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SEPTEMBER 30, 2005

Song of the Day #410

Song of the DayMy One and Only Love, music and lyrics by Guy Wood and Robert Mellin, has been recorded by so many wonderful artists. Listen to audio clips from renditions by Ella FitzgeraldJohn Coltrane & Johnny HartmanFrank SinatraSting, and Carly Simon. One of my favorite instrumental versions is by jazz guitarist Jim Hall (no audio link available, unfortunately).

Posted by chris at 08:51 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 29, 2005

Barry Bonds v. Babe Ruth

Last night, Alex Rodriguez set the Yankees' single-season club home-run record for right-handed hitters: he hit the 47th home-run of the season, eclipsing Joe DiMaggio's record 46 HRs. (And the Yanks have moved one game up, into sole possession of first place in the Eastern Division of the American League, with four games to play, including three with the Boston Red Sox this weekend. Nail-biting till the last out, I'm sure...)

Home runs are still the sexiest of baseball hits. And other players are still vying to set all-time career home-run tallies. Chief among these is San Francisco Giants player Barry Bonds. He's third on the career home run list and is only a few behind Babe Ruth, who is second only to Hank Aaron.

Now, I'm not really wanting to debate the virtues and vices of Bonds and Ruth. These two exemplary players are of a different time and place. The game has changed so much over the years, and comparisons are likely to be of the apple-and-orange variety.

But lots of people are making noise about who has been the greatest HR hitter of all time.

A cursory look at career home-run statistics will show a few interesting tidbits: Ruth hit 714 career home runs in the regular season, with 8,399 career at-bats. Placed in that context, it beats Hank Aaron, who hit 755 career HRs in 12,364 at-bats, and Barry Bonds, who currently has 708 HRs in 9,137 at-bats.

But NY Times sports writer Alan Schwarz compares Bonds and Ruth on another measure: triples. In his September 18, 2005 article, "Statistical Twins Are Separated By Triples," he has a few very interesting observations:

With every beguiling arc he shoots into the San Francisco night, Barry Bondswho returned to the Giants' lineup Monday after missing the first 142 games of the season with a knee injurysteps closer to Babe Ruth on the career home run list. ... Bonds has dominated his era almost as much as Ruth did his, so comparisons between the two players' home run rates, on-base percentages, walks and what-not are quite the rage. There are few surprises, except for this: The greatest difference between the career batting records of Bonds, a smooth and swift athlete for most of his career, and Ruth, generally remembered as a lumbering oaf, is that Ruth hit vastly more triples.

Think about that. Babe Ruth ... the "lumbering oaf"... hit more triples. I found that remarkable. Schwarz continues:

Numbers are the marionettes of rhetoric, but a surface glance at the record books does paint a rather bizarre picture of these two sluggers. They got other hits at reasonably similar paces: Ruth hit home runs more often (1 per 14.9 plate appearances to Bonds's 16.5), while Bonds had a higher frequency of doubles (every 20.6 times up to Ruth's 21.0). Ruth singled 20 percent more often than Bonds, which is quite a bit.

But that is not nearly as striking as the triples column. Bonds has 77 triples in his career; Ruth legged out 136more than only a handful of players since his retirement. When you compare how the performances of Ruth and Bonds towered over their respective leagues, a considerable portion of Ruth's edge derives from his noseand legsfor the triple. As Casey Stengel once said, Huh?

Schwarz offers this explanation: "Bonds plays in a home run era, thanks to cozier ballparks, smaller strike zones and additional fertilizer."

And we all know that "fertilizer" is a euphemism for a word that begins with S. Yeah. Steroids.

In Ruth's era, however, the "fences, often quite tall, stood much farther from home plate, often an extra 20 to 60 feet or more from the power alleys to center field." But this surely had a productive effect on the number of Ruth's triples: "Booming drives would often land over outfielders' heads and roll all the way to the fence, during which time even Ruth, an average runner at his best, could reach third base comfortably."

Schwarz tells us an interesting story about how, in 1918, star Red Sox pitcher, Babe Ruth, wrote an article for Baseball Magazine entitled ''Why a Pitcher Should Hit.'' He quotes Ruth as saying: ''If there is any one thing that appeals to me more than winning a close game from a tough rival, it's knocking out a good clean three bagger with men on bases.''

Interestingly, baseball historian John Thorn says that most of Ruth's triples probably would have been HRs in today's smaller ballparks. Ruth may have ended up with a tally closer to 800.

Schwarz continues:

Ruth's career O.P.S. (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) was 1.164, or 53 percent higher than his contemporaries. Bonds entered this week at 1.053, 41 percent above his league. Take away the at-bats in which each player tripled, and Bonds winds up just .087 behind Ruth in O.P.S. Ruth's 53-41 edge in percentage over his competition would be cut to 48-37.

Bonds, of course, was once quoted (during the 2003 All-Star break) as saying: ''In the baseball world, Babe Ruth's everything, right? I got his slugging percentage and I'll take his home runs and that's it. Don't talk about him no more.''

Schwarz reminds us, though, that even if "Bonds could have easily caught the Bambino in a footrace, and will most likely catch him in home runs," it is Babe Ruth who "will forever stand alone" on the three-bagger.

I confess that Bonds's hubris has always pissed me off. I think he's one remarkably talented ballplayer. But Mr. Baseball he'll never be. And, in fact, Schwarz's good points on triples don't even begin to do justice to the comparison.

So I wrote to the NY Times. I'm a bit like Don Quixote in this quest: Over many, many years, not a single letter I've sent in, to any section of the paper, has ever been published. Now having heard from Schwarz, my "hitless" streak continues. I know that my letter won't be published. So I publish it here, as I reflect on the Bonds vs. Ruth debate:

Barry Bonds said that "In the baseball world, Babe Ruth's everything, right?" Well, by comparison, Ruth is still "everything." And not only in triples. Ruth set the overwhelming majority of his records in fewer at-bats than Bonds. He was the face of baseball because he was one of the all-time greatest hitters and a fine pitcher too, who held records in that department for the better part of the 20th century. Oh, and as one of the most physically "unfit" baseball players of his era, he also set his records without any hint of steroid use. Bonds may "step closer to Babe Ruth," but he'll forever be in Ruthian shadows.

Comments welcome.

Posted by chris at 08:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (9) | Posted to Sports


Definitely a case of misleading stats. If it takes a thousand more at-bats to get 5 more home runs, that's not "better." And that's not to mention the smaller dimensions of modern parks. I don't mean to diss Aaron (or Bonds for that matter), but stats have a context which shouldn't be dropped. (Did Rand like baseball?)

Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | September 29, 2005 09:20 AM

I was so wanting to talk about the art of context-keeping, but I figured somebody would say: "They're you go again with that dialectics stuff."

Boy am I happy you said it first. :)

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 29, 2005 09:23 AM

Not that one needs dialectics to digest this elementary (alimentary?) point: raw numbers don't prove much. One egg-cream per day over 10 years is a lot more than 10 egg-creams a day for a week. It's like that scene in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High":
"I just send out this vibe and I have personally found that women do respond. I mean, something happens."
"Well, naturally something happens. I mean, you put the vibe out to 30 million chicks, something is gonna happen."
In one sense, we want to show props to Aaron for even _having_ 12,000+ at-bats. But you can't compare total number of HRs without considering the context. If some rookie gets up three times in his first game and hits for 3 of his 4 plate appearance, his average is .750 -- does that mean he's a "better hitter" than Ted Williams? Of course not. Stats need a context.

Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | September 29, 2005 09:40 AM

All that having been said, I have always held the triple as the most exciting play in the game. The whole bang of the home run is over by the time the hitter rounds first base, but nothing draws along the razor's edge of performance -- offensive and defensive -- like the triple.

Posted by: Billy Beck | September 30, 2005 08:36 AM

I'm glad that in addition to setting the record straight on Ruth's batting prowess, you mentioned his pitching skills. His 29 2/3 scoreless innings in World Series play stood for 43 years, until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961, and he still holds the record for the longest complete World Series game, 14 innings (count `em!). There has never been a player who was such a great hitter AND pitcher. On the triples issue, isn't it fitting that Ruth's first World Series hit (in 1918) was a triple?!

Posted by: dged | October 1, 2005 11:13 AM

Thanks for the additional comments, folks. And dged, you're absolutely right about Ruth as pitcher.

In 1978, one of my favorite all-time pitchers, Ron Guidry, tied one of Ruth's pitching records (which was set in 1916): Most shutouts (9) by a left-handed pitcher in the American League. That remains a standing Ruth-Guidry record till today (see here), while Sandy Koufax holds the NL record for southpaws (11).

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | October 1, 2005 11:30 AM

BTW, a little bit of trivia: Though Ruth's pitching records were set while he was with the Boston Red Sox, he actually posted a 5-0 record in four starts during his 15 years with the Yanks.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | October 1, 2005 11:52 AM

Oh, and as one of the most physically "unfit" baseball players of his era, he also set his records without any hint of steroid use. Bonds may "step closer to Babe Ruth," but he'll forever be in Ruthian shadows.

I'm glad you made this point Chris. Many of todays athletes are on steriods, and as we've seen, it's infected baseball also. Ruth was something else. Accomplishing his incredible feats on a virtual diet of liquor, hotdogs and prostitutes. Imagine if he would have actually took care of himself. Amazing player.

Posted by: Shane | October 1, 2005 12:55 PM

Indeed, Shane, though it's hard to tell: His hard-playing may have been, for him, a mere extension of his hard-living.

Either way, baseball was the greater for it.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | October 6, 2005 10:31 AM


Song of the Day #409

Song of the DayThree Little Words, music by Harry Ruby, lyrics by Bert Kalmar, was the title song from the 1950 Fred Astaire-Red Skelton film. But it has shown up on screen many times, going all the way back to the Amos 'n' Andy 1930 film "Check and Double Check," where the song is performed by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, with Bing Crosby on vocals. Listen to an audio clip of that version here. I adore a live swinging version by Carmen McRae; listen to an audio clip of that version here.

Posted by chris at 07:35 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 28, 2005

Song of the Day #408

Song of the DayAll This Time, words and music by Jonathan PetersRichard Bush, and Delsena Walrond, features the vocals of Sylver Logan Sharp. Listen to audio clips from two different remixes of this pumpin' dance track here and here.

Posted by chris at 08:18 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 27, 2005

Maxwell Smart, Over and Out

Don Adams, star of the TV show, "Get Smart," passed away on Sunday, September 25th.

I remarked to my pal Aeon Skoble that I am starting to feel a little old: All the TV stars of my youth are dropping like flies!

Adams, as Agent 86, and Barbara Feldon, as Agent 99, were quite a couple on that classic TV show. When I was young, I just thought it was so cool that a guy could have a shoe phone! I guess you could call it the Cell Phone Precursor.

Maxwell Smart, Over and Out. RIP

Comments welcome.

Posted by chris at 08:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | Posted to Remembrance


The NYT obit was quite a revelation, for me at least: I had no idea he was a decorated combat vetern of WWII, for example.
Yes, that was a hilarious show (and I always had a thing for Barbara Feldon's Agent 99).

Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | September 27, 2005 10:50 AM

Amazing how much we find out about people after they're gone.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 29, 2005 09:22 AM


Song of the Day #407

Song of the DayHigher Ground, words, music, and electric performance by Stevie Wonder, is rockin' funk incarnate. Listen to an audio clip here and to a Red Hot Chili Peppers version too.

Posted by chris at 08:05 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 26, 2005

Norms of Liberty

Some time ago, I was privileged to read significant parts of Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for Non-Perfectionist Politics, authored by my friends and colleagues Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl. I was deeply impressed with the manuscript, and I am delighted to announce today that the book has been published by Penn State Press (the publisher of several of my own books).

As the abstract states, the book asks how we can "establish a political/legal order that does not require the human flourishing of any person or group to be given structured preference over that of any other." Rasmussen and Den Uyl, who are on the Board of Advisors of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, examine the foundations of political liberalism. They are post-Randian neo-Aristotelians who have written a significant tract in political philosophy, continuing the fine work of such previous books as Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order.

JARS will be reviewing the book, and we hope it will spark some good discussion. In fact, the upcoming Spring 2006 issue will feature a contribution from Doug Rasmussen, as part of a larger symposium on Rand's ethics.

I highly recommend this book.

Comments welcome.

Posted by chris at 12:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | Posted to Politics (Theory, History, Now)


It�s hard for a guy to keep up with the output from Randian-influenced academics. If they live up to the standards of L&N, this should be a good book. I found L&N helpful on many accounts. I recommend it to my conservative friends who think there is a virtue/liberty trade-off. I�m looking forward to reading their latest. Thanks for the heads-up.

