Category Archives: Dialectics

Coronavirus (31): Dose #1 for a “Fake” Virus

Having recently attacked everything from Big Pharma to the medical-science-state-corporate nexus that plagues U.S. healthcare in the thirtieth installment of my Coronavirus series, I nevertheless want to make a few things clear about how I have personally dealt with weighing the risks and benefits of taking any of the three major COVID vaccines currently available in the United States (from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson).

First a few words to the Covidiots among us, who continue to deny the extent, seriousness, or even the very existence of COVID-19. My friend and colleague Roger Bissell addressed this issue first on Facebook (back in October 2020), and in addendums to that in a paper he shared with me (dated December 12, 2020), which I excerpt below. Roger focuses exclusively on the issue of “excess deaths”—for “if they exist,” he writes, “then the disease and its reported death toll are likely real; if not, not.” He continues:

Being an equal opportunity skeptic by nature, I was intrigued by an online claim, supposedly supported with data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), that there are in fact no excess deaths this year, and thus that 2020 will ultimately end up with approximately the same number of deaths from all causes as the most recent preceding years.

As reported by the CDC, the 2016, 2017, and 2018 figures for United States deaths from all causes were, respectively: 2,744,248; 2,813,503; and 2,839,205 (see here, here, and here). CDC figures for 2019 will apparently not be available until at least January 2021; however, hot off the press, as reported by the CDC, is the figure for United States deaths from all causes from February 1 through October 30, 2020: 2,347,341. Since this period is essentially three-fourths of the calendar year 2020, multiplying that number by 1.33 will produce a reasonable projected estimate of total 2020 United States deaths for all causes: 3,121,963.

From this, some simple arithmetic shows that in 2020, there will (likely) be more than 300,000 “excess deaths” compared to 2017. As of October 30, 2020, the number of United States deaths from COVID-19 was 235,158; a reasonable projection (based on an average of 1,000 deaths a day between now and the end of the year) would be about 295,000 deaths for the full year.

To me, this is solid proof (without all the technical bells and whistles from academic statistics) that we are dealing with a real, new disease, not some result of phony, fraudulent manipulation by people trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Whatever this disease really is, and whatever other questionable categorizing and reporting of deaths there may have been, about 300,000 more Americans [will have] … die[d] from all causes [in 2020] than have died from all causes in typical past years, and those deaths will likely be due to COVID-19.

On December 12, 2020, Roger provided additional analysis of the preliminary data (based on this data source):

The 2020 deaths from all causes for February 1 through December 9 is 2,703,232. If COVID is fake and there are no “excess deaths” for 2020, then all we need do is divide 2,703,232 by 313/366 (the ratio of days from Feb. 1 through Dec. 9 to the total days in 2020).

Simple math: 2,703,232 divided by 313/366 = 3,161,675.

So, the projected total deaths for 2020 is 3,161,675. The deaths for all causes for 2018 (above) is 2,839,205.

More simple math: 3,161,675 minus 2,839,205 = 322,470.

Does that look like COVID is fake to you? Something will have caused over 300,000 extra deaths [in 2020]. To paraphrase SNL’s Church Lady: “Could it be … COVID?” [YouTube link]


Now that we’ve gotten that issue out of the way, let me turn to a more personal issue. I’ve detailed throughout this series, the nightmarish extent of the death that I have witnessed in my hometown, New York City. A summary of my thoughts can be found in my last installment. But given my own lifelong health problems, clinically referred to as “comorbidities,” I had to weigh the risks of taking a relatively new vaccine (of whatever variety that is currently on the menu for U.S. citizens) versus the risks of contracting COVID, given those comorbidities. I spoke with all of my doctors, and the overwhelming consensus was: Take the vaccine, because the risks of dying from the vaccine are far lower than the risks of dying from contracting COVID, given my pre-existing conditions.

More than that, whatever problems I have had throughout my life, I am now the primary caregiver to my sister (“Ms. Ski” to all the students whose lives she changed dramatically throughout her nearly forty years as an educator), whom I love dearly, and whom I nearly lost in mid-November 2020 due to a non-COVID-related serious illness. She spent a solid month in the hospital, and after three months at home, returned to the hospital last Monday, due to complicating factors now requiring surgical attention. She undergoes major surgery tomorrow morning. We are hoping for the very best of outcomes.

So, again, this is a very personal decision and I would not for a moment engage in context-dropping (it’s against my dialectical sensibilities) to assume that I could make this decision for any person other than myself. And given my libertarian predilections, I’m not inclined to put a gun to anybody’s head to force them to take any vaccine—or to put a gun to anybody else’s head to force them to open their establishments to those who refuse to take vaccines of any kind, and whose inaction might put others at risk for deadly diseases that have been essentially eradicated (like smallpox).

After a couple of months of trying to get an appointment, I finally lined up one on Tuesday to receive the first dose of the Moderna vaccine late this afternoon. I arrived on time and it took about a half hour to receive the inoculation, sit for observation, and set up the date for my second dose in mid-April.

As yet, I have not sprouted any new ears, limbs, vestigial or highly active new parts of my body above or below my waist. I don’t suspect that the vax was designed to combat any alien virus straight out of “The X-Files“—or to create any alien-human hybrid race.

