Dr. Karounos, who did a GI Series in his office (they did that back then!), and who suggested after years of misdiagnosis, that I might have SMAS. It was the great Japanese doctor, Hiromi Shinya, who nailed the diagnosis with an upper tract endoscopic procedure known as an esaphagogastroduodenoscopy. As the pioneer of gastrointestinal endoscopic and colonoscopic techniques, Dr. Shinya developed and taught its most fundamental principles to a whole generation of doctors who, to this day, stand on his "Atlas"-like shoulders (including the utterly brilliant, affable, terrific, musical[!], Dr. Mark Cwern, one of Dr. Shinya's proteges, who has supervised so much of my quality healthcare for nearly three decades now).

There have been severe complications caused by this condition and the body's manner of coping with the surgical changes that were necessary to my survival. Today, on the eve of my 58th birthday, with 60+ surgical procedures since that 1974 surgery, I am alive and kickin', thanks to the efforts of so many wonderful physicians and the love and support of family and friends.

Interestingly, in all my years on this planet, I have never heard this condition mentioned anywhere. It was only recently that I saw its potentially devastating effects dramatized in Episode 2 of the first season of "The Good Doctor," starring Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy, a brilliant surgical resident at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital, who just so happens to have autism and savant syndrome. In the episode, Murphy is able to visualize in his mind certain troubling symptoms present in one of his young patients. It sends him running to the child’s house, banging on the door in the middle of the night to the consternation of the child’s parents. He refuses to leave unless he can see the child to make sure she is okay. As it turns out, he saves the child’s life because he correctly diagnoses her as having a terminal condition in which the small intestine is twisted around the Superior Mesenteric Artery.

This was the first time in my entire life that I ever saw anyone in any medium—be it film, television, radio, or literature—even mention or suggest the condition known as Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome. The disorder is that rare. It is my hope that the mere mention of SMAS on national television might bring more attention to its causes, treatment, and perhaps, someday, to its complete eradication from the human condition.

My deepest appreciation to Robert Lerose for making "folks" aware of this medical problem---and of the possibility that individuals can survive and flourish despite the limitations that they may face from health issues. Again, check out the interview at Folks.

I'd also like to express my gratitude to my friend Don Hauptman, who thought my story was worth telling, and who put Robert Lerose in touch with me. (Only once before this interview, back in 2005, had I discussed the impact of Ayn Rand on my capacity to deal with---and transcend some of the limitations of---a lifelong disability. See here.)

Postscript: Various folks shared my Facebook post of this interview, and there have been so many wonderful comments from so many caring people. Some of the comments have been hilarious. My friend Steve Horwitz, for example, picked up on one of the phrases in my interview and said: "I am amused that Chris Matthew Sciabarra chose this turn of phrase to describe his inner life: 'I am constitutionally incapable of keeping anything in.'" As I remarked in my reply to Steve, I chose that phrase quite consciously. I guess my inner life or my way of dealing with things emotionally is a reflection, in part, of, uh, the nature of my physical disability.

But one comment that I found interesting came from a discussion with regard to an individual who, like Dr. Shaun Murphy in "The Good Doctor" (mentioned above) is on the autism spectrum. Some folks think there is just no comparison between a person suffering a neurological disorder versus a person like myself, who has had 60+ surgeries for a congenital gastro-vascular condition. I responded:

I've learned one thing about the nature of disability, and perhaps it is a lesson that comes from economics: one cannot make interpersonal comparisons of utility or disutility. If you have a disability, the nature of that disability is almost irrelevant, from the perspective of "Mine is worse than yours." If it is your disability, it is something you must come to terms with, and it is as much a 'burden' for a person who has a gastro-vascular disorder as it is for a person who has a neurological one.
I would like to think that my interview has a more universal message: that it is possible to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities, regardless of the limitations that one faces, and to make the most of them.

I emphasized that point of "interpersonal comparisons of utility" in another comment in the same Facebook thread, where I declared that there was no room for shame in thinking that one's problems seem to be minute in comparison to the problems faced by others:

We all can be Stoic in the face of life's difficulties, but no amount of pretending can cover the real pain each of us feels carrying the burdens of health and other problems that are unique to each of us in our own lives. To use an old metaphor, we all seem to have some cross that we are carrying---the trick is not to allow yourself to be crucified on it. But as long as it is your cross that you're carrying, it is still your cross---and each person knows how heavy the burdens can be. Economists are correct: No room for interpersonal comparisons of utility or disutility; let us just be happy that we can have friends and build a community around the idea that there is something heroic about celebrating that which is good, creative, and productive inside each of us. That's one of the gifts I got from Rand's work.
As I said in another thread, I'm, uh, constitutionally incapable of keeping anything in, including the words that come flowing out of my own mouth! Best to get it off your chest, your gut, your mind, whatever! It's positively unhealthy to hold back, especially with those who can be empathetic and supportive.

The Facebook post has been shared by quite a few people, and the Folks story has over 150 shares already. My friend David Boaz remarked: "I am amused to discover that my good friend Chris Sciabarra first encountered the work of Ayn Rand in his days at John Dewey High School. This is an interesting interview about how Rand and Nathaniel Branden helped him deal with a congenital illness that has plagued him throughout his very productive life." I replied:

I chuckled at your opening remark. :)
Regarding having discovered Rand at John Dewey High School (and we all know how much Rand loved Dewey as a pragmatist philosopher), I do have to say that the school was truly the embodiment of individualism in education---we were able to construct our major around five 6-week cycle semesters, which were specialized courses in virtually every discipline, with vigorous independent study. Back then, it was truly one of the gems of the NYC public school system!

January 14, 2018

RIFI: The New Great Connections

The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute (RIFI), on which I serve as one of the members of the Board of Advisors, has launched its dynamic new website. As the Founder and President of the Great Connections Seminars, Marsha Familaro Enright tells us:

When we think of free societies, we often think of industry, free markets, and minimal government. But real freedom starts within, with self-understanding, self-responsibility, self-direction, determination, and a nimble ability to adapt to life’s challenges. Autonomous people do not easily tolerate being ruled.
Yet, the modern classroom, from grade school to graduate school, relies heavily on a top-down structure of a single arbiter of knowledge, often in the position of lecturer and discussion leader as well as knowledge and moral authority. This structure embodies collectivist ideals of social control and strongly helps to foist their ideas and values onto students, such as: social justice, moral relativism, and limiting free speech. By controlling the ideas and the way they are taught to young people, the collectivists have come to control the ideas in the culture.
This educational structure needs to be examined, questioned---and overthrown. . . . where do individuals learn how to live autonomously and use that information in their lives? The free future requires an educational---a psychological---technology that suits the needs and reflects the aims of the free human being.
The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute (RIFI) has developed and implemented such a psychological technology in our Great Connections programs.

Take a tour of this new exciting "Great Connections" website, starting here.

September 11, 2017

WTC Remembrance: Sue Mayham - Not Business as Usual

At a time when so many are suffering the effects of Hurricane Irma, a force of nature, I return to my annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," on the anniversary of a time when so many suffered the effects of the force unleashed by human beings against other human beings.

My series returns this year to recording the recollections of those who lived through the nightmare that was September 11, 2001.

In previous years, my interviews have focused on those within the Twin Towers, and those who witnessed the horrific events of that day; those who were first responders and those who worked on the pile at Ground Zero. I have even featured various pictorials of the memorial, museum, and the new One World Trade Center that opened in late 2014.

This year, I interview Sue Mayham, who provides an entirely different perspective on the events of that day, and the days and weeks and months that followed. Sue is an example of a different kind of heroism: the kind of heroism that symbolizes the work of those who kept aspects of the real world running even when the global capital of finance and culture had taken a direct hit from those who sought its utter destruction.

And as I have done in previous years, I provide this index for those readers who would like easy access to the previous entries in this series:

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

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 (This essay has been translated into Portuguese by Artur Weber and Adelina Domingos.)

2016: Fifteen Years Ago: Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine (This essay has been translated into Portuguese by Artur Weber and Adelina Domingos.)

2017: Sue Mayham: Not Business as Usual

Never forget.

August 22, 2017

The Trouble with Trump and with "Antifa"

Recently, I have been deeply critical of President Trump, especially with regard to his tepid response to the mini-Nuremberg-like rallies of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in places like Charlottesville, Virginia (whether they have ACLU-approved permits or not). Trump, I have argued, is becoming more and more like a typical politician, rather than the "outsider" he claimed to be; it seems to me that he is not wanting to offend some of these groups, since they were among the constituencies that voted for him. And the first goal of all elected politicians is to be re-elected; a politician can't achieve the latter by alienating core groups that were supportive of his or her election in the first place.

When all the political pundits were predicting a Clinton victory, I was predicting a Trump victory back in July 2016. I saw that he was speaking to a large swath of American voters who felt disenfranchised and disillusioned, but I was especially critical of some of the proposals he was putting forth as solutions to the economic and political problems faced by the United States. His high-tariff, protectionist agenda was certainly in keeping with the nineteenth-century roots of the Republican party, with its "pro-business" neomercantilist policies and support of banks and infrastructure (back then, especially railroad) subsidies. But I warned that Trump's proposed anti-immigration policies, which threatened to round up 11 million undocumented individuals, had all the makings of a police state in terms of its enforcement. Fortunately, though he's taken a tougher stance on immigration, I suspect that his proposals for walls and such may fall by the wayside.

And while I've been critical of the fact that Trump's hirings and firings in the Oval Office or the West Wing appear like weekly installments of "The Apprentice," it is clear that despite Republican control of both Houses of Congress, 26 governorships, and 32 state legislatures, the GOP is so fractured that it is as much a demonstration of Madisonian "checks and balances" and frustrated ambitions, as if two or more parties were vying for power, as my old NYU politics professor, the late H. Mark Roelofs spoke about in his wonderful book, Ideology and Myth in American Politics: A Critique of a National Political Mind. As I have maintained, due to "this political fragmentation, the GOP can't seem to do one fundamental thing to alter the course that this country has been on for a hundred years or more... a 'road to serfdom' paved by both Democrats and me-too Republicans . . ."

I have never been comfortable with Trump's alliance with Steve Bannon, so his departure from the White House brings no tears to my eyes. And I am not fond of the so-called "alt-right", even though its stance---and Trump's original stance---against the neoconservative foreign policy that has dominated this country for too long was a breath of fresh air. Alas, now, even Trump's noninterventionist "instincts" against unending war are at odds with his newly declared policy shift in the Middle East. No timetable has been offered for 'strategic' reasons for the end of the longest war in American history, but at least Trump retains the view that the United States should not be attempting to "rebuild" other countries in its own image. Gone is the "nation-building" agenda put forth by the neocons who ran George W. Bush's foreign policy, of which Trump was deeply and justifiably critical. But how much longer this war lasts is anyone's guess. Judging by the longevity of Islamic terrorist memory, we could be looking forward to at least a century or two more of armed conflict before any armistice.

To be clear, however, my criticisms thus far of Donald Trump's policies are not an open endorsement of what has become known as "Antifa." It is supposed to be a short-form designation of a variety of groups that are "antifascist" in their agenda. Well, I'm as antifascist as any libertarian can be; I'm also an anticommunist, an antisocialist, or in libertarian parlance: an antistatist. I do not believe that augmenting the power of the state in any way, shape, or form benefits the "common good." As I pointed out in my post on "Statism and Tribalism: Fraternal Twins," it was Hayek who noted in his Road to Serfdom that

. . . the more politics came to dominate social and economic life, the more political power became the only power worth having, which is why those most adept at using it were usually the most successful at attaining it. That's why, for Hayek, "the worst get on top." Well, I don't know if we have yet seen the worst, but one thing is clear. It is in the very nature of advancing government intervention that social fragmentation and group balkanization occurs; indeed, one might say that the rise of statism and the rise of group conflict are reciprocally related. Each depends organically on the other.

So, to be "antifascist" tells us nothing about what one is for. It is not sufficient to be "anti-" anything if one does not know what one is fighting for. When the Nazis and the Soviets signed a 1939 nonaggression pact, too many voices on the "antifa" left, who had formerly opposed Hitler, fell silent, as the Nazis and the Soviets carved up Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, and Romania. And when war finally came to the Soviet Union, those same voices were raised in concert for United States intervention in World War II on the side of the Soviets to defeat fascism in Europe. For the Old Right, the "America First-ers" of their time, fighting on the side of one mass murderer (Stalin) to defeat another mass murderer (Hitler) had no inherent value for the victory of human freedom. That debate was effectively ended in the wake of the events of December 7, 1941, which made it impossible to keep the United States out of a war that led to the deaths of over 60 million people and the birth of the nuclear age.

What my "instincts" tell me is this: adopting the thuggish behavior of the thugs one opposes, leads, almost inexorably, to the victory of thuggery, under whatever political guise. Perhaps those who oppose the policies of Donald Trump should study the works of Gene Sharp, founder of the Albert Einstein Institution. He is one of the foremost theoreticians of nonviolent resistance. And make no mistake about it: whether it was practiced by Gandhi in India or Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States, the nonviolent techniques that Sharp has articulated in his many works are fully in keeping with the strategy of resistance. But they do not duplicate the paradigm of force that is being practiced by those whom one opposes. Inevitably, the use of coercive force by opposition groups merely replaces one form of coercion with another. It has been argued, persuasively, that "[f]rom 1966 to 1999, nonviolent civic resistance played a critical role in 50 of 67 transitions from authoritarianism." So if "Antifa" wants to show its commitment to another, "revolutionary" form of politics, it should start by renouncing violence. And if "Antifa" wants to fight effectively against any perceived authoritarian threats from the Trump administration or its supporters, it needs to take pause, for among its ranks is a collection of groups, some of whom would replace America's "neofascism" with yet another form of statist tyranny.

For the record, I want to state that I am not very optimistic about the future of individual liberty in this country. I fear that the promise of genuine freedom and individual rights is becoming a distant dream. But if you oppose those elements of Trump's policies that will undermine liberty, you gain neither freedom nor rights if you happily join hands with folks who would slit your throat in a new battle for political power, in a system where political power is the only power worth having.

Postscript: My friend Irfan Khawaja had a nice retort to my post: "I don't know about this non-violence stuff. I mean, I'm not one to cast the first stone. But the second one has its attractions...."

I responded:

I know. I just think that there are a lot of strategies within civil disobedience that can be amazingly effective. Civil disobedience is not turning the other cheek, but being disruptive in ways that can put one on the moral high ground and bring down walls of power.
But I'm also from Brooklyn. And half-Sicilian to boot (no pun intended). And the second stone can sometimes stop power in its tracks too. There are contexts where I, myself, don't see how nonviolence is a universal prescription for resistance. How, for example, does one use nonviolence as one is being led by SS guards into a gas chamber? Bombing the trains that led into Auschwitz, and massively disruptive riots in the Warsaw Ghetto can be acts of heroism too, but the Holocaust still happened. And let it be noted that 13,000 Jews died in the Warsaw uprisings, in contrast to 300 Nazis, while the vast majority of the Ghetto residents (estimated to be around 300,000+) were to die in Treblinka.
It's a tough question to answer. But there's a wonderful story told about surviving terror by literally standing up, no matter how many times you are struck. It's in the [2015] film "Bridge of Spies," a story told by the Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (played by Oscar-winner Mark Rylance), to attorney James Donovan (played by Tom Hanks), about "Standing Man."

Jim Farmelant raised a good point with which I agreed, in general, when he said: "Violence should never be one's first resort. But it is foolish to take it off the table completely." Chris Despoudis raised another good issue, stating:

Regarding Civil Disobedience, it reminds me of Slajov Zizek's comment that Gandhi was more violent than Hitler specifically because his civil disobedience aimed directly at disrupting the existing edifices of the system totally and without backing out. I think he's correct to some degree. Non-violence works when you're opponent cannot see you as an externalized other that needs to squashed, when those who are fighting aren't willing to do terrible things for their country instead of merely great things. The issue of Germany on 1939 was not an issue of non-violence. The issue was that Germany had to be destroyed completely in order for its system to be able to be changed.

I replied:

Very interesting points; but you know, some studies have been done of the concentration camp guards at the various death factories in Germany. And it was no coincidence that so many of those who threw the victims into the gas chambers were also habitual drinkers, as if they had to numb themselves from any feelings of concscience.
One of the kernels of truth of nonviolent resistance is that at some point, the people who are victimizing you start to realize that you are a human being, and for those who have any vestige of conscience, that reality eventually takes hold, and begins to erode their own capacity to victimize you. The key to the Nazi ideology, the Nazi "social psychology," therefore, was to create a culture that saw all non-Aryans as not human; this was fatal for the victims, but it was also essential to those who would be doing the victimizing, for if you are convinced that what you are killing is not human, you will exempt your conscience from human empathy.
Obviously, for some, this did not work; alcoholism and habitual substance abuse was a way of drowning out any thoughts that the Other was human. Interestingly, Leonard Peikoff has a good chapter on this in The Ominous Parallels but one can find good studies of this throughout the post-World War II literature. And let us not forget the famous "Milgram experiment", which illustrated just how far intelligent people would go in following the orders of a superior. It showed that even highly educated folks, when ordered to do so by an "authority figure" would be drawn to inflict more and more "pain" on folks who didn't answer questions correctly (the pain inflicted was only indicated on a scale, not actual; but this fact was not known to those who were being ordered to inflict greater and greater levels of pain intensity on the actors who were playing the part of students answering incorrectly).

August 07, 2017

The Summer of Sam: Forty Years Later

Forty years ago this week, on August 10, 1977 to be exact, the man known to the world as "Son of Sam" was arrested after more than a year of terrorizing the city I've always called home. David Berkowitz, first dubbed the .44 caliber-killer, was caught outside his Yonkers apartment after a year during which he had murdered six people, while injuring seven others, and holding 8 million people hostage to his random carnage.

Having lived through the "Summer of Sam," a time during which New York City was in fiscal disarray and intense urban decay, I can say that we were all more than a little bit jittery, reading the daily news articles and keeping up with the nightly TV reports. In fact, on the day that Berkowitz was arrested, the New York Daily News had put on its front page a police sketch of the alleged serial killer that didn't resemble him in the least. The Daily News had played a pertinent role in the story as it unfolded, because Berkowitz was busy writing a series of bizarre letters to columnist Jimmy Breslin that spooked the public. Up until July 31st, however, Berkowitz had restricted his killing to the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx. But then, on the night of July 31, 1977, he came to the corner of Shore Parkway and Bay 44th Street in the Bath Beach section of Brooklyn, not far from my home, and opened fire on a car parked there as two people, Robert Violante and Stacy Moskowitz. were sitting inside. Their first date had ended with Violante losing his sight, and Moskowitz dying a day or so later from the .44 caliber bullets that had exploded into her head. The Son of Sam had come to Brooklyn; the word on the street was that now, even the Mafia was going to find and "take out" this "nutjob."

I had just finished my senior year at John Dewey High School, preparing for my long stint at New York University, which would begin in September 1977. Till this day, I look back at that 1977 summer and I honor the memory of the victims of those horrific shootings, while keeping their loved ones in my thoughts.

But every tragedy seems to elicit memories that provide a little relief in the form of gallows humor. I remember that during that summer, every time my sister and cousin Sandy (who was staying with us at the time) went out, they were very much aware that virtually all of the victims of Son of Sam had dark hair. Both my sister and cousin had brown hair, and Sandy even took to wearing a hat. But on the night after July 31st, in the wake of that shattering news of a senseless Brooklyn murder, we had taken an evening walk, about ten blocks from our apartment, to visit our grandmother, aunts, uncle, and cousins. We were there quite late; it must have been about 1 am, and we finally decided to walk along the brightly lit Kings Highway back to our apartment. I told my mother and sister not to worry. "I will protect you," I announced, confident in my Brooklyn street smarts. About half-way through our walk, we passed an all-night gas and auto service station. And in the silence of that hot and humid summer night, one of the cars in the service area suddenly backfired. Well. I must have jumped about two feet in the air and let out a scream that could have awakened the dead. My mother and sister were nearly bent over in laughter; even I got so hysterical with laughter that tears rolled down my cheeks. "Yeah, yeah, you're going to protect us!", they ribbed me but good. "Sure, sure!"

Fortunately, ten days later, the police had arrested the creep that had so defined the Summer of 1977. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

But we still chuckle when we remember our walk home, when a car backfired in the still of a steamy August night.

July 14, 2017

It's a Wonderful ... Christmas in July!

There is a Facebook thread that tears apart one of my all-time favorite movies, but also one of those films that Rand-fans especially have made into a cinematic pinata: "It's a Wonderful Life." According to this story, Rand, who was a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee in its efforts to uncover communist propaganda in the American film industry, apparently pegged the 1946 Frank Capra classic as pinko propaganda.

I've addressed this issue several times before on Notablog, especially in a 2016 post about the 1946 film, and in a 1999 interview with "The Daily Objectivist" on the 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol," starring Alastair Sim, who gives a superb, nuanced performance as Scrooge.

On Facebook, I added these comments:

People who cannot look at a film on different levels are guilty of context-dropping; Rand was not always consistent. "It's a Wonderful Life" says more about the remarkable impact that a single individual can make on the lives of many people and as such, it is a celebration of a "wonderful life." Is it guilty of having "mixed premises"? Sure. What film isn't?
Rand herself wrote some wonderful screenplays in her day ("Love Letters" is one of my favorites; "The Fountainhead" succeeds on some levels, but is botched on other levels). But one can disagree with her assessment of a film and still agree with the fundamental principles of Objectivism. I'm quite frankly appalled by the kind of knee-jerk response that I always see from Rand-fans to films like this or, say, "A Christmas Carol" (the 1951 version especially, starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge), which tells the story of a man whose life is fractured and dis-integrated. In the end, Scrooge does not renounce business; he becomes a more integrated human being. Does the film have mixed premises? Like I said: There are few films that don't have mixed premises. And any art form, especially film, can and should be appreciated on a variety of levels. Some of those films were made in black and white, but they were superb at showing the greyness and complex textures of life, as well as the remarkable color of character and individual integrity.

