Bravo, John Sterling!

I’m convinced that John Sterling, long-time radio announcer for the New York Yankees, has pinstripes running through his veins. He called 5,420 regular season Yankee games and another 211 postseason games. Retiring, effective immediately, he’ll be recognized in a pregame ceremony this Saturday before the Yanks host the Tampa Rays at The Stadium. I’ll miss his iconic calls and warm sense of humor.

For an extra special treat, check out Sterling’s hilarious (and creative) home run calls …

The Henry Mancini Centennial / Song of the Day #2115

One hundred years ago on this date, the great composer, conductor, and arranger Henry Mancini was born. Winner of four Academy Awards, a Golden Globe, twenty Grammy Awards, and a posthumous Lifetime Grammy Achievement Award, Mancini composed some of the most memorable scores and cinematic songs of the twentieth century—from his Peter Gunn TV theme and his iconic “Pink Panther” theme to his Oscar-winning scores for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Victor/Victoria,” from songs such as “Moon River” and “Days of Wine and Roses” to “Charade” and “Two for the Road.” Countless Mancini songs have made their impact on “My Favorite Songs” list over the years. Today, Turner Classic Movies is running a 24-hour tribute to Mancini that began at 6 am (ET) with “Carol for Another Christmas” (a 1964 TV flick, which features one of my favorite Christmas themes) and will end with “Wait Until Dark” (a 1967 thriller with the Oscar-nominated Audrey Hepburn).

In honor of Mancini the Magnificent, this musical montage …

Song of the Day: A Tribute to Henry Mancini (Medley) [YouTube link], music by Henry Mancini, arranged by Calvin Custer, features the Florida Lakes Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Konstantin Dimitrov. The medley includes “Baby Elephant Walk” (from the 1962 film “Hatari!”), “Charade” (1963), “The Pink Panther” (1963), “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962), and the Peter Gunn Theme (from the 1959-1961 television series). On the one hundredth anniversary of his birth, we celebrate Mancini’s wonderful musical legacy.

Remembering Nathaniel Branden

On this date in 1930, psychotherapist and writer Nathaniel Branden was born. Back on December 3, 2014, upon his death, I wrote a heartfelt tribute to him: “Nathaniel Branden: Love and Friendship Eternal.” The generosity and support that he showed me and my family during some of our most difficult days is something I will never forget. He was a kind, humane and brilliant counselor, and a caring, loving friend.

I was first exposed to Nathaniel’s writings in my encounter with the nonfiction works of Ayn Rand. His pioneering exploration of the nature of self-esteem and its centrality to the project of human freedom and personal flourishing was both insightful and inspiring. And in the aftermath of his departure from the Objectivist movement, his eclectic therapeutic strategies were enormously helpful to countless numbers of individuals, who sought guidance for a life of authenticity and interpersonal visibility.

In later years, on the urging of Barbara Branden—another very dear friend—Nathaniel read a draft of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and made wonderful suggestions along the way. We spent countless hours on the phone and later met in New York City. Eventually, he made his way to Brooklyn with his then-wife Devers (who also became a cherished friend), and I took them for my celebrated tour of the borough. (And yes, they sampled everything from Nathan’s Hot Dogs to the Sicilian slices of L&B Spumoni Gardens!)  In 1999, my sister and I joined them both at their Beverly Hills home for a delightful evening.

Long before Nathaniel died, I told him that The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies would publish a symposium dedicated to his work. Sadly, he never lived to see its publication in 2016. That 300-page double-issue, co-edited by Robert L. Campbell and me, was the first anthology to assess Branden’s contributions. “Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy” (still available as a Kindle edition) featured sixteen contributors, including writers in academic and clinical psychology, who offered personal reflections and critical studies of Branden’s corpus.

I honor Nathaniel’s memory. I loved him and miss him very much.

Below are a few photos to mark today’s anniversary. Clockwise from the top left: Nathaniel and I were on the Boardwalk in Coney Island; together in Beverly Hills; in my Brooklyn apartment; and with Devers, in the shadow of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.