I made this decision for my own health, and as a responsible caregiver to my sister (who will eventually be vaccinated herself). True, it is not clear if getting vaccinated will prevent any of us from being asymptomatic carriers of the virus (though one study has suggested that those who took the Moderna vaccine might be able to prevent two-thirds of asymptomatic transmission after a single dose).

The decision is yours. I’ve made mine.

#IGotTheShotNYC

Postscript (19 March 2021): My sister’s surgery had to be postponed to Monday, March 22. Watch this space for updates! Thank you to all those who have expressed their love and support.

Coronavirus (30): “Cuomogate” and Systemic Crisis

Back on 5 May 2020, in the twenty-first installment of my ongoing Coronavirus series, “Lockdowns, Libertarians, and Liberation,” I wrote about the state of the COVID pandemic in New York:

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.

As a postscript to that installment (25 May 2020), I addressed the issue of  how state governors (such as NJ Governor Murphy and NY Governor Cuomo) were being blamed for having “spiked” deaths in their own states by returning recovering COVID-19 elderly patients to the nursing homes from which they came. I stated:

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. … [I]t 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.

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.

On 16 July 2020, in the twenty-eighth installment of my Coronavirus Series, “Sweden is Not New York,” I pushed back against those who were comparing New York unfavorably to Sweden in its response to the pandemic. I wrote:

Jon Miltimore’s essay “Why Sweden Succeeded in ‘Flattening the Curve’ and New York Failed” is, sadly, an exercise in comparing apples and oranges. From the article:

If flattening the curve was the primary goal of policymakers, Sweden was largely a success. New York, on the other hand, was not, despite widespread closures and strict enforcement of social distancing policies. The reason New York failed and Sweden succeeded probably has relatively little to do with the fact that bars and restaurants were open in Sweden. Or that New York’s schools were closed while Sweden’s were open. As Weiss explains, the difference probably isn’t related to lockdowns at all. It probably has much more to do with the fact that New York failed to protect the most at-risk populations: the elderly and infirm.

The article goes on to discuss the debate between the implications of different public policy responses to the virus. In response, I wrote:

There is absolutely no comparison between the Swedish and NY cases, regardless of the public policies adopted by either government. First, in NY, the share of COVID-related deaths in long-term care facilities was 20% of the total number of deaths (about 6,500 of the total of 32,000+ deaths in the state of NY). That means that the vast majority of deaths did not occur in nursing homes. Moreover, though damage was done early on, by putting recovering COVID patients back into nursing homes, that policy was influenced by the huge surge in cases at a time when not even the Comfort or the Javits Center were open to COVID patients (a policy that changed at the beginning of April). Conditions were evolving swiftly. Moreover, unlike other states that are experiencing a surge now, therapies based on steroids, plasma, Remdesivir, etc. were not in widespread usage. It’s largely on the pile of bodies in NY that current medical advances have been made, sad to say.

Second, studies have shown that, at least in NYC, the highest transmission belt for the virus was its vast subway system, serving 5-6 million people per day prior to the city’s curtailment of “business as usual” in mid-March and most of the communities that were disproportionately affected by the impact of the virus were minority communities, many of whose members continued to work and crowd the subways and buses, becoming infected and bringing that infection back to their families and neighborhoods. There is no similar density in Sweden (the Stockholm Metro typically serves one fifth the number of people compared to the subways in NYC).

Of course, I got push-back from one commentator who claimed, without offering any evidence, that in New York “COVID-19 has killed at least 11,000 to 12,000 nursing-home and assisted-living residents in New York, nearly double what the state admits to. And as the deaths mount, so have the lies and cover-ups. States like New York exclude from their nursing home death tallies those who die in a hospital. Outside of New York, more than half of all deaths from COVID-19 are of residents in long-term care facilities., even if they were originally infected in an assisted living facility.” To which I replied: “Even if I accepted your statistic—which I don’t—it does not explain the other 20,000 deaths that occurred in this state. Or are those lies too?”

Well, recently, an investigation into the nursing home deaths, completed by New York Attorney General Lettia James, concluded that the state had indeed undercounted nursing home deaths.

I was wrong. There were not 6,500 nursing home-related deaths. Nor were there 11,000 to 12,000 deaths as my interlocutor claimed. In fact, the deaths were more than double the original estimate. Current statistics in an ongoing investigation, combining deaths in nursing homes and nursing home patients who died subsequently in hospitals, now place the total at 13,382, perhaps as high as 15,000, which accounts not for 20% but for around 30% of the nearly 47,000 deaths thus far recorded in the state of New York.

Which means, of course, that my central point stands: The vast majority of the deaths in this state were not nursing home-related; something horrible happened here precisely because it happened here first, in the New York metropolitan area—the densest population center in the United States. None of the newest, scandalous revelations alters this fact.

But these revelations do show that Governor Andrew Cuomo did indeed fail the public trust by withholding information and needlessly endangering lives. Cuomo should have acted differently and decisively in being fully transparent. In thinking about “Andrew’s Next Move,” New York Post writer Bob McManus makes an important point:

“A less fearful, more self-confident governor … would have admitted upfront that a fateful, though defensible, error had been made last March. That’s when the state Department of Health ordered nursing homes to accept COVID-infected patients to clear hospitals for an anticipated wave of new patients. That crisis never came, but that doesn’t make the policy evil or even unreasonable, just tragically mistaken. Cuomo should have owned it and moved on.”