And that's my "Christmas in July" moment, especially fitting when you're coming off things like Amazon Prime Day and 90-degree temperatures with 80% humidity.

Merry Christmas! And good premises! ; )

Postscript: In reply to a question about how faithful the 1951 film version of "A Christmas Carol" was to the original Charles Dickens story, I wrote:

The 1951 film version considerably embellishes the original Dickens novel with a deeper backstory as to how Scrooge evolved into the dis-integrated individual he had become, truly a man with a "disowned self." I think when viewed through this lens, the complexity of the character and his transformation is made all the more poignant.

Postscript II: In response to Michael Stuart Kelly, who points out that the original article link posted on Facebook qualifies as "fake news", I wrote:

I agree with everything you said, Michael, about the "fake news" character of the original link that prompted the initial thread on this topic. But it was in that thread from which my discussion comes that I was reacting not so much to the link as to the fact that it got nearly forty "Thumbs Up" from people sympathetic to Rand who find any condemnation of "It's a Wonderful Life" a welcome relief. Indeed, it has become a seasonal ritual of late that some Objectivist or libertarian goes on some tirade about the Capra flick or any variation of "A Christmas Carol" because they allegedly depict business people in a bad light.
In truth, we do know this much: Rand never got the chance to tell HUAC what she really wanted to: that among the most loathsome films of 1946 was "The Best Years of Our Lives" (which, I consider a cinema classic for the reasons described here), as Susan [Love Brown] mentions above. Rand despised that film's depiction of bankers "with a heart" etc., and completely overlooked the cathartic character of a film that depicted the difficulty of people returning from the worst carnage in human history (World War II) and trying to adjust to civilian life. She was asked by studio folks to stay clear of such a public condemnation of such a popular film, and was incensed to focus attention instead on "Song of Russia"---clearly a trivial propaganda film made during the war to "humanize" communists, with whom the U.S. had allied in the fight against the Nazis (Lillian Hellman had a field-day ridiculing Rand over this in her book Scoundrel Time, but Robert Mayhew discusses the whole affair in much greater detail in his book, Ayn Rand and "Song of Russia": Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood).
If it were not for the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rand (and Isabel Paterson, John T. Flynn, Albert Jay Nock, and others on the Old Right) would most likely have continued to adhere to the "America First" line, which was adamantly opposed to U.S. entrance into that war; Rand even declared that she would have rather seen the Nazis and Soviets destroy each other, such that if the U.S. were drawn into the conflict, it would have been fighting a much-weakened foe.
Indeed, it should be noted that Rand is on record as having been against all US involvement in virtually every twentieth-century war: World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam; that noninterventionist stance should give us pause, considering that so many of her followers were ready to atomize the Middle East after 9/11. I treat this a bit more extensively in Chapter 12 of the second edition of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, in a new section called "The Welfare-Warfare State".
In any event, getting back to this thread: though the article I linked to may qualify as "fake news," what I was responding to in the original thread was mainly Rand-fan condemnations of films like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol", which are offered up as Christmas pinatas every season for their alleged depiction of business in a bad light. This past year, it was libertarian Tim Mullen's turn to take a crack at both films; his comment on "A Christmas Carol" was that it was a tale of one man stalked by three left-wing ghosts. Well, maybe Dickens was a soft socialist, but the 1951 film version to which I point is the one that most speaks to the horrors of living a dis-integrated life. There is nothing I find in it that is so loathsome, when the point of the film is the reintegration of one's disowned self. Scrooge never denounces his own business or becomes any less rich than he always was; he simply becomes a healed man who understands the roots of his self-alienation.
But I do appreciate you pointing to the various errors in that original link; I laughed at some of the comments therein as well.

I added:

Well, you know where I stand on the topic of "gate-keepers." :) But the original thread to which I posted my comment got 39 Thumbs up, not quite 40... it is here. And I really can't stand seeing Jimmy Stewart called a Pinko. But that's another story...

In the continuing discussion, I made one further point on the issues of aesthetic reponse versus ethical evaluation:

[On the issue of how Scrooge is portrayed in film,] I think it depends on which version of Scrooge we look at; it is very clear in the 1951 version that Scrooge is very self-alienated, and the time spent on his past establishes the facts and tragedies that led to this.
But on another subject, I would just like to make one comment about politics and aesthetics: we all know that there were communists in Hollywood and that politics sometimes showed up in screenplays and stories. But I can't help feeling distressed that some people will dismiss any writer, actor, musician or other talented artist strictly because of their politics or personal flaws, such that we can't possibly endorse their art. If that were the case, you might as well give up listening to music, watching films, reading books, or enjoying any art whatsoever.
I was not a fan of Dalton Trumbo's politics; but I loved "Spartacus"; I am not a fan of Barbra Streisand's politics, but I adore "Funny Girl" and all the music she has made, gal from Brooklyn that she is; for all I know the charges against Michael Jackson regarding pedophilia may be true, but that doesn't stop me from loving "Off the Wall" or "Thriller" or being enthralled by the elegance of his dancing. I bet a high percentage of artists from ancient times through today, were tortured souls, who spilled out their guts in works of sculpture, painting, music, and literature. Bill Evans, perhaps the most influential jazz pianist of the twentieth century, was a tortured drug addict, but it was his modal take on jazz that made "Kind of Blue" what it became, as Miles Davis himself testified; when Evans played--and I was fortunate to see him play live at the Village Vanguard--it was as if he became part of the piano he was playing. At some point, you have to separate aesthetics and ethics and be willing to accept the fact that you can respond positively to art by folks you might not like, politically, ethically, or personally. It would be a very boring world if we all had to toe the party line every time we responded with any kind of emotional impact to any work of art.

Postscript III: My friend, Mark Fulwiler, raised the issue that Paul Robeson was a Stalinist, even though he was a good singer, and then asked the proverbial Hitler question: "What if Hitler were a great singer?" I replied:

Well, I can tell you that Hitler was definitely NOT a good painter. But Robeson was a great singer. And I suspect that if Hitler were a great singer, he would not be singing "Billie Jean"; I suspect it would be something really dissonant with some pretty scary Aryan theme. So I probably wouldn't respond to it aesthetically, if I was blinded and didn't know who the artist was.
But let's take a better example concerning somebody whose work we do know and whose contributions to music and compostion are well known: Richard Wagner. Wagner's racism and anti-Semitism are repugnant to me, but can anyone deny the brilliance of his harmonies, textures, or his use of leitmotifs in music? I have a hunch that Wagner did more to influence the whole development of what has become known as the film score than any single composer in history.
I'm not particularly fond of the work of Ezra Pound, who embraced Mussolini and Hitler, but I can't deny the impact of his work on everybody from Robert Frost to Ernest Hemingway; Ayn Rand herself detested many writers and their views; she made it a point of stating, for example, that she thought Tolstoy's philosophy and sense of life were "evil, and yet, from a purely literary viewpoint, on his own terms, I have to evaluate him as a good writer."
All I'm arguing here is that there is a lot of art out there, be it painting, sculpture, literature, film, music, etc., and if I had to use an ideological litmus test as a filter with regard to what I might like or dislike, I might find myself very unhappy because there are too many artists out there, talented in their own right, whose ideologies are diametrically opposed to my own. I don't live like that, and I think we impoverish ourselves if we bracket out of our aesthetic scale anybody and everybody with whom we disagree.

Mark liked the points I made, but said, "What if I told you I had a recording of Hitler playing Rachmaninoff on the piano with the Berlin Philharmonic?" -- to which Jerry Biggers replied, "But you don't!"... to which I replied:

LOL ROFL... sorry, I tried to take this one seriously, but you have to make me bust a gut. And you KNOW I can't afford to bust a busted gut! LOL

Jerry Biggers added: "What if I told you that I had a recording of Stalin (or other Soviet thug) having private ballet lessons for an exclusive presentation of Aram Khachaturian's "Spartacus" ballet to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet? So?......"

Chris Matthew Sciabarra (has finally collapsed into hysteria)

June 28, 2017

Song of the Day #1469

On Facebook, I prefaced this "Song of the Day" entry with this comment: It is officially June 28, 2017; on this date in 1969, in the wee small hours of the morning, the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. With all the hoopla of this past weekend’s “Pride” events nationwide, some folks seem to forget that the parades emerged initially to commemorate what happened in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. For despite the ritual nature of these police raids, it was on this night that the patrons fought back on the basis of a crucially important libertarian premise; they rioted and rebelled in defense of their individual rights to live their own lives and to pursue their own happiness in private, safe havens, away from the brutality and harassment they faced on an almost daily basis. It is in this spirit that I add another song to my Summer Dance series. From “To Wong Foo…”, it’s Chaka Khan blowing a hole through the roof with "Free Yourself":

Song of the Day: Free Yourself, words and music by Sami McKinney, Denise Rich, and Warren McRae, is given a scaldingly hot treatment by Chaka Khan, whose pipes tear the roof off the motha'. The song is featured on the soundtrack to the 1995 comedy, "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" (and is also played over the end credits). I dedicate it today to those who participated in the Stonewall Rebellion, which began in the wee hours of June 28, 1969, in response to yet another regular police raid on a gay bar, this one in NYC. It remains a symbolic event for those who have sought equality before the law and the right to live their lives and to pursue their own happiness, without the interference of government. It began on this date as a quintessentially libertarian reaction against state repression of establishments that catered to a clientele of gays, lesbians and even their straight friends, who in their consensual social interactions just wanted to enjoy themselves at a Christopher Street bar in Greenwich Village, a safe haven away from police and social brutality (though it should be noted that such bars were typically "protected" by Mafioso who traded in under-the-table police payoffs). This track from the 1990s wasn't on the Stonewall Inn's famed 1969 jukebox, but it is an appropriate dance burner to mark the day, in keeping with our Summer Dance Party. Check it out on on YouTube.

May 18, 2017

Mendenhall Series on JARS Branden Symposium Concludes

Allen Mendenhall concludes his series reviewing the JARS 2016 symposium, "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy" on the site of the Atlas Society.

For those who have not read the entire series, here are links to the installlments:

"The Legacy of Nathaniel Branden" (6 April 2017)

"'Nathaniel Branden's Oedipus Complex' by Susan Love Brown" (14 April 2017)

"Nathaniel Branden, In His Own Words" (1 May 2017)

"Southern Exposure: 'Branden Saved Years of My Life'" (17 May 2017)

I wanted to extend my thanks to Allen for his challenging series of review essays and for his kind comments with regard to the coeditors on the Branden symposium (Robert Campbell and me).

May 15, 2017

Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche

On a Facebook thread dealing with the relationship of Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche, I wrote the following:

Troy [Camplin] is right that Rand's first exposure to Nietzsche was Thus Spake Zarathustra (which she read in Russia at the urging of an older cousin) and that her view of Nietzsche began to change with her later reading of The Birth of Tragedy. She certainly grappled with Nietzsche throughout her early fiction (up through The Fountainhead, but traces of the more "exalted" Nietzsche can be found even in Atlas Shrugged).
It should be noted that Rand's years in Russia were in the last days of Silver Age Russian culture, on which Nietzsche made an enormous impact. Nietzsche influenced everyone from the Symbolist poets (including Rand's favorite poet, Aleksandr Blok) to Russian Marxists, such as Maxim Gorky.
But to my knowledge, at least in my analyses of Rand's college transcripts, there is no evidence of her having studied him formally. She did take two courses (one on the "History of (Ancient) Greece" and another on the "History of the Development of Social Forms [or Institutions]"), which were taught by F. F. Zelinsky and N. Gredeskul, respectively, both of whom were deeply influenced by Nietzsche, and whose presentation of the material in those courses would have incorporated a distinctive "Nietzschean" flavor.
There is no doubt that Nietzsche made a huge impact on Rand, though it is Aristotle, I think, whose work made the biggest impact. Rand's mature thought shows far more sophistication than do any of her off-the-cuff comments on any number of subjects (including whatever she may have said about Native Americans or any other cultures that she viewed as "primitive" or "savage," an issue raised on another thread). Needless to say, I get into the nuances of Rand's corpus rather extensively in my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical

May 14, 2017

Derek Jeter Day in the Bronx

Today, in the Bronx, at the iconic Yankee Stadium, the New York Yankees organization retires the Number 2 worn by its All-Star shortstop [YouTube link] from 1996 to his retirement in 2014. Derek Jeter remains pure class in my scorebook; he was the face of baseball for nearly two decades, especially at a time when the sport was being routinely sullied by juicing scandals. It is not by pure chance that this day of tribute falls on "Mother's Day"; Jeter has always spoken of how deeply his mother, his father, and his family have given him inspiration and love. Today, all of New York and baseball fans everywhere will have a chance to share in that love.

Jeter's #2 Gets Retired at Yankee Stadium

I was fortunate enough to see Jeter play quite a few times at the old Yankee Stadium. His eloquent speech at the closing of that Stadium [YouTube link], (a year before he was among those players who went on to open the New Yankee Stadium, with a 2009 World Series Championship), his final All-Star Game appearance, his farewell speech to the home crowd, his final home game, his final tribute to the crowd, and his final career at-bat against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park (where even the Fenway Faithful applauded him) remain among the most poignant moments of his storied career [YouTube links].

His drive and his dedication to win and his passion for the game were a marvel to behold and a joy to watch. He was an absolute gem both at the plate and on the field. He was a five-time World Series champion, which included a 2000 Most Valuable Player Award for the Subway Series against the New York Mets. More than anything, he was, with that classic "inside-out" swing, a clutch hitter (having more than 200 hits per season eight times in his career). He was someone whom the opposition feared when the game was on the line. It was no misnomer when he earned the nickname "Captain Clutch," since his postseason play was as sparkling as his regular season statistics (he retired with a career .310 regular season average, and with a comparable .308 postseason average, having 200 total hits in his postseason history). But his postseason stats are even more remarkable, because they were earned against the best teams in baseball. Who can forget that "Mr. November" [MLB link] moment at the Stadium in 2001? It was at a time when New York City had more than its share of real heroes, but, like Hall of Fame New York Mets' catcher, Mike Piazza [YouTube link] before him, Jeter gave symbolic meaning to New York grit, at the center of three consecutive miraculous Yankee Stadium victories in New York (despite losing the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks in seven games).

Jeter holds many all-time franchise records for the New York Yankees, including most all-time hits (3,465), doubles (544), games played (2,747), stolen bases (358), times on base (4,716), plate appearances (12,602) and at bats (11,195). He was the 1996 Rookie of the Year, a 14-time All-Star (including a Most Valuable Player All-Star Game award the same year he was named World Series MVP). He won 5 Gold Glove Awards, 5 Silver Slugger Awards, 2 Hank Aaron Awards, and a Roberto Clemente Award. He was the 28th player in Major League Baseball History to pass the 3,000 hit mark. Always a teammate with a "flair for the dramatic," his 3000th hit was a home-run on a day in which he went 5 for 5, driving in the winning run. He is, in fact, the only Yankee player with more than 3,000 lifetime hits (which ranks sixth all-time among Major League Baseball players, and the most all-time hits by a shortstop).

Pause one moment and think about that.

Jeter has more hits for the Yankees than Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and the last Yankee shortstop to enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Phil Rizzuto.

Check out some of Jeter's greatest plays, along with some of his greatest defensive plays (including the "flip play" in the 2001 playoffs against the Oakland Athletics and the flying-into-the-stands catch against the Boston Red Sox in 2004) [YouTube links].

I should digress a moment to provide a little personal context for my own celebration of this great ballplayer. Being a Yankee fan my whole life, I rooted mainly for a losing team; this was not the "GM" of American baseball that I'd heard about from my elders, who lived through the 1940s and 1950s. In my lifetime, there were two years of World Championships that I celebrated: 1977, with Reggie Jackson smacking three home runs in a single game, and the amazing 1978 comeback team, led by the overwhelming dominance of pitcher Ron Guidry (25-3). That team was down 14 1/2 games in July to the Boston Red Sox, and went on to win a one-game playoff against their notorious rivals, before eventually taking the World Series for a second consecutive year over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After that, except for a World Series loss in 1981 and a few exciting, but ultimately frustrating, years of "Donnie Baseball" (led by Team Captain Don Mattingly), the Yankees saw very little of the postseason. The Yankees may have been a New York institution, but New York has always been a National League town. After all, it once supported two National League teams: the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds and the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. So from the time of the Miracle Mets of 1969 through the 1986 World Champion Mets, even the late 1970s Yankees were just a blip on the baseball radar (in fact, in their own miracle 1978 season, you couldn't even find them on the back pages of New York's daily newspapers because the newspapers were on strike!).

For me, therefore, it was no coincidence that with the arrival of Derek Jeter in pinstripes as the full-time shortstop of the Yankees in 1996, the team began a renaissance that ended its eighteen-year drought in the World Series. With his matinee idol looks, remarkably steady demeanor, and incredible talent, he seemed perfectly matched for a city that demanded nothing but the best from its sports heroes, "a larger than life presence in a larger than life town," as sportscaster Michael Kay has put it. And from 1996 through 2001, with teams chockful of talent and Joe Torre's managerial expertise, the Yankees won four out of five World Series contests. It is no understatement to say that so much of this success was tied to Jeter's growing maturity as a ballplayer. Later, in 2009, Derek Jeter slipped a fifth World Series ring onto his gifted fingers, with the opening of the new Yankee Stadium.

More than anything, Derek Jeter proved to be a genuine leader, not just as a Captain of the team, but as a gentleman of the sport, a beloved man who inspires young players even today. In my book, #2 will always be #1. It was an honor to watch this man's career unfold. Like All-Star relief pitcher Mariano Rivera, who holds the all-time record for saves, and who is, no doubt, headed for Cooperstown, I hope to see "Captain Clutch" enter Cooperstown as well when he becomes eligible in 2020. For now, I'm just looking forward to hearing the voice of the late Bob Sheppard [YouTube link] introducing Derek Jeter as he steps up to be honored by the team with which he spent his entire baseball career -- a rarity nowadays, for sure. It was quite emotional for this fan to say "farewell" [YouTube link] to the Captain (the Yankees paid tribute to him back in September 2014 [YouTube link]). But it will be sheer delight to welcome him back home for this tribute.

Jeter recently said: "No one had more fun that I did. You're playing a game. . . . I understand that it is your job, it's your profession. You have a lot of responsibilities. But at the same time, you're playing a game, and you have to have fun. And if you don't have fun playing it, I think it's impossible to be good at it. I had fun. Every moment on the field was fun for me."

Jeter made it fun to be a Yankee fan. But that fun transcended the team for which he played. It was one of the most important gifts he gave to the game of baseball: Long live the Captain!

Postscript I [15 May 2017]: Take a look at the plaque unveiled at Yankee Stadium in honor of Jeter during yesterday's ceremony, and Derek's speech as well. And check out Mike Lupica's column today in the New York Daily News.

Postscript II [16 May 2017]: It was reported by the Associated Press that the ceremony to honor Jeter "was the most-viewed program in the New York area in its time period on Sunday night and the most-watched non-game in the history of the YES network . . ." The ceremony was also televised on ESPN. Check out this really sweet Budweiser tribute to #2 [YouTube link].

April 22, 2017

The New Age of Ayn Rand? Ha!

I've been reading a number of essays online about the alleged "New Age of Ayn Rand," and the authors typically give us a list of folks in the administration of Donald Trump and in the legislative and judicial branches of government who are supposedly Rand "acolytes." Two essays come to mind: Jonathan Freedland's Guardian piece, "The New Age of Ayn Rand: How She Won Over Trump and Silicon Valley" and the far better piece by Thu-Huong Ha in Quartz, "US Repubican leaders love Ayn Rand's controversial philosophy--and are increasingly misinterpreting it."

Freedland goes on and on about how Rand's "particularly hardcore brand of free-market fundamentalism" is "having a moment," reflected in views expressed by Speaker Paul Ryan, former Presidential candidate Ron Paul, and his Senator son Rand Paul, and a host of folks in the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Labor Secretary Andy Puzder, and even Donald Trump himself, who once said something nice about Rand's novel, The Fountainhead.

Ha's piece is more nuanced; the writer points out that Rand's atheism, opposition to tariffs, corporate bailouts, and such, run contrary to many of the policies put forth by the Trump administration. (And as an immigrant from the Soviet Union, an opponent of communism and the building of walls, I think she'd have a few things to say about some of the proposals floated by that administration on the issue of immigration.)

I should point out further that Rand's adamant opposition to laws prohibiting abortion, illicit drugs, "obscenity" and "pornography," and sexual activities among consenting adults, run counter to the fundamentalist strain in contemporary U.S. conservatism. She argued that the society was headed toward a "new fascism," which was aided by the efforts of both contemporary liberals and conservatives. It was a form of corporate state that would benefit powerful interests at home and abroad (through the various machinations of foreign "aid," the Ex-Im Bank, the IMF, and the Fed). It is true that she was opposed to the welfare state, but that's only because she rooted the problems it was allegedly created to resolve in the boom-bust cycle generated by a state-banking nexus, exemplified by the Federal Reserve System and its abandonment of the gold standard. (Hat tip to Jeffery Small: Of course, Rand was opposed morally, in principle, to the idea of a welfare state, no matter who the beneficiaries were, be it poor folks, corporations, or the bureaucracy that sustained it. She believed it required the wholesale sacrifice of some groups to the benefit of others, and that it necessarily achieved this through the initiation of force, a violation of individual rights. But she also argued that the whole class of the institutionalized poor was itself an outgrowth of state intervention.)