Postscript: In the Facebook discussion that followed this post, I added the following points:

Many folks remember his years with the Objectivist movement, when he was a stern gatekeeper. Others are still fighting over the schism of 1968. My exposure to him as a writer and dear friend was far removed from those years. And my experiences with him were far from unique. I discovered his work when I was 17. As a senior in high school, the first book of Rand’s that I read was Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, and Branden’s essays were some of the most illuminating in the volume, including his discussion of “Alienation” (upon which he expanded in The Disowned Self).

I had the occasion to comment on several of his books in manuscript in the 1990s and 2000s, and I always told him that his approach had become even more profoundly dialectical over the years, insofar as it stressed the fuller context of process and system.

One could find this even in his attempts to redress the balance of reason and emotion from his earlier work. The Disowned Self emphasized the importance of never disowning one’s emotions. While Rand certainly recognized the integration of reason and emotion, Branden stressed that not only was it important to think in order to feel, but it was necessary to “feel deeply … to think clearly,” rejecting any “notion that thinking and feeling are opposed functions and that each entails the denial of the other.” His work is chock-full of important insights.

There’s a reason why Branden is considered “the father of the self-esteem movement”—except his own deeply philosophical and psychological exploration of self-esteem is far ahead of any of the fad-like books commonly associated with the topic. The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem is an outstanding example of his wider, evolving corpus.

Brooklyn Tech – Class of 1984 Prom Memories

This weekend is the Brooklyn Tech High School Homecoming. Back on June 6, 1984, I was privileged to provide a mixtape for Prom Night at Les Mouches, a dance club in Manhattan, for the Brooklyn Tech High School Class of 1984. (Yeah, I had connections with Ski! 😉 ) I was just starting out with my mobile DJ’ing … and it was fun!

In honor of the 40th anniversary of that event, I digitized a 13+ minute segment from one of those mixtapes, which packed the dance floor. It’s on my YouTube channel. Check out the memories …

Molinari Article Now Available!

My reply to Gus diZerega’s essay, “Turning the Tables: The Pathologies and Unrealized Promise of Libertarianism,” which appeared in the Autumn 2019 issue of Molinari Review, is now available online as a pdf. The article explores various dialectical libertarian themes. Check it out here!

Sassy 100 – Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme

This is a postscript to my Medium essay, “Sassy 100: Celebrating the Sarah Vaughan Centennial“!

Today, March 27, 2024, to mark the actual date of the Sassy Centennial, an audio recording of Sarah Vaughan’s appearance with Mel Torme on The Merv Griffin Show, which aired on Metromedia Channel 5 in NYC (circa 1976-77), has been posted to my YouTube channel. Merv Griffin’s musical director, Mort Lindsey, leads the band. The only track that has been seen in video format on YouTube is the song “Oh, Lady Be Good!” I recorded this from my TV when it originally aired. The montage presents the songs performed on that show in their entirety for the first time:

  1. Someone to Watch Over Me – Sarah Vaughan (solo)
  2. Porgy and Bess Medley – Mel Torme (solo)
  3. Oh, Lady Be Good! – Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme (duet)
  4. I Got Rhythm – Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme (duet); an impromptu and fun jam session!

Applied Austrian Economics

Today, I’d like to bring attention to two videos that deal with topics surrounding the Austrian school of economics.

The first is the Henry Hazlitt Memorial Lecture given by my long-time friend and colleague, Ed Younkins: “Ayn Rand and the Austrian Economists” [YouTube link]. Ed is particularly qualified to have delivered this very interesting lecture. He has authored many books and essays exploring the interconnections between Rand and Austrian theorists, including Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society: Toward a Synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism (2011). He was also a contributor to the Spring 2005 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) symposium, “Ayn Rand Among the Austrians,” for which he wrote the essay, “Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond.” That symposium featured important essays by a dozen authors, including George Reisman, Walter Block, Roderick T. Long, Peter Boettke, and Steven Horwitz. And as a coeditor, with Roger Bissell and me, of The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (2019), Ed also contributed an essay to that anthology, “Freedom and Flourishing: Toward a Synthesis of Traditions and Disciplines,” in which he argues for an integration of Aristotelian, Randian, and Austrian insights.