Posted by: Jason Pappas | September 26, 2005 02:55 PM

Norms of Liberty will also be the subject of a symposium at the next meeting of the American Association for the Philosophic Study of Society, which meets in conjunction with the Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association in Dec. Info at

Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | September 27, 2005 07:32 AM

That's great to know. The meeting is scheduled for 2-5 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 29, 2005 09:19 AM


Song of the Day #406

Song of the DayEverything I Have is Yours, music by Burton Lane, lyrics by Harold Adamson, was introduced by Joan Crawford and Art Jarrett in the 1933 film "Dancing Lady." It was recorded by singers such as Ruth Etting and Rudy Vallee. Among my favorite versions are those by Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan (audio clips at those links)

Posted by chris at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 25, 2005

Song of the Day #405

Song of the DayPoinciana (Song of the Tree) features the words of Buddy Bernier and the music of Nat Simon. It has been recorded by many artists from Nat King Cole to Manhattan Transfer (audio clips at those links). When I was a child, I fell in love with a live version by pianist Ahmad Jamal (listen to an audio clip from "Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me"). I used to call him "Ama-jo" at that young age... and the song gave me more than enough reason to continue my "coffee table" adventures.

Posted by chris at 12:02 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 24, 2005

Alexander Rustow

Walter Grinder and John Hagel III have posted a very nice essay on one of the most important books I've ever read: Alexander Rustow's work Freedom and Domination. In this thread, I left a few comments, which I reproduce here for Notablog readers:

Wonderful post, gents, about a very important work. My only quibble is in the use of the word "dialectical" here (I'd use it in a much wider sense to encompass radical-contextual analysis). I suspect you're using it as a way to distinguish it from a kind quasi-teleological "dialectical materialist" conception of history, or at least one that points to "resolution" of conflict (though Marx's conception itself is filled to the brim with discussions of struggle and conflict).

Ironically, I think one can find certain parallels between R?#39;s perspective and the Marxist conception. Rustow even objects to the "one-sided" view of "capitalism" advanced by Mises and Hayek. He sees "subsidy-ridden, monopolist, protectionist" policies as the reality of capitalism's essence and even defines capitalism as a form of "protocollectivism."

Rustow calls himself a "neoliberal"; I know that that label also has a variety of connotations.

So, while I think you're both absolutely correct that this work is crucially important for helping liberal scholars in the formation of a research-and-activist programme, I'm wondering where you see Rustow in relationship to today's libertarianism. How different is Rustow's "neoliberalism" from today's libertarianism?

Not having read the full original German work, I have always been very curious about Rustow's larger political sympathies. I've read a few essays about him here and there, but any further light you could shed on his politics would be greatly appreciated.

Comments welcome.

Posted by chris at 10:49 AM | Permalink | Posted to Politics (Theory, History, Now)

There Are No Rose Petals in Baseball

Readers of Notablog are familiar with the humanity inherent in my "Rose Petal Assumption," that is, the assumption that it is possible to find "one rose petal in a pile of manure." It makes for a wonderful way to bridge differences and to create a context of civility when people are discussing contentious topics honestly.

It's the kind of premise that informs the best of sportsmanship too: "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."

Well, of course. Nobody who is a true sports fiend wants to win the game by cheating.

But let me be very clear about one thing: This close to the end of the regular baseball season: IT'S ALL ABOUT WINNING FAIR AND SQUARE. With an emphasis here on winning.

At this point, I'm not interested in philosophic platitudes about Rose Petals.

I'm a Yankee fanatic. My team has been "grinding it" all season long; it has been painful to watch some of these older ballplayers grinding themselves onto the disabled list with each passing week. But I've been a Yankee fan all my life. Even through the mid-to-late 1960s and through the early 1970s, when they didn't win. Even through the long drought of the 80s and through 1995, when Donnie "Baseball" Mattingly couldn't get himself arrested into a World Series if he tried.


My pal George Cordero reminds me in this thread:

The following comment has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic at hand; however, I strongly believe Mr. Sciabarra will not mind. Chris, did you happen to notice that the Yankees have moved into first place! Small is 9-0, R. Johnson "might" finally be healthy enough to be a play-offs factor, and Rivera continues to be brilliant. If the BoSox miss the play-offs, Francon will be crucified in Boston. My only fear (and I suspect) is that after Francon is fired, Torre will be the new BoSox manager for next year.

It's a legitimate fear, George, especially with that other George, "Boss" Steinbrenner, making nice-nice with Lou Piniella, who is most definitely not returning to the dreaded Devil Rays as manager (those dreaded Rays have kicked Yankee butt this season).

But the Yanks are in 1st Place again, for the first time since mid-July. The Red Sox are chasing the Yanks, and the two teams face-off in a major duel next weekend, the final three games of the season. I have a suspicion that the team that wins that series is going into the postseason. The loser probably won't have enough wins to take the AL wild card. So...

IT'S WIN OR LOSE! There are No Rose Petals in Baseball. I'm not looking to find that "one rose petal" in any manure piles. Not to mix metaphors, but I'm taking the hose to the manure, and looking for the clean sweep!

Today, Yankee Stadium will set an all-time franchise record as the season attendance goes above 4 million for the first time in Yankee history. That's an average of more than 50,000 fans per game. It's my hope that they will all be cheering:


Comments welcome. No civility can be guaranteed if you're a Yankee hater.

Posted by chris at 10:15 AM | Permalink | Posted to Sports

Song of the Day #404

Song of the DayThe Peppermint Twist features the words and music of Henry Glover and Joey Dee, who, with his Starliters, took this song to #1 in 1962. When I was about 2 years old, I'd go "round and round" a living room coffee table to this song. It has been a sentimental favorite ever since. Listen to an audio clip here.

Posted by chris at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 23, 2005

Song of the Day #403

Song of the DaySee You in September, music by Sherman Edwards, lyrics by Sid Wayne, was recorded originally by The Tempos (audio clip at that link). But my favorite version is by The Happenings (audio clip at that link). It's the classic return-to-school song: "See you in September, when the summer's through..." The "danger in the summer moon above" has now come to pass. Listen to another audio clip of this melancholy song here.

Posted by chris at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 22, 2005

Tribute to Zacherle

My pal and colleague David Hinckley published a piece in today's New York Daily News that took me down memory lane. "Blood on the Charts: Zacherle's Greatest Hits" tells the story of John Zacherle, who graced New York television for a number of years with his twice-a-week "Shock Theater." It was actually today, in 1958, that Zacherle made his debut on Channel 7, WABC-TV. He later switched to WOR-TV (Channel 9 in NYC). I grew up in the 1960s watching his fun-filled horror spoof.