She was also opposed to the warfare state; her opposition to U.S. entrance into World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and her repudiation of any notion that the U.S. could engage in "nation-building" among foreign cultures that had no understanding of the nature of individual rights, all exhibit a grasp of how interventionism abroad almost always created a "boomerang" effect that led to a host of "unintended" consequences. These consequences, much like the interventionist dynamic at home, would lead to further complications and demands for further interventionism, thus creating an almost self-perpetuating welfare-warfare state (see Chapter 12 of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and various essays indexed here).

Today, however, I was going to tell the story about one Rand acolyte who was in a position of immense power and what happened when he was given the opportunity to fundamentally change the institutions he once opposed.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a gentleman named Alan. And he stood firmly against the creation of a central bank, especially the Federal Reserve Bank, which institutionalized inflationary expansion and the inexorable busts; he was an adamant supporter of a gold standard, and talked much about how government facilitated the creation of monopolies with various barriers to entry. Alas, Alan eventually became Chairman of the very Federal Reserve System he once opposed, and was one of the sculptors of the bubble that burst into the Great Recession. But instead of telling that story, I should just refer readers to a wonderful essay by David Gordon posted to the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute: "Alan Greenspan, Sellout." In that essay, Gordon makes clear that even the most fervent acolytes of Ayn Rand become corrupted "once [such folks become] close to the levers of power." I submit that the internal dynamics of government intervention both at home and abroad are too powerful to control; eventually, even those who oppose that intervention become adept at using those very levers of power, and the results cannot be in sync with the philosophy of a woman who stood against interventionism in all its insidious forms, both at home and abroad, both in the boardroom and the bedroom.

This is not the age of Rand. It is the age of the anti-Rand. It is an age where people can cherry-pick and sloganize some of Rand's ideas to justify new and ingenious ways of destroying the fabric of social and economic life. Beware "the New Age of Rand"; it is nothing of the sort.

Postscript: I added a Facebook comment to this essay on 25 April 2017:

I should state for the record that Rand was proudly present at the White House when Greenspan was appointed to Ford's Council of Economic Advisors; she died in 1982, and never lived to see him take the helm of the Fed in 1987. I honestly have no clue what her view would have been; I've heard it said by some of Greenspan's friends that he had hoped to affect change from within the system. The moral of this story is that the system changes just about anyone who becomes a part of it. I do think, however, that Rand's ultimate goal was revolutionary; or else, why speak of "Capitalism:The Unknown Ideal." She declared herself proudly a "radical for capitalism" and fought for a system that had never existed in history.

April 21, 2017

Ayn Rand and Sexual Psychology

I've been having a chat on Facebook about a comment that one person made about Ayn Rand's sexual psychology. The person said:

Ayn Rand seems like the typical masculinized woman who wants to have it both ways. She wants a powerful, socially dominant alpha who'll fuck her hard, but she also wants to reserve the right to indulge her hypergamous (bordering on polyandrist) tendencies by fucking some other men as well, and still have that supposedly 'powerful' man continue to want her.

I was asked what my reaction was with regard to the above quote. At first, I said:

Honestly, . . . whoever said this sounds like he's drawn a ton of deeply psychological inferences about Rand's sexual psychology through examples from her fiction and her life, perhaps, while trying to place her into "typical" categories into which she may or may not fit. I have no clue. I think such claims fall far too deeply into the area of psychologizing for my tastes. And often these are the kinds of claims that are used to deflect any scholarly attention from a person's philosophy; character assassination is a lot easier than grappling with a person's intellectual legacy.

Apparently, the person who made the above conjecture is a libertarian and not trying to deflect from Rand's accomplishments as a thinker, so I was asked for a follow-up. I wrote:

Well, again, I have absolutely no clue about the sexual psychologies of anybody without having more factual knowledge. I'd have to get to know them somewhat initimately to at least form a judgment on something as private as that. I mean, in some instances, if you have your eyes open, you can see a stereotype coming from a mile away! But in too many instances, I've found that you need to really get to know somebody before you can form a satisfactory conclusion... and even then, you can be wrong.
As for Rand: let's face it, this society does not deal too well with "Type A" women. I did coedit (with Mimi R. Gladstein) the anthology, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, and in many of those essays, authors draw assumptions about Rand from her fiction and her life. It's hard not to. I recall her making a comment (I think to Nathaniel Branden) about the sex in her novels, something like, "This is my fantasy, not yours." And in many cases, at least with regard to any fiction-writer, it's very hard not to interpret the sex scenes as at least something that the author has thought about, if not engaged in. There's a lot of "rough sex" in Rand's novels; in The Fountainhead it becomes "rape by engraved invitation" (and writers have debated for years the issue of the "rape fantasy" in Rand's novels). And yes, there are things one can draw from concerning her take on "masculinity" and "femininity" (as "hero-worship") that say something about her view of man-woman relationships (as do her comments on homosexuality among men or women). The character, Dagny Taggart, also says something about her view of the ideal woman. Even her private journals during her break-up with Nathaniel Branden suggest things about her sexual psychology.
But I have enough trouble figuring out people I've known than people I've never met to do arm-chair psychology with regard to what's going on in their minds and bodies! Psychology is definitely not an exact science.

Ross Levatter replied: "Chris, you write that this author draws a number of psychological inferences about Rand's sexual psychology "through examples from her fiction and her life." Aren't those exactly the sources from where you would expect such inferences to be drawn?" And I answered:

Yes, of course. And with an author who said "And I mean it!" it is at least an indication of something in her sexual psychology. I'm just not prepared to psychoanalyze somebody whom I never met. So much goes into sexual psychology, some things we haven't even truly understood just yet. And we also filter a lot of our psychological inferences through the culture in which we are all embedded. So, with apologies to both Miss Rand and to the person who made the above statements, it's just not that black-and-white.

Well, of course, the discussion has continued. On April 22, 2017, I was challenged for "sitting on the fence" with regard to this issue, and I answered in greater detail:

I don't know why Rick [Giles] thinks I'm "sitting on the fence" on this issue. I just don't think it is easy to dissect a person's sexual psychology in a public forum when we don't really have access to some very intimate details about Rand. Brian, I do agree that you are probably right in your suggestion that Frank was not exactly the embodiment of Rand's stated vision of the ideal man (which was, she said, the "goal" of her fiction-writing).
To state as Rick does that "Ayn Rand is out and out hypergamous without apology" is, quite frankly, BS. If she were so unapologetic about being "hypergamous", why did she not reveal publicly that she was having an affair with Nathaniel Branden (who was probably fulfilling a need in her that Frank could not), with the "acceptance" of both her husband and Nathaniel's then-wife Barbara? For a person who challenged the morality of 2000 years, she didn't flaunt unapologetically the fact that she was in sexual relationships with two men at the same time. In fact, she never mentioned it publicly. She wanted to keep that fact private and secret, which gives one pause about how "without apology" she actually was.
Now, I've heard theories that she didn't want to publicly embarrass her husband. I've also heard theories that because Frank's brother Nick was gay, and because Frank liked gardening and painting, he was probably gay too. You see what I mean about arm-chair psychologizing? You just go down a road with no end and start vomiting conclusions on the basis of little or no evidence.
On the "dominant and submissive" themes in Rand's fiction, I can say this much: I've observed so-called "dominant" and "submissive" behavior in sexuality enough to know that the person who is "submissive" may be either "genuinely" submissive or merely running the show as slickly as a film director---one reason why I have no freaking clue what precisely was going on in Ayn Rand's mind.
Here is what we do know about Rand: She dedicated "Atlas" to both Frank O'Connor and Nathaniel Branden. They both meant something to her on a very deep emotional level. We also know that her novels show that monogamy is not exactly a sacred commandment, that she depicts a lot of rough sex in her fiction (though not quite of the "Fifty Shades of Grey" variety), etc. We know her views on masculinity and femininity and on homosexuality. But for a woman who publicly declared that homosexuality was "disgusting," I've also heard that she cared very much for Frank's brother Nick. (She even stated in her journals that the real affair in "The Fountainhead" was between Roark and Wynand, though not a sexual bond, it was something deeply "romantic"). How do we reconcile these facts? What you see (or what you think you see) is not always what you get.
So her stated views in fiction (as fantasy or projection) and in nonfiction essays (on everything from the idea of a woman president to the Women's Lib movement) and in question-and-answer sessions to public lectures (where she aired her comment on homosexuality) just don't tell the whole story. Nor does her public and private behavior, especially private behavior that she most certainly did not wish to publicize "without apology."
I said it before, and I'll say it again: Sexual psychology is just too complex for one to draw broad conclusions when you don't know enough about the actual person you're dissecting. And I don't think we really know as much as we think we know. So much for my "sitting on the fence."

The conversation went on and on, so I'll just give a summary of what I said in a wrap up (posted on 23 April 2017):

I don't think that every private act ought to be belted out in public, but I think that to say [Rand] was unapologetically hypergamous suggests to me that she was so unapologetic that she could not have cared less what people thought of her having an affair or of anybody she cared about (what happened to "But I don't think of you"?). And I was not so much swearing at you as answering you with the same tone you addressed to me: fence-sitter is not what I am.
. . . [C]alling me a fence-sitter is akin to telling me I'm bullshitting my way out of taking a firm stand, when I'm actually arguing that I can't take a firm stand because I don't have enough information about the workings of Ayn Rand's mind. And who does? We can't make blanket assumptions based on what she projected in her fiction or what we know of her private life. When dealing with a public figure as famous as Rand, who certainly left us some clues about her sexual psychology, I have to take a very cautious approach to making sweeping judgments about a topic so intimate. I'm not a psychologist, but even if I were, I don't have such a depth of access into the workings of Ayn Rand's mind. I don't think anybody has that kind of knowledge.

Rick responded that he was "not socialised in your 1960s New York ghetto slang." He suggested that a private message could have averted a "war." Funny, but I didn't think I had inherited 1960s New York ghetto slang, considering I had not reached the age of 10 until 1970. I guess I'm a little dated. Hmmm... okay, a little more chatting went on.

I'll remember writing you a private message the next time you say that you can't read a paper because it reads like a Sciabarra book. Ahem. You been takin' digs at the ol' man, here, for quite a while now. So I'll wind it back. This is not about any war between us. You're not my enemy. Last time I looked, you were at least a Facebook friend. So let's be friendly.
This whole thread started with a question from Chris Baker asking me to react to a quote about Rand's sexual psychology. Please read that quote. If you honestly think that that quote is not about sexual psychology and that it doesn't make sweeping judgments about Rand's sexual psychology, then we must be reading different quotes. I took your comments as basically seconding the truth of that quote, and my stance is that I can't agree with that kind of a sweeping judgment (or even with its questionable assumptions) based on such a complex area as sexual psychology.
Now let me make one other point: I think I have confused your meaning of hypergamy; at first we were discussing Rand's polyandrous behavior suggested in her fiction and on display in her life. My understanding of hypergamy is being with somebody of a higher class than oneself. Now you really have me confused. Where did Rand ever make any explicit philosophical public statement endorsing mating with folks of a superior caste or class? Dagny Taggart was surely as giant an intellectual equal of any man she was with; I don't think she saw Galt as being of a superior class. And I sure don't think Rand thought Branden to be of a superior class during her affair. So, rewind this conversation and explain what you mean a bit more.

Rick maintained that Rand advocated hypergamy in her philosophical writings. I continued:

Does she really advocate that? I don't see that anywhere in her writing. CB doesn't ask about sexual psychology, but the quote he posts does make assumptions about sexual psychology. When I see terms like "the typical masculinized woman" (which is a term I've usually heard as an epithet to describe gay women), and "a powerful, socially dominant alpha who'll fuck her hard," and comments about "her hypergamous (bordering on polyandrist) tendencies" and "fucking some other men as well" ... Jesus Christ on a bicycle ... the whole paragraph reeks of assumptions about Rand's sexual psychology. But while we're at it, I agree with you that a broader discussion is needed with regard to her view of romantic relationships. So hug it out, and let's at least get on the same page, bro!

I was asked to name the assumptions about Rand's sexual psychology that the paragraph's writer makes, so stating the obvious I wrote:

1. Rand is a "typical masculinized woman." What exactly is that and in what context does it make sense? A "masculinized woman" carries with it assumptions about gender roles and how a woman should or should not act, and what constitutes "masculinity" and "femininity"... and all of this relates to sexual psychology. (I was once told by a critic of Rand that she looked like the typical "castrating female"... which also carried with it assumptions about sexual psychology, and what a woman's role "should" be. Not surprising that the critic was a man.)
2. "She wants a powerful, socially dominant alpha who'll fuck her hard..." Uh, that's pretty self-explanatory. It speaks directly to the "rough sex" that is depicted in Rand's novels and the "rape by engraved invitation" scene in "The Fountainhead," and it involves assumptions again about Rand's sexual psychology.
3. "...she also wants to reserve the right to indulge her hypergamous (bordering on polyandrist) tendencies by fucking some other men as well, and still have that supposedly 'powerful' man continue to want her." Again, this kind of comment makes explicit that Rand is a person who wished to carry on encounters with multiple sexual partners, and still have at least one man who was powerful enough to want (and perhaps subdue) her. I find it hard to believe that this needs to be made any more explicit; all of this speaks directly to assumptions about Rand's sexual psychology, not just her philosophical outlook on man-woman relationships.
The whole paragraph isn't even raised as a philosophical point about Rand's views on man-woman relationships; it is a direct "analysis" of what kind of woman Rand was based on what the author thinks of the way she acted in her sexual relationships with men.
So I'm very baffled that I have to explain what I think is plainly there. This is a straight-out statement and labeling about the ways in which Rand conducted herself in matters of sexuality. And it does so in a way that presumes to know what was going on in her mind with regard to her sexual psychology. I don't know what more I can say. It's right there in the paragraph.

Rick Giles answered that I was "hell bent on looking at the inquiry from an application-level psycho-sexual evaluation of one person, Ayn Rand." I replied:

Rick, for a friend to keep telling me what I am "hell bent' on doing, well, I have nothing else to say because none of what you are asking about pertains to the quote I was asked to comment on. That quote was a quote about Ayn Rand the woman and her sex life; I interpreted it as a sweeping statement about her sexual psychology. I did not interpret it as a statement on Objectivism.
This is not a thread about Objectivism's stance on hypergamy. I don't believe Objectivism qua philosophy has a stance on hypergamy or polygamy or polyandry. There is a need to separate the philosophy from the philosopher sometimes, and what you are attempting to do here is to drag "Objectivism" into the discussion. Objectivism is not Ayn Rand's sex life. You want to start a thread on Objectivism and sexuality, go ahead. This was a thread about a comment that some guy made about Rand.
Quite frankly, I think the statement says more about the guy who said it than about Ayn Rand.
I've said all I need to say about that statement, and as far as Objectivism and sexuality, I said all I needed to say in a little monograph called Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation, which discussed the various attitudes toward sexuality that one found in the Objectivist movement, attitudes that I believe were antithetical to the philosophy. You seem to have an almost hostile tone to your posts, and I can't for the life of me understand what's upsetting you so much. So accuse me of cowardice, fence sitting, running away from a conversation, but sometimes two people just talk past each other. I think we reached that point several comments ago.

Rick Giles replied: "Oh dear. Sounds like 'hell bent' might be another ghetto trigger word. I just meant dedicated! Focused! Sounds like you're offering me the last word then? I'll take a crack at that later."

As I said: Jesus Christ on a Bicycle. Later indeed!

April 19, 2017

Ella 100: Celebrating the Ella Fitzgerald Centenary

Introduction

On April 25, 1917, Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia. As we approach April 25, 2017, I will be celebrating the contributions of one of the greatest jazz singers in music history in commemoration of the centenary of her birth. Back in November 2015, when Notablog celebrated the Frank Sinatra Centenary, I took note of the fact that Sinatra himself referred to Ella as "The First Lady of Song." She brought to jazz many of the things that Ol' Blue Eyes emulated: impeccable diction, wonderful intonation, and an almost innate ability never to sing the same song the same way twice. Her improvisational gifts extended not only to her vocal phrasing but to her achievements in that unique art of jazz singing known as scatting.

Ella was raised on a steady diet of music from the likes of Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and the Boswell Sisters; in fact, it was largely in her embrace of Connee Boswell's style that she got her big breakthrough in 1934, when she competed in Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater. An enthusiastic response from the typically critical audience and from the musicians themselves launched what would become one of the most extraordinary careers of any singer in American popular culture.

Through Benny Carter, a saxophonist in the house band at the Apollo that fateful night, Ella was introduced to many of Harlem's premier musicians; she eventually joined the Chick Webb band, with whom, in 1938, she scored a #1 hit, "A-Tisket A-Tasket," which sold one million copies--not bad for an ol' nursery rhyme. Over time, she recorded with bands led by the musicians who exemplified the changing sounds of the era, from the King of Swing, clarinetist extraordinarie Benny Goodman to Dizzy Gillespie, a trumpeter charging into a new era with the sounds of be bop. Ella's style, emergent in the Swing era, slowly incorporated the idioms of bop, which contributed to her mastery of the art of scat singing, a form of wordless, improvisational vocalizing that allowed the singer to use the voice as if it were another instrument in the band. She actually married the bassist in Dizzy's band, Ray Brown, with whom she adopted a son, Ray, Jr. It was through Ray's producer and manager, Norman Granz, that Ella began appearing in his Jazz at the Philharmonic series, eventually recording a series of "Songbook" albums in the 1950s and 1960s devoted to the works of Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, and, later, in 1981, Antonio Carlos Jobim. This critically acclaimed work brought her international recognition as one of the foremost intepreters of the Great American Songbook.

Such acclaim manifested in fourteen Grammy Awards, a National Medal of the Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. By the 1990s, Ella had recorded over 200 albums, giving her final concert at Carnegie Hall in 1991, the 26th time she had appeared at that iconic venue. She passed away at the age of 79 on June 15, 1996.

Ella's global impact makes it a difficult task to do a Centenary Tribute. Indeed, for years, I've been tributing this truly great singer with links to over seventy entries in "My Favorite Songs." I've cited Ella's renditions of the following songs, listed alphabetically--only, in this instance, I link not to my entries, but to YouTube presentations of her recordings, which means, you're a swinging click away from a touch of class. Prepare to be entertained: All of Me; All of You; All the Things You Are; All Right, Okay, You Win; Begin the Beguine; Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered; Bill Bailey (Won't You Please Come Home); Blue Moon; Blues in the Night; But Not for Me; Cheek to Cheek; Don't Be That Way; Don't Get Around Much Anymore; Early Autumn; Easy Living (with guitarist Joe Pass); (I Love You) for Sentimental Reasons; Give Me the Simple Life; Goody, Goody; Got to Get You Into My Life; The Glory of Love (with Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman; Goodnight My Love (with Benny Goodman); Have You Met Miss Jones?; Here's That Rainy Day; How Deep is the Ocean; How High the Moon; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; I Could Write a Book; I Got it Bad (and That Ain't Good); I'm Beginning to See the Light; I'm Confessin' (That I Love You); I'm Getting Sentimental Over You; In a Mellow Tone; It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing); It's All Right With Me; It's Only a Paper Moon; I've Got a Crush on You; Jersey Bounce; Jingle Bells; Joy to the World; The Lady is a Tramp (and check out her duet with The Chairman of the Board); Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!; Love for Sale; Mack the Knife; The Man that Got Away; My One and Only Love; My Romance; My Shining Hour; O Little Town of Bethlehem; Once I Loved (with guitarist Joe Pass); Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone; 'Round Midnight (live with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown); Runnin' Wild; Santa Claus is Coming to Town; Solitude; Sophisticated Lady; Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most; Stairway to the Stars; Stella By Starlight; Sunshine of Your Love; Sweet Georgia Brown (live with the Duke Ellington Orchestra); Take the A Train; Tenderly (with Louis Armstrong); That Old Black Magic; That's Jazz (scatting with Mel Torme); These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You); This Can't Be Love; This Could Be the Start of Something Big; Too Close for Comfort; What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?; Whatever Lola Wants; With a Song in My Heart; and (If You Can't Sing It) You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini) [again: all YouTube links to enjoy!]

This list doesn't come close to the breadth of Ella's discography. Over the next week, leading up to April 25th, I'll feature just a few more gems from the Songbook of its First Lady.

And now the inevitable question: Can I give you a Top Ten list of Favorite Fitzgerald Recordings? Well, to paraphrase one of the classic lines from a Jerome Kern song I will highlight this week: I can't say... don't ask me! That's not a dismissal; it's just a reality. The woman recorded and performed so many songs in so many different arrangements throughout the years, that I would be hard pressed to pick ten specific recordings or performances. So let me just say: I love Ella. Start here and spend the next week with me, and you'll understand why.

April 06, 2017

Mr. Warmth is Gone But His Insults Live On

Don Rickles, the iconic comedian of insults, has passed away; I have busted an already busted gut several times through the years, watching his stand-up routines and sit-down interviews. An equal opportunity offender, RIP, Don [YouTube links].