I should state for the record that I am not one of those libertarians who believes that every politician is evil by nature of being a politician. Some do believe, honestly, that they have a calling to public service. And I have no doubt that many politicians, acting during the time of a serious public healthcare crisis, were flying blind and doing everything they could, given the ever-evolving conditions that existed, to meet the challenges before them.

But “flying blind” led to tragedies far beyond the deaths of nursing home patients.

This whole affair has revealed far more about the gaping holes in our healthcare system and in the insidious ways that our medical-science-state-corporate nexus works, often to the detriment of the very thing it is ostensibly supposed to protect: human lives.

Ultimately, what might be the worst legacy of the Cuomo administration’s handling of the pandemic is how the machinations of that nexus have become transparent in all their ugliness. As the Daily Poster reports: Cuomo’s political machine raked in “more than $2 million from the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA), its executives and its lobbying firms,” which funneled more than $450,000 to New York legislators in 2020 alone. Moreover, the administration moved to shield “hospital and nursing home executives from legal consequences if their corporate decisions killed people during the pandemic.” This wasn’t merely protecting frontline health workers from lawsuits; it was a deliberate attempt to provide “liability protection to top corporate officials who make staffing and safety decisions.” Today, 27 states have adopted this policy, granting legal immunity to nursing home executives.

And let’s be clear: This is not a Cuomo conspiracy. It is a policy that has been fully embraced by top Republicans, who often decry Cuomo’s “murderous” response to the pandemic. By shielding from civil litigation (forget criminal prosecution!) politically connected hospital and nursing home executives (who heavily fund political campaigns), patients who have been put at serious risk and the next of kin of those who have lost their lives have no legal recourse for compensation, given a broken healthcare system that can’t provide basic health insurance for the vast majority of people in this country. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell has been calling for a national policy guaranteeing such immunity, especially for corporate executives who might be putting their workers at serious risk, as part of any relief package.

So, like everything else: While some public policies may lead to progress in combatting a serious health crisis, they are still filtered through a system that must, by necessity, corrupt.

From the very beginning of this nightmarish pandemic, governments at every level—city, state, and federal institutions—have played a part in this systemic corruption. This is not an exercise in “What-about-ism.” Let us not forget that Former President Donald Trump admitted to Bob Woodward that he wanted to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic so as not to cause a public “panic.” He claimed credit for a vaccine because of “Operation Warp-Speed,” giving billions of dollars to Big Pharma companies to fast-track vaccine development, fully socializing their risks, fully guaranteeing their profits in a public-private “partnership.” Little thought was given to how that vaccine was supposed to be delivered to the vast majority of Americans, stranding millions of people with no ability to even schedule an appointment. People are standing for endless hours in long lines outside stadiums or massive makeshift fields hoping to get vaccinated, and are often turned away. Big Box stores are being subsidized to participate in the massive effort, but serious shortages remain, even as this country reaches half-a-million fatalities from this pandemic.

Even a simple alteration of policy to allow primary care physicians to inoculate their own patients hasn’t been entertained.

I will take whatever vaccine is available to me whenever it becomes available because I’m a guy with plenty of pre-existing medical issues. But that doesn’t mean I have to like the politicized processes that have poisoned this country’s response to a crisis of such horrific magnitude.

Eric Fleischmann on Social Change and Thinking Dialectically…

I first encountered Eric Fleischmann back in 2018 when I came upon one of Eric’s papers on Academia.edu. So intrigued was I by this article—and its reference to my book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (2000, Penn State Press)—that I dropped Eric a note. Since then, we have become the best of friends and watching Eric’s intellectual and personal growth has been a remarkable adventure. I mean, back then, Eric was a junior in high school. Today, Eric is a sophomore at Bates College (in Lewiston, Maine), double-majoring in anthropology and philosophy.

As a left-libertarian anarchist and a contributor to the Center for a Stateless Society, Eric is currently involved in two forthcoming book projects, as a co-organizer of—and contributor to—Defiant Insistence: David Graeber, Anarchist, Anthropologist, Fellow Worker (1961-2020) and TOTAL ABOLITION: Police, Prisons, Borders, Empire

Today, I had the great pleasure of listening to a wonderful interview with Eric given by host Joel Williamson as the second episode of The Enrages. Folks can listen to the interview, which covers topics all over the ideological map—from abolitionism and social change to intellectual history and dialectical method. I especially appreciate Eric’s shout-out to me as friend and “mentor” and also for telling the world exactly how to pronounce my last name (around 31 minutes or so in!).

Check out the interview here. Proud of you, Eric! Keep up the great work!

Oh, and one other thing: I will be featuring one of Eric’s scintillating punk-rock performances on my “Song of the Day” series in the near future. Don’t let that calm and relaxed conversationalist fool you; Eric’s a Total Tiger on the Stage!

“The Dialectics of Liberty”: Reviewed in “The Philosophical Quarterly”

Reviews for The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (Lexington Books, 2019) are slowly appearing throughout the scholarly literature, with more to come.

Today, I’m posting excerpts from a review by Gregory J. Robson (Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Iowa State University) that appears in The Philosophical Quarterly (29 December 2020, Oxford Academic).