For those who watched Zacherle (also spelled "Zacherley"), Hinckley's piece should bring back a lot of memories.

Comments welcome.

Posted by chris at 08:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | Posted to Remembrance


I'm a little late with this comment, but I'm glad you mentioned that DAILY NEWS article on Zacherle. He was great. One of my fondest memories of him comes from a rare tv appearance he made in the early Eighties--on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. They had just finished a sketch when they cut to a shot of a coffin. The coffin opened, and to my great surprise--and the obvious surprise and delight of the audience--out came Zacherle. I forget what he said; I think he was just announcing what guests were going to be on an up-coming Halloween show. What I remember most clearly are the cheers and applause from the audience when Zach appeared. Too bad they didn't have him host the Halloween show, or at least appear in a sketch.

Posted by: Bilwick | September 27, 2005 03:59 PM

Bilwick, I remember that show! As I remember Zach. Thanks for recalling it for us.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 29, 2005 09:24 AM


Teaching from Your Textbooks

There's a raging debate going on at Liberty and Power Group Blog and the Volokh Conspiracy (discussion here). Aeon Skoble posted a very thoughtful discussion entitled, "A Textbook of Cluelessness," in which he criticizes Law Professor Ian Ayres, who argues that it is "borderline unethical for profs to assign textbooks they have produced."

Here is how I replied to this assertion today on L&P:

My, my, I've just looked at all these comments and the ones at Volokh too! Some are calling for Aeon's prosecution now for "profiting" from the pittance he makes in royalties if he assigns his books to his students.

Frankly, I'm at a loss.

If you teach a course on Marx's concept of alienation, and you happen to have written the book on Marx's concept of alienation, what's wrong with assigning the book to the class? That's what Professor Bertell Ollman did when I took his course on Marxism. And I profited enormously.

And when I teach cyberseminars on my own work, I have to assign my books. I'm teaching them! In a sense, what could be more fulfilling than reading and studying a text that your own professor has written? If you have questions about the book, what better source to ask?

I realize this is not the issue at hand: People are just ticked off that somebody somewhere might be making 4 cents in royalties. Clearly those who are upset over this have no clue about the standard academic contracts that require an author to sell 1000 or 5000 books before even making a dime on anything, on a sliding scale that nets you a couple of hundred dollars a year if you are lucky! (There are exceptions to this, of course, but they are exceptions). If some think we're in this for the money, well... we picked the wrong profession, folks!

As an aside, I've done some work on pre-Bolshevik education in Russia, prior to the Communist takeover. One of the things that really irritated Narkompros (the "Commissariat of Enlightenment") [once the Bolsheviks took over] was the fact that Old Guard professors were... HORRORS!... lecturing and using their own books as texts in their classes. Such books projected the individual professor's interpretation of history or philosophy, rather than the politically correct and approved version. As the Old Guard was exiled or shot, the requisite PC texts slowly replaced everything else. If you happen to have been an approved Marxist, you could teach your own PC text at that point. Otherwise, fuhgedaboudit!

Comments welcome.

Posted by chris at 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (10) | Posted to Pedagogy


I'm with you on this one Chris. Back in my university days I remember some students complaining about one particular lecturer profiting when a textbook he co-wrote was used for a course he was teaching. What nonsense! Like you'd seriously expect him to use somebody else's textbook when he helped write a perfectly good one?

Posted by: Matthew Humphreys | September 22, 2005 10:53 AM

~~ Upon reading through the 'discussion' you link, my 1st thought is a wondering about how many complainers wrote relevent texts...that weren't used in his class.

Posted by: John Dailey | September 22, 2005 04:23 PM

Have to go with you on this one, too, Chris. Since writing a book on the subject often provides the opportunity to make yourself knowledgeable enough to be qualified to teach, it's ludicrous for one to then be expected to use an inferior book--if one thought one's own text wasn't the best for the chosen focus on the subject, what was one doing considering it finished? And would you want to be a taught from a book even the *author* thought incomplete?

Posted by: Jason Dixon | September 22, 2005 04:47 PM

Hmm, in my field, some textbooks only came into existence because they were based on the course material the authors developed or assembled when teaching the course. Needless to say they got to be some highly successful and popular courses! Like Feymann's Lectures!

Posted by: Hong | September 22, 2005 09:52 PM

The following comment has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic at hand; however, I strongly believe Mr. Sciabarra will not mind.

Chris, did you happen to notice that the Yankees have moved into first place! Small is 9-0, R. Johnson "might" finally be healthy enough to be a play-offs factor, and Rivera continues to be brilliant.

If the BoSox miss the play-offs, Francon will be crucified in Boston. My only fear (and I suspect) is that after Francon is fired, Torre will be the new BoSox manager for next year.

Posted by: George Cordero | September 23, 2005 01:08 PM

Is there some distinction I miss between charging people to hear you read your lecture (perhaps with some impromtu asides) and charging them for the same lecture after it is written down and bound together?

If I ever teach a course on Kant's version of altruism, I'll consider Ayer's suggestion---just as a concrete example for my students.

Having taught at a law school for several years, I would consider a products liablity suit against legal texts, in that most law books are inherently dangerous to human life. (Just kidding about the lawsuit; not about the danger.) Legal texts basicly take the concept "A is A" and modify it to "A could be A, B or C. Argue both sides and explain the policy considerations behind your answers."


Posted by: st, eve | September 23, 2005 09:24 PM

George, you prompted a separate thread with that Yankee query! :) See here.

Matthew, John, Jason, Hong, st, eve ... thanks for your good points!

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 24, 2005 11:06 AM

...well, IMO the real gripe here is not the 'professor' making a few bucks on textbooks --- but the generally OUTRAGEOUS prices of college textbooks... no matter who actually pockets the profits.

The student/consumer/buyers are at a severe economic disadvantage to the textbook 'sellers' ... and
'dictators' of required course books.

It is a major, longstanding rip-off.

The poor quality of textbooks is separate but related consumer issue.

IMO well-composed textbooks obviate the need for 'any' classroom teacher/professor ... in most routine college coursework. Any 'words' that a teacher routinely speaks/presents to students in a classroom --
can be clearly communicated in pre-packaged course materials ( textbooks). A 'good' teacher knows what the students need & what their questions will be.

A well-written textbook is worth a legion of teachers/professors for standard college courses.