April 01, 2017

Song of the Day #1441

Song of the Day: I Was a Fool to Care, words and music by James Taylor, is a melancholy song to note on what is an otherwise whimsical day: April Fools' Day. But this song from Taylor's 1975 album, "Gorilla" is a standout selection. Check out the song on YouTube. Also check out a faithful rendition by Mac DeMarco and Jon Lent [YouTube link] (which includes a little snippet from "The Simpsons").

March 27, 2017

I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians

I feel like I've been living under a rock.

Some years ago, I contributed an essay, "How I Became a Libertarian" to the Mises Institute; it's now archived at LewRockwell.com. I had forgotten that it was Walter Block, my esteemed libertarian colleague (and a past contributor to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies), who was compiling short autobiographies for a collection that would feature the stories of how so many individuals came to embrace the promise of liberty. Block's collection of these profoundly personal entries was published in 2010, but I just picked up the hardcover from the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The book is also available as a pdf or epub file and can be accessed here.

I Chose Liberty_Block.jpg

The autobiographies are organized alphabetically and I must say that the book itself is astonishing in its breadth. I am so elated to recognize so many of the names of folks who are not only fellow travelers on the freedom road, but dear, dear friends. Some of them, sadly, are no longer with us.

I highly recommend this work; I know seven years may seem a little late, but I just wanted to say "Thank You" to Walter, once again, for having provided us with a testament to memory, which might serve as an authentic guide, as Walter puts it, to "the younger generation," illustrating the deeply personal paths and processes by which so many have come to embrace the cause of freedom.

February 21, 2017

Song of the Day #1434

Song of the Day: The Help ("Swingin' on a Rainbow"), words and music by Peter De Angelis and Robert Marcucci, was recorded originally by Frankie Avalon as the title track of his 1959 album. Anything with Frankie Avalon's name attached to it brings to mind films with beaches, blankets, and bingo. But this swingin' song was among the "source music" used in this critically acclaimed 2011 period film set in the Civil Rights era of the early 1960s. Source music can play a crucial role in the cinema, providing an aural authenticity to films with an historical setting. Check out the teen idol's swingin' song on YouTube.

February 16, 2017

Song of the Day #1429

Song of the Day: The Godfather, Part II ("Immigrant Theme") [YouTube link] is a superb Nino Rota composition, conducted by Carmine Coppola, father of Francis Ford Coppola, the director of "The Godfather" (1972) and its two sequels (1974 and 1990), adapted from Mario Puzo's original 1969 novel. But nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing beats the re-edited version of the first two "Godfather" films known as "The Godfather Epic" (a later collection, "The Godfather Trilogy," incorporates "Godfather III"). The original re-edited epic (now playing regularly on premium cable channels, though originally broadcast on NBC in 1977, with a bit of language-scrubbing, as "A Novel for Television") provides us with the whole Corleone family history arranged chronologically (with many scenes not shown in the original theatrical film releases seamlessly integrated). Here, the Family history begins with the tragic youth of Vito Andolini of Corleone, Sicily, fatefully renamed as a child upon his arrival at Ellis Island, as Vito Corleone. Coming to maturity, Vito (superbly played by Robert DeNiro) settles in the Little Italy section of Manhattan. We then move on to the mature Mafia Don of the Corleone syndicate (played brilliantly by Marlon Brando) with special attention focused on one of his American-born sons, Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino, who gives us a master class on evolutionary character development). Michael is an idealistic World War II hero who eventually becomes the family's chieftan, wielding his power with shocking precision. Overall, seeing this brilliant epic, a masterpiece of direction, writing (and improvisation), acting, cinematography, and the use of symbolism, in this chronological reconfiguration provides us with one of the most fascinating cinematic portraits of the power of values in human life---by showing what happens when they are gradually inverted and corrupted. (And for cinemaphiles, check out the the uh, shooting locations that were used in the original film, including Clemenza's house, only ten blocks from where I live!) This particular Rota theme (featured originally on the soundtrack to "Godfather II," for which both Rota and Carmine Coppola shared a much-deserved Oscar in the category of "Best Original Score") is one of my all-time favorites. It expresses the yearning of those who emigrated to this country in search of the American Dream, even as it provides us with a sense of a tragic, underlying American nightmare.

February 14, 2017

Song of the Day #1427

Song of the Day: Brooklyn ("End Credits") [YouTube link], composed by Michael Brook, is from the 2015 film of the Colm Toibin novel about Ellis Lacey, an Irish woman (played by Oscar-nominated Saiorse Ronan) who settles in Brooklyn, and who develops a relationship with Anthony "Tony" Fiorello, a man of Italian descent (played by Emory Cohen). This is just one of those love stories that tugs at the heart strings, perhaps because in the end [semi-spoiler alert!], the woman realizes where her real home is. It's a romantic story about the power of love and the power of home. Fuhgedaboudit [YouTube link to a classic exchange in the 1997 film "Donnie Brasco"!]. The film is practically a Valentine's Day card to Brooklyn, New York. Just the greatest borough in the greatest city on earth (in this regard, "IMHO" is not part of my acronymic vocabulary)! But love is universal, so Happy Valentine's Day to all!

January 20, 2017

Song of the Day #1412

Song of the Day: Got a Match? [YouTube link], composed by Chick Corea, appears on the 1986 album, "The Chick Corea Elektric Band", featuring Chick on keyboards, drummer Dave Weckl, bassist John Patitucci, and guitarists Scott Henderson and Carlos Rios. The track is expressive of its title: it just burns. Hot as hell, with a tempo to match. Whew. (And check out this nice Jazz Violin Band version of the track [YouTube link].) When is Chick going to get his place among the honorees at the Kennedy Center? And while we're on the subject of this stupendous musician, check out how, over the years, he has reinterpreted his own composition, a modern jazz standard if ever there was one: "Spain," which opens with a paean to Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez." Here it is in three different settings: the classic "Return to Forever" 1973 original, from "Light as a Feather" [YouTube link]; a 1999 version recorded for Sextet with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, in three movements: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three [YouTube links]; and this 1989 Akoustic Band album version [YouTube link], which changes time signature and tempos (the group includes the drummer and bassist featured on today's Song of the Day). Just marvelous. While you're at it, check out Stevie Wonder's live-in-concert take on that Corea Classic and Stevie and Chick playing it live, together [YouTube link].

December 30, 2016

Nathaniel Branden Symposium Reviews Begin

Anoop Verma has written a review of the new Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposium on Nathaniel Branden. Readers can find that review here, though the review has sparked a dialogue on Anoop's Facebook page.

I made one comment on the current thread (and will update readers as time allows):

I would just like to make one comment here, having been a coeditor on this project. Nobody should be speculating on what the "movement" would have been like had Nathaniel Branden not been there; this is a completely ahistorical way of looking at the world. We are not soothsayers; nor are we fiction writers who can easily recreate alternative realities. Reality is what it is independent of what people think or feel; Branden was there from 1950 onward. Rand dedicated Atlas Shrugged to both Nathaniel Branden and Frank O'Connor; who knows how different Atlas would have been had Nathaniel not been in Ayn Rand's life? Would we have had the same plot and same romantic entanglements of Dagny with three men (John Galt, Hank Rearden, and Francisco d'Anconia)? Who knows?
Bottom line is: deal with what is, and form your judgments. Branden was there from 1950, and Rand and Branden went their separate ways in 1968. You may disagree with the directions that Rand and/or Branden went, but the fact is that Rand said explicitly that all the pre-1968 writings and lectures of both Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden remained among the "only authentic sources" on Objectivism, in addition to her own work and the work of others featured in periodicals that she edited. As we say in Brooklyn: "Dems de facts." End of story. (And by the way, if there were no Nathaniel Branden or Barbara Branden in Rand's life, there would also have been no Leonard Peikoff, and so on...)
Those pre-1968 Branden writings and lectures are part of canonical Objectivism whether you like it or not; take them out of the canon, and you can take out all the essays and lectures that Branden contributed on perception, volition, the stolen concept, psycho-epistemology, self-esteem, pseudo-self-esteem, social metaphysics, psychological visibility, romantic love, and countless other subjects, including analyses of Rand's literary method. Not to mention the essays that made it into both The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (in the latter work, this includes all of the material that Branden integrated into the Objectivist corpus from the economic writings of Austrian economics).
And in terms of Barbara Branden, we have the only authorized course (a ten-lecture course) on "Principles of Efficient Thinking," which might as well have been renamed "Introduction to Objectivist Psycho-Epistemology," since it is the only course to deal extensively with that crucial subject in the entire Objectivist tradition (oral and written). Nathaniel Branden himself credits Barbara Branden with having introduced both he and Rand to this crucial area of study.
Also note that Rand counted Who is Ayn Rand? (co-written by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden) as among those only "authentic" sources containing information about her and her philosophy, and that that particular book has the only authorized biography written (by Barbara Branden) in Rand's lifetime.
I would prefer, of course, as a founding co-editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies that if readers would like to participate in a thread on the symposium, it would be great if they actually read the symposium and offer their critical comments as Anoop has done here. The essays in the symposium are not purely "hagiographical"; yes, some of the reflections are deeply personal and laudatory. But the subject matter of the symposium is made up of many different perspectives coming from many different disciplines; it is the only anthology of such essays of its kind. In fact it is the first of what we hope will be many more studies of Branden's work to come.

Additional comments were made on this thread; on December 31, 2016, I posted three additional comments, all in response to questions posed by Anoop Verma, whose review of the symposium is the subject of the thread.

Anoop wondered about the timeline of the relationships between Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, and Leonard Peikoff, and about the relationships among these individuals; he also asked about the book Who is Ayn Rand?. I wrote:

Hi, Anoop: you can basically get all the facts from two sources; one is of course Barbara Branden's biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand, where she tells us on page 246 that after Nathaniel met Rand in 1950, and then she met Rand, they introduced Rand to others, including Barbara's dear friend Joan Mitchell (who had been briefly married to Alan Greenspan), and her 17-year old cousin Leonard Peikoff. Peikoff tells us in his essay "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand," that he met her [Rand] when he was 17 in the spring of 1951. It should also be mentioned that almost the entire inner circle, that which became "The Collective", was made up of friends and cousins of Nathaniel Branden (then, Nathan Blumenthal) and Barbara Branden (then, Barbara Weidman): Elayne Blumenthal (Nathan's sister, who eventually married Harry Kalberman); Allan Blumenthal (Nathaniel's first cousin, who eventually married Joan Mitchell), etc. Others who came into the inner circle included Mary Ann Rukavina (who became Mary Ann Sures) and Joan Kennedy Taylor (who read an advance copy of Atlas and was daughter of Deems Taylor, composer). Hope this clarifies things; in essence, it was almost a family affair!

I added:

One other point: Barbara Branden was Rand's first biographer who wrote the first authorized biography in "Who is Ayn Rand?" but she also majored in philosophy and got a master's degree in philosophy under Sidney Hook at New York University (who was also the mentor to Leonard Peikoff, who completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at NYU). Barbara did review books for Rand's periodicals and delivered a course, "Principles of Efficient Thinking," which is on its way to becoming a print publication, published by Cobden Press, for which I have written the foreword. It is a fine work on one aspect of philosophy: psycho-epistemology (which pertains not to the content of awareness but to the methods, means, and mechanics by which we think).

I added:

Nathaniel wrote three essays for "Who is Ayn Rand?": "The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged"; "Objectivism and Psychology"; and "The Literary Method of Ayn Rand"; this is followed by "A Biographical Essay": "Who is Ayn Rand?", the title essay of the book, the first authorized biography of Ayn Rand, written by Barbara Branden. Most of the material for this was gleaned from the many hours of biographical interviews of Ayn Rand conducted in 1960-1961 by both Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden. Check the materials I sent you and you'll find the authorized biography as the last chapter of the book.

I made an additional observation about Leonard Peikoff:

One other point, btw: None of my own admiration of Nathaniel Branden has affected any of my admiration for some of the important work, indeed--indispensable work--that Leonard Peikoff has done in the area of articulating Objectivist philosophy and extending some of the insights of Rand into areas in which Rand did not venture. Certainly his Ominous Parallels has some very important things to say about the phenomenon of Nazism, as well as the nature of social domination; his book on Objectivism includes crucially important material that was taken from the course he gave under Rand's auspices, but never put into print by Rand herself; his Understanding Objectivism is, for me, perhaps the most important series of lectures he ever gave, and I'm happy that it is now out in some form (even if not in its original packaging; that is, for example, we don't have Edith Packer's contribution to that course in print for obvious reasons: she and Peikoff parted ways some years ago in the split between Peikoff and George Reisman). I have learned immensely from Peikoff's work; a sizeable portion of my own Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical cites his published work and so much of the work he did in lectures that can only be found in the "oral tradition" of Objectivism, on subjects as varied as the philosophy of history and the principles of logic.

December 24, 2016

Song of the Day #1406

Song of the Day: Boogie Woogie Santa Claus, words and music by Leon Rene, went to #12 on what in late 1947 was called the Billboard Race Records chart. That original version was recorded by Mabel Scott [YouTube link]. But there are also versions by the Brian Setzer Orchestra (single and live rendition [YouTube links]). Don't forget to track Santa's travels on NORAD! Have a safe and Merry Christmas Eve!

December 12, 2016

New JARS Symposium - Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy

Today, a sparkling new edition of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies makes its debut. It is a special symposium featuring the contributions of fifteen authors on the subject of "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." As a Pennsylvania State University Press periodical, the new December 2016 issue of the journal (Volume 16, nos. 1-2; Issues #31-32) will appear this week in electronic form on JSTOR, which is promoting it as the first double-issue in the history of JARS. Print copies are on the way to subscribers, just in time for the holidays! Since this is a double issue, it can be purchased as a stand-alone hard copy by nonsubscribers at the annual subscription rate (see the subscription page at the Johns Hopkins University Press, which handles all PSUP periodical distribution through its fulfillment services). In addition to our regular print and electronic publication, this special issue is also available through amazon.com as the very first Kindle edition in the sixteen-year history of JARS.
 
As the ad copy for the new issue informs us:

Nathaniel Branden (1930-2014) was a crucial figure in the life of Ayn Rand and her philosophy. A brilliant psychotherapist and "father" of the self-esteem movement, he made important contributions to the theory and practice of Objectivism. So far, however, his life and influence have never been the subject of a book or collection of articles. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) long intended to fill this gap by publishing an interdisciplinary collection of studies about the many facets of his work. With his death on December 3, 2014, JARS received too many valuable essays to publish in a single issue. Now, two years after Branden's passing, and for the first time in our sixteen-year history, we offer not only a double issue but one that will be available in print and as a Kindle edition. Our contributors---who include Tal Ben-Shahar, Roger E. Bissell, Susan Love Brown, Robert L. Campbell, Stephen Cox, Walter Foddis, Teresa I. Morales Gerbaud, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, Roderick T. Long, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Andrew Schwartz, Duncan Scott, Deepak Sethi, Michael E. Southern, and Joel F. Wade---represent a wide array of perspectives and disciplines, such as political theory, history, philosophy, literature, anthropology, business, film, and both academic and clinical psychology. Also presented is the first print publication of a transcribed 1996 lecture (and its Q&A session), "Objectivism: Past and Future," by Nathaniel Branden, as well as the most comprehensive annotated bibliography yet produced on Branden and the secondary literature regarding his life and work.

NEW JARS: THE BRANDEN SYMPOSIUM


For a lengthier description of the purpose and contents of this symposium, I'd like to feature in today's Notablog entry, a few extended passages from the "Prologue" (full citations and endnotes can be found in the published version, along with much material omitted here), written by the coeditors for this very special issue:  Robert L. Campbell and yours truly (Chris Matthew Sciabarra).  We write:

Nathaniel Branden (born Nathan Blumenthal, 9 April 1930) passed away on 3 December 2014. In 2012, the Editorial Board of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies had approached Branden with a proposal to feature a symposium on his work and legacy. He and his wife Leigh were pleased with the idea, and gave the project their blessings. We are only sorry that he did not live to see its completion.
The symposium, we had explained, would encompass both his eighteen years with Ayn Rand and the much longer post-Randian period in which he became known as the father of the self-esteem movement. Ironically, in the latter period, Branden was gradually drawn back toward reexamining and ultimately reiterating the core principles that Objectivism encompassed. Despite criticisms of Rand in his later work, he became a veritable neo-Objectivist who spent much time on what might be called praxis, that is, the technology of moving toward the six pillars of self-esteem, as he defined them: the practices of living consciously, of self-acceptance, of self-responsibility, of self-assertiveness, of living purposefully, and of personal integrity . . .
Upon Branden's death, our ongoing call for contributions to the symposium suddenly elicited an enormous response. So many essays poured in that it was no longer possible for all of the accepted material to fit into a single issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Our colleagues at Pennsylvania State University Press, including Patrick Alexander, Julie Lambert, Rachel Ginder, and especially Diana Pesek, helped us to arrive at a workable solution. This would constitute the very first double issue in the history of the journal, and would be published simultaneously as an e-book . . . Kindle edition.
And so we are honored that the entirety of Volume 16, Numbers 1 and 2, is now "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." We did not wish to publish a hagiography. But we must say for the record that not a single scholar from the orthodox wing of Objectivism or from the Ayn Rand Institute, where criticism of Branden has been most common, submitted a paper, though some were specifically invited. So if the balance tilts toward the laudatory in many of the contributions here, that is because the people who took the time to write these essays actually respected and valued the subject, both personally and professionally.
It was our intention to allow scholars from different disciplines and perspectives and from many walks of life to offer their critical assessments of the legacy of a towering figure in the history of Objectivism, as a philosophy and a movement, and in the popular emergence of the self-esteem movement. Many of the contributors to these pages have never before published in any journal connected to Rand studies. For that very reason, it is our hope that this first anthology will be a watershed moment in critical thinking on Branden's work and legacy.
We dont know who else could have taken on this scholarly endeavor. An orthodox Objectivist periodical would surely not wish to sanction any study of the work of Nathaniel Branden. Professional psychology journals, especially those catering to academic audiences, have not particularly wanted to give legitimacy to the study of a writer who has often been dismissed as a popular psychologist---in much the same way that Ayn Rand was once (and still is, in some circles) dismissed as a cult fiction writer and pop philosopher.
 
