Category Archives: Blog / Personal Business

Merlin Jetton, RIP

I learned from my friend Stephen Boydstun today that our mutual colleague and friend Merlin Jetton has died of cancer. Merlin is survived by his wife Rebecca.

In the 1990s, Merlin contributed many articles to Stephen’s wonderful journal, Objectivity. In 2006, he contributed the first of seven articles to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. He wrote on subjects ranging from epistemology to ethics. His final JARS article appeared in our July 2021 issue: “Selfish versus Selfish” (which is available on the Scholarly Publishing Collective site here).

Merlin described himself as an independent scholar. He graduated from the University of Illinois as a math major. His bio for JARS reminds us that “[h]e escaped academia in order to apply and expand his math skills in the real world of business.” A Fellow of the Society of Actuaries and a Chartered Financial Analyst, he retired after a twenty-eight-year career as an actuary and financial engineer, having specialized in asset-liability management the last fifteen years or so.

His interest in Rand’s philosophy stretched back decades. As a member of “the Chicago School of Objectivism”, he attended the New Intellectual Forum, a salon organized by another of our friends, Marsha Enright. Merlin made several presentations to that group.

Merlin Jetton, RIP

Stephen’s poignant memories of Merlin are published here. Unlike Stephen, I never met Merlin. But having corresponded with him over the course of 17 years, I got to know him in a way that showed what a congenial soul he was. I’ll miss our discussions of everything from philosophy to baseball. I remember how annoyed he was back in 2020 when the Los Angeles Dodgers—or as he called them, those “damn ex-Bums”—beat his Atlanta Braves in a 7-game National League Championship Series.

We were unable to meet when he came to NYC in 2019, and he expressed the hope that we’d meet someday. But by October 2020, he had already undergone surgery for his second bout with cancer. His health woes never dulled his enormous empathy for me—with my own share of medical problems—or the challenges facing my sister, when she became seriously ill only a month later.

Aside from our interest in philosophy and baseball, Merlin and I shared a love of Peanuts cartoons. Less than a week after my 61st birthday, Merlin sent me a set of Charles M. Schulz classics, including the one below. It’s a reminder of how much admiration and appreciation we had for one another.

I will miss Merlin very much, not just as a member of the JARS family, but as the warm human being and friend he was. The July 2022 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be dedicated to his memory.

Postscript: This was a particularly sad day for me … having noted on Facebook that it would have been the 58th birthday of Steve Horwitz. As I said: “You are gone, but never forgotten, dearest friend. Thank you for having graced my life and the lives of so many others. My love always … ”

NYC is Alive and Well …

With apologies to some of my pals at The Atlas Society, who recently posted a video saying that “New York City Is Now The Biggest Sh*thole In America“, this city will never die! We’ve been through civil unrest and riots, crime waves, antiwar protests, 9/11, Superstorm Sandy, and the trials and tribulations of a pandemic. We have given birth to some epically awful politicians. We even survived a “bomb cyclone” (which wasn’t even near the record for snowfalls in this town). In Washington Square Park, in the heart of Greenwich Village, in the shadow of my alma mater (NYU), a fun and peaceful, good ol’ fashioned snowball fight broke out. And nobody was hurt or killed. The people of this city are its lifeblood. You can roll your eyes over this video but it’s just a small sign that the New York spirit is alive and well.

Postscript: In the Facebook discussion that followed, a few issues came up. I reproduce them here for Notablog readers.

I’m born, bred, and still living here. I love it, always will, and have enjoyed life here through good times and bad. But to each his own. Either way, to call this city “the biggest sh*thole in America” was an exercise in outlandish, disgraceful overkill. … This city survived 2000+ murders a year back in the early 1990s. Even with the uptick in crime in 2021, there were a total of 485 murders, unheard of for a city of nearly 8.5 million people.

NYC remains one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Its strength has come from its neighborhoods—in all their magnificent ethnic diversity. I have seen so many ups and downs throughout my 60+ years living here and every time I thought this city would never recover—be it a terrorist attack that destroyed downtown Manhattan, killing nearly 3000 people, and leaving all of us in shock for eons, or a superstorm that caused nearly $20 billion in damages, destroying whole neighborhoods throughout the 5 boroughs—with a tsunami-like storm surge in which the Hudson River met the East River at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and killing hundreds of people… NYC came back from the edge. I have lost close friends and family in that terrorist attack, that superstorm, and the recent COVID catastrophe.I have absolutely no reason to doubt this city’s resiliency—no matter how many people have left or how many politicians have stayed.

Another commentator said that The Atlas Society had made a rightward turn in its politics and that on those metrics, even the Ayn Rand Institute was better. The commentator said that Yaron Brook was even cordial to Nathaniel Branden at a party. I responded:

The ARIans are still holders of the flame and of the Ayn Rand Archives, and though they’ve opened up their archives more than in previous years, there are still many of us who will forever remain on the outside because we don’t pass their litmus test. Sadly, Yaron Brook, in this podcast, refers to Nathaniel Branden as a “second-hander”, “not a good guy,” and a “scumbag”, who “betrayed” Rand and Objectivism, and “stabbed” both in the back; he has “zero” respect for NB. He refers to him as a “mystic”, “bizarre”, “weird”, “anti-reason”, and so forth. He claims NB “faked Objectivism” and “never understood” it. To me, these comments are just beyond the pale.