Posted by: Roderick | September 24, 2005 07:48 PM

"well-composed textbooks obviate the need for 'any' classroom teacher/professor"

Um, no. You can't get it all from the teacher without the book, and you can't get it all from the book without the teacher, and you can't get it all from either without discussion. Lecture + reading + explanation/extrapolation + discussion + writing = learning.

Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | September 26, 2005 09:31 AM

I agree, Aeon: There is something about the best of teachers that can never be replaced by even the best of textbooks.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 29, 2005 09:18 AM


Song of the Day #402

Song of the DayIndian Summer, originally entitled "An American Idyll" (audio clip at that link), features the music of Victor Herbert and Al Dubin's lyrics, which were added some 20 years later. Listen to an audio clip of a famous Tommy Dorsey recording of this song (at that link). I love a Jim Hall studio recording of this from the album "Commitment" (considered by some as among the top jazz albums of the past 50 years). Hall also recorded it live with bassist Ron Carter, who states the melody line in an audio clip hereAutumn arrives today, but we can still hope for an Indian Summer.

Posted by chris at 07:08 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 21, 2005

Song of the Day #401

Song of the DaySeptember, words and music by Maurice WhiteAl McKay and Allee Willis, was performed by the funky and fabulous Earth, Wind, and Fire. "Do you remember the 21st night of September?" Well, my brother and sister-in-law do! Happy anniversary, with much love! Listen to an audio clip here.

Posted by chris at 09:40 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 20, 2005

The Bugs of Summer

A few summers back, I was going through a particularly difficult period. Everything seemed to be going wrong on so many levels. The weather was miserable. My health wasn't too great. Friends and family were in distress over other life problems.

On one hot, humid, sticky, and terribly cloudy day that summer, I walked down my block, a bit disheartened by this state of affairs. For one brief moment, I looked up at the sky and saw the most elegant Monarch butterfly. And for that one moment, a feeling of total relaxation came over me. A world with that kind of beauty, I reasoned, will allow for all these difficulties to pass.

And in that instant ... I kid you not ... a bird flew by, grabbed the Monarch in its beak, and flew off.

I looked up at the sky again. Shook my head in disbelief. And couldn't help but chuckle. It was as if the gods had sent me a message: "Life really is that dismal, Chris, and you'll get no relief today!"

But it all came to pass. And several consecutive summers with lousy weather have given way to one of the most glorious summers in New York City that we've had in recent years.

I love the summer.

Now, in its waning days, I have a slight sense of melancholy, which is tempered only by the still-warm temperatures in the still-Baking Apple. They'll reach 84 degrees today, and the 80s throughout the rest of this week.

One of the things I'll most miss about summer, however, are the bugs. The insects. Flying. Crawling. Creeping. They are a perennial sign of life. And this summer in the city was like the classic summers of old. Bugs that were not too plentiful in recent years seem to have come back in droves. Maybe it was the weather.

June into early July started out with the biggest burst of fireflies ("lightning bugs") that I've ever seen in my entire life while living here in Brooklyn. So sparkling was the nightly display that the front lawns and backyards of my neighborhood looked as if it were Christmas in July. Mating insects never seemed so sexy.

The fireflies eventually went away ... only to be replaced by hordes of various kinds of butterflies. There were even more Monarch butterflies this summer. One afternoon, two Monarchs were fluttering around one another in a spiral; I followed their dance for almost the length of my entire block, my dog Blondie in tow. I'm sure they found romance beyond my field of vision. At least there were no birds descending this time 'round!

I've had a Beetle land in my hair, a Ladybug land on my hand, a Jurassic-sized Dragonfly (or "Dining Needle") land bingo on my beach blanket. I've marveled at athletic grasshoppers and diligent ants. In fact, as my aging dog's diet has changed, I had all this leftover Fit and Trim. I chopped it into a fine substance, and dumped it on the borders of sand and grass at Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn. When I came back the following week, I saw that the ants had made a hotel out of it ... the kind of hotel that you could eat if you got tired of living there!

As July literally melted into the "Dog Days of August," the Cicadas arrived like clockwork for their annual appearance. In unison, they sing, though their melody sounds more like a sprawling sprinkler system, reverberating for miles around, reassuring us that they'll hold off the Fall for as long as they can.

September is here. Their sounds are almost gone.

And I confess that I'll miss the sounds and sights of the Bugs of Summer.

But there are Sounds and Sights of Autumn too.

Soon the Boys of Summer will be gearing up for the Fall Classic. For me, the crack of the October bat is as musical as the nightly chorus of crickets still serenading us (they'll stick around for quite a while yet...).

Do not ask me about the Yankees' chances; I'm having periodic nervous breakdowns with this team all season! But that's part of the summer too! At least these Damn Yankees (who have adopted the phrase "Grind It" as their mantra) are giving us a fun run in the final weeks of the regular season (Bubba Crosby's walk-off home run last night was terrific).

So here's to the Summer of 2005 ... you and your bugs were nice to be around.

Comments welcome.

Posted by chris at 11:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (9) | Posted to Frivolity Remembrance Sports


Speaking of baseball, weren't you going to post some pix from your recent tour of The Stadium?

Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | September 20, 2005 02:57 PM

Yes, sir! It's coming up ... but since I've decided to post the photos as part of a "photo essay," it will be featured at the end of the season. Which means: Either as the postscript to the end of the Yankees' season. Or a preview to the postseason. :)

NICE PHOTOS! STAY TUNED!!! Probably around the beginning of October. :)

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 20, 2005 03:03 PM

Shows what *I* know about NYC. Been there several times for sightseeing, plays, etc, and discovered many variations of wolves and carnivores. And I don't mean in TMONH.

But, in that cement jungle (especially in Brooklyn?)...'bugs'?

I need to travel more, I guess.


Posted by: John Dailey | September 20, 2005 03:34 PM

John!!! Not only that... we have plenty of wonderful birds too! I go and feed the ducks and the geese a few blocks from here. I visit the swan in Sheepshead Bay, the seagulls at the beach, and the Green Monk Parrots by Brooklyn College.

You just need to come to Brooklyn. We've got parks and lakes and beaches, and nature trails, and bike paths. And in addition to the birds and the bees, we've got great pizza. :)

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 20, 2005 06:28 PM

We've had a banner year for bugs here, too. In fact, if one goes outside, the predominant sound will either be crickets and cicadas, or the drone of flies -- as long as the farmers aren't afield, that is.