Such views of Rand have undergone major change, with the recent publication of two major unauthorized biographies and an exponential growth in scholarly books and articles. Our own sixteen-year history and our collaboration with Penn State University Press are powerful illustrations of the trend.
We hope now to be at the forefront of a comparable change in attitudes toward Nathaniel Branden. A critical reassessment of the man and his work can only benefit our understanding of Objectivism, both theoretically and historically. We also believe that his eclectic clinical approach is bound to have an impact on the established orthodoxies in academic and applied psychology. Such an impact will come only from the kind of constructive engagement that this journal has always encouraged. . . .
As scholars, however, we have remained true to our word: this was going to be an open forum, allowing many perspectives on the man and his work to be expressed. We think we have succeeded, as the fifteen essays (and extensive annotated bibliography) in this collection will show.
Upon Branden's death, Sciabarra criticized orthodox Objectivist writers, who refused to cite Branden's works, even those that are still part of the "official" canon of Ayn Rand's philosophy. It must be remembered that despite their acrimonious personal and professional Break in 1968, Rand made it very clear that Branden's work prior to the Break would and should be considered as among "the only authentic sources of information on Objectivism," which included "my own works (books, articles, lectures), the articles appearing in and the pamphlets reprinted by this magazine (The Objectivist, as well as The Objectivist Newsletter), books by other authors which will be endorsed in this magazine as specifically Objectivist literature, and such individual lectures or lecture courses as may be so endorsed. (This list includes also the book Who Is Ayn Rand? by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, as well as the articles by these two authors which have appeared in this magazine in the past, but does not include their future works.) (Rand, "A Statement of Policy," The Objectivist, June 1968)
Sciabarra . . . argued further that those who excoriate the man still owe him a debt of gratitude, "for it was Nathaniel Branden more than anybody, save Ayn Rand, [who was responsible] for the formal development of the philosophy of Objectivism. It was Branden who created the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which brought Rand out of her post-Atlas Shrugged depression, and catapulted her into the role of public philosopher. It was Branden who presented the first systematization of the philosophy with his Basic Principles of Objectivism course (later published as The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism), . . .  a course that was given live, and heard by thousands of others on audio recordings, both on vinyl records and tapes. It was Branden who explored the psychological implications of Rand's exalted conception of self-esteem, and whose work was fully and unequivocally endorsed by Rand during her lifetime (indeed, his book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem is largely a collection of . . . the work he did while under Rand's tutelage, and it is, in many ways, the popular launch of the self-esteem movement in modern psychology). He also conducted, with the late Barbara Branden . . . a series of interviews that have formed the basis of nearly every biographical work that has been published."
Alas, the relationship between philosophy as the broadest of disciplines and psychology as a special science is precarious, at best. It cannot be denied that Branden significantly examined many psychological elements that were implicit in Rand's work, and contributed greatly to our understanding  of them. He did so in the magazines he co-edited with Rand (The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist), in a series of articles he wrote on self-esteem, pseudo-self-esteem, social metaphysics, and psycho-epistemology. He provided an explicit discussion of ideas that Rand did not fully explore in her own writings. But in applying these concepts, the early Branden fell into the error of using them not as tools of cognition with which to understand human behavior, but as tools of emotional abuse with which to control those in the growing inner circle of Randian admirers---and it cannot be said that Rand deplored this practice, for she often encouraged it, or used it herself. It was the employment of psychological ideas for social control that led Jeff Walker to characterize Branden not as the father of the self-esteem movement, but as "The Godfather of Self-Esteem". While the metaphor is over the top---Branden lacked both the fists and the guns available to Don Vito Corleone---it is nonetheless true that he was responsible for much damage.
This includes, of course, the damage that Branden did to his relationship with Ayn Rand and to the movement he worked so hard to create. As Sciabarra puts it, Branden, "like every other human being on earth had his faults." It was not that he conducted a relationship with a woman (Ayn Rand) twenty-five years his senior, but that he lied to Rand as that relationship collapsed . . .  It was for this dishonesty that he was ultimately exiled from Rand's life and from organized Objectivism for all eternity. But in self-disclosure, there is a path to self-redemption. As Sciabarra argues: "[I]t was in his post-Randian years that Branden made his biggest impact. He owned up to the damage he did to so many people when he used psychology as a sledgehammer in the Randian Inner Circle to the detriment of many talented and tender human beings. But he also traced the rationalism that was poisoning the philosophy; instead of being a path to uplift, it often became a path to self-repression, self-flagellation, pain, fear, and guilt. It was the height of horrific irony that a movement based on individualism would give birth to The Collective, where group-think discouraged independent thought. But Branden wrote Breaking Free and The Disowned Self, both of which began the very process of breaking free from the worst aspects of that legacy, to which he himself had contributed . . ."
Sciabarra observed . . .  that it was . . . Branden's path toward self-redemption [that] became a path for millions, among them many former Objectivists whose lives were damaged by the cultic aspects of the movement---aspects that Branden once fostered.
And that is one reason this symposium is necessary. . . .  It is surely time to reexamine Branden's contributions across the board. And this symposium leaves almost no relevant discipline untouched.
In Section I, "The Rand Years," we begin with filmmaker Duncan Scott's essay, "The Movement That Began on a Dining Room Table," which discusses the visionary role played by Nathaniel Branden in systematizing Ayn Rand's philosophy and launching an Objectivist movement. Branden's achievements, argues Scott, were accomplished despite deep skepticism and considerable resistance among those within and outside of Rand's circle. And yet, with highly unlikely odds for success, Branden inspired hardworking individuals to use their talents to launch what became a cultural and political phenomenon.
One of our advisory board members, a Professor of Anthropology at Florida Atlantic University, Susan Love Brown, follows with a truly controversial---dare we say, provocative---discussion of the personal relationship between Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. In "Nathaniel Branden's Oedipus Complex," Brown applies an Oedipal interpretation to this aspect of Branden's life story, one that ultimately resulted in his ability to break free and become his own person.
The last entry in Section I, "Objectivism: Past and Future," is the first appearance in print of a lecture and question-answer session that Branden gave in 1996 before the California Institute for Applied Objectivism. We thank the Estate of Nathaniel Branden, and Leigh Branden in particular, for allowing us to bring this eye-opening session to a wider audience. In many ways, it provides an intellectual culmination to the first section, because it allows Branden to articulate his agreements and disagreements with Rand, from the perspective of a man nearly thirty years removed from the official movement he practically created. It challenges us to think of his whole body of work as a part of Objectivism, or, at the very least, a kind of neo-Objectivism still rooted fundamentally in that which he learned from Rand.
Roger Bissell, who transcribed the Branden lecture, leads off Section II, which we've titled simply "Reflections"---by various individuals who came to know Branden from a variety of disciplines and walks of life. It was through Branden that Bissell, whose works on music, aesthetics, logic, epistemology, and politics have appeared regularly in these pages, came to read Rand, and his essay shows a special appreciation for Branden's wit, wisdom, and welcoming attitude toward new ideas.
Another JARS advisory board member, a Professor of English and Theatre Arts at the University of Texas, El Paso, Mimi Reisel Gladstein, tells us of "The Impact of Nathaniel Branden" on her career---how, if it were not for his initial encouragement, she would hardly have become the Rand scholar she is.
Tal Ben-Shahar, who taught two of the largest psychology classes in the history of Harvard University, provides a touching glimpse of his personal relationship with Branden, who greatly influenced the development of his approach to psychology. His essay, "My Aristotle," details the ways in which Branden helped him both academically and personally.
Deepak Sethi, the CEO of Organic Leadership, follows with his "Personal Reflections on Nathaniel Branden: My Guru and More," which tells the story of how Branden's work inspired him to collaborate with the trailblazing self-esteem theorist, not only on an article that made an impact in the business community . . . but on a series of leadership programs that integrated Branden's sentence-completion techniques into sessions, exploring ways on how to raise the levels of self-esteem among those in the work environment.
Michael E. Southern, a client, an intern, and an eventual friend to Branden, follows with an extraordinary personal memoir---"My Years with Nathaniel Branden"---which tells the story of how Branden helped to liberate Southern from a host of demons. It is also a wide-ranging explication of all of the eclectic, and often literally amazing, techniques that Branden used in his clinical practice.
This essay serves as a natural transition to Section III, to which we've given a Branden-style sentence-completion stem: "If Branden's Works Were Studied by More Academic and Clinical Psychologists. . . ." The section features five individuals in the field who examine Branden's works from diverse perspectives.
Coeditor Robert L. Campbell, Professor of Psychology at Clemson University, provides us with a personal testament to Branden's impact on the development of his career and research interests. He credits Branden's book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, with having helped him to choose psychology as a career, and considers the gulf in modern American psychology between academic research and clinical practice, which Branden was only partly successful at bridging.
Walter Foddis, a clinical psychology doctoral student, gives his own suggestions about bridging. "Branden's Self-Esteem Theory within the Context of Academic Psychology" presents a new theory of self-esteem that synthesizes ideas from Branden and theorists from clinical, developmental, and social psychology. Foddis documents Branden's influence on his own development of a qualitative and quantitative measurement procedure, the Self-Esteem Sentence Completion Instrument, to assess people's sources of self-esteem.
A biochemist and doctoral student in clinical psychology, Teresa I. Morales Gerbaud provides us with an essay, "Nathaniel Branden's Legacy to the Science of Clinical Psychology," on Branden's essentially, not incidentally, biocentric approach. Branden had characterized "his approach to psychology and psychotherapy as 'biocentric'," which, of course, means "life-centered," focusing on "the study of human beings" from an evolutionary or "life-centered perspective" [quotes from Branden's Informal Discussion of Biocentric Therapy].  Morales puts into sharp focus Branden's concerns with the interplay of the conscious and nonconscious aspects of the mind.
Psychotherapist Andrew Schwartz takes on Branden's dialectical concerns with the whole organism in his essay, "Adler, Branden, and the Third Wave Behavior Therapists: Nathaniel Branden in the Context of the History of Clinical Psychology." In this examination, he situates Branden's contributions to clinical psychology in the traditions of cognitive and behavioral therapy. Specifically, he traces the way they were anticipated in Alfred Adler's "Individual Psychology" (a more accurate translation, as Schwartz reveals, would be "Holistic Psychology") and their similarities with contemporary developments, such as the functional contextual Acceptance and Commitment Therapy of Steven Hayes and the Dialectical Behavior Therapy of Marsha Linehan.
The section concludes with an essay by psychologist Joel F. Wade, "Nathaniel Branden and Devers Branden and the Discipline of Happiness." Wade explores his personal experiences with both Nathaniel and his wife Devers (born Estelle Israel; married to Branden in 1978, divorced in 2003), and the ways in which their techniques influenced his own approach. Wade emphasizes how Devers influenced Nathaniel's work in developing a conception of happiness as a discipline, and one approach that they developed together to build on this through their work with sub-personalities, which draws on an idea of Carl Jung's.
Our Epilogue is written by one of JARS's founding editors, Stephen Cox, Professor of Literature at the University of California, San Diego. "Nathaniel Branden in the Writer's Workshop" details the ways in which Branden was both inspired by imaginative literature and ambitious to create it himself. Cox traces the history of his remarkable literary relationship with Branden, and provides us with a moving perspective on the literary Branden, a man hitherto unseen.
We conclude the symposium with a Nathaniel Branden Annotated Bibliography, by far the  most extensive in print. It traces not only all of his books, articles, and lectures, but much of the secondary literature. It was compiled by Roger E. Bissell, Robert L. Campbell, Stephen Cox, Roderick T. Long, and Chris Matthew Sciabarra.
This symposium has been four years in the making; we hope our readers reap the rewards of an anthology that could have come into being only in a climate of intellectual diversity---a climate that this journal has championed since its inception in 1999.

Needless to say, there is much more in the Campbell-Sciabarra "Prologue"---and even our summary of the essays in this extraordinary symposium provides just a small indication of the treasures readers will discover within its pages.

For more information on the symposium, please consult the JARS page for its abstracts and contributor biographies.  And don't forget to explore the many new and wonderful features of our fully reconstructed website, courtesy of our webmaster, Michael E. Southern, himself a contributor to the Nathaniel Branden symposium. (And I'd also like to thank our indefatigable PSUP copyeditor, Joseph Dahm, for all his wonderful work on this and all of our issues, and to give a "shout-out" to Jennifer Frost, whose Grammar Check always offers helpful tips even to those of us who have been editing for decades!)

We believe this issue constitutes a seminal moment not only in the sixteen-year history of our journal, but in the evolving scholarly literature on the impact of "Ayn Rand and her times," one of the very purposes for which JARS was founded way back in 1999.

December 10, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

I just finished reading a typical "libertarian" takedown of yet another classic Christmas tale, long celebrated in American culture: "It's a Wonderful Life," one of the finest Frank Capra films ever made. This critique is by Tom Mullen. Years ago, I read another typical "libertarian" takedown of "A Christmas Carol," (and Tom Mullen appears to be of the same school of thought on this story as well) and what occurs to me is that in both cases, the libertarian critics completely miss the point because they are too busy focusing on the dollars-and-cents issues of how businesspeople are portrayed in these tales. I'll grant the critics one major point: these tales do contain what Ayn Rand often called "mixed premises." Such "mixed premises" are on display in much of Western literature, film, and art in general. But anyone who shares in the larger, benevolent sense of life that Rand saw in American culture should learn to "bracket out" some of the conventional "pink" premises often slipped into films that give us cardboard-cutout portraits of greedy businessmen who operate in very one-dimensional ways almost always understood in terms of strict dollars and cents. Rand herself, however, often fell victim to being incensed by such portraits that she could not see the value of great films, like "The Best Years of Our Lives," which put forth such nefarious notions as "the banker with a heart." Rand didn't "get it": as a 1946 film release, like that of "It's a Wonderful Life," this movie reached deeply into the cultural psyche of a war-weary American public. Debuting about a year after the official end of the most horrific war in human history, the film provides its audience with a cultural catharsis. It does a terrific job of depicting the palpable struggles of World War II's survivng veterans. The film resonated with the audience, which saw on the silver screen riveting portraits of post-traumatic stress and the struggles of veterans trying to live "normal" lives, despite having lost their limbs in battle. In fact, Harold Russell who actually lost both his hands in the war, received an Oscar for Supporting Actor and an Honorary Oscar for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans."

Then again, I'm the kind of guy who identifies with the subtexts of films that are complex enough to appreciate on a level that might not seem obvious at first blush---hence, till this day, my favorite film of all time remains "A Tale of the Christ": the 1959 version of "Ben-Hur," directed by the same William Wyler who directed "The Best Years of Our Lives," and starring Charlton Heston in the title role. Of course, even Rand the atheist could appreciate great literature and great film, no matter how deep its religious context. As I state in my essay on "Ben-Hur":

Ayn Rand herself counted a Biblical work of historical fiction as among her favorites. She regarded Quo Vadis? by Henryk Sienkiewicz as one of the greatest novels ever written. In fact, Rand tells Ross Baker (Letters of Ayn Rand, 11 December 1945, 251): "A book expert in New York told me that the biggest fiction sellers of all times (and the surest recipe for a bestseller) have always been religious novels with a good story (Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis?, The Robe [all made into spectacular epic films--CMS] )--and that The Fountainhead is a religious novel [insofar as] it gives to . . . readers . . . a sense of faith, courage and moral uplift."

Well, then, for me, and for so many other viewers, there is both reason and rhyme in viewing such films as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol" as providing precisely that "sense of faith, courage and moral uplift" that nourish the requisite spiritual inspiration sought by most of us on this planet we call home.

So let's turn to "It's a Wonderful Life," the newest punching bag among some critics in libertarian circles. Contary to what Tom Mullen has said in his essay, there is no evidence that George Bailey has been anything but honest with his customers. Even when there is a run on the bank in 1929, when the Stock Market crashes, George tries to explain to each person who put their money in the Bailey Building and Loan Company, that every single one of them signed a contract when they made their initial deposits, with the stipulation that their money would be secure and that if they wanted to withdraw all of their savings at any time, they would receive it within sixty days.

From the first moments of the crash, something engineered by the Federal Reserve System during the Roaring Twenties, Ol' Man Potter, the guy whom Mullen extols as the real "hero" of the film, offers folks 50 cents on the dollar if they come to his bank (not exactly the "generous offer" Mullen celebrates). He's the kind of guy who was probably involved in the Fed's 1913 formation, which made twentieth-century booms and busts both possible---and inevitable, including the 1929 crash depicted in the film. And he's also the kind of guy who took pride in running the Draft Board, assisting his government to draft men into involuntary servitude on the precipice of World War II. Yeah, a real hero, that Mr. Potter.

And let's not forget [SPOILER ALERT!] that Potter is as guilty as sin for stealing $8000 from the absent-minded Uncle Billy, who was just about to deposit it. There is nothing redeemable about sending another business into a tailspin by stealing its deposits in an act of outright thievery.

Now, let's get back to the real meaning of "It's a Wonderful Life," and why it is that so many people regard it as a holiday classic. The irony is that when it was released, it wasn't as successful in its first run because people found it too "dark"; after all, the plot twist of the final reel reads like a script from an episode of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone": at the end of his rope, with $8000 of bank deposits missing, the prospect of financial scandal and prison hanging over his head, George Bailey is ready to end it all by jumping off a bridge. And Clarence, Bailey's Guardian Angel, is looking to earn his wings, which he can't do unless he saves George. So Clarence jumps into the water and starts screaming for help. George Bailey, played beautifully by the great James Stewart, forgets his own intended act of self-sabotage, because inside of him is a benevolent sense of life, a sense of life so profound that at the moment of contemplating suicide, he saves the life of another man. When Clarence explains that he can't "earn his wings" without saving George, George is so mystified by all this "angel" talk, and he's beyond disgusted: "I wish I'd never been born."

In a moment of remarkable inspiration, Clarence grants George his wish. That's it, he says: You've never been born. There's no George Bailey.

So when George makes his way back to Bedford Falls, Clarence tagging along, he discovers that the town is now known as Pottersville, and it is like one gigantic speakeasy, violent and decadent. He goes into the local bar, and the bartender doesn't recognize him. George sees an old, haggard Mr. Gower, his first employer, enter the bar. He's just been released from jail, apparently, serving a prison term for manslaughter for having poisoned a child. Bailey tells Clarence that this is impossible: As a kid, George worked at Mr. Gower's pharmacy; Gower (played by the gracefully expressive H. B. Warner), distraught over the death of his own son from influenza, mistakenly mixes poison into a prescription meant for another child. But Clarence tells George that the boy died because George wasn't around to alert Mr. Gower of his carelessness. Angry exchanges ensue in the bar, and before you know it, he and Clarence are thrown out on their butts.

George tells Clarence that Harry, his brother, had just gotten the Medal of Honor for saving an amphibious transport by shooting down a Kamikaze pilot in the Pacific War against the Japanese. But Clarence tells George that Harry Bailey wasn't there to save the transport because George wasn't alive to save Harry, who nearly drowned as a kid, falling into the ice on a frozen lake in Bedford Falls. George has no wife (Mary became an "old maid," says Clarence), no children, and a bitter mother who doesn't know him. George is slowly degenerating into a raving maniac, inhabiting a universe that is as unknown to him as he is to it. As the cops chase after him, he runs back toward the bridge, the place where he sought to end his life, and he is crying: "I want to live again."

And suddenly, the nightmare is over: George Bailey lives again to see another day; and all the townspeople who were the beneficiaries of his Building and Loan Company come through for him, as does an old friend, to keep the Building and Loan solvent. Reunited with his wife and family, with the townspeople singing "Auld Lang Syne," his brother Harry alive, George is holding his little girl Zuzu in his arms, and a little bell rings on the Christmas tree behind him. Zuzu tells him that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. He opens a gift, it's a book from Clarence (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain), and in it, there is an inscription: "No man is a failure who has friends."

What Capra is telling us in this remarkable film (whose plot twist has been used as a device in so many other stories on both the big and small screen) is that each one of us has the capacity to lead a wonderful life by the very fact of our existence and by the choices we make that are essential to sustain our lives. We learn that every action we take is like a pebble thrown into still water, the ripple effects of our choices and actions moving out in concentric circles, affecting people, even some people we've never met, in ways that none of us could have possibly anticipated.

Now, it is true that sometimes action or inaction can cause bad unintended consequences. But the importance of Capra's story is that George Bailey is a beautiful soul, and that if we suddenly wipe out the existence of that beautiful soul, the ripple effects cease; it is as if the pebble never touched the still water. And all the things that were done are now undone. And even when we are at the end of our ropes, so-to-speak, it is valuable to pause and to think about all the good in our lives, all of our achievements, personal and professional, and, by that fact, all the effects we have had on those around us. What a truly wonderful testament to the power of a single individual to shape and alter the people and the realities around him. What a tribute to the honor and dignity and life-altering power of the individual that each of us has by virtue of our humanity.

Now, while we're at it, let me turn to another favorite film of the holiday season that has had its share of libertarian naysayers: "A Christmas Carol." In "Scrooge Defended," Michael Levin uses a tactic similar to Tom Mullen, this time in defense of Scrooge as a good businessman, like Ol' Man Potter of "It's a Wonderful Life." A long time ago, on the now defunct site of "The Daily Objectivist," I defended the famed 1951 film version starring the extraordinarily gifted actor, Alastair Sim, who gives a multilayered performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. As I said back in the year 1999:

I challenge Levin and anyone else who sees Alastair Sim in the classic film version of "A Christmas Carol" (1951) to walk away unmoved by this man's transformation. The central issue is a man so torn from his emotional side and from any concern with the effects of his actions on other human beings. His finding of his self is really wonderful to behold. Yes, the film and the book [by Charles Dickens] have lots of mixed premises, some that don't make us comfortable [as libertarians or Objectivists, etc.]. That is the case with many products in English literature. But the story does speak to all of us in many ways, about the need to live integrated lives.

So to the naysayers of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol," there are only two words appropriate in reply, and it's not "Merry Christmas." I say: "Bah, humbug!" Count this libertarian out if you think it's better to live in a world of Pottersvilles or that those who are less fortunate than us should die and decrease the surplus population.

December 09, 2016

Song of the Day #1403

Song of the Day: Spartacus ("Overture"), composed by Alex North, is featured on this day, the 100th birthday of the very much alive actor, Kirk Douglas. From his starring roles in such movies as "Champion," "Lust for Life," and "The Bad and the Beautiful" (all for which he received Oscar nominations in the category of Best Actor) to "Paths of Glory" and his seven films with Burt Lancaster (including "Seven Days in May"), Douglas has been Hollywood royalty for decades. He was awarded an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement [YouTube link]. But there are few films that capture his grit at its most heroic than the Stanley Kubrick-directed 1960 blockbuster, "Spartacus." Happy birthday to the "Young Man with a Horn." And instead of singing Happy Birthday, I'd like to stand up and say: "I'm Spartacus."

John Glenn, RIP

One of my earliest memories as a child was sitting in front of the black-and-white TV we owned, which was the centerpiece of our living room. It was February 20, 1962. I had just turned two years old on February 17th, and the 20th was my mother's birthday (and the birthday of my best pal, Paul, who lived in the apartment next to us). Maybe it was because it was Mom's birthday, or maybe it was just because I was, at two years old, completely and utterly dazzled by the images I saw on the small screen that day.

John Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit the earth, having lifted off from Cape Canaveral in his Friendship 7 rocket, among the very first group of astronauts of the young Mercury program. And he orbited our planet three times before making a dramatic splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

It is amazing to me that I have such vivid memories of that day in front of the television set; it would be my freshman orientation, so-to-speak, with what became a lifelong education and love affair with the very idea of space travel. In later years, we'd sit in front of the TV to see the Apollo 11 moonlanding and to view the first two human beings from the planet Earth to walk on the moon. I was pinned to the TV when Apollo 13's crew announced, "Houston, we have a problem." I saw a rover drive across the surface of the moon, and the Apollo-Soyuz dockings, and the heartbreaking, tragic Challenger disaster. I have never lost my childlike fascination with space, with the potential of space travel, and with the heroic spirit that motivated those space travelers, each taking "one small step for a man," and "one giant leap for mankind."

This is all quite apart from any of the political dimensions that surround the dawn of the space age, or the political career of Glenn, when he served as Senator of Ohio (and got mixed up in political scandal. Hat tip to Christopher Baker!).

For this two-year old, still lurking inside me, Glenn's flight still encompasses the majesty and wonder of human achievement.

And so it is with sadness that I learned of the passing of John Glenn yesterday, December 8, 2016. He provided me with my first encounter with space travel; that the memory has stayed with me in such a vivid way for over 54 years now is almost as remarkable as the event itself. It was Glenn who ignited, in this two year old, the seeds of the belief in a world of boundless possibilities.

RIP, John Glenn. And thank you.