Gregory J. Robson writes:

The contributors to this anthology insightfully explore ‘the context of human freedom’. This exploration is ‘dialectical’ because it engages in logical analysis and synthesis of economic, political, and other principles and ideas that often just appear in tension with one another . . . The book’s three parts include contributions from distinguished scholars in economics, law, philosophy, psychology, and related fields. The topics range widely and discussion is sometimes uneven, but this is no surprise in a book whose authors are multidisciplinary and cover considerable ground ably.  . . . The three parts fit together well due to the often complementary arguments of influential scholars such as Gary Chartier, Douglas J. Den Uyl, Steven Horwitz, Roderick T. Long, Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, and Douglas B. Rasmussen. Themes emerge such as the value of human relationships unmediated by force and fraud, the disvalue of political coercion, and the potential immorality of taxing some to hand to others.

The reviewer then focuses more extensively on the “complementary” contributions of Billy Christmas (“Social Equality and Liberty”) and Robert Higgs (“Exploring the Interconnections of Politics, Economics, and Culture”). He concludes:

[A] deep virtue of ‘Dialectics of Liberty‘ is its insistence that a free society takes seriously the need to persistently ask and answer—and *re-ask* and *re-answer*—why the state has authority to constrain liberty and the scope of any such authority. A society that does not take such questions seriously fails adequately to respect the personhood of would-be coercees. In principle, adherents of diverse political views do have the resources to take this claim onboard. Yet the essays in this book make a notable cumulative case for why classical liberals . . . and, relatedly, right and left libertarians . . . may be better equipped than supporters of more statist positions to explicate and defend the value of the personal and political liberties. This book has much to recommend it. It will be a valuable resource for teachers and researchers interested in the broad tradition of classical liberalism. And, in the spirit of dialectical exchange, hopefully it will spark responses by proponents and opponents alike.

Nice review! Terrific book! 😉

The Trump “Revolution” in Foreign Policy … Not Quite

Back in July 2016, when I predicted that Donald Trump would win the White House, I wrote about the coming “Trump Revolution,” encouraged by only one thing above all: That Trump might foster a less interventionist foreign policy. He was belatedly critical of the Iraq War and when questioned by Bill O’Reilly about how Russia had interfered in U.S. elections, he replied correctly: “You think our country’s so innocent?” Indeed, the United States government has been responsible for toppling more governments abroad (both covertly and overtly) than perhaps any other government on earth. (The filth that is U.S. foreign policy was first made most apparent by the publication of The Pentagon Papers by the New York Times—through the reporting of Neil Sheehan, who died yesterday, ironically, and the Washington Post. We can thank whistleblowers from Daniel Ellsberg to Wikileaks for having provided so much evidence of this …)

Trump’s distrust of the so-called Deep State was also a breath of fresh air, given the long-standing power that has been exercised by administrative bureaucracies and agencies, all unelected, and embedded in the National Security apparatus, the U.S. intelligence community—and such institutions as the Federal Reserve System and the vast array of regulatory agencies, virtually all of whom operate to protect the very industries being “regulated.” This is in the very nature of the kind of “capitalism” that its advocates have defended with regularity. It is crony by definition—a system rigged in favor of those most adept at using its levers.

The problem, however, for Donald Trump, is that after four years, instead of “draining the swamp,” he became part of it. In fact, in all too many respects, he only deepened it. I’m not going to even begin to touch on what Trump’s years in office have wrought domestically, since I’ve discussed it here, here, here, and here, for example.

As one who favors radically freed markets liberated from the heavy hand of the state—and a culture that would necessarily support such liberation—it is simply a fact that Trump never endorsed freed markets. He remains an economic nationalist, harking back to the beginnings of the Grand Old Party, which championed, way back in the nineteenth century, high tariffs, subsidies for industry, and protectionism, all at the expense of the disenfranchised. Today, too many Democrats who oppose Trump with policies that are called “socialist” are typically advocating shifting forms of state intervention that will benefit a whole slew of other favored industries, be they in “alternative” energy or in healthcare. Neither party is a friend of freedom; the system is rigged to benefit those who are most adept at wielding the levers of power to augment their wealth and influence. Nothing that Trump did in four years has altered that dynamic. Period.

Moreover, those who think that the Trump years brought “peace” in foreign affairs, should check their premises. Like Obama before him, Trump focused on proxying-out military intervention. Sometimes it’s been trumpeted as good for the economy; after all, when the U.S. gives money to the Saudi government, the Saudis spend that money by purchasing U.S.-manufactured munitions, which are then used against countries like Yemen. As reported in Jacobin magazine, Trump’s promise to end “the era of endless wars” has only led to the repositioning of troops rather than their return home. Indeed,


the “endless” wars have not ended. Trump has dropped more bombs and missiles than George W. Bush or Barack Obama did in their first terms, and there are still roughly as many US bases and troops overseas as when he was elected. … Trump has vetoed every bill passed by Congress to disengage US forces from the Saudi war in Yemen and to halt the sales of US-made warplanes and bombs, which the Saudis use to systematically kill Yemeni civilians. … Trump has also backed a coup in Bolivia, staged several failed ones in Venezuela, and targeted even the United States’ closest allies with sanctions to try to prevent them from trading with US enemies. Trump’s brutal sanctions on Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Cuba are not a peaceful alternative to war, but a form of economic warfare just as deadly as bombs, especially during a pandemic and its accompanying economic meltdown. …


[M]ilitary spending for procurement, research and development (R&D), and base construction has risen by 39 percent. This has been a huge windfall for the Big Five US weapons makers — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics — whose arms sales revenues rose 30 percent between 2015 and 2019. The 49 percent increase to more than $100 billion for R&D on new weapons systems in 2020, part of the enormous $718 billion Pentagon budget, is a down payment on trillions of dollars in future revenue for the merchants of death unless these programs are stopped.

