Category Archives: Remembrance

Ukraine & Moral Outrage

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I have read quite a few articles by libertarians and fellow travelers who are understandably concerned about US intervention overseas. An article at antiwar.com highlights US hypocrisy in its stance toward the Putin regime, while other writers express the hope that President Biden will show the same restraint that JFK showed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I am fully on board with those who point to the hypocrisy of the US government when it comes to the actions of other governments across the world.

But something more needs to be said.

In the wake of 9/11, as a New Yorker and a libertarian, I felt like a man without a home: I understood fully that US foreign policy had created a boomerang effect, which led to the deaths of 3000 people in this country. Among those were family, friends, colleagues, neighbors. (Ironically, the first attack on the World Trade Center took place 29 years ago on this date.) I was utterly horrified that some libertarian friends of mine could not understand my outrage at Al Qaeda and Bin Laden, whom I held responsible for that attack. I wanted justice, but I didn’t have a blood lust against an entire group of people—like, say, the Randians, who wanted to atomize the entire Islamic Middle East. I was against the Iraq War and the PATRIOT Act, advocated the withdrawal of the US presence in the Middle East, an end to US foreign aid and the US propping-up of regimes in that region, while simultaneously seeking justice for those who lost their lives on that horrific day.

It’s always important to keep context, but if you can’t see that the United States government is not the only entity on the planet with a record of human rights abuses and horrific policies abroad, then, well, you’re blind to the global context in which we live. This doesn’t imply anything about what the United States should or should not do with regard to Russia and Ukraine. But it does mean that those of us who are concerned about human rights should speak up—whoever violates those rights across the world. And my heart breaks for those in both Russia and Ukraine whose rights and lives are being trampeled as other global actors (Putin and company) act like the thugs they are. (And my heart breaks as well for all my Russian American and Ukranian American neighbors, who are deeply concerned over the current state of affairs; indeed, the New York metropolitan area has the greatest concentration of Ukranian Americans and Russian Americans in the United States.)

Indeed, in Russia, Putin continues to clamp down on dissent, with further restrictions placed on social media—something that I was warned about by Russian colleagues days ago—further proof, regardless of country, that intervention without leads necessarily to an erosion of human freedoms within.

Is there a wider context with regard to those actions by Russia, which reflect a history of bungled US and Western diplomacy? Of course. But that context does not change the moral outrage that so many of us rightly express, with regard to the actions of Russia in Ukraine.

Postscript (28 February 2022): Folks should take a look at Thomas Knapp’s take on this crisis as well. He is absolutely correct in expressing his sympathy for the noncombatants who get caught in the crossfire of this dispute between nation-states. Check out: “Don’t Look to Politicians for Peace.”

Postscript (7 March 2022): Also check out Doug Bandow’s discussion of “Whataboutism and Russia’s Attack on Ukraine” on antiwar.com.

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.

No Time to Die … Wow

I won’t put any spoilers in this post, but I finally got to see “No Time To Die“—having avoided reading anything about the film, miraculously, and was totally shocked and blown away by this 2021 entry in the James Bond franchise.

So I’ll just say this much … whether or not there will be “time” for a reboot, I found that last quote from Jack London—which is discussed here—very poignant. The full passage from which it comes was unearthed from an interview with London that appeared in San Francisco’s The Bulletin (2 December 1916). It’s worth repeating here:


I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

Whether you’re a Bond fan or not, I think this was certainly one of the best films in the series, and a worthy finale to Daniel Craig‘s run as 007.

