Category Archives: Culture

“Layers”: A Nathaniel Branden Novel

For those who are not yet aware, a new, posthumously published novel, Layers, written by Nathaniel Branden, has been released in both a Kindle and paperback edition.

The book was the subject of a fascinating article by Stephen Cox, which was published in a trailblazing 2016 double issue symposium of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: “Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy” (also available as a Kindle edition). Cox’s contribution to that symposium, “Nathaniel Branden: In the Writer’s Workshop,” explores how “Nathaniel Branden was both inspired by imaginative literature and ambitious to create it himself. The history of [Cox’s] literary relationship with [Branden] provides important insights into his intellectual character, his aesthetic interests, and his literary ability.” At the heart of that article was Cox’s discussion of the various drafts of the novel that Branden shared with him—which eventually became Layers.

Nathaniel had sent me various drafts of that novel many years ago, and I was astonished by both the depth of its psychological insights and literary quality. As the book finally neared publication, six years after Branden passed away, I was asked to provide a back-cover blurb, which appears below. I encourage readers to check out this important work.


Layers – By Nathaniel Branden

Here are those back-cover blurbs:

Layers is a remarkable work by a remarkable human being. Nathaniel Branden was a leading psychotherapist who inspired thousands by his work with individual patients and his influential books about the psychology of self-esteem and personal growth. At his death he left a work of fiction—Layers—that reveals what patients seldom see: the agonizing conflicts within the therapist’s own mind. Layers is a work of compelling psychological insight, a story of one man’s intrepid search for the truth about himself. Branden tells this story with the drama and suspense and sudden beauty that readers expect and deserve from an important work of fiction.”
– Stephen Cox, University of California, San Diego

“This thought-provoking novel reveals yet another ‘layer’ to the complex, interwoven fabric that constitutes Nathaniel Branden’s life and legacy. A must for fans of his famous associate, Ayn Rand, and for those who may be encountering Branden’s insightful work for the first time.”
– Chris Matthew Sciabarra, author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical

“This story vividly illustrates, as none other I’ve ever read, how centrally important it is to do what you most deeply love and want to do in life, and how badly your life can go awry if you don’t.”
– Roger E. Bissell, Research Associate, Molinari Institute

Looking at Cleveland Tonight!

Tonight, it starts! In Cleveland!

Does a die-hard Yankee fan watch the Yankees-Indians first postseason game in this off-the-wall 2020 baseball year?

Or do I switch the channel and watch that other sporting event taking place in Cleveland: The First Presidential Debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden?

I mean, I’m so passionate about both baseball and politics. I can switch between one and the other, I guess. Still, I’d rather watch a baseball game live. If I absolutely must watch that other match, out of civic duty or a streak of masochism, I can always take a look at it on DVR after the game.

What a dilemma! 🙂

Postscript (30 September 2020): On the Facebook thread, one of my pals stated “Support the Mets – then you will never face this kind of dilemma,” and I admitted, that “in truth, as horrible as this might sound to my fellow Yankee fanatics, if the Mets get into the postseason, I root, root, root for the home team. Unless they’re up against the Yanks in a ‘subway series’ (as in 2000).” But this morning I made this observation:

“What a mess in Cleveland last night, eh? Yeah, those Indians lost 12-3 to the Yankees. Now y’all know why I thought it better to watch the game, given that OTHER mess on the stage at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in the same city. SMH”

I do have to say here on this blog that what I watched last night in that first presidential debate was one of the biggest shit-shows I’ve ever seen in all my years of watching political debates. The cringe-worthy moments were coming from both sides of the stage. But I have to admit that this one from The Don probably took the cake:

Asked by Wallace and Biden to condemn white supremacy, Trump said “Sure” but then declined to do so. Biden named the Proud Boys, a far-right group, and Trump replied: “Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by … Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left. This is not a right-wing problem!” The group celebrated his response online and began using the phrase, “Stand back and stand by.”

As a friend of mine said: “If that doesn’t unsettle you, I don’t know what will.”

Can’t Spell “Anarchy” Without N-Y-C !

I’ve made it a point of not stepping into the raging political debates that are going on as we near Apocalypse Day, uh, I mean “Election Day.” Folks on either side of the divide are warning of Armageddon if either of the two major-party candidates gets elected to the Oval Office. Sorry, I’m not getting dragged into this brawl. Have fun!

In the meanwhile, I just wanted to address one thing, not about the country or the world but specifically about my hometown: New York City. I was born in Brooklyn, I have lived here all my life. And I’ll be buried here, hopefully not for many, many years.

The Big Apple has gone through quite a bit in 2020 (Who hasn’t!?). Laura Nahmias tells us about “The City’s Grief, By the Numbers“:

Each year, New York City releases data in a Mayor’s Management Report, intended to detail how well city agencies are performing. This year, more than any in recent memory, that report helps make sense of what’s happened and still happening to New York. The statistics form a snapshot of our collective anguish — a sense of the extraordinary breadth and scope of what we’ve lost to coronavirus.