The Trump record is almost complete; future historians will debate his legacy—the last few days an ugly extension of it—but in the one area that some of us held out some hope, Donald Trump failed.

I do have to say, though, that I find it hilarious that the Democratic leadership is thinking about initiating a second impeachment trial or have expressed support for the invoking of the 25th Amendment to get Trump out of office before Inauguration Day, just 12 days away.

There was a real constitutional question as to whether a sitting President could pardon himself. If these Never-Trumpers succeed, there would be no question should the House of Representatives impeach him and a new Democratically-controlled Senate actually convict him, that the new President, Mike Pence, could very easily pardon Trump, with no constitutional issues clouding things up.

Either way, folks, on January 20, 2021, Mike Pence will be in attendance at the inauguration of Joe Biden as 46th President of the United States (Trump is boycotting the ceremony). In the meanwhile, even long-time Trump supporters are running for the exits in light of the Capitol Catastrophe, an assault on that building the likes of which have not been seen since the War of 1812. Gone are Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Special Envoy to Northern Ireland and Former Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Commerce Department John Costello, White House Council of Economic Advisers (Acting Chairman) Tyler Goodspeed, the First Lady’s Chief of Staff Stephanie Grisham, Social Secretary Rickie Niceta, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews and now THIS! Deputy Undersecretary for Stabbing: Jon Schwarz! Have these folks have no sense of decency left!

For those who don’t get the allusion to Jimmy Cagney’s “White Heat” [YouTube link]
Bramhall’s World,
New York Daily News (7 January 2021)
(Yeah, yeah, I know the Republic seems to be in shambles, the Capitol was ransacked, and life is miserable. Each side is accusing the other of treason, and it’s nothing to laugh at. But at some point, you just look up and say: WTF?)

To 2020 (1): Counting My Blessings — But Don’t Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out…

Clichés, by definition, are trite and lacking in originality. But you’ll find more than a few in the following post. This year didn’t lack for originality, but it helped to illustrate more than a few clichés.

This week, I’ll be featuring a few hilarious tidbits from my favorite comic strip, “Pearls Before Swine” (created by Stephan Pastis), all centered on a single theme: What a Miserable Year 2020 Was! Today, it’s best captured by yesterday’s featured strip in the New York Daily News:

Courtesy of The New York Daily News (27 December 2020)


So, before we start counting our blessings, let’s review our journey through the utter misery of 2020. I wrote 29 Notablog installments on the Coronavirus pandemic, not to mention umpteen entries on everything from racism and social injustice to civil unrest and a crazier-than-usual election year. (In-between, there were nearly 100 new songs added to my “Song of the Day” series—because music helped to ease the pain of a year like no other.)

Our social fabric has been drowned in so much sadness—in grief, in fear, in pain, in anger—but somehow, we seem to have made it through to the end of 2020. Then again, there are still a few days left to this miserable year, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it is the truth of that other cliché: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!” Or as that old poster for “Jaws 2” once declared: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water …” SLAM! The Great White Shark Shows Up Again!

For me, personally, I experienced more sorrow crunched into twelve months than I ever thought possible. I saw mass death and destruction in my hometown on a scale that, after living through 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy, I never could have imagined. I lost neighbors, friends, beloved local proprietors, colleagues, and even a cousin to a virus that hit New York City like a nuclear blast, with the fallout going on for months on end. I saw the ugliness of racial injustice give way to the agony of civil unrest. I saw political actors and political pundits incapable of dissecting, analyzing or helping to resolve complex social problems with intellectual scalpels, as they approached every issue with a sledgehammer, giving expression to yet another old cliché: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

But there was another side to this tale that reveals how many blessings I truly have.

Professionally, I count my blessings to have been here to celebrate the twentieth anniversary volume of a scholarly periodical that I cofounded way back in 1999: The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. I also helped to organize and moderate an illuminating four-month Facebook symposium with over 100 members, including nearly all of the contributors to The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (coedited with Roger E. Bissell and Edward W. Younkins; Lexington Books, 2019).

Personally, I count my blessings that I saw compassion manifest itself throughout 2020 as people came to each other’s assistance.

I count my blessings that I have family and even neighbors, who have become like an extended family, offering their love and support through it all.

I count my blessings that I have great doctors who were able to coordinate the squeezing of nearly six months of “elective” surgical procedures into a two-month period, completing (and recovering from) four surgeries by the first week of November.

I count my blessings that I was then able to summon the strength to face a dire medical crisis on November 13th, when I almost lost my sister (to a non-COVID-related illness). In the middle of this, we had to give up our cat Cali for adoption, but I count my blessings that she was adopted by a loving mommy—who had first given her to us!