Thanks for sharing your lovely musings with us.
Warm sssssqueezessssssssssssss from your reptilian friend --

Posted by: Sunni | September 21, 2005 03:19 PM

Ah, you might have felt a little better if you had known that the bird which grabbed the Monarch butterfly was going to have a bad stomach day - Monarch is poisonous!

Posted by: Hong | September 21, 2005 03:51 PM

Thanks Sunni, Hong.

As for the poisonous Monarch... :)

I don't know if we can truly apply the concept of "justice" to the natural world of "survival of the fittest"... and I don't know if this falls into the category of poetic justice or just plain ol' irony... but now you've got me feeling bad for the bird! LOL

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 21, 2005 04:34 PM

It might be that I'm paying less attention than I used to, but I get the impression that the insect population has declined around my neck of the woods in recent years. When I was a kid I recall seeing many ladybirds (what Americans call ladybugs), butterflies and grasshoppers around our garden. This year I've seen one ladybird, one or maybe two butterflies, and a bunch of grasshoppers a few days ago apparently fighting over one particular spot of soil in my garden. (I can only assume that, in grasshopper terms, it's particularly cushy spot!) Damn spiders get everywhere though!

Posted by: Matthew Humphreys | September 22, 2005 11:00 AM

Hey, Matthew, those spiders are supposed to keep the rest of the bugs in check! :)

My sister actually was wondering, however, how it is that every so often she finds a spider showing up in her car. It's rather surprising when you're driving and a white spider comes crawling down your rear-view mirror.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 24, 2005 11:03 AM


Song of the Day #400

Song of the DayI Believe in Love features the music, lyrics, and performance of Paula Cole. As much as I like the original album version (audio clip here), I fell in love with the Jonathan Peters dance mix. It is astounding. Listen to an infuriatingly brief audio clip here.

Posted by chris at 07:33 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 19, 2005

Song of the Day #399

Song of the DaySomebody Told Me features the music, lyrics, and performance of The Killers. Post-punk, retro new wave... whatever you call it, this combination of guitar, synths, and beats is irresistible. Go here to listen to an audio clip and to watch a video clip. Check out too the audio clip featured for the album "Hot Fuss."

Posted by chris at 07:53 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 18, 2005

Song of the Day #398

Song of the DayThe Honeymooners (aka "You're My Greatest Love"), music by Jackie Gleasonlyrics by Bill Templeton, opened this immortal TV comedy. We began our TV theme tribute with The Great One and we close this year's installment with him again. With the Harvest Moon arriving only a few hours ago, listen to an audio clip of this wonderful theme here and here.

Posted by chris at 12:02 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 17, 2005

Song of the Day #397

Song of the DayI Love Lucy, music by Eliot Daniel, lyrics by Harold Adamson, is a classic TV theme from a classic show, which starred Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Listen to both vocal and instrumental audio clips here.

Posted by chris at 07:17 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 16, 2005

Bush, Krugman, and the Old Deal

Today's NY Times article by Paul Krugman, "Not the New Deal," gave me a few chuckles.

With George W. Bush projecting a huge federal government effort to reconstruct Louisiana and Mississippi and other areas affected by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, fiscal conservatives are already murmuring. But little stands in the way of this vast projected increase in government spending.

As my colleague Mark Brady has asked: "Did You Really Expect Anything Else?"

A Bush critic such as Paul Krugman is busy objecting to a Heritage Foundation-inspired plan that would include "waivers on environmental rules, the elimination of capital gains taxes and the private ownership of public school buildings in the disaster areas." But he also believes that "even conservatives" must recognize that "recovery will require a lot of federal spending." Since this will have an appreciable effect on the deficit, Krugman wonders "how ... discretionary government spending [can] take place on that scale without creating equally large-scale corruption." Given the Bush administration's penchant for awarding so much pork to favored corporations in places like Iraq, Krugman is understandably concerned about "cronyism and corruption."

This, says Krugman, is in marked contrast to the efforts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose "New Deal" provided "a huge expansion of federal spending" without corruption or cronyism. The New Deal, says Krugman, "made almost a fetish out of policing its own programs against potential corruption. In particular, F.D.R. created a powerful 'division of progress investigation' to look into complaints of malfeasance in the W.P.A. That division proved so effective that a later Congressional investigation couldn't find a single serious irregularity it had missed." For Krugman, FDR was committed to "honest government," because he understood that "government activism works. But George W. Bush isn't F.D.R. Indeed, in crucial respects he's the anti-F.D.R."

Is Krugman kidding me?

Throughout his presidency, Bush has looked to such American Presidents as Woodrow Wilson and FDR for inspiration. Bush believes that FDR himself "gave his soul for the process" of taking America out of the Depression and into a world war against authoritarianism.

As for the New Deal: There are no "honest government" spending programs that don't involve some kind of structurally constituted cronyism and corruption. That's just the nature of the beast. And FDR's New Deal is no exception. It was, in many ways, a paradigmatic case, no different from the "war collectivism" policies of World War I or World War II, all of which entailed using the vastly expanding power of government to privilege certain groups at the expense of other groups. Not even Herbert Hoover's response to the government-engendered Great Depression was "laissez faire" (see Rothbard's "Herbert Hoover and the Myth of Laissez-Faire" in A New History of Leviathan, and, of course, his fine book on the subject).

A cursory look at Jim Powell's recent book, FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression reveals "why so much New Deal relief and public works money [was] channeled away from the poorest people." From its inception, the New Deal was inspired by the corporatist model of Italian fascism. Even Krugman's beloved Works Progress Adminstration was constructed on the basis of patronage schemes. Citing economic historian Gavin Wright, Powell tells us that "a statistical analysis of New Deal spending purportedly aimed at helping the poor" gives us evidence that "80 percent of the state-by-state variation in per person New Deal spending could be explained by political factors."

Mainstream politics offers no genuine opposition to FDR's Old "New Deal" or Bush's New "Old Deal," not when "conservatives" and "liberals" are united in their support for massive government intervention.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P and Mises Economics Blog.

Posted by chris at 12:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | Posted to Austrian Economics Fiscal Policy Foreign Policy Politics (Theory, History, Now)


This topic is one that push my quarrels with libertarians. Althought I agree that is desirable to reduce as much as possible the size of the Leviathan, It seems to me that libertarian position is dogmatic and unrealistic concerning goverment spending and programs. For libertarians it seems that goverment programs produce always bad results and that it will be better if we abolished goverment spending ipso facto. It may be the case that goverment spending is bad as a matter of principle, but that has little to do with its results (if they are good or bad). Can we actually think that the victims of Katrina disaster can do it without goverment help? Maybe in the ideal libertarian world, but not in the world we actually live. If the state must disapear that ought to be a gradual process, and it is better we accept the idea it will remain a long time with us, don�t you think?