“The report shows that 65,712 New Yorkers died between July of 2019 and June 30, 2020 — 34,748 more deaths than the previous year. The death rate in New York City increased 112%. In a single year. The virus is the “largest mass fatality incident in modern NYC history,” the office of the chief medical examiner officially declared.

Cremation requests increased 62%. The medical examiner received 16,115 such requests between March and June this spring — a number nearly equal [to] the total number of cremation asks received in the prior year.

Only (only!) 23,767 of our fellow New Yorkers were officially killed by confirmed and presumed coronavirus cases, which leaves 10,981 additional deaths unaccounted for.

What killed nearly 11,000 extra New York City residents between July 2019 and June 2020?

The MMR shows the number of 911 calls for cardiac arrest or choking increased 25% in fiscal year 2020 — 32,831 calls. New Yorkers’ hearts were breaking.

And in the midst of this very human tragedy, the city, like many cities across America, saw an uptick in protests and riots in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. For a variety of reasons, over this past summer, there has also been an uptick in shootings and murders — nothing remotely like the 2000+ murders a year that were once an annual benchmark around these parts, but very troubling nonetheless.

Though my family personally suffered many tragedies over these many months living in this great city — the loss of loved ones, neighbors, colleagues, and even a beloved neighborhood proprietor — and though the future remains uncertain, I’d like to tell the naysayers: DON’T COUNT THIS CITY OUT! As Stefanos Chen writes in the New York Times: “Five months after Covid-19 crippled the city’s real estate market, sales across the city are down, but the boroughs beyond Manhattan are faring better, in some rare cases even exceeding pre-pandemic expectations.” And there are other hopeful signs that the city has turned a corner. The hospitalization, infection, and death rates from the pandemic have been crushed. Indeed, the infection rate remains below 1% at this stage (I’ll have more to say about that in the coming weeks), and only one New York state resident died from COVID-related causes yesterday. That’s quite a difference from the horrendous numbers we saw back during March, April, and May.

Still, put in perspective, despite some enormous uncertainty — and a mayor so universally disliked, he couldn’t win a campaign for dog-catcher — I’d just like to say to the U.S. Justice Department, which has recently declared my hometown an “anarchist city“: WTF?

This is so obviously tied to feuds over federal funding, so I think we can chalk up much of this debate to pure politics.

But puh-lease. I have lived in this city my whole life; even during these crazy times, I remain in a working-class / middle class neighborhood and can walk outside my home at any hour of the day or night without concern for getting hit by a stray bullet. I’ve been fortunate to have never been a victim of a single crime in my 60 years living here: not a mugging, not a robbery (unless you want to count getting tickets for that age-old insane practice of “alternate-side-of-the-street parking“, a crime if ever there was one!). Yes, key neighborhoods have been affected by this tragic uptick in violence, but “anarchy” (which is being used here as a synonym for “disorder”)? Not quite.

In truth, however, this city became the greatest city in the world — yeah, my arrogant, unreconstructed, unequivocal New York values are clearly on display here — precisely because it has always embraced a touch of “anarchy” as part of its tapestry. By that, I mean, it has drawn strength from the spontaneous, innovative, unplanned, entrepreneurial, and creative powers unleashed by all those individuals who have come here seeking a better life. It is a city of remarkably diverse neighborhoods, each of which brings authenticity to the fabric of its culture.

This city is not dead. It will survive. It survived the Great Depression. It survived the antiwar and civil rights unrest of the 1960s and the urban blight of the 1970s and 1980s. It survived 9/11. It survived Superstorm Sandy. And it will survive this pandemic, the lockdowns, and the systemic instability unleashed by the most recent series of tragedies.

One thing is for sure: New Yorkers have not lost their sense of humor. Reacting to this designation of the city as a haven of anarchy, residents responded with a Bronx cheer. Here’s a sampling of some of the sarcastic comments from folks across the city:

“I was able to document the ‘anarchy’ in NYC yesterday after my 5 mile bike ride with my son and wife yesterday. … Truly terrifying.”

“If NYC has anarchy, is alternate side parking still enforced?”

“NYC’s anarchy on full display,” another person tweeted, along with a picture of eight well-behaved dogs out for a walk. “Won’t somebody put an end to this violence? Law and order is desperately needed.”

But my favorite came from a New York native, who accompanied their tweet with a picture of a sun-dappled city park: “Can’t spell anarchy without NYC!”


Independent Institute Publications

I received a message from my friend, David J. Theroux, the Founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Institute. I have always found their publications to be thought-provoking, whether one agrees or disagrees with any opinion expressed. Folks should check out some of the following links:

The Crisis in Civil Rights: Best Books and Articles on Race, Police, and the Welfare State, compiled by their Senior Fellow Dr. Williamson M. Evers (someone I’ve known since my undergraduate days as a member of Students for a Libertarian Society):

These are among the most exhaustive, annotated reading lists ever assembled on the issues of civil rights, police reform, race relations, and the welfare state, created for educators and students, business and civic leaders, policymakers, journalists, and the general public. Check them out!