Song of the Day #1903 & #1904

Songs of the Day: Dawgma / Swing ’39 [YouTube link] are two songs that were performed back-to-back on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in support of the 1978 quintet album, “Hot Dawg,” featuring David Grisman on lead mandolin, Mark O’Connor on guitar, Mike Marshall on rhythm mandolin, Rob Wasserman on bass, and the immortal Stephane Grappelli on violin. The September 13, 1979 show can be seen in its entirety [YouTube link]. The artists even play the gypsy jazz classic, “Minor Swing“, as an encore (previously highlighted in 2013 as a “Song of the Day“) over the closing credits [YouTube link]. “Dawgma” was composed by Grisman in that characteristic style of his, merging jazz and bluegrass; “Swing ’39” was composed by Grappelli and his old bandmate, the legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, with whom he formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France back in 1934. He was 71 when he appeared on “The Tonight Show“, and is as fleet of finger as he ever was. I was privileged to see him in-person with David Grisman at Avery Fisher Hall (now “David Geffen Hall“) on October 2, 1981 and again, with his own quartet, at The Bottom Line in Greenwich Village, on April 25, 1983. On this date, in 1908, Grappelli was born. He was born in Gaie Paris—pun intended; when he passed away at the age of 89 in 1997, he left behind his life partner of 25 years, Joseph Oldenhove. The virtuoso violinist also left behind an extraordinary musical legacy, having recorded with everyone from Yehudi Menuhin and Yo Yo Ma to Paul Simon and Pink Floyd [YouTube links].

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

Song of the Day #1902

Song of the Day: Paradise by the Dashboard Light, words and music by Jim Steinman, is a piece of musical theater that became a staple of classic rock radio when it was released in 1978 as the third single off the album, “Bat Out of Hell“, the 1977 debut album of singer and actor, Meat Loaf (Marvin Lee Aday). The Platinum 8+ minute track, featuring both Meat Loaf and Ellen Foley on vocals, was produced by Todd Rundgren, who plays guitar on the track. When the song came out—even as it was played endlessly in its full album glory—I had a certain sentimentality for it. Any song that features the rather ‘suggestive’ play-by-play of Hall of Fame Yankees shortstop and hilarious sports announcer, Phil Rizzuto, gets Major League Points in my book. Yesterday, Meat Loaf passed away at the age of 74. Check out one of his biggest hits [YouTube link].

Kafka, The Girl, and the Doll …

H/T to my friend Larry Abrams; there’s even an illustrated book about this tale.

Kafka, the year before his death at 40.

At 40, Franz Kafka (1883-1924), who never married and had no children, walked through the park in Berlin when he met a girl who was crying because she had lost her favourite doll. She and Kafka searched for the doll unsuccessfully.

Kafka told her to meet him there the next day and they would come back to look for her.

The next day, when they had not yet found the doll, Kafka gave the girl a letter “written” by the doll saying “please don’t cry. I took a trip to see the world. I will write to you about my adventures.”

Thus began a story which continued until the end of Kafka’s life.

During their meetings, Kafka read the letters of the doll carefully written with adventures and conversations that the girl found adorable.

Finally, Kafka brought back the doll (he bought one).

“It doesn’t look like my doll at all,” said the girl.
Kafka handed her another letter in which the doll wrote: “my travels have changed me.” The little girl hugged the new doll and brought her happily home.

A year later Kafka died.

Many years later, the now-adult girl found a letter inside the doll. In the tiny letter signed by Kafka it was written:

“Everything you love will probably be lost, but in the end, love will return in another way.”

Song of the Day #1900

Song of the Day: One at a Time features the music of Michel Legrand and the lyrics of Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman. The theme here is from the 1969 film, “La Piscine,” which Legrand scored with his typical lush, jazzy flair. The soundtrack theme had no lyrics, though it features vocalizing by Michel Legrand and his sister, French soprano, Christiane Legrand of the original Swingle Singers, and a scintillating jazz violin solo by the great Stephane Grappelli. Check out the original soundtrack recording [YouTube link]. In 1971, the Bergmans added wonderful lyrics to the music, and it was Jack Jones who first recorded it [YouTube link], with Legrand’s orchestrations and arrangements. Yesterday, three-time Oscar winner Marilyn Bergman died at the age of 93. She and her husband combined to provide so many wonderful lyrics to some of the greatest songs of the twentieth century, many of them composed by Legrand. My very first “Favorite Song” in this ongoing series, which premiered on September 1, 2004, featured lyrics by the Bergmans set to Legrand’s music: “What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” [YouTube link]. My life has been enriched immeasurably by the romance Marilyn brought to the music. RIP, lovely songwriter.