Posted by: Sergio Mndez | September 16, 2005 03:02 PM

Hi Sergio,

I just want to note that this post was really not about potential resolutions to the current situation along the Gulf Coast. Note too that I would be the last one to argue that we should ignore the current context in coming up with such potential resolutions, libertarian or otherwise. Because the simple fact is: The current context is not libertarian, and the political system will not allow for any kind of limited governmental response.

I surely do not believe in "button-pushing," which would imply that we can simply push a button and get rid of state interference in social and economic life. I don't see the end of such intervention at any point in the foreseeable future. I'd like to say that this therefore means we should advocate "more efficient" governmental planning, but that presumes that such planning is guided by efficiency; it rarely is. There are political pressures always at work in any situation where government is involved. It is as close to inexorable as is the fact that all living things eventually die.

An argument can be made that because the government was responsible for maintaining the levee system to begin with, it bears responsibility for what happened in New Orleans and elsewhere.

But there are many premises that need to be checked in coming up with the kind of government response that would encourage growth. First, I think it will be important for people to begin to re-examine how government socializes risk, that is, how it forces taxpayers to socialize the risky investments of others. It does this by insuring certain geographic areas against damages that would be or should be borne by those who choose to settle in these geographic areas.

The same can be said for the development of certain energy sources: Government can sometimes spur development of an industry by socializing the risk of damages that such an industry might generate. But that doesn't mean that government should be doing that. Case in point: The Price Anderson Act, which limits the liability of nuclear power plants. Without government insurance of nuclear power plants, it is very doubtful that nuclear power operators would be able to get private insurance for their industry. Let the people trading on the market decide, and let a more ideal legal framework allow for the increasing delineation of private property rights and their protection.

Of course, once risk is socialized and real individual men and women settle in risky areas, it is wrong to tell these individuals now: "Tough, next time don't live in a city that exists below sea level."

But government on almost every level failed in this instance: the local, state, and federal response has been awful, people's lives were decimated, and the damage from this is likely to reverberate for decades to come.

I think that, given the current system, much can be said for government mobilization of resources to shore up the levees and drain the cities of water. But if Bush wanted to start acting in truly revolutionary ways, he might consider private means of maintaining levees. He might consider turning the entire Gulf Coast into a large "Enterprise Zone," allowing people to reclaim property and to develop it in ways that assumes future risk, while enabling investors and workers to keep the benefits of their labors.

Nothing bold can possibly come from the current context, however; the system as such will generate responses that enrich those who are most adept at using the system's tools.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 16, 2005 03:40 PM


Excellent post (as usual). In addition to the points you discussed, the New Deal also proved quite negative for African Americans. In particular, New Deal legislation granted monopoly bargaining power to racist unions, raised the price of food and other goods, and threw many poor blacks out of work. I discussed some of these issues in a review essay for Reason magazine (in part a review of Jim Powell's book, in fact), which you can read here:

Posted by: Damon W. Root | September 19, 2005 11:39 PM

Damon, thanks for your kind words. And that was a fine article. (You can hyperlink the words in the Notablog comments section now, so for the sake of those too lazy to cut and paste, here is Damon's essay.)

Thanks again!

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 20, 2005 12:09 PM

I was just browsing the archives of the left-libertarian mailing list and was reminded of this post, when I came across a great quote from Karl Hess's 1975 book Dear America which captures the spirit of Krugman-type "liberalism" well:

"Liberals believe in concentrated power�in the hands of liberals, the supposedly educated and genteel elite. They believe in concentrating that power as heavily and effectively as possible. They believe in great size of enterprise, whether corporate or political, and have a great and profound disdain for the homely and the local."

Posted by: Joel Schlosberg | September 27, 2005 12:33 PM

Great quote, Joel.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 29, 2005 09:21 AM


Song of the Day #396

Song of the DayAlfred Hitchcock Presents (aka "Funeral March of a Marionette") was actually adapted from a Charles Gounod composition. TV shows borrow such themes all the time. Listen to an audio clip here.

Posted by chris at 09:45 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 15, 2005

Sunni Maravillosa: Happy Birthday

After that wonderful interview experience, I just wanted to tell one of my favorite people: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SUNNI MARAVILLOSA! (shouting as loud as my Brooklyn voice will allow...)

Squeezessssssssssssssss, hugsssssssssssssss, kissessssssssssssss, much love alwayssssssssssss.

Comments welcome.

Posted by chris at 08:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | Posted to FYI


You are just too kind to me, love! Birthday wishes and good Jackie Gleason music lately ... it couldn't get much better.

And awayyy we go!!!

Posted by: Sunni | September 15, 2005 09:00 AM

"And awayyy we go!!!"

Now that brings back memories. :)

Hope your birthday celebrations were grand.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 19, 2005 08:05 AM


Robert Wise, RIP

Aeon Skoble not only scooped me... but I was floored: I didn't watch the news yesterday or this morning, and just found out that director Robert Wise passed away. Many of his movies are listed in the film section of "My Favorite Things" list, including "West Side Story," "The Sound of Music," "The Sand Pebbles," and, of course, "The Day the Earth Stood Still."

Klaatu Barada Nikto.

Rest in peace.

Comments welcome.

Posted by chris at 08:18 AM | Permalink | Posted to Remembrance

Song of the Day #395

Song of the DayDynasty ("Main Theme"), composed by Bill Conti, announces the patrician excesses of the Carringtons and the Colbys. Listen to an audio clip here and here.

Posted by chris at 07:24 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 14, 2005

The O.C. and Reunion

Last week, I taped episode 1 of the third season of "The O.C." and the very first episode of "Reunion," both Fox-TV shows.

Now... no comments from the Peanut Gallery about how worthless these shows are. Some of us actually like a little mindless entertainment on occasion. And my life certainly won't be over if I don't get to see these episodes.

But, tonight, when I went to use the same video tape on which the shows were recorded, I discovered that the tape had been eaten by the VCR. Tomorrow night, Fox airs the second episodes of both of these series; it would be nice to actually see the first episodes before venturing into the second episodes.

So, I'm wondering... do any of my readers have video copies of last week's episodes of "The O.C." and "Reunion"?

Comments welcome, but please contact me offlist and I'll arrange to compensate for video and shipping charges; I'm at chris DOT sciabarra AT nyu DOT edu

Thanks a million...