Clearly, this is a subject matter that has preoccupied Ed for many years. In this lecture, Ed draws from the neo-Aristotelian realist core in the works of Carl Menger, founding father of the Austrian school. Ed sees fruitful connections between Menger’s approach and that of Ayn Rand. He makes a case for integrating the praxeological insights of Ludwig von Mises with a larger normative (and meta-normative) vision, drawn not only from Rand but from the neo-Aristotelian philosophers, Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl. (It should be noted too that Ed and the Dougs were all on the Advisory Board of JARS for years, so it’s nice to see continuing cross-pollination!) And he addresses the thought of Murray Rothbard, who sought to reconfigure Mises’s Kantian-influenced praxeology on surer Aristotelian footing. As Ed puts it, the neo-Aristotelian and Objectivist worldviews can provide a more robust context for Austrian economic insights. And there is much to be gained from the intellectual exchange of these perspectives.

The only Austrian theorist not discussed in Ed’s presentation is Friedrich Hayek. Hayek departs from Misesian praxeology and is not generally considered a neo-Aristotelian. But there is much affinity between Hayek’s critique of constructivist rationalism and Rand’s rejection of rationalist thinking. On this basis alone, I have long argued that an engagement between Hayekian and Randian perspectives can be fruitful—and I’d strongly encourage integration of key Hayekian insights in any attempted integration of Austrian theory and Objectivism. (I explore Hayek’s views in depth in my book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, and I engage the Hayekian and Randian perspectives in my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, especially chapter 8.)

Coincident with the release of Ed’s lecture is a YouTube presentation by two dear friends: Ryan Neugebauer (Ryan N) and Ryan McGaughey (Ryan M), or as I like to call them: “Ryan Squared” (I can’t provide a superscript ‘2’ here, but you get the idea!)

This discussion, “Austrian Economics, Political Economy, and the Case for the Mixed Economy” [YouTube link], is as provocative as its title suggests. Their aim is to invite feedback as they move toward a coauthored essay that uses Austrian insights to make the case for a mixed economy.

The Ryans begin with a discussion of my work on dialectical libertarianism, specifically Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism and its critique of Rothbard’s anarcho-capitalism (ancap). With dialectics—the art of context keeping—as methodological backdrop, they seek to promote the project of human freedom and personal flourishing with a recognition of the conditions that exist. They oppose reductionists on either side of the dualistic divide—those anarcho-capitalists who envision the market’s absorption of all governmental functions and those socialists or communists who propose the government’s absorption of the market. This false alternative leads the purists in both camps to embrace what Karl Popper once called “canvas cleaning.” The ancap would ‘push a button’ to eliminate the state as surely as the communist would ‘push a button’ to demolish the market, no matter how many bodies are left in the wake of wiping the slate clean. Moreover, even if such a button could be pushed, the proposed resolution ignores the need for a cultural transformation that might nourish and support any such radical social change.

The ‘mixed economy’—that catchall term for various mixtures of markets and states—has existed for eons and there is no foreseeable future in which this phenomenon will wither away. Indeed, it is no coincidence that classical economics was viewed as the study of political economy, for politics and economics have been inextricably intertwined in various ways. Ultimately, the question is: What kind of mixture is optimal for the nurturing of freedom and flourishing?

Before even considering this question, however, the Ryans’ focus here is on the ways in which the Austrian school of economics has helped us to understand the nature of a market economy. As Ryan M puts it, the Austrian school has provided core notions that were essential not just to the marginal revolution spearheaded by Carl Menger, but to the tradition he founded. Among those ideas was Menger’s insistence that value is not inherent in material objects, but in the subject’s valuation of those objects. This is the kind of ‘subjectivism’ that Ed Younkins views as fully compatible with Menger’s Aristotelian realism and Rand’s Objectivism, insofar as material objects are evaluated in an agent-relative manner that is fully engaged with the world, rather than cut off from it. (Rand distinguished her Objectivist alternative from the classical objectivist position, which she dubbed “intrinsicism,” insofar as it placed intrinsic value on the objects in the material world, rather than value-as-evaluated-by-a-conscious-subject.)