I count my blessings that I have seen, for months on end, the heroism of first responders, saving the lives of countless people, including my own sister’s life, as EMS workers rushed her to the emergency room on that harrowing morning. After a month in the hospital, my sister returned home on December 12th, brought up the stairs in a wheelchair by a couple of other EMS workers who showed the same depth of care as those who first brought her down.

Through it all, we’ve never lost our sense of gallows humor. When my sister wondered how on earth she would get down the stairs to go for follow-up medical appointments, I told her: “If all else fails, there’s always the Richard Widmark Way!” (For those who haven’t seen the 1947 film, “Kiss of Death,” check it out [YouTube link]!) We have a tough road ahead, but we are here to talk—and to laugh—about it.

I count my blessings that when I wrote about my sister’s ordeal, I saw an outpouring of love and support on Facebook, on email, and elsewhere, attesting to how deeply she has affected the lives of so many people: her colleagues, her friends, and, most of all, those who were her former students.

I count my blessings that at the end of this challenging year, I am here, my sister is here, my brother and sister-in-law are here, my family and dear friends are still here. We are here to lift a glass to the promise of 2021, knowing full well that when we did so at the end of 2019, in the hopes that 2020 would bring greater health and happiness to all, we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into.

We don’t know what lies ahead, but we do know that this too shall pass. Or as my urologist’s office reminded me: “It may pass like a kidney stone. But it will pass.”

Count your blessings, folks. For there is no truer cliché than this one: Where there is life, there is hope. And where there is love, all things are possible.

“Dialectics of Liberty” reviewed in JARS: Thumbs Up …

As I mentioned yesterday, the concluding issue of the twentieth anniversary volume of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies was officially published on JSTOR—as hard copies are on their way to print subscribers.

In this December 2020 issue of the journal, another publication close to heart was reviewed: The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, coedited by Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Edward W. Younkins. The review essay, written by Allen Mendenhall, can be found on JSTOR here.

It’s always a bit awkward inviting a colleague to review a book you’ve co-edited for a journal of which you are a founding co-editor! But when I approached Allen, I simply told him, in essence: Just because I’m a founding coeditor of the journal and a coeditor of DOL doesn’t mean you have to give us Two Thumbs Up. I asked of him only that he mention those authors in the anthology who were members of the JARS editorial board (Robert L. Campbell, Roderick T. Long, and me) or advisory board (Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen), or contributors to past issues of the journal (Roger Bissell, Ed Younkins, Steve Horwitz, Gary Chartier, and Troy Camplin), which would at least provide us with some context as to why the review is appearing in the journal. Yes, context-keeping applies even to reviews of books about the art of context-keeping!

Then, I told him: “Take no prisoners, and have fun!”

And that he did. Allen gave us a really wonderful review. An excerpt can be found on the book’s home page here. But here’s a key comment:

The … chapters … are broad in scope, treating such expansive and seminal concepts as freedom, reality, and human flourishing and such elemental philosophical fields as logic, epistemology, metaphysics, and ontology. They send a message, namely that the editors are “thinking big,” calling into question whole schools of thought and promoting approaches to inquiry that are primary, essential, and comprehensive. They’re hitting the reset button. …

DOL is a wide-ranging volume colored with the unique voices and personalities of its various contributors. Yet it is united in purpose and models the dialectical method that it celebrates. [Contributor John F.] Welsh registers a memorable line that supplies fitting closure to this review. “A volume dedicated to the ‘dialectics of liberty,'” he states, “provides a wonderful opportunity to explore not only the interstices at which dialectical and libertarian theory overlap, but how the two might enhance each other for the benefit of advocacy for individual freedom, free markets, and minimal government.”

I concur. And The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom is that volume.

Folks looking to pick up a copy of the anthology can still do so at the heavily discounted rate of $5 per softcover book (with a $5 shipping charge no matter how many copies you order). There are only a dozen or so books left at this special rate. Please visit the DOL Discount Page and let Paypal do the rest!

JARS: Our Twentieth Anniversary Celebration Concludes

I am delighted and deeply honored to announce the publication of the second of two issues celebrating the twentieth anniversary of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. The December 2020 issue will be making its debut shortly on JSTOR; print subscribers should expect the second of these two historic issues in the weeks thereafter.

Issue #40 (Volume 20, Number 2) – December 2020

As I mentioned back on June 5, 2020, we decided to devote two issues to reviewing those works in the general area of Rand studies, which have never been critically appraised in our pages. The list of works reviewed in this second issue of volume 20 are:

The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism, by Nathaniel Branden

Think as If Your Life Depends on It: Principles of Efficient Thinking and Other Lectures, by Barbara Branden

The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, edited by Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Edward W. Younkins

Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins

Foundations of a Free Society: Reflections on Ayn Rand’s Political Philosophy, edited by Gregory Salmieri and Robert Mayhew

Culture and Liberty: Writings of Isabel Paterson, by Isabel Paterson (edited by Stephen Cox)

Myth, Meaning, and Antifragile Individualism: On the Ideas of Jordan Peterson, by Marc Champagne

Ayn Rand: An Introduction, by Eamonn Butler

Atlas Rising: Ayn Rand and Silicon Valley by The Atlas Rising Institute

Mean Girl: Ayn Rand and the Culture of Greed, by Lisa Duggan

Bucking the Artworld Tide: Reflections on Art, Pseudo Art, Art Education & Theory, by Michelle Marder Kamhi

The Soul of Atlas: Ayn Rand, Christianity, a Quest for Common Ground, by Mark David Henderson

The Perfectionist Turn: From Metanorms to Metaethics, by Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen

***

As is the case with every issue, we have introduced at least one new contributor to the JARS family. This issue brings debut pieces from four new contributors: Onar Am, Alec Mouhibian, Molly Sechrest, and Amos Wollen.