Postscript: In the Facebook discussion that followed, some questions were raised about John Glenn's post-astronaut, political career, and, by extension, about the nature of government intervention that made the space program possible. I added the following comment:

Thank you Caroline, and Christopher, read the blog entry: I give you a hat tip! I added the point about the political ramifications of the space program (and the political scandals with which Glenn's name is linked) as outside the context of this specific post: how a 2-year old kid watched a man leave the ground atop a rocket, only to orbit the Earth three times and return safely to that Earth. That thrill is forever etched in my mind, regardless of what Glenn was (as a man) or who he became (as a politician). And regardless of the fact that the US space program was government-funded on taxpayer revenue seized by force, by definition, that achievement is what it is. Ayn Rand herself made the distinction of being able to celebrate the moon landing, as a triumph of human achievement, while being opposed to the funding of programs to propel man into space. She was deeply aware of the kinds of distortions in the evolving structure and development of production that resulted anytime the government has stepped in to socialize the risks of "development", as it did with the building of transcontinental railroads in the 19th century (see her essay, "Apollo 11," September 1969, "The Objectivist"). She wrote that the " 'conquest of space' by some men ... [was] accomplished by expropriating the labor of other men who are left without means to acquire a pair of shoes." She points out, of course, that in the space program, taxpayer funding notwithstanding, "the scientists, the technologists, the engineers, the astronauts were free men acting of their own choice. . . . Of all human activities, science is the field least amenable to force: the facts of reality do not take orders." This said, Rand was also aware of another sobering fact: that when government does become heavily involved in the directions of scientific research, what often results is an interventionist dynamic that alters everything from educational to economic institutions, resulting in a self-perpetuating system that leads to a kind of 'military-science-industrial complex' more suited to producing the means and weapons of mass destruction, rather than tools for mass creation. Check out my expanded section in the second edition of "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical", in Chapter 12, "The Welfare-Warfare State," as well as the story of Project X in Rand's magnum opus, "Atlas Shrugged."

I also added:

I should add that there is much to be said about what Murray Rothbard called the power of the market to transform the products emerging from coercive intervention into products that are of use to consumers, what he called, "a process of converting force to service." See Chapter 6 of my book, "Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism."

December 07, 2016

A Day of Infamy Remembered on Its 75th Anniversary

Seventy-five years ago, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese in what Franklin Delano Roosevelt later termed "a date which will live in infamy." Without even raising any of the historical or political preconditions or effects of this singular event in world history, I'd just like to re-post a link to a Memorial Day tribute I wrote in honor of my Uncle Sam, the man who so influenced me as a child and young adult, that I dedicated my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical to him. I re-post this to show the very real human consequences of that historical event. It can be found on the Liberty and Power Group blog, a 2004 post, A Memorial Day Tribute to Uncle Sam.

Song of the Day #1402

Song of the Day: Chunky features the words and music of Philip Lawrence, Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, and Bruno Mars, who performed this on both "Saturday Night Live (@ 3:39 in the YouTube video of his performances on the October 15, 2016 show) and the "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" [YouTube link] last night. I don't how those razor-thin models reacted to a song extolling the virtues of "girls with the big old hoops," but Bruno was #1 on the runway for me. His new album, "24K Magic" (whose title track, with a spotlight-solo dance segment on November 20th's American Music Awards [YouTube link]) was a pure MJ throwback), has a touch of James Brown, Prince, and Michael Jackson, on whose shoulders he proudly stands (see his "60 Minutes" interview [CBS News link]). Pure Magic. 24K. (Oh, and check out this great cinema montage set to the Mars-Ronson hit, "Uptown Funk".)

December 02, 2016

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

On this day, marking the one-year anniversary of the San Bernardino terror attack, I pause to remember the victims and the survivors.

And yet, somehow, we have survived. There is a culture of life in this country, but especially in this city, New York City, the grandest city on earth, which in 2001 suffered a horrendous attack of its own.

Nothing seems to dampen this country's (or this city's) ability to rise above the rubble, not even a contentious election that has left many of us with the feeling that Armageddon is around the corner. Yet, from the moment Santa Claus comes riding into town at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on its 90th anniversary, surrounded by about a thousand cops, seen and unseen, with submachine guns, something good happens to this city.

Indeed, every time you think the world is heading for the apocalypse, just turn on the Hallmark Movie Channel, where they've been showing Christmas movies nonstop practically since Halloween! The other night I was watching Happy the Cat and Happy the Dog on The Happy Yule Log---and I'm a long-time fan of the ol' WPIX Yule Log, so you know you have to go a long way to move this New York loyalist! But moved I was. How could I not be?

And on Wednesday night, thousands of people gathered around Rockefeller Center in the pouring rain to watch the annual Christmas Tree lighting, along with Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Donald Trump (actually actor and SNL Donald-impersonator Alec Baldwin) and Hillary Clinton (actually SNL comic and Hillary-impersonator Kate McKinnon), striking a chord for unity. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can dampen the New York Values that light up our streets and our hearts at this time of year. This city is a universe unto itself, and if you've not seen the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall or the remarkable light displays that blanket Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, well, you ain't seen nothin'!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas; we live to grieve those who have lost their lives on American soil on this sad anniversary (in which people were murdered in a facility filled with celebratory Christmas decorations), but we embrace the warmth of a holiday season that reminds us how much life is worth living.

November 23, 2016

George Smith on Rand's Insights on the U.S. "Slide Toward Fascism"

Just wanted to alert readers to a fine article penned by George Smith, "Ayn Rand Predicted an American Slide Toward Fascism" on the FEE website.

I was especially happy to see this discussion resurrected since Rand herself has often been tagged by her detractors as a "fascist"; my own essays on Rand's insights into the U.S. tendencies toward neofascism ("The New Fascism," as she called it) are indexed here. The discussion is particularly important in the days since the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Following Rand and others in the libertarian tradition, I've argued that the system of "crony capitalism" or what Roy Childs and others once called "liberal corporativism," is the system that exists in this country; it is not a free market and whether it is peppered with the authoritarian rhethoric (and policies) of the left or of the right, it all comes down to a civil war of pressure groups, each vying for special privileges at the expense of one another, a "class" warfare that not even Karl Marx could have imagined. For as F. A. Hayek so powerfully observed, once political power becomes the central means of gaining social control, it becomes the only power worth having. That is why he argued, in The Road to Serfdom, "the worst get on top." I've expressed my concerns for months now, but it remains to be seen just how much worse this tendency will be manifested in the new administration. Whatever the campaign rhetoric, time will tell. (Ed: And I am reminded by a colleague that in a country where, within a single week, the Chicago Cubs can win the World Series and Donald J. Trump can win the White House, anything is possible!)

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States; I want to wish all my readers a Happy Thanksgiving [YouTube link]. Be thankful that, for now, at least in some crucial aspects, this country remains, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, "a republic, if you can keep it." Which makes Rand's insights into the degeneration of the American republic all the more trenchant.

November 14, 2016

Ayn Rand and Google Doodles

I was interviewed by Andrea Billups this past summer about getting a Rand "doodle" into Google. Not knowing what a doodle was, at first, I was able to provide Andrea with a few thoughts. I'm just now finding the link to that essay on the site of the Atlas Society. It's a fun piece.

Take a look at "Dear Google: How About Ayn Rand on a Doodle?" by Andrea Billups.

October 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1397

Song of the Day: Nasty, words and lyrics by Jimmy "Jam" Harris III, Terry Lewis, and Janet Jackson, went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B/Hip Hop Singles charts. This 1986 Janet Jackson signature tune, from her #1 album, "Control," is a particularly appropriate "song of the day" today; last night in the final face-off between Benito and Evita, "Nasty Boy" Trumpster called Hillary a "Nasty Woman," and the phrase has now gone viral. Only the future of the republic is on the line, but I'm still chuckling over a comment made by my long-time colleague and friend, David Boaz, who, when asked, "If somebody held a gun to your head, and gave you the choice of The Don or Hillary?" replied: "Take the bullet." Whatever your political persuasion, most of us will look back on this 2016 Presidential campaign as having provided us with some "nasty" entertainment for months. There's only one thing left to do: "Gimme a Beat" (and you thought I was going to say: "Rock the Vote!"). Check out the video to this iconic Janet song [YouTube link] (and yes, in the video, you'll find a young Paula Abdul, who did the choreography).

September 15, 2016

Zornberg's "Jews, Quakers and the Holocaust"

Jews, Quakers and the Holocaust: The Struggle to Save the Lives of Twenty-Thousand Children
By Ira Zornberg

Available in both Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon.com.


It is customary in reviews of this sort to state one's biases upfront. With author Ira Zornberg, I have an enormous bias. As I said in an interview in Full Context , Ira Zornberg had a "big influence on me." He was my Social Studies teacher at John Dewey High School, who was the first teacher in the United States to bring the study of the Holocaust to high school students." I credit him for his encouragement of my growing political philosophy and for my first forays into political writing and academic editing. Indeed, he was the faculty advisor of the school's social studies newspaper, Gadfly, of which I eventually became editor-in-chief. I knew that I was making waves when one of the front-page essays I wrote, criticizing the school's "Young Socialist Alliance," ended up face forward in the boy's bathroom, in the urinal, where it had been baptized by human excrement. If they ain't talkin' about you, or pissin' on you, you ain't makin' a difference. One of the lessons I learned early on.

But the lessons I learned from Zornberg in that trailblazing class on the Holocaust were lessons I simply could never have learned anywhere else or in any other gifted high school. At least back then, John Dewey High School was a shining beacon that encouraged independent study. With a school year divided into five cycles, the school provided specialized course offerings that ran the gamut from the Crusades to the Kennedy assassination. But Zornberg's course was unique for its intensity and sheer depth. We studied the origins of anti-Semitism, the birth of the national socialist movement in Germany, the waning days of the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Third Reich, and the tribalist. racist, and anti-Semitic cultural premises that empowered it. Such premises provided a rationale for a "Final Solution" that led to the inversion of the rule of law, the destruction of "undesirables," and a war against European Jewry that culminated in a network of concentration camps and the systematic slaughter of millions of people.

Ultimately, however, the biggest lesson that Zornberg taught me was to be true to your convictions, to engage your critics constructively, and to value civil discourse. I learned too that this was a man who embodied intellectual honesty and a sense of justice that required a recognition of the inviolability of individual human dignity. His serious commitment to the teaching of history and his remarkable capacity as mentor and guide, made an indelible mark on my young student's mind. Then, as today, I honor him, and I am proud to call him my friend.

So, when Superstorm Sandy hit, and I learned that Zornberg had lost virtually all of his library and his 40+ years of lesson plans, I offered to send him all the copious notes I took from his Holocaust class. After the October 10, 2013 fire that nearly consumed our apartment, I had the occasion to completely reorganize my file system, and among the things that survived were all my notes and papers from his superb course, which I attended as a senior at Dewey. I photocopied them and sent them to him; he expressed appreciation for the accuracy of my notetaking, which reflected the mind of a young student, whose answers raised even more questions, questions that could never be answered quite to my satisfaction. After all, students of history and even a generation of scholars who have written hundreds of books in the Holocaust, have been probing the madness of genocide for eons, and it is virtually impossible to wrap one's mind around the kind of phenomenon that could possibly give birth to a multiplicity of savage cruelties, ingenious forms of torture, and sophisticated instruments of mass murder, all used by real human beings to destroy the lives of other real human beings. I remember discovering Ayn Rand during that final year of high school, and I shared Leonard Peikoff's book, The Ominous Parallels, with my teacher. But the nightmare of the Holocaust remains deeply embedded in my mind, if only for the sheer scale of human horror that it exhibited.

Which makes reviewing his new book all the more wonderful---because this man of honor has turned out a book that reflects all the virtues and values he exemplified as a great teacher. And he is teaching us still. I was ecstatic to learn of my former teacher's continuing work in this area of study. His new book on the subject, Jews, Quakers and the Holocaust: The Struggle to Save the Lives of Twenty-Thousand Children, is more than a revelation; it is a testament not only to the horrors of Nazi Germany, but to the heroic, largely thwarted, efforts of some to save the lives of others: those who were slated for extermination by Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. As Zornberg tells us in his introduction, this book

describes the causes of the immigration crisis of 1939, the response of those who were the targets of its venom, the efforts of American Jews to assist people of their faith, the denial of locations for resettlement, the Kindertransport in Europe, and the struggle led by Christians who fought to save the lives of Jewish children. It identifies people who labored to save the lives of the Jewish children. It cites the arguments and acts of those who fought for the passage of the Wagner-Rogers Bill, and the arguments employed by its adversaries. The struggle to win congressional approval for that bill failed.
This is an American story because it is a part of the history and debate over the nature of U.S. immigration policies. . . . This story adds to our common knowledge of the U.S. immigration policies, and will hopefully provide an additional basis for constructive contemporary reasoning.

Zornberg provides us first with an historical context, a portrait of a complex "background" to the cataclysm that was to engulf Germay, Europe, and eventually the world. We move from the tribalist and racist biases that were deeply embedded in German culture to the birth of the Nuremberg Laws, which encoded not the rule of law, but the rule of Aryan blood and the criminalization of Jewish blood. He discusses at length the response of German Jews to this perversion of law. Many emigrated to other countries. Indeed, an estimated 60,000 German Jews were among the
emigrees, and many of them had fought loyally as Germans during World War I. They eventually reached Palestine due to a "transfer agreement" between the German finance ministry and the Jewish Agency in Palestine.

We are given glimpses of rapidly unfolding events that both expressed and magnified the anti-Semitism of the Nazi regime. One of those glimpses of discrimination was on display at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, including the last minute removal of Marty Glickman" of the U.S. track team from several Olympic track events (Glickman was a classmate of my mother's at James Madison High School).

In 1938, the Night of Broken Glass ("Kristallnacht") followed, and slowly the exits from Europe were closing to Jews who sought to escape from the onslaught of Nazi brutality. It was in the wake of Kristallnacht, Zornberg tells us, that the "Quakers were to assume important roles in the effort to assist Jews," focusing especially on rescuing Jewish children from German territories.

It is not that Jews were silent during these years of growing repression. But the response of Jews and non-Jews alike, in America, was far more complicated and complex. Anti-Semitism knew no national boundaries, and it was alive and well in the United States of America, a country whose various government sterilization programs for the "unfit" inspired Hitler himself.

Yes, the United States had a history of welcoming immigrants. Indeed, the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, was not a hollow symbol taking up space in New York Harbor. It gave expression to the principles of freedom that encapsulated the promise of America. And yet, throughout U.S. history, various quotas on immigration existed, and in the context of post-World War I America, the "Emergency Quota Act of 1921" was enacted, illustrative of the emergent, and growing, isolationist political culture. By the time of the Great Depression, with unemployment reaching historic heights, Zornberg writes, the demands for even greater "limits to immigration came from many quarters, and they provided a cover for those whose intent was to limit the immigration of Jews without openly saying so.

So, though many Jews fought hard to lobby Congress and other organizations to make America a refuge for those seeking freedom from Nazi tyranny, they were keenly aware that anti-Semitism was a reality in the U.S., and, Zornberg argues, this "helps explain why many Jewish organizations chose to be supportive of Christian efforts to assist refugees rather than assume the public face of those efforts," which would have only further fueled such anti-Semitism.

The portrait Zornberg paints of these heroic Christian efforts is both poignant and instructive.

The story is a testament to a Quaker act of human decency and it is at the soul of Zornberg's work in this extraordinary book. It is an inspiring tale that uplifts the human spirit. The attention to detail that Zornberg exhibits in his exploration of this historical episode is exemplary. We learn that politics is politics no matter what era of history we study. He examines in great detail the heroic roles of such people as New York psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Marion Kenworthy in calling for an American Kindertransport and of Clarence Pickett of the Quakers' American Friends Service Committee in fighting for the passage of the Wagner-Rogers Bill, which would have allowed for the entrance into America of 20,000 Jewish children under the age of 14. The bill never came to a vote, getting no help from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was clearly "not emotionally committed to saving European Jews." The political machinations that went on in the fight for this bill are revealed by Zornberg in all their shameful details.

Ultimately, of course, the Quakers were involved in worldwide efforts to stem the tide of terror; the historical record shows that the American Friends Service Committee "chose Jewish children from [their] homes and refugee camps in southern France for transfer to the United States under the auspices of the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children," exhibiting "that interfaith activity on behalf of European Jews could be successful."

But this success, however modest, does not erase the dishonorable actions of politicians and various opinion-makers who brought the Wagner-Rogers Bill down to defeat.

I must say that Zornberg's epilogue alone is worth the price of admission. He reminds us that in 1939, when the Wagner-Rogers Bill was crushed by political cowardice, many Americans had embraced an Action comic book hero in Superman, a character developed by Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster, two Jews living in Cleveland. Zornberg concludes powerfully:

As an adult, Superman fights the forces of evil, intent upon world domination. In embracing Superman as an American hero, Americans were embracing a survivng child, an alien, as a defender of our nation. This was something our lawmakers in the spring of 1939 refused to do.

The problem of immigration is surely one that continues to plague the U.S. political landscape to this very day; the issues may differ considerably from the crises of the 1930s, but the threats today are certainly no worse than the threats posed by the Third Reich. If nothing else, Zornberg's book provokes us to focus on yesterday's history and today's issues with the care of a highly-skilled surgeon's scalpel, rather than with the sledgehammer of the various demagogues among us.

This is a five-star book that I cannot more strongly recommend. In a summary of the above review, I say at Amazon.com ("A Provocative History That Speaks to Contemporary Immigration Issues"):

Zornberg’s new book, Jews, Quakers and the Holocaust: The Struggle to Save the Lives of Twenty-Thousand Children, is more than a revelation; it is a testament not only to the horrors of Nazi Germany, but to the heroic efforts of some to save the lives of those who were slated for extermination by Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. … The story of the Quaker’s attempts to save the lives of Jewish children is a story of human decency that reveals the soul of Zornberg's work; it is an inspiring tale that uplifts the human spirit…. The problem of immigration is surely one that continues to plague the U.S. landscape to this very day; the issues may differ considerably from the crises of the 1930s, but the threats today are certainly no worse than the threats posed by the Third Reich. If nothing else, Zornberg's book provokes us to think through yesterday's history and today's issues with the care of a highly-skilled surgeon's scalpel, rather than with the sledgehammer of the various demagogues among us. This is a five-star book that I cannot more strongly recommend.

September 14, 2016

Song of the Day #1388

Song of the Day: Winston Tastes Good Like a Cigarette Should, ghost written by Margaret Johnson and her husband Travis Johnson, was performed by their Song Spinners group for one of the most recognizable cigarette commercials in TV history. You don't see these commercials anymore, but the jingles stay in your head, if you were among those situated in front of the TV from the 1950s through the 1970s. Our Emmy mini-tribute this year includes a couple of those jingles, as memorable as many of the TV show themes we all grew up listening to. Check out this unforgettable commercial jingle on YouTube.

September 11, 2016

WTC Remembrance: Fifteen Years Ago - Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine

My annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," turns this year to my own personal reflections on the fifteenth anniversary of the day that my hometown was attacked in 2001, a day that changed our lives forever. These reflections emerge from my viewing of a series of VHS tapes that I used to record the tragic events of that day and the days, weeks, and months that followed. My focus for this essay is exclusively on the unfolding minute-by-minute television coverage from 8:46 a.m. to midnight on the day of terror that we commemorate today.

I have to admit that this essay was one of the most difficult, and yet cathartic, pieces I've ever written in my entire life. I invite readers to view the newest addition to my annual series here.

I also provide this index for those readers who would like easy access to the previous entries in this series:

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

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


Never forget.

Postscript: Much appreciation to Ilana Mercer, who has noted the newest essay on her blog here. She writes:

I recall calling Chris Matthew Sciabarra around the time September 11 happened. Like the best of New York, Chris was hyper, in fight-but-never-flight mode. That’s my Chris. And he has commemorated the attack on the greatest city in the world—was I overcome by patriotism when I visited New York!—his hometown, in the most personal way each year.

Postscript 2: Much appreciation to Rational Review News Digest for making this the lead commentary in their September 11th edition. See here. Special thanks to long-time colleague and friend Thomas L. Knapp for noticing.

August 21, 2016

Song of the Day #1381a

Song of the Day: Summer Samba ("So Nice"), music by Brazilian composer Marcos Valle, with Portuguese lyrics by Paulo Sergio Valle, and English lyrics by Norman Gimbel, has been recorded by so many artists through the years, second, perhaps, only to the bossa nova anthem "Girl from Ipanema," to which Gisele Bundchen [video link] strutted her stuff in the Opening Ceremonies [video link] of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. We heard this song too during the Opening Ceremonies, and we have been treated throughout these last two weeks to so many entertaining musical interludes featuring this lyrical Brazilian bossa nova fusion of samba rhythms and jazz, each derived from both African and (North and South) American roots. But tonight the Torch is extinguished as the Summer Olympics come to a close. The games were "So Nice" to see and to root for some of our favorite international athletes. Check out renditions by the Walter Wanderly Trio, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, Nancy Ames, organist Walter Wanderly with vocalist Astrud Gilberto (who sang that great "Girl from Ipanema" [YouTube links] rendition on the Grammy-award winning album featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz, called "Getz/Gilberto". Check out a TV performance of the Ipanema classic with Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz [YouTube link]). And yes, this repeats another song from my long list, so I've called it "Song of the Day #1381a."