Moreover, the ARIans won’t even engage with literature that was written by people since “purged” but that was part of the “authorized” canon of Objectivism, as stated by Rand herself, which included essays by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden. In the post-Rand years, folks whose essays were held in high esteem for years—from George Reisman to David Kelley—were slowly airbrushed from existence. The ARI record speaks for itself.

Da Bomb Hits Brooklyn …

A “Bomb Cyclone” is hitting the Northeast. We’re expecting continued high winds (50-60 mph gusts) and about a foot of snow here in Brooklyn, New York. A big snowfall typically covers the cars—but the winds are simultaneously wiping them clean! Should be a lot worse for my neighbors in New England and out on Eastern Long Island.

Well, this one doesn’t come near the blizzards of 2006, 2016, and 1947, all in excess of 26 inches. Since they plow to the right, if you were parked on that side, you were lucky if you could move your car again by April!

Remembering Hiromi Shinya

Back in December 2021, I shared my very personal thoughts on Hiromi Shinya, a trailblazing doctor who saved my life—and the lives of countless numbers of people through his remarkable innovations in endoscopic medicine. Today, his daughter, Erica Shinya Kin, posted an obituary through legacy.com on the New York Times. It is a wonderful tribute to this great pioneer. Check it out here.

Hiromi Shinya, 1935-2021

RIP, Dr. Hiromi Shinya

Today, I learned of the passing of Dr. Hiromi Shinya, who died in Tokyo, Japan on December 9, 2021. Dr. Shinya was a pioneer of colonoscopic techniques, the inventor of the electrosurgical polypectomy snare, which allowed for the removal of colon polyps without the need for invasive surgery. This is a deeply personal loss, as I will explain.

As Wikipedia tells us:

Hiromi Shinya was born [on March 6,] 1935 in the city of Yanagawa in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. … From a young age, his mother … encouraged him to earn a medical degree and pursue medicine in the United States. He graduated from Juntendo University School of Medicine in 1960. He then applied with nine hundred other candidates for one of fourteen openings for interns at the United States Naval Hospital in Yokosuka. Passage of the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates examination was required for the program, necessitating a high degree of English fluency, so he “spent a lot of time going to American movies” to prepare. He married Miyoko Mogi on March 6, 1963. She was a nurse on the Yokosuka Naval base. She graduated from Tokyo University nursing school.

Following his internship, Dr. Shinya would go on to complete a surgical residency at Beth Israel Medical Center, becoming involved in a revolutionary new technique in gastrointestinal medicine: endoscopic and colonoscopic procedures. From Wikipedia:

Shinya began developing colonoscopic techniques with an esophagoscope from Olympus Optical Co., Ltd.. The instrument was a short fiberscope with a two-way maneuverable tip and was designed for use on the esophagus, but with it, Shinya was able to reach the splenic flexure—the first bend in the colon—about 50% of the time. While other doctors were concurrently developing colonoscopic techniques, most of them practiced a two-person technique, with one person controlling the direction of the tip while the other controlled insertion. Shinya was in the minority who rejected this procedure, preferring to develop methods which allowed one endoscopist to perform colonoscopy reliably. As a result, “many and probably most of the fundamental principles of the procedure were developed by Dr. Shinya”. By the beginning of 1969, Olympus had introduced several iterations of dedicated colonoscopes, and Shinya was able to reach the cecum—located at the end of the colon—in 90% of his patients. Shinya’s other major contribution to colonoscopy was the invention of the electrosurgical polypectomy snare, known as the “Shinya snare” with the support of Olympus employee Hiroshi Ichikawa. Even before the results of the National Polyp Study linked colon polyps to colon cancer, Shinya instinctively “thought the polyp was the forerunner of cancer and that removing these polyps could reduce the risk of cancer”. Since polyp removal accounted for 30% of the colon surgery of the day, Shinya’s primary focus from his first experiences with colonoscopy was a noninvasive method of performing polypectomy. On January 8, 1969, he and Hiroshi Ichikawa sketched out the first plans for a snare attached to the end of a colonoscope that would allow for easy removal of polyps during colonoscopy. … Shinya … performed the first colonoscopic electrosurgical snare polypectomy in September 1969. In 1970, he delivered the first report of the procedure to the New York Surgical Society, and in May 1971 presented his experiences to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.


This development made Shinya famous worldwide. There was immediate demand for his procedure, with his performing 20 colonoscopies a day. To date, he has performed approximately 370,000 colonoscopies and given nearly 300 live demonstrations of the technique. Polypectomy has gone on to surpass “all other endoscopic therapeutic procedures in terms of numbers performed” and “impacts the lives of millions of people throughout the world.” According to Michael Sivak Jr., it is the most important achievement in gastrointestinal endoscopy.