Other core notions in the Austrian tradition include an appreciation of the epistemic role of markets and an understanding of the non-neutrality of money. In his works, Hayek explained the function of the price mechanism in transmitting inarticulate (tacit) knowledge across social networks as a means of coordination. And, as Ryan M emphasizes, the Austrian view of the non-neutrality of money is crucially important to Austrian business cycle theory. Austrian theorists cast light on the differential ways that inflationary infusions of money redistribute wealth to those who are its first beneficiaries. In his 1938 work, Theory of Money and Credit, Mises pioneered this view in a way that fully embraced the discipline of political economy. While Austrians long championed the notion that money as an institution evolved through the division and specialization of labor, they also recognized the state’s intimate involvement throughout history with coinage, banking, and structural variations in the supply of money. Hence, to say that money is not neutral is not merely an economic observation; it is a profoundly political one as well. Mises’s approach was a scathing indictment of static equilibrium models in favor of a process orientation. It also pointed to a class dimension in the business cycle, a dimension explored more comprehensively by Mises’s student, Murray Rothbard.

This intermingling of economics and politics shows up in both Austrian economics and libertarian politics. Indeed, as Ryan N observes, it is often difficult to separate Austrian economics from the purest libertarian politics upheld by certain Austrian economists. Some Austrians, most notably Hayek, departed from these purist demands, favoring political means for the provision of social safety nets. The Ryans wish to utilize the economic tools of Austrian theory in ways that might bolster the case for a mixed economy. They are not unsympathetic to anarcho-libertarian ideals. But in the real world, those ideals have never been actualized. They might be implicit in some real-world social relations, but the rules of the game have been corrupted throughout human history. What is called “capitalism” today is not the “unknown ideal” of its advocates. In “capitalism: the known reality,” as I’ve called it, the structures of property ownership were historically constituted by the enclosure of the commons, conquest, and colonialism such that any notion of Lockean ‘just acquisition’ is rendered almost incomprehensible. To this extent, the dichotomous view of market and state is ahistorical, for the economic and the political have always been organically linked.

The Ryans maintain that those of us who are concerned with justice can’t rewind history and undo the damage of centuries of wealth and land redistribution. But we can attempt to make up for it. And that is the springboard for what the Ryans propose. Given the context that exists, how might Austrian insights be used to improve our society?

Moving forward—in building the case for a mixed economy, indeed, for a better mixed economy—I’d encourage my friends to address issues raised in the Austrian literature by two of its contemporary representatives: Don Lavoie and Sanford Ikeda. In National Economic Planning: What is Left? (1985), Lavoie is concerned with those state-centered mixed economies that tend toward the militarization of economic life, bolstering not only the welfare state, but the warfare state as well. This organic conjunction of welfare and warfare is something that has been a part of U.S. history, but it has had a global impact. And it has deep class dimensions.

Critiques of the mixed economy have been offered by Marxist, public choice, and Austrian thinkers. Marxist theorist Paul Mattick published a 1964 essay, “Dynamics of the Mixed Economy,” that explored these issues. Ikeda’s work, Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism (1996), draws from both public choice and Austrian insights to address the “spontaneous order” that is distinctive to political processes in real existing mixed economies.

Any case for the mixed economy should grapple more fully with this literature.

I very much enjoyed both Ed Younkins’s lecture and the Ryan Neugebauer-Ryan McGaughey presentation and I highly recommend both YouTube videos to Notablog readers. Links below.

Sassy 100: Celebrating the Sarah Vaughan Centennial

Next Wednesday, on March 27, 2024, we mark the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of legendary jazz vocalist, Sarah Vaughan. My article in tribute to the Sarah Vaughan Centennial makes its debut on Medium today: “Sassy 100: Celebrating the Sarah Vaughan Centennial.”