Here is our Table of Contents for Volume 20, Number 2 (the abstracts can be found here; contributor biographies can be found here):

The Man Who Would Be Galt – Dennis C. Hardin

Something That Used to Be Objectivism: Barbara Branden’s Psycho-Epistemology – Robert L. Campbell

The Dialectics of Liberty – Allen Mendenhall

Free Market Revolution: Partial or Complete? – Chris Matthew Sciabarra

From Defiant Egoist to Submissive Citizen: Is There a Bridge? Why the Hell Is There a Bridge? – Roderick T. Long

Goddess of the Republic – Alec Mouhibian

Peterson, Rand, and Antifragile Individualism – Onar Am

Introducing Ayn Rand – Edward W. Younkins

Silicon Rand – Troy Camplin

Ayn Rand: Mean Girl? – Mimi Reisel Gladstein

Bucking the Artworld Tide – Molly Sechrest

Ayn Rand and Christianity: The Virtuous Parallels – Amos Wollen

The Perfectionist Turn – David Gordon

Eudaimon in the Rough: Perfecting Rand’s Egoism – Roger E. Bissell

Index to Volume 20

Those seeking to subscribe to the journal should visit the sites linked here. And—as we march into the third decade of this remarkable journal—those wishing to submit manuscripts for consideration should follow the instructions here.

Once again, I wish to express my deepest appreciation to my co-editors, our board of advisors, our contributors, and most of all, our readers, without whom we would never have been able to publish this grand finale—the longest single issue in the history of our journal—to our twentieth anniversary volume.

As I said in the Introduction to Volume 20, Number 1: “Here’s to another two decades and beyond of JARS triumphs . . . two decades, or until such time as Rand studies have so penetrated the literary and philosophic canon that specialized journals of this nature are no longer required.”

Coronavirus (29): Medical Procedures in the Age of COVID … And I’m Still Alive!

When you walk into my urologist’s office, there’s this sign at the appointment desk. It reads:

This too shall pass.
It might pass like a kidney stone.
But it will pass.


I can’t think of a more fitting description of this past year. Or of my medical experiences throughout 2020—a number that has become an adjective unto itself. As in: “Oh no! Please don’t tell me this is gonna be another 2020 moment!” Though let me hasten to add—for those of you who have said to me, “I can’t wait for 2020 to end! Bring on 2021!”—please don’t rush your precious lives away. After all, 2021 might be better; then again, it might make 2020 look like a picnic by comparison. So count your blessings!

Back on March 28, 2020, in the seventh of what is now 29 installments in my Coronavirus series—29, in keeping with my friend, Thomas L. Knapp‘s “Prime Number Obsession” (that “all sets should consist of a prime number of items”)—I wrote:

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.

Since that time, I’ve received countless emails, Facebook messages, texts, and phone calls—from relatives, friends, and colleagues wondering how I’m doing! I’ve kept in touch with many people as often as I can, but decided to write this post so that I can point to it as a way detailing my most recent medical adventures. I do this not merely as a “public service” to describe medical procedures in the age of COVID, but also as a cathartic exercise for myself, and, most importantly, as a way of updating and thanking every person who has expressed their concern and support over these many months.

Though my hometown’s grief has been palpable, the fact is that the hospitalization, infection, and death rates have been crushed throughout New York state (despite a very recent uptick in case numbers in areas of New York City). Fortunately, elective surgeries began again in late June. 

Given this reality, I consulted with each of my doctors and it was determined that I undergo my pre-op testing in July so that I’d complete all three of my (planned) procedures within the first three weeks of August—before the possibility of any substantial uptick in novel coronavirus cases.

But the medical protocols have changed substantially since March and April when I was initially scheduled for these procedures. Three of the most important changes emerged directly from the new realities in which we live:

First, no significant medical procedure goes forth without a COVID screening within 72 hours of the appointment followed by a self-quarantine. You must wear a mask to any facility right up to the point that you are wheeled into the operating room. Since mid-March, I have been used to wearing a mask and social distancing where necessary—though distancing is not possible when doctors are getting intimate with you, so-to-speak.

Second, every procedure is scheduled in such a way as to create an environment in which waiting rooms consist of only one, two, maybe three people awaiting their appointments. And appointments are scheduled so far apart such that every operating room is thoroughly disinfected—they typically are, of course … but not like this. One would be hard pressed to find a visible speck of dust let alone any misbehaving microbe under microscopic analysis.

And finally: Nobody is allowed to accompany you into the waiting room. My sister—who has driven me to virtually every medical procedure throughout my entire life, who has sat with me right up to the point I was taken into the operating room only to greet me in recovery—had to find a place to park her car outside the facility (good luck with that!), and be on call once I emerged from the recovery room to be released from the medical facility. Aware of the emotional strain this might create in patients, medical staff rose to the occasion with the utmost care, compassion, and empathy they could possibly offer, despite—or perhaps because of—the many months they dealt with some of the most horrific conditions any of them had ever witnessed in their entire professional lives. I can’t thank them enough.