I can testify personally to the greatness of this man. I spent the bulk of my childhood deathly sick, and despite countless tests from scores of doctors, not a single doctor could come up with a diagnosis for the extreme intestinal symptoms I was experiencing—even as I was, essentially, withering away. By the time I was 13 years old, I was around 60 lbs.

Only my family doctor, Dr. Harry Karounos, was convinced—after performing a GI series in his own office (yes, they did that back then)—that it might be suppression of the duodenum caused by the Superior Mesenteric Artery. There was no way to get confirmation of this extremely rare condition known as Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome, a condition not clinically described until 1861, and not fully defined until 1927. There had only been a reported 400 congenital cases of SMAS in the literature (other acute cases related to body casts, have been diagnosed since, including one related to the spinal injury suffered by Christopher Reeve). The condition is so rare that it wasn’t until 2017 that a not-for-profit organization was founded to heighten awareness of it: Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome Research Awareness Support. In October of that same year, only “The Good Doctor”, in the second episode of its first season, featured a story in which a young girl nearly dies from it.

Back in 1973, we were extremely fortunate to have learned of the revolutionary new techniques in endoscopic medicine being performed by Dr. Shinya. We were able to schedule an esaphagogastroduodenoscopy, which Dr. Shinya performed on me, in his office, under sedation. In 20-30 minutes, Dr. Shinya provided a conclusive SMAS diagnosis. A few months later, on April 21, 1974, at Methodist Hospital, in Brooklyn—the hospital in which I was born in 1960—I was reborn, when Dr. Joseph Bochetto performed a major surgical duodenojejunostomy, by-passing the obstructed third and fourth portions of the duodenum. (There were no laproscopic surgical techniques available at the time.)

In the years since, I developed quite a few complications due to the by-pass surgery. I’ve had 60+ procedures since, all in some way related to the condition and its postoperative side effects. I discussed this condition in a Folks interview back in 2018, and in Notablog entries in January 2018 related to it.

But I am alive—and flourishing—to talk about. I have lived a happy, loving, and productive life, and I simply would not be here if it were not for Dr. Shinya. I mourn his passing, but I celebrate his life. He remains one of the greatest healers to have ever graced this planet. He was also a gentle man, a beautiful soul who was a source of enormous comfort—and hope—anytime you were in his caring presence.

There is an age-restricted video of Dr. Shinya performing a colonoscopy (not for the faint of heart) on YouTube; at his side in the video is his protégé, my current doctor: Dr. Mark Cwern. I thank Dr. Shinya not only for having saved my life, but for having provided me with the gift of Dr. Cwern, who has been by my side for many years, a man who has carried on the legacy of Dr. Shinya with enormous integrity and kindness.

Unfortunately, I have not found a single obituary to mark the passing of this giant in the field of gastrointestinal medicine. To his family, friends, and colleagues, I offer my deepest condolences. To the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives he personally saved, to the many millions of people whose lives have been saved due to the enormous contributions he has made, I dedicate this tribute. Thank you, dearest doctor, for all that you did for me. Rest in peace.

Dr. Hiromi Shinya (1935-2021)

A New FB Profile Pic … for Christmas!

It was either that ^ or this:

🙂

Went with #1! 😉

Uncle Nick, Godfather: RIP

On Thursday, November 11, 2021, my Uncle Nick Michalopoulos died at the age of 91, after several years of battling serious health issues. He was my mother’s brother.

My relationship with Uncle Nick was blessed quite literally from the very beginning. As my godfather, he held me in his arms when I was baptized on June 11, 1961 at the Three Hierarchs Church in Brooklyn (the church whose first pastor was my grandfather, Vasilios P. Michalopoulos, and my mom was his sister).

Born on June 14, 1930, Uncle Nick would go on to serve in the medical unit of the Navy during the Korean War. Thereafter, he worked thirty years at Western Electric. He was the only one of eight siblings to go on to attend college—Brooklyn College, to be precise. (My sister would follow in his footsteps, becoming the first in our extended family to graduate from Brooklyn College some years later.)

Throughout his life, Uncle Nick exhibited a remarkable range of wonderful talents—from singing to athletics, crafts to parenting. Indeed, he and my godmother, Aunt Vina, raised three children—my first cousins—to whom they have passed on their loving gifts: Will, Marie, and Christine. Add to that seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. In his retirement years, Uncle Nick enjoyed golfing and traveling, and was very handy, even crafting golf clubs and pitching-in with the church here in Brooklyn and out on Long Island, a testament to his strong Greek Orthodox faith.

Over the years, as I truly got to know my godfather, I saw that he had a sweet sense of life and a wonderfully dry sense of humor. Because he lived out on the island, we didn’t see each other as much as we would have liked, but we spoke regularly. I never missed a birthday, a holiday, or a Father’s Day wish.

I am deeply saddened by his passing. And I will carry his love in my heart forever. Rest in Peace, Uncle Nick.

Aunt Vina (l) and Uncle Nick (r)