Just as important, today is the debut on my YouTube channel of the full audio recording of Vaughan’s 1974 concert appearance, “In Performance at Wolf Trap,” which has not been heard or seen in its entirety in nearly fifty years. My Medium article discusses the concert, but Notablog readers can see the video montage I created here:

Practical Politics for Left-Libertarians

As of this date, despite the presence of various third-party candidates in the 2024 election cycle, it is virtually inevitable that either Donald Trump or Joe Biden is going to serve another term in the White House. But there are other political visions that are awaiting an audience.

As an advocate of dialectics—the art of context-keeping—I have long stressed that even the loftiest of political goals must begin with the conditions that exist. Or, as I like to paraphrase good ol’ Don Rumsfeld: We plan our way toward a better future based on the conditions that we have, not on the conditions we wished we had. There is no magic button that we can push to suddenly transform our society into one that nourishes human freedom and personal flourishing. This can be daunting for those of us who advocate radical social change—that is, change that emerges from a deeper understanding of the systemic and historical roots of a society’s problems as the means to resolving them.  

There are many different strains of libertarian thinking that have lent themselves to this radical project. Today, my very dear friend Ryan Neugebauer has published on Medium what he calls “A Dialectical Left-Libertarian Political Platform.” While there are many different dialectical left-libertarian approaches to contemporary problems, here, Ryan attempts to bring together a wide variety of practical, real-world strategies that would “unshackle society.”

I’m sure that readers coming from diametrically opposed political perspectives will be both attracted to—and abhorred by—various proposals that Ryan puts forth in this paper. There is no doubt, however, that Ryan’s political program is panoramic in its approach. He provides a check list of ways to free-up markets, by shrinking the intellectual property regime, tackling restrictive zoning laws, and addressing land value taxation. He discusses public options in healthcare, universal basic income or negative income taxes, education, gun control, drug prohibitionism, police accountability, restorative justice, immigration, energy policy, foreign policy, diplomacy, and global trade. Along the way, he also discusses “bottom-up” libertarian municipalism and cooperatives, while embracing a laissez-faire policy on contentious social issues.

However you receive any proposal put forth by Ryan, he is clearly committed to focusing on the “overall socioeconomic and political systems that we currently have” as the foundation for all that might be—while using eclectic strategies at our disposal in an effort “to increase freedom, equality, justice, and flourishing” within that context. On that basis alone, he’s passed the dialectical test resoundingly. Check out his essay here.

Looking Back 55 Years: Our Cat Buttons

On March 17, 1969, a neighbor’s cat gave birth to a litter of kittens and among them was our cat Buttons. He was the kitten we chose and in June of that year, he came to live with us. He was with us until March 16, 1987, when he passed away on the cusp of his eighteenth birthday. We have had other very dear pets in our lives—our dog Blondie, who lived for 16 years, and our adopted cat Dante, who lived for 17 years. None of them was as crazy as Buttons.

Buttons was insanely playful and mischievous, especially at the witching hour—when he would begin to run through the apartment like it was a marathon version of the Belmont Stakes. His favorite holiday was Christmas, no doubt—when he would routinely scale the Christmas tree. On one Christmas morning, my mother came into the bedroom, screaming: “Get up! Get up!!! Look what he did!” The living room looked as if it had been ransacked. The Christmas tree had been toppled and many of its decorations were broken, scattered throughout the room. The curtains were down. The curtain rods were bent. And our Christmas presents were buried somewhere underneath the avalanche. It is still a mystery how none of us heard what was going on in the middle of the night.

Destructive though he could be, he brought us countless hours of laughter and joy. We loved him very much. As with all our pets, Buttons was part of our family. On the fifty-fifth anniversary of his St. Patrick’s Day birth, here are three photos of Buttons and me (I was 9-10 years old at the time).

* H/T to my friend Kevin for the Photoshop!