So here’s how it all went down over the past 2+ months by way of a mini-diary of events:

July 25: Pre-operative tests: EKG, chest X-rays, bloodwork. Even a consultation with both my neurologist and my cardiologist. I receive a SARS CoV 2 (COVID-19) antibody test. Results: Negative. I am approved for all upcoming procedures.

July 31: SARS CoV 2 (COVID-19) nasal swab test. Negative. Scheduled for first procedure on August 4, 2020. Onward!

August 3: Tropical Storm Warning issued for Tuesday, August 4, 2020. Isaias will be roaring up the East Coast, with high sustained winds that eventually knock down or split thousands of trees throughout the New York City metropolitan area. Power outages are widespread; one person is killed in Queens. Leaving my Brooklyn apartment on the morning of August 4, torrential rain coming down, trees swirling to the right and left of us on the parkway, I turn to my sister while she’s driving into Manhattan and say: “You gotta be kidding me! Just getting to a hospital provides us with yet another 2020 Moment!”

August 4: Colonoscopy, with a double polypectomy, while under Propofol. Clip, clip here, clip, clip there, and a couple of Tra La Las [YouTube link]. Done!

August 5: Esaphago-gastro-duodenoscopy, while under Propofol. Buzz, buzz, buzz, chirp, chirp, chirp, and a couple of La Di Das [YouTube link].  Done!

August 10: ENT appointment. Don’t ask! Done!

August 12: KUB (Kidney-Ureters-Bladder) X-rays. My, my, how things have changed since March! X-ray reveals a Death Star-sized stone inside my left kidney, and a Junior Death Star-sized stone right next to it! And the news is reporting an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn… exactly where I will be going for my pre-op COVID test and lithotripsy. WTF!

August 13: Lower- and upper-endoscopic biopsy results: All negative. I speak to the administrator at my urologist’s office and ask her: “Are you sure that nothing will interfere with my lithotripsy on the 17th?” “Well… maybe a locust invasion? I mean, who knows what can happen in four days,” she says, reassuringly.

August 14: SARS CoV 2 (COVID-19) nasal swab test. Negative. Onward!

August 17: My surgeon tells me that he doesn’t know if he can destroy both stones, so he’ll aim for Death Star, Sr., because it is, well, Mucho Senior. Sonic blasts proceed, while under Propofol +++ —Boom, Boom, Clap! Boom, Boom, Clap! Boom, Boom, Clap! [YouTube link]. Miraculously, post-op tests indicate that the lithotripsy was so dialectically powerful that it transcends “either-or” and embraces “both-and”: The surgeon succeeds in pulverizing both Senior and Junior due to their close proximity. Fragments remain. But all are passable! Done!

Or not.

“You thought you had three procedures and you’d be finished. Oops!” Purgative preps for each of the three previous procedures result in internal bleeding. I see my colorectal surgeon on September 1 and schedule an infrared radiation coagulation procedure to seal three wounds: two on the right, one on the left. Nothing political implied here, though the surgeon jokes that anytime he has a political disagreement with somebody, he extends to them an invitation to meet him in his examination room, where they are usually put in a position that makes them very agreeable.

September 8: I become very agreeable. The light saber battle begins [YouTube link]. Without Propofol or any other (even local) anesthesia. Don’t ask, don’t tell! Given my intestinal preconditions, recovery is—and continues to be—agonizing. But to paraphrase Master Yoda: “More doctors, see I must.”

September 10: I visit my new dentist (because my old dentist has retired post-COVID), and she finds me in otherwise good dental health, except for a partially impacted wisdom tooth that “bears watching.” I’ll see her for a follow-up in six months! I schedule a dental cleaning on September 26. Done! And Done!

September 24: Flu shot. Done!

September 29: Follow-up with colorectal surgeon; the two wounds on the right have healed; the one on the left requires additional recovery time. Two out of three ain’t bad [YouTube link]. Given my chronic intestinal condition, this, like all things related to it, “bears watching.” Will return for a check-up in six months. On the way home, I stop at my optometrist’s office and get my glasses adjusted. Done! And done!

October 6 (today): Routine visit to my cardiologist. Done!

All I can say is: There has indeed been a noticeable uptick in six hotspots in New York City (primarily in Queens and Brooklyn—including my own neighborhood). I am very happy that all these medical procedures and appointments are now in the rearview mirror. I remain COVID free—and intend to stay that way.

Back on May 6, 2020, I posted a pic of myself to reassure folks that I was alive (self-administered haircut and all). Today, I post another pic documenting that I’m Still Alive (albeit with a haircut provided by my own barber!).

Throughout this period, I refused to allow anything to interfere with my projects. And that includes rooting for my New York Yankees, who, miraculously, took a game from the Tampa Bay Rays last night in the opening game of the American League Division Series, 9-3!

And in terms of my work: I have reviewed, corrected, and submitted to Penn State Press the first set of page proofs for the December 2020 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, the finale to our twentieth anniversary volume, which will be the largest single issue in the history of the journal, for which I have also contributed a 30+ page essay that should raise some eyebrows. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am expecting to sign off on the second set of corrected proofs later this week.

As I said back in March: This “Kid from Brooklyn” intends “to be here for a long time to come.”