WTC Remembrance: Firefighter Gerard Gorman – Ultimate Survivor

Today marks the nineteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001, which, nearly two decades later, continue to affect our lives as New Yorkers, as well as the lives of those whose loved ones were killed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C. My annual series returns this year with a remarkable story of resilience in the face of unimaginable horror: Firefighter Gerard Gorman: Ultimate Survivor [link to the article]. Gerard was an FDNY first responder on that day. I can’t thank him enough for sharing his memories—salty language and all—as a testament to the indomitable spirit of a true native New Yorker, something as relevant to 2020 as it is to the spirit of September 11, 2001.

Those who read this year’s installment might recognize the name of John Perry, mentioned by Gerard; I had met John at a regular discussion group run by Victor Niederhoffer in Manhattan.

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

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

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

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial

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

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

2017: Sue Mayham: Not Business as Usual

2018: Anthony Schirripa, Architect

2019: Zack Fletcher: Twin Towers, Twin Memories

2020: Firefighter Gerard Gorman: Ultimate Survivor

Never forget. ❤

Julian L. Simon Memorial Award: Steve Horwitz

I wish to congratulate Steve Horwitz for receiving the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award. From the Competitive Enterprise Institute announcement:

“This year, CEI is pleased to honor Dr. Steven Horwitz, Director of the Institute for the Study of Political Economy and Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise at Ball State University, as the 2020 Julian L. Simon Memorial Award Winner.

“Professor Steven Horwitz extends Simon’s legacy with an exemplary teaching career and thorough empirical investigation of labor saving innovations in the modern economy. He is a testament to the power of open dialogue, the importance of liberal institutions, and the belief that tomorrow can be better than yesterday.”

I am proud to call Steve my colleague—and my dear friend! Way to go, Steve! I have been honored to know you, Steve, and inspired by the depth of your knowledge and the resilience of your spirit!

Pearls Before Swine: 2020 Incarnate!

Stephan Pastis brings us a Slice of 2020 Life in “Pearls Before Swine” today…

7-Day Course Challenge: “Methodology of the Social Sciences” (Course #7)

My friend Daniel Bastiat tagged me on Facebook for a new 7-day challenge: Pick between 2 to 5 books that you would assign for any course of your choosing (each day) and name the course.

Day #7 Course: Methodology of the Social Sciences
(For undergraduate- and graduate-level students)

  1. Investigations into the Methods of the Social Sciences – Carl Menger
  2. The Poverty of Historicism – Karl Popper
  3. The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory – Richard J. Bernstein
  4. Dialectical Investigations – Bertell Ollman
  5. The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom – Edited by Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Edward W. Younkins [oh c’mon, gimme a break—it’s the very last book recommendation on the very last day of this challenge 🙂 ]
Methodology of the Social Sciences – Selected Readings

7-Day Course Challenge: “Austrian Economics: A Primer” (Course #6)

My friend Daniel Bastiat tagged me on Facebook for a new 7-day challenge: Pick between 2 to 5 books that you would assign for any course of your choosing (each day) and name the course.

Day #6 Course: Austrian Economics: A Primer
(For undergraduate- and graduate-level students)

  1. The Elgar Companion to Austrian Economics – Edited by Peter J. Boettke
  2. The Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics – Edited by Edwin G. Dolan
  3. New Directions in Austrian Economics – Edited by Louis M. Spadaro
  4. Austrian Economics, 3 vols. – Edited by Stephen Littlechild

These volumes include selections from writers across the Austrian tradition, from its founders to its contemporary exponents: Bruce Benson, Peter Boettke, Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, Sam Bostaph, Donald Boudreaux, William Butos, Richard Ebeling, Roger Garrison, Steve Horwitz, Sanford Ikeda, Emil Kauder, Israel Kirzner, Roger Koppl, Ludwig Lachmann, Don Lavoie, Peter Lewin, Stephen Littlechild, G. B. Madison, Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, Gerald O’Driscoll, Dave Prychitko, Mario Rizzo, Murray Rothbard, Joseph Salerno, Joseph Schumpeter, George Selgin, Sudha Shenoy, Mark Skousen, Barry Smith, Friedrich Weiser, and Lawrence White, among others.

Compilations in Austrian Economics

7-Day Course Challenge: “Introduction to American Political Thought” (Course #5)

My friend Daniel Bastiat tagged me on Facebook for a new 7-day challenge: Pick between 2 to 5 books that you would assign for any course of your choosing (each day) and name the course.

Day #5 Course: Introduction to American Political Thought
(For undergraduate students)

  1. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution – Bernard Bailyn
  2. The Federalist Papers – Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay
  3. The Antifederalist Papers – Edited with an introduction by Morton Borden
  4. The Liberal Tradition in America – Louis Hart
  5. Ideology and Myth in American Politics: A Critique of a National Political Mind – H. Mark Roelofs
Readings in American Political Thought