August 17, 2016

Ayn Rand, David Cross, and Hypocrisy

Ilana Mercer recently made me aware of some off-the-wall [YouTube, sorry, couldn't resist MJ] comments by stand-up comedian David Cross on Ayn Rand. I'll just have to chalk up his, uh, misunderstanding to the fact that he's a comedian, and not somebody who has actually studied Rand's corpus. On his new Netflix special, he makes the following statement:

"Let's be honest, that's what makes America weak, is empathy. When we care about those less fortunate than ourselves, that['s] what brings us down. . . . Ask Ayn Rand—I believe you can still find her haunting the public housing she died in while on Social Security and Medicare."

Now, it's not my intention to simply defend Ayn Rand; she did a good job of that when she was alive, and her writings have stood the test of time, whatever one thinks about her position on this or that particular issue. But Cross is just all crossed up. About so many things.

First, let's clear up one grand myth: Ayn Rand never lived in public housing. I recently queried Rand biographer, Anne Heller, who wrote the 2009 book, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. Heller could provide us with every address Rand ever lived at, and not a single one of them corresponds to a public housing project. But even if Rand lived in the Marlboro Housing Projects in Brooklyn, who cares? More on this, in a moment.

Now, it is true that Rand did collect Social Security and Medicare. Ayn Rand Institute-affiliated writer, Onkar Ghate, addresses the so-called hypocrisy of this fact about Ayn Rand's life in his essay, "The Myth About Ayn Rand and Social Security." Ghate reminds us that Rand opposed

every "redistribution" scheme of the welfare state. Precisely because Rand views welfare programs like Social Security as legalized plunder, she thinks the only condition under which it is moral to collect Social Security is if one "regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism" (emphasis hers). The seeming contradiction that only the opponent of Social Security has the moral right to collect it dissolves, she argues, once you recognize the crucial difference between the voluntary and the coerced. Social Security is not voluntary. Your participation is forced through payroll taxes, with no choice to opt out even if you think the program harmful to your interests. If you consider such forced "participation" unjust, as Rand does, the harm inflicted on you would only be compounded if your announcement of the program's injustice precludes you from collecting Social Security.

Rand felt the same way about any number of government programs, including government scholarships, and such. In reality, Rand got a free education at the University of Petrograd in the Soviet Union, a newly-minted communist state; next to that, collecting Social Security is "a mere bag of shells," as Ralph Kramden would put it. But, you see, that's the whole issue, isn't it? Rand was born in the Soviet Union, and even that state wasn't "pure communism," as Marx envisioned it; for Marx, communism could only arise out of an advanced stage of capitalism, which, in his quasi-utopian imagination, would solve the problem of scarcity. The point is that there is not a single country on earth or in any historical period that has ever fit the description of a pure "-ism"; to this extent, Rand was completely correct to characterize her moral vision of "capitalism" as an "unknown ideal."

But there is a second point that is lost on critics who accuse Rand of hypocrisy; there is not a single person on earth who isn't born into a specific historical context, a particular place and time. At any period in history, we live in a world that provides us with a continuum of sorts, enabling us to navigate among the "mixed" elements of the world's "mixed" economies, that is, those economies that have various mixtures of markets and state regimentation. But as that world becomes more interconnected, the destructiveness of the most powerful politico-economic institutions and processes extend in ripple effects across the globe. And as F. A. Hayek never tired of saying, the more political power comes to dominate the world economies, the more political power becomes the only power worth having... one of the reasons "why the worst get on top." What Hayek meant, of course, is that in such a system, those who are most adept at using political power (the power of coercion) for their own benefit tend to rise to the top, leaving the vast majority of us struggling to make a buck. The "road to serfdom" is a long one, but serfdom is among us; it comes in the form of confiscatory taxation and expropriation to sustain an interventionist welfare state at home and a warfare state abroad.

I have always believed that context is king. And given the context in which we live, everyone of us has to do things we don't like to do. Even anarchists, those who by definition believe that the state itself lacks moral legitimacy, can't avoid walking down taxpayer-funded, government-subsidized sidewalks or travel on taxpayer-funded government-subsidized roads and interstate highways, or taxpayer-funded government-subsidized railroads, or controlled airways.

Then there's the issue of money. You know, whether of the paper, coin, or plastic variety. There are many on both the libertarian "right" and the new "left" who have argued that the historical genesis of the Federal Reserve System was a way of consolidating the power of banks, allowing banks (and their capital-intensive clients) to benefit from the inflationary expansion of the money supply. This has also had the added effect of paying for the growth of the bureaucratic welfare state to control the poor and the warfare state to expand state and class expropriation of resources across the globe. And it has led to an endless cycle of boom and bust. And yet, there isn't a person in the United States of whatever political persuasion who cannot avoid using money printed or coined by the Fed. Even among those on the left, so-called "limousine liberals" (a pejorative phrase used to describe people of the "left-liberal" persuasion who are hypocrites by definition) or those who advocate "democratic socialism" of the Sanders type, or those who advocate outright communism, own private property and buy their goods and services with money from other private property owners. It seems that there is not a single person on earth of any political persuasion who isn't a hypocrite, according to the "logic" of David Cross.

Ever the dialectician, I believe that given the context, the only way of attempting even partial restitution from a government that regulates everything from the boardroom to the bedroom is to milk the inner contradictions of the system.

But some individuals can't get restitution, because they were victims of another form of government coercion: the military draft. Ayn Rand believed that the draft was involuntary servitude, the ultimate violation of individual rights, based on the premise that the government owned your life and could do with it anything it pleased, including molding its draftees into killing machines, and sending them off to fight in undeclared illegitimate wars like those in Korea and Vietnam (both of which Rand opposed). What possible restitution is available to those who were murdered in those wars, or even to those who survived them, but who were irreparably damaged, physically and/or psychologically, by their horrific experiences on the killing fields?

The draft is no longer with us, and David Cross should be thanking that good ol' hypocrite Ayn Rand for the influence she had on the ending of that institution. Such people as Hank Holzer, Joan Kennedy Taylor, and Martin Anderson were among those who mounted the kind of intellectual and legal challenge to conscription that ultimately persuaded then President Richard M. Nixon to end the military draft.

And yet, Rand's taxes were certainly used to pay for the machinery of conscription and for the machinery of war; does this make her a hypocrite too, or should she have just refused to pay taxes and gone to prison? Yeah, that would have been productive. Perhaps she could have authored more works of fiction or nonfiction anthologies, chock-full of essays on epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, politics, economics, and culture from Rikers Island. Yeah, then Cross would have been correct: Rand surely would have been living in the worst public housing imaginable.

Thanks for giving me a chuckle, Mr. Cross.

Postscript: I was just made aware of a very detailed essay on the subject of "Ayn Rand, Social Security and the Truth," at the Facebook page of The Moorfield Storey Institute.

Postscript #2: Thanks to Ilana Mercer, who alerted me to Cross's "comedy," and for reprinting this post on her own "Barely a Blog." We're obviously compadres; a "Notablog" and a "Barely a Blog" are close enough to be cousins. :)

July 31, 2016

Celebrating an American Treasure: Tony Bennett at 90

A "Song of the Day" Tribute to Tony Bennett

For the next six days, I will be featuring a Notablog tribute in honor of a great American artist as part of my "Song of the Day" series: "Celebrating an American Treasure: Tony Bennett at 90."

Introduction

Today, Sunday, July 31, 2016, I begin a mini-tribute to Tony Bennett (a Wikipedia link that provided me with the basic information herein). Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto, this man would become one of the greatest vocal interpreters of The Great American Songbook. On Wednesday, August 3rd, he will celebrate his 90th birthday. Like Frank Sinatra, whose centenary we celebrated last year, Bennett recorded so many albums that I grew up listening to in my home, which was always alive with music, seemingly every waking hour of every day. Like Sinatra, Bennett was a talented Italian American singer nourished on a diet of swing and jazz. But unlike Hoboken's best, Bennett was a native New Yorker, a child of Astoria, Queens (indeed, one of his finest gifts to those who live in Astoria, was his founding of the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts, for high school students). He is a man who, like Sinatra, saw his ups and his downs, but who grew to embrace, without compromise, the music that inspired him and even the painting that he embraced as a creative product of his boundless imagination.

Favorite Songs

It is almost impossible to come up with enough songs in tribute to the great entertainer, because anyone looking at "My Favorite Songs" would find him among my most cited singers: "A Child is Born," "Darn that Dream," "The Days of Wine and Roses," "Falling in Love with Love," "For Once in My Life," "Give Me the Simple Life," "The Good Life," "Have You Met Miss Jones?," "I Could Write a Book," "I Didn't Know What Time it Was," "I Fall in Love Too Easily," "If I Love Again," "If You Were Mine," "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," "I'll Be Seeing You," "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)," "In a Mellow Tone," "It Was Me," "I've Got Your Number," "I Wanna Be Around," "Just in Time," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Let's Face the Music" (also check out a sweet duet version with Lady Gaga [YouTube link]), "Let the Good Times Roll," "The Moment of Truth," "My Baby Just Cares For Me," "Nuages," "Once Upon a Summertime," "Polovetsian Dance No. 2," "Put on a Happy Face," "The Shadow of Your Smile," "Street of Dreams," "There'll Be Some Changes Made," "Thou Swell," "Until I Met You," "We'll Be Together Again," "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)?," "You Don't Know What Love Is," and "You Must Believe in Spring." Without a doubt, my all-time favorite album of Tony's is and remains: "I Wanna Be Around," and nearly all of the songs from that album are on the list above.

My Top Ten (in alphabetical order)

I could easily give you a Top Ten list of my favorite Bennett recordings, not in any particular order except alphabetical (and all the titles below are hyperlinks to their original Bennett recordings, as featured on YouTube):

1. "For Once in My Life" [YouTube link]. Stevie Wonder may have had the bigger chart hit, but he's always said, "This is Tony's song." Appropriately, Tony did a version of this song in a tribute to Wonder in the TV special celebrating "Songs in the Key of Life" [YouTube link]. And the two also did a ballad duet rendition of the song on Bennett's "Duets" album [YouTube link].

2. "The Good Life" [YouTube link]. The lead-off track on Bennet's great "I Wanna Be Around" album, this one rose to #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1962.

3. "If I Love Again" [YouTube link]. This one also appears on "I Wanna Be Around," and it is one of the most sensitive, heart-breaking renditions of this song ever recorded.

4. "If You Were Mine" [YouTube link]. Obviously, a champion of communicating heartbreak, Bennett recorded this one for the "I Wanna Be Around" album as well.

5. "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" [YouTube link]. Written by two Brooklynites (George Cory and Douglass Cross), this one became a signature tune sung by the boy from Queens, one of two officially recognized anthems for the city of San Francisco (joining the song "San Francisco," title theme from the 1936 film). It peaked at #19 on the Billboard Hot 100.

6. "I Wanna Be Around" [YouTube link]. This one still remains one of the great, bitter "screw you" songs in the history of lost love. It is the title song from my all-time favorite Bennett album, released in 1963.

7. "Just in Time" [YouTube link] . Introduced in the 1956 musical, "Bells are Ringing," Tony scored a big 1960 hit with this one.

8. "The Moment of Truth" [YouTube link]. From his album, "This is All I Ask" and as a bonus track on the CD release of the album "I Wanna Be Around," this one swings hard.

9. "Put on a Happy Face" [YouTube link]. So good, I picked it TWICE (by accident) for "My Favorite Songs."

10. "The Shadow of Your Smile" [YouTube link]. Bennett delivers the utterly definitive version of a classic Oscar-winning "Best Original Song" from the Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor 1965 film, "The Sandpiper" (and this song has been recorded umpteen times by artists as varied as jazz pianist Bill Evans and dance group D Train! [YouTube links]). Bennett's recording actually won the 1966 Grammy for "Song of the Year." His rendition, with its introductory lyrics intact (not heard on the original score), was arranged and conducted by the man who composed and arranged the original film score: Johnny Mandel, who also collected a Grammy for "Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media," a perfect match for the shatteringly beautiful backdrop of Big Sur, featured in the film. The lyrics were written by Paul Francis Webster. And the score itself features the achingly beautiful trumpet work of Jack Sheldon.

So those are my Top Ten Bennett songs, alphabetically arranged; as for my Number One Bennett impersonator, there is only one: Alec Baldwin [among these "Saturday Night Live" skits, check out, especially, the Baldwin "Tony" interview with "Phony Bennett" played by the real one!].

Bennett's Career

Bennett emerged on the music scene in the early 1950s, a child of the Sinatra generation, who would go on to sell over 50 million albums worldwide. Bennett was impacted by many of the same artists that Sinatra listened to, from Bing Crosby to Louis Armstrong (and one of my favorite jazz violinists, the great Joe Venuti). He served in World War II, and didn't get his first musical break until 1949, when Pearl Bailey asked him to open for her in Greenwich Village. Signed to Columbia Records, he was warned by Mitch Miller not to sound like an imitation of Sinatra, though it was impossible for anyone in that era not to have been touched by the greatness of Ol' Blue Eyes. His artistry deepened with his collaborations with the great jazz guitarist Chuck Wayne (a man whose "consecutive-picking technique" greatly influenced the approach of my own brother, jazz guitarist Carl Barry, to whom Wayne was a dear friend). Wayne became Bennett's musical director for his first LP, "Cloud 7" in 1954, but by 1957, Bennett began his long musical relationship with pianist Ralph Sharon, with whom Bennett embraced an even deeper jazz idiom, resulting in albums featuring Herbie Mann, Nat Adderly, Art Blakey, and several with the Count Basie Orchestra. For me, the heights of his intepretive jazz work can be found on two magical sessions with the immortal pianist Bill Evans.

Yet the times they were a changin', musically speaking, and as the rock era came to dominate the music scene, Bennett fell into a great depression, his art form seemingly lost. He had no recording contract, no concerts outside of Las Vegas, a failing marriage, and increasingly severe tax problems with the IRS. He suffered a near fatal cocaine overdose in 1979. But with the help of his son Danny, he began to turn his life around. Stressing the music that made him grand in the eyes of generations of fans, he reached the MTV Generation, winning a 1995 Grammy for Album of the Year for his "MTV Unplugged" concert. Recognized for his achievements, he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. He has won 2 Emmy Awards, and 19 Grammy Awards (mostly in the category of "Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance"). In 2001, he became a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Winner." In 2005, he was inducted as an honoree of the Kennedy Center, and in 2006, he was honored with the National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Masters Award.

It is no coincidence that Frank Sinatra, the singer whose centenary I marked with a three-week tribute in November-December 2015, called Tony Bennett "the best singer in the business." Over the next week, we'll have a chance to hear a few of the reasons why Sinatra was so moved. Our tribute starts today with a beautifully appropriate "Song of the Day," a sign of their personal, mutual admiration society: "Last Night When We Were Young," a track from the 1992 album, "Perfectly Frank," Bennett's tribute to one of his musical heroes.

When our celebration is complete, I will list all the songs of the tribute here, with their accompanying links.

July 26, 2016

Song of the Day #1366

Song of the Day: Motownphilly, words and music by Dallas Austin, Michael Bivins, Nathan Morris, and Shawn Stockman, was the debut single from the Boyz II Men debut album, "Cooleyhighharmony," and it was featured yesterday afternoon in the opening gala of the 2016 Democratic National Convention taking place in the City of Brotherly Love. It went to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and remains my favorite single from that Philly-based Motown-produced group, for its rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic sense. If nothing else, I will admit only to my partiality to the music featured at Democratic Party events versus Republican events. I guess it's due to my urban, gritty "New York values," the ones that Ted Cruz never tired of condemning during the GOP primaries. Well, it looks like two New Yawkers, one a native, the other one viewed by some as an interloper, are going to fight it out for the Presidency, and one of them is going to sit in the White House in 2017. A friend of mine has suggested that the televised debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should be made into "pay-per view" events... you know, like Wrestlemania and such, for there is little doubt that the U.S. would be able to achieve a balanced budget, while paying off the national debt. Hmm... well, if we end up with two New Yawkers shouting over one another, I'll just turn up the volume on this song, and dance away from the TV. In the meanwhile, check out the original video for this wonderful 1991 R&B single [YouTube link] from the guys who came from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, as well as their performance on yesterday's DNC opening [YouTube link], probably the most melodic thing we'll hear from that stage this week.

July 20, 2016

The Donald and Mercer's "Trump Revolution"

For a political junkie like myself, every four years, watching and retching over the major political party conventions is a rite of passage into the Fall Election campaign for President of the United States. This week, I've watched wall-to-wall coverage of the GOP convention, and I will somehow get through the Democratic Party convention next week. A rite of passage is a ritual, and not all rituals are pleasant, but in my political playbook, they are necessary.

As a prelude to some of my observations on the Trump campaign, I just added a 5-star amazon.com review, "A Must-Read Book for Trump Fans and Foes," of Ilana Mercer's newest book, The Trump Revolution: The Donald's Creative Destruction Deconstructed. Much of what appears here is taken from that review, though I have added links and a few additional observations.

Starting with a quote from Mercer's book, I state: "Donald J. Trump is smashing an enmeshed political spoils system to bits: the media complex, the political and party complex, the conservative poseur complex. In the age of unconstitutional government—Democratic and Republican—this process of creative destruction can only increase the freedom quotient." So begins Ilana Mercer's provocative take on The Trump Revolution: The Donald's Creative Destruction Deconstructed.

Ilana Mercer is no fan of Obama or The W who came before him, but she thinks that "Trump is likely the best Americans can hope for." She’s “not necessarily for the policies of Trump, but for the process of Trump.” This, in itself, is the most interesting of her arguments in a well-constructed book of essays that builds the case for that process. Quoting favorably the views of Justin Raimondo of antiwar.com, Mercer drives home the point, most crucial in my view, and perhaps the most appealing aspect of Trump’s foreign policy views insofar as we know them: that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way NATO functions and that the role of the United States in foreign affairs must be fundamentally re-evaluated. Trump takes pride in being an opponent of the Iraq war, which many of us predicted would lead to the kind of chaos that has developed in the ensuing years [a .pdf link to my article, "Understanding the Global Crisis"]. But no one man or even a movement of disaffected voters behind him, a mere echo of the Old Right that was “usurped by neoconservatives,” will be able to fundamentally alter the “military-industrial complex” that lies at the root of American foreign policy, or the overall government intervention that fuels it both at home and abroad.

Though Trump is probably the least homophobic of GOPers, I am still uncomfortable with his mixed views on same-sex marriage and his stances on abortion. I am uncomfortable with his talk about deporting 11 million people, and the police power that would be required to do so; I am uncomfortable with talks about building walls when it was Ronald Reagan who talked about tearing walls down (and if the reason for the Mexican wall is to keep out criminals and drugs, as claimed by Trump, then he’s not as radical a thinker as some would have us believe … since he needs to re-evaluate the whole “war on drugs” that has fueled the crime coming out of our southern neighbor). I look back at the history of stopping certain types of people from entering this country, and I see a mixed bag; after all, many Muslims have run from their own countries, ruled by extremist Islamic dictatorial ideologues, because they have faced discrimination, torture, and death in their struggles against everything from centuries-old tribalism to oppressive misogyny. This country has had a history of being afraid of outsiders, even though it was built on the backs of so many of those who came to America seeking the freedom to live and produce in peace (not to mention the shameful chapter in our history when people came to this country unwillingly to live and produce in a state of involuntary servitude). Do we need to be reminded of the Japanese-American internment camps constructed during World War II? Or of how many German Jews were denied access to America, because of highly restrictive immigration quotas, in the years leading up to and including World War II? Incredibly, widespread anti-Semitism in this country fueled the fear that some Jews were seeking refuge here and might very well be working as agents of the Nazis! How many of them ended up in gas chambers rather than in that “shining city upon a hill” that beckoned them to the promise of America?

Mercer is completely correct that much of what corrupts our political economy is the role of the state in economic affairs; such is the root of crony capitalism, championed by Democrats and Republicans alike. And like all businesspeople, Trump knows he has to wheel and deal with city, state, and federal politicians, who are corrupt almost by definition. Using things like eminent domain, however, is not the language of the free marketer; Trump can never be confused with a libertarian, no matter how much better he might be in the eyes of some, than the Establishment Politicians (and none of what I’ve said here is meant as an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, whose politics I’ll address at the end of next week’s Democratic convention).

In the end, however, it is a testament to Mercer’s muscular writing and clever reasoning that I was able to read her book in a single sitting. That is a compliment in and of itself. She challenges all of us to think about what so many thought unthinkable: that this guy often dismissed as a reality-show clown, just might become President of the United States.

I should say that I have only one personal proviso to add with regard to the Trump family; in the last year of my mother’s life, it was Blaine Trump, ex-sister-in-law of Donald (she was married to his brother Robert), who paid for Mom’s Make a Wish Foundation round trip, via luxury limousine, with her immediate family (me, my sister, brother, and sister-in-law) to Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. At a time when mom was in the throes of her five-year battle against lung cancer, it was a charitable gesture that we will always remember and cherish, and the Trump family has always played a big role in funding that foundation. That charity aside, it certainly cannot influence my views of this man’s candidacy, even if it says something positive about his character. In any event, this proviso has absolutely nothing to do with my views of Mercer’s controversial, wonderfully readable book. Buy it, read it. You won’t be disappointed.


So ends my review of the Mercer book. For Notablog readers, I would like to make a few additional points. I have long observed the pendulum phenomenon in politics, the one that emerges from the old adage: "The job of the new leader is to make the last one look good." So disgusted were Americans with the collapse of U.S. economic and foreign policy in the Bush years, that Obama was swept into office for two terms, no less, on the promises of "Yes, We Can!" Yes, we can change things fundamentally. Yes, we can end recession at home and a war without end abroad. Yes, we can. Well, as it turned out: We can't. So, disgusted Americans, especially those attracted to the GOP, but many of these partying among the Elephants for the first time as disenfranchised "blue collar" and "working class" people, have embraced Trump. They have given the Grand Old Party Establishment a Grand Middle Finger of revolt, precisely because they are revolted by the state of affairs in this country.

When I was 8 years old, I went to my first political rally, purely out of curiosity, with my Uncle Sam and my sister Elizabeth. We stood at the corner of 85th Street and Bay Parkway in Brooklyn, across from the Chase Manhattan Bank that still stands there (except the 4-sided clock that topped the building actually worked back then!)

In attendance was Vice President Hubert Horatio Humphrey fighting for the Democratic Party, in place of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who, despite having crushed the GOP's Barry Goldwater in a 1964 landslide, had announced that he would not seek re-election. The Great Society he sought to create was collapsing under the weight of an expanding welfare-warfare state. With the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Humphrey was left standing, fighting for his political life. That night in Brooklyn, the antiwar crowd, which had blamed LBJ for the thousands of soldiers coming back from Vietnam to America in body bags, drowned out Humphrey's speech by a constant refrain, screamed louder and louder: "Dump the Hump! Dump the Hump! Dump the Hump!"

Humphrey's battle was lost to the newest "Law and Order" man in town, who was actually part of the older long-time GOP Establishment. A former virulently hostile anti-communist Senator, Vice President to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, went on to lose the 1960 election to JFK, but by 1968, he had reinvented himself into a winning candidate. And we all know what happened after that. The anti-communist shook hands with Brezhnev and Mao, one of history's greatest mass murderers (which may help us to put Obama's handshake with one of the Castro brothers into perspective). But neither law nor order followed, in the depths of Nixon's political corruption. And so, the pendulums of U.S. politics swung with ferocity against the Watergate-corrupted administration, forcing Nixon to resign, as he handed presidential power over to the thoroughly un-elected Gerald Ford. Ford went down to defeat, in the Bicentennial Year, in another pendulum swing, handing the presidency over to the bumbling ineffectiveness of one-term Jimmy Carter. And then came the ultimate swing for the fences, as former Democrat-turned-Barry Goldwater advocate, Ronald Reagan, ushered in the modern conservative movement.

And so the pendulum continues to swing from W to Obama to ... I don't know. And right now, "None of the Above" is looking mighty good to me. Given the excitement that so many have for the Trump candidacy, but who drop the context of the real dynamics of American politics, it would not surprise me if those disgusted with Obama-Clinton carry the day. It would not surprise me if Trump became President. And it would not surprise me to hear echoes of those 1968 chants all over again, as they morph from "Dump the Hump!" to "Dump the Trump!" We've been hearing variations on that, for months, in any event. Cliché though it is, time will tell.

Postscript: In discussions on Facebook, I make a few additional points. In response to one comment, raising the issue of the Libertarian Party, I write:

. . . I don't endorse Trump. Honestly, however dishonest Clinton is--and what politician isn't?--she is a known quantity, but that's not exactly a rousing endorsement either. Gary Johnson and William Weld are good men, though I have my criticisms. I would have voted for Weld way back, but he stood absolutely no chance in a socially conservative GOP. To echo the opening words from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I": "These are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today. But I say this to our citizenry: We, ever your servants, will continue to defend your liberty and repel the forces that seek to take it from you!" When those forces exist within your own country, you are in the darkest of times.

In reply to another comment, which stresses the point that we should concern ourselves with those things that are most within our power to control, things at the "local" level, I state:

. . . that's a very good observation. Unfortunately, however, what happens on the national level and even the global level can so intrude on the things that are more within our power to influence that it gets to the point where it becomes difficult even to make changes locally. The more complex and interrelated the world becomes, the more difficult it becomes for all of us. When an insane ideology from halfway around the world inspires local lone wolf nutjobs to attack a San Bernadino facility for people with developmental disabilities or to go into a gay nightclub in Orlando and kill 49 people, wounding another 53, the world starts to become smaller and smaller. That doesn't mean that I don't agree with your point that asserting ourselves on the local level is a good thing.

July 18, 2016

Russian Radical 2.0: The Three Rs

Today's post will discuss the Three Rs, as they relate, ironically, to the second edition of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical: Reviews, Rand Studies, and Rape Culture.

As readers of Notablog know, my 1995 book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, went into a grand second edition in 2013, on the eve of its twentieth anniversary (readers can see all the blog posts related to this edition at a new page on my Russian Radical site). As is the fate of most second editions, even vastly expanded ones like the current book, few reviews seem to surface. But it has been a pleasant surprise to see that the book has made an impact on the ever-growing Rand scholarly literature. I have updated the review section of the Russian Radical page to reflect some of the reviews and discussions of the book in that literature. My own reply to critics ("Reply to Critics:  The Dialectical Rand") will not appear until July 2017 in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (Volume 17, no. 1). The delay in that reply has been primarily due to the fact that we, at the journal, have been working relentlessly on what promises to be, perhaps, the most important issue ever published by JARS: a double-issue symposium, due out in December 2016 (Volume 16, nos. 1-2): "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy." It is a book-length version of the journal that will be print published and available online through JSTOR and Project Muse, and to those who wish to purchase single print copies or single copies of the first e-book and Kindle editions of JARS ever published. We are proud of the final product, which includes sixteen essays by people coming from a wide diversity of disciplines and perspectives, including political and social theory, philosophy, literature, film, business and leadership, anthropology, and, of course, academic and clinical psychology. It also includes the most extensive annotated bibliography of Branden works and of the secondary literature mentioning Branden yet published.

What makes this issue so important is that it will bring to a wider audience the work of many writers who have never appeared in any Rand-oriented periodical, while also bringing attention to the work and legacy of Branden to the community of clinical and academic psychologists. It is an issue that only JARS could have produced. Such a study would never come forth from the "orthodox" Objectivists, who have virtually airbrushed even Branden’s canonic contributions to Objectivism out of existence (the new Blackwell Companion to Ayn Rand a notable exception), or from the established orthodoxies of the psychological community who have dismissed Branden's work as "pop" psychology—in much the same way that the established scholarly orthodoxies locked out Rand from the Western canon by referring to her as a cult-fiction writer and pop philosopher, an attitude that has slowly been eroded over the years by increasingly serious work on her corpus, something to which JARS has contributed with pride.

In any event, readers can find excerpts from some of the commentaries made on Russian Radical in the recent scholarly literature by checking the updated review pages here.

Ironically, among the reviewers is Wendy McElroy, who discussed Russian Radical in the pages of JARS (in a review that appeared in the July 2015 issue). I’m happy that Wendy had the opportunity to review the book, given that she has been so hard at work on so many worthwhile projects. One of those projects was just published: a truly provocative new book, entitled Rape Culture Hysteria: Fixing the Damage Done to Men and Women. I’ve just posted a mini-review of the 5-star book on amazon.com; here is what I had to say (which relates directly to my view of "The Dialectical Rand"):

Wendy McElroy's new book, Rape Culture Hysteria: Fixing the Damage Done to Men and Women, is certainly one of the most provocative books on this subject ever written. The freshness with which McElroy approaches the subject is in itself controversial, though it is hard to believe that approaching any subject with reason as one's guide could possibly be controversial. Whether one agrees or disagrees with any particular point made by McElroy, what she accomplishes here is to show the power of a nearly all-encompassing ideology to corrupt the very subject it seeks to make transparent.  The power of her analysis lies in the intricate ways in which she approaches not only the problems of rape culture ideology but in the documentation and analysis that she uses to undermine many of the arguments that its proponents put forth to support their various positions. It is a startling display of analytical power so strong that it must challenge people on all ends of the political spectrum.
The sad part of the Politically Correct doctrine of the "rape culture," however, is that it actually undermines the power of some doctrines that I, as a social theorist, accept, with provisos.  For example, the doctrine that "the personal is the political," rejected with good reason by McElroy, is used by PC feminists in a way that does not illuminate the mutual implications of the personal and the political; rather, it folds everything personal into the political.  That such a doctrine could have emerged out of postmodern New Left thought is doubly disturbing, however, given the Marxist penchant for so-called "dialectical" analysis, that is, analysis that aims to grasp the wider context of social problems by tracing their common roots and multidimensional manifestations and undermining them in a radical way.  The same penchant exists, in my view, among many of those in the libertarian and individualist traditions, including in the work of the self-declared "anti-feminist" Ayn Rand, who, for all her anti-feminism, may have done more to empower women than any PC feminist could have ever dreamed… this, despite her views of man-woman relationships or of homosexuality, both of which one can take issue with, while not doing fundamental damage to her overall philosophic system.
The fact is that even Rand believed that there were mutual implications between the personal and the political; one's view of oneself, how one uses one's mind, the methods of one's thinking processes (so-called "psycho-epistemology", etc.) and the origins of the doctrine of self-esteem, and of the self-esteem movement championed by her protege, Nathaniel Branden, show how certain cultural, educational, and political institutions have virtually conditioned individuals to accept authority and certain destructive ideologies in ways that ultimately undermine their ability to think as individuals and accept self-responsibility, thus paving the way for the rule of coercive political power. Rand and her intellectual progeny have grasped these phenomena by showing how they operate in mutually reinforcing ways across disciplines and institutions within a system, and across time.I don't think McElroy would disagree with this, even if she fundamentally questions the doctrine of "the personal is the political," for she, herself, shows that there are indeed both personal and political consequences to the ways in which that doctrine is used by its so-called champions. But that is the kind of fundamental rethinking McElroy's book provokes for any reader who approaches her work with a critical mind. Bravo!

July 01, 2016

The Mobs Line Up at Brooklyn's L&B Pizzeria

Anytime, anyone of my out of town friends show up in my home town, Brooklyn, it is a necessity to take them to the famed pizzeria, established by Ludovico Barbati in 1939 in the Gravesend section of this wonderful borough of New York City. I've lived in Gravesend my whole life, and L&B offers probably the best Sicilian pizza (the so-called "square slice") you'll ever eat anywhere. They put the mozzarella on the bed of the pie, and top it with a tangy sauce and grated cheese that will make your mouth water; and if you're into Italian ices and Spumoni, there are fewer places in New York that offer anything creamier or more refreshing.

To my knowledge, the only mob ties to the famed pizzeria are the mobs that line up awaiting their slices, sitting in the outdoor "Spumoni Gardens", especially in the summer months. Today, I learned differently.

Remarkably, last night, for the first time in eons, my sister and I stopped by at L&B for a square slice; around the same time, the grandson of Ludovico, the 61-year old Louis Barbati, co-owner of the current restaurant he built on 86th Street in Gravesend, was murdered in his backyard in the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn, his family inside the home. It is being called a "mob-tied" hit. Apparently, back in 2012, a mob war almost erupted over accusations that some folks had stolen the L&B secret-tomato-sauce recipe. And today, perhaps a casualty of long-time disputes, Louis Barbati is gone.

I've heard of mob wars over narcotics and neighborhood turf, but not this. I truly extend my heartfelt sympathies to the Barbati family.

Ed. Note: We learned the day after that apparently the murder was the result of a botched robbery. All the more senseless and tragic.

June 13, 2016

Song of the Day #1356

Song of the Day: Stitches, words and music by Danny Parker, Teddy Geiger, and Daniel Kyriakides, was a top 5 Billboard hit for Canadian singer, Shawn Mendes, for his 2015 debut album, "Handwritten." As I watched the 70th Annual Tony Awards last night, I thought of this song [YouTube link], for the Awards show opened with a tribute to the 50 known dead, murdered in an Orlando, Florida gay dance club, Pulse, which has also left more than 50 people injured, many of them critically. I've wanted to post this song for a long time, for the young singer seems to capture the pain of someone who has lost his love; but today, when I read some of the song's lyrics, I cannot help but think of this terrible tragedy, the worst mass killing in U.S. history (not counting the obscenity of 9/11). "You watch me bleed until I can't breathe," Mendes sings. "Shaking, falling onto my knees; And now that I'm without your kisses; I'll be needing stitches; ripping over myself; Aching, begging you to come help; And now that I'm without your kisses; I'll be needing stitches..." No stitches will bring back the loved ones who were massacred in that club. For the LGBT movement, living in a country that until recently didn't even recognize their civil right to marriage--"civil right" has never implied that religious institutions be forced to perform gay marriage ceremonies--this is truly a horrific tragedy. This community opened the doors of a dance club peacefully, joyfully, welcoming people of all lifestyles, to celebrate a Gay Pride month that marks the anniversary of that day in libertarian history when the gay rights movement was born at the Stonewall Inn, when drag queens were sick and tired of being harassed and arrested, and having their clubs routinely raided by the tormenting forces of law. It took decades for that community to get certain civil rights recognized under the constitution as applicable to all people. But it wasn't just the opposition of the police and the law that the LGBT movement faced. The process of "coming out," after all, is something that is intensely personal; many gay men and women have also dealt painfully with the rejection of their parents of various faiths, who have viewed homosexuality as a sin, punishable by everything from excommunication to prison, and in some tribalist cultures, even death by stoning. They say that this terrorist act was committed by an ISIS-motivated gay-hating whackjob; but there was a time in this country that the death of 50 people, most of them probably gay, would have been a party event for those on the Christian Right, who, like Fred Phelps, showed up at the funeral of the murdered, martyred Matthew Shepard, with placards declaring "God hates fags" and that the young gay man was now condemned to eternal damnation in hell because he had not repented. And let's not let the left off the hook either, for communist societies have been known for their gay gulags, many of them adhering to the Marxist mantra that homosexuality was simply a sign of the decadence of capitalism. Let me be clear: This is not a fight simply of doctrinal religious differences or political differences. It is a fight that goes to the deepest core of a society's cultural values. Until a time comes when people can simply live their lives free of coercion or of coercing others, there is not an individual alive in this country who will be safe from the culture of hate, a culture that simmers when stoked by rejecting parents, holier-than-thou religious leaders, and prejudiced politicians. A few years ago, the U.S. government invaded a country in the Middle East, and partially justified the insanity as an exercise in "nation-building"--in a section of the world that still has no conception of what a nation is or what kinds of nonbarbaric cultural values any human society must embrace in order to sustain itself: values such as the rule of law, the sanctity of individual rights, and the pursuit of justice. The apocalypse that has resulted is the kind of blowback that people of good will warned against at the time. Today, however, this is not just a fight for your right to liberty and or your right to justly-acquired property, but a fight for your very right to life, your very right to exist, whatever sexual orientation you are. This is a country and a world that will not, and cannot, be held together in "stitches." Every person of any orientation must be able to find the courage, the "eternal vigilance" that it takes to preserve life and liberty. Those who kill in the name of a hateful God are truly of the godless; and if there is a hell, it is not the innocent dead in that club who will be consumed by its inferno, but the killers themselves who will burn on the very ninth circle they wish to create on earth.

June 05, 2016

Song of the Day #1348

Song of the Day: Nothing Compares 2 U, words and music by Prince, for a side-project band called "The Family" from their self-titled 1985 album. Sinead O'Connor had a huge hit with this one, but I still love the original Prince version. Check out that original here, and the O'Connor version here [YouTube links]. I should note that on June 3rd, America lost one of its most controversial and entertaining cultural icons and nothing compared to him either: "The Greatest" Muhammad Ali.

May 28, 2016

Happy 100th Birthday to Nathan's Famous

Today, Nathan's Famous, a worldwide food chain, celebrated its 100th anniversary (having started as a hot dog cart) at its landmark Coney Island address, where, for 2 hours, they offered customers hot dogs for their original 1916 price: 5 cents a piece. You had to agree to buy two!

Brooklynite I am, but crazy I am not. Temperatures in the 90s and millions of people on line for a 5-cent hot dog. No. Not gonna happen.

So we bought packaged Nathan's hot dogs, cooked 'em up, and had a blast. Not quite the same taste as the one's sold in Coney Island, where the chefs swear that it is the salt water in the air that gives them their distinct taste, but a celebration nonetheless.

May 01, 2016

Song of the Day #1342

Song of the Day: Christos Anesti is a traditional hymn sung first at the midnight liturgy as the "paschal toparian" or celebratory hymn of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Greek (and Eastern) Orthodox churches to mark the arrival of Easter. Though its authorship is unknown, it has been attributed to Romanos the Melodist, the "Pindar of rhythmic poetry." I must say that with maternal grandparents having been born in Olympia, Greece, the home of the gods and goddesses (and the ancient site of the Olympic games), and paternal grandparents born in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, home of the godfathers, I was fortunate enough to learn all the Greek prayers (having been baptized Greek Orthodox) and all the Sicilian curse words. Growing up, this Easter hymn was, perhaps, my favorite; check out a lovely version of it on YouTube, featuring the actress Irene Papas with Vangelis. It depicts the faithful carrying lit candles, that begin to lift the darkened church at midnight into light, as a single candle is passed on to the faithful one by one until the entire church is filled with the light of rebirth and renewal. I want to wish all my orthodox family and friends a very Happy Easter! And it being the 1st of May, May it be a revolutionary one!

April 21, 2016

Song of the Day #1339

Song of the Day: Let's Go Crazy, words and music by Prince, who recorded this as Prince and the Revolution, a Minneapolis rock band formed in 1979. The song went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, a mega-hit from the 1984 soundtrack album, the Oscar-winning "Best Original Song Score" to the film, "Purple Rain." I am happy that I had the opportunity to see this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician perform this blazingly hot song live in concert; today, he passed away at the young age of 57. His music broke through various genres and he leaves a legacy of musical treasures released and yet-to-be-released. I will miss him. Check out the album version of this song, which tells us of an "afterworld . . . of never-ending happiness," something he has given to his fans for generations to come [YouTube links].

March 28, 2016

Nucky Thompson Was Right

In the very first episode of the HBO hit series "Boardwalk Empire," Steve Buscemi, who plays the lead character Nucky Thompson — racketeer, political insider, and bootlegger — lifts his glass of liquor in a toast to "the distinguished gentlemen of our nation's Congress . . . those beautiful, ignorant bastards," who enacted the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited."

This nightmarish "noble experiment" lasted from 1920 to 1933, until the Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition (and was probably one of the most important reasons for FDR's initial first-term popularity as an advocate for its repeal). Without a doubt, the major effect of this legislation was to give a boost to organized crime. From speakeasies to mob wars, the general population of this country became part of a new culture of criminality that put the Roar in the Roaring Twenties. As an entry on Wikipedia puts it:

Organized crime received a major boost from Prohibition. Mafia groups limited their activities to prostitution, gambling, and theft until 1920, when organized bootlegging emerged in response to Prohibition. A profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol flourished. Prohibition provided a financial basis for organized crime to flourish. In a study of more than 30 major U.S. cities during the Prohibition years of 1920 and 1921, the number of crimes increased by 24%. Additionally, theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicides by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6%, and police department costs rose by 11.4%. This was largely the result of "black-market violence" and the diversion of law enforcement resources elsewhere. Despite the Prohibition movement's hope that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, the reality was that the Volstead Act led to higher crime rates than were experienced prior to Prohibition and the establishment of a black market dominated by criminal organizations. The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre produced seven deaths, considered one of the deadliest days of mob history. Furthermore, stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle. To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the federal government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. In response, bootleggers hired chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. As a response, the Treasury Department required manufacturers to add more deadly poisons, including the particularly deadly methyl alcohol. New York City medical examiners prominently opposed these policies because of the danger to human life. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended. New York City medical examiner Charles Norris believed the government took responsibility for murder when they knew the poison was not deterring people and they continued to poison industrial alcohol (which would be used in drinking alcohol) anyway. Norris remarked: "The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol... [Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible."

One of the few really good things to have come out of that era has been a terrific flow of really good gangster movies, including the 1987 Grammy Award-winning Ennio Morricone-scored film, "The Untouchables," with Robert DeNiro as one terrific Al Capone, Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, and a fine Sean Connery, who played Jimmy Malone (based on the real-life Irish American agent, Marty Lahart), who went on to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. In the end, Capone was brought down not by his criminal activities, per se, but by tax evasion.

With prohibition repealed, however, the model for the expansion of organized crime extended into the prohibited black markets for hard drugs, from cocaine to heroin. From Mafia chieftans to drug lords running operations across the world, from Latin America to Afghanistan, much of the profits of this business have boosted the money flow to terrorist organizations of all sorts. Crime has soared. And the prison population in the United States began to outstrip that of every modern society.

Last week, a cover story with regard to the "War on Drugs," was published by the New York Daily News stating that John Ehrlichman, who went to prison for Watergate-related crimes, and "who served as President Richard Nixon’s domestic policy chief," admitted that the ‘War on Drugs’ strategy was a "policy tool to go after anti-war protesters and ‘black people’." Apparently, these revelations were made in an interview with journalist Dan Baum, for a 1994 book, but were not revealed until the current April 2016 issue of Harper's, where the writer provides a wide-ranging discussion of how to seriously readjust drug policies in the United States. Here is an excerpt from the Daily News article:

“You want to know what this was really all about,” Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, said in the interview after Baum asked him about Nixon’s harsh anti-drug policies. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying,” Ehrlichman continued. “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” . . . By 1973, about 300,000 people were being arrested every year under the law — the majority of whom were African-American.

The following day, the News reported that Nixon's former White House counsel John Dean expressed shock over the revelations "but admitted 'it's certainly possible.' . . . If this was indeed true, it would have been the Nixon-Ehrlichman private agenda.'"

On this issue, a fine piece appears today from Mark Thornton, writing on Mises Daily (the site of the Ludwig von Mises Institute): "The Legalization Cure for the Heroin Epidemic." For ye