Posted by chris at 08:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | Posted to Film / TV / Theater Review


VCR? Tape? Oh, I remember those.

Posted by: Jamie Mellway | September 15, 2005 12:35 AM


So good to see a familiar name. LOL

As it happens, I also have a DVD player. But I've not gone the route of TiVO just yet.

Also: A local video shop has told me that they can rethread and resplice my mangled tape in a new casing, as long as I supply a new video tape.

No charge. I like that!!! :)

Good to see you, Jamie!

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 15, 2005 06:18 AM

VHS? TiVo? Pah! Check out this little beauty.


Posted by: Matthew Humphreys | September 16, 2005 03:22 PM

That looks like good technology too, MH. DirecTV allows the use of something like this.

Well, I still have a vast audio, video, and DVD library. Adding yet one more technological innovation should increase the number of things I can archive---and never have time to watch! ;)

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 19, 2005 08:07 AM

Oh: Progress report... the gent at the local video shop did, in fact, rethread my eaten-up tape by putting the reels into a new chasis. Good to know for future reference; I'd attempted this (have had success in the past), but the old chasis was beyond salvation.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 19, 2005 08:08 AM


The Comic Book Geek Revolutionaries

Okay, I'm not a total Comic Book Geek; I did score 82% "comic pure," which does not make me a Comic Book Geek by any stretch of the imagination. But clearly, there is still 18% "comic corruption" in my soul. And when that impure aspect of my characterlet's call it my "Comic Book Geek Self" (CBGS)does a mind meld with my "Scholar Self," I end up producing such essays as this one.

I sometimes wonder how many radical libertarians began as Comic Book Geeks. I know a few myself who have long struggled with their CBGS's; such gents have only encouraged me in my Comic Corruption. Well. Actually. These gents don't struggle at all with their CBGS's. They completely embrace their Inner Geek. Some more flamboyantly than others. When a guy like Roderick Long devotes a whole webpage to Anarky, it's one thing. But when a guy like Aeon Skoble writes more than a few articles and even edits a book on an animated television program (i.e., The Simpsons... i.e., a cartoon!), one must take notice.

If one were to measure one's revolutionary quotient by the presence of an Inner Geek, however, Aeon might be called Our Fearless Leader. His interests extend from comics to comedic artists, but underlying all of this is a profound appreciation of the important link between philosophy and popular culture. He has written pieces on SeinfeldForrest Gump, and The Lord of the Rings; he even wrote a superb Spring 2003 paper for the American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues, entitled "A Reflection on the Relevance of Gay-Bashing in the Comic Book World." He's straight and "Married With Children," however. Not that there's anything wrong with that! He has a wonderful family, a great wife, and two adorable daughters (see those pics at the bottom of his links page). And he certainly has his priorities straight: He's a Yankees fan and has even written a piece on baseball and philosophy! And, by now, he's probably blushing reading all this praise.

As it happens, I recently got him to inscribe a copy of a new book entitled Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way, edited by Tom Morris and Matt Morris. Aeon has a fine essay in the anthology entitled "Superhero Revisionism in Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns." He argues that these two graphic novels, the first written by Alan Moore, the second by Frank Miller, "invite us to completely rethink our conception of the superhero, and ... to reconsider some of the fundamental moral principles that have traditionally underwritten our appreciation of superheroes."

Many sophisticated elements of comics today that we now take as givensthe way they raise questions of justice and vengeance, their exploration of the ethics of vigilantism, and their depiction of ambivalent and even hostile reactions toward superheroes from the general public as well as from governmentare largely traceable to these works.

What follows is a discussion that references everything from Death Wish, the 1974 film with Charles Bronson, to Friedrich Nietzsche. The article motivated me to finally read Watchmen from cover-to-cover before I even attempted to digest Aeon's points. I found Alan Moore's graphic novel, featuring the character Rorschach, quite provocative on many levels. I agree with Aeon when he writes:

One of Moore's epigraphs is the famous aphorism penned by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you." ... Moore and Miller are asking us to look into the abyss, and then to use it as a mirror for seeing ourselves more clearly.

Aeon points out further:

The superhero's most fundamental attitude seems to be that, contrary to Locke, it's everyone's right, if not duty, to fight crime, and to do whatever we can to seek justice for ourselves and for our communities. Spider-Man famously realized that "with great power comes great responsibility," but [Moore's character] Rorschach shows us that the "power" to fight crime is largely a matter of will, or choice, which seems to create a greater responsibility for all of us.

Aeon suggests that Moore puts his finger on certain troubles inherent in the "Superhero" mind-set:

There are many important ways in which we can be led by Watchmen to rethink the superhero concept: Could anyone ever be trusted to occupy the position of a watchman over the world? In the effort "to save the world," or most of the world, could a person in the position of a superhero be tempted to do what is in itself actually and deeply evil, so that good may result? Is the Olympian perspective, whereby a person places himself above all others as a judge concerning how and whether they should live, a good and sensible perspective for initiating action in a world of uncertainty? That is to say, could anyone whose power, knowledge, and position might incline them to be grandiosely concerned about "the world" be trusted to do the right thing for individuals in the world? Or is the savior mindset inherently dangerous for any human being to adopt?

I found these questions to be significant especially in the light of my earlier reading of a book recommended to me by Joe Maurone: John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett's work, The Myth of the American Superhero, which deals with certain quasi-"fascist" elements at the base of the "American Monomyth" (discussions of the Lawrence-Jewett book can be found here).

Aeon rightly attaches crucial importance to these issues:

Questioning the concept of the superhero ultimately involves questioning ourselves. And the main question is not whether we as ordinary people would be prepared to do what a superhero might have to do under the most extraordinary circumstances, but rather whether we are in fact prepared to do whatever we can do in ordinary ways to make the world such that it doesn't require extraordinary salvation from a superhero acting outside the bounds of what we might otherwise think is morally acceptable. Against the backdrop of some bleak and nihilistic statements about meaning in the universe and in life, Alan Moore seems to be making the classic existentialist move of throwing the responsibility of meaning and justice onto us all, and showing us what can result if we abdicate that responsibility, leaving it to a few, or to any one person who would usurp the right to decide for the rest of us how we are to be protected and kept safe.

All excellent points.

It's interesting to me that Aeon focuses on this tension between taking individual self-responsibility and abdicating that responsibility to perceived superiors. It might be said that the same tension exists in the dynamics that propel social change. Whereas it might be true that the Philosopher Kings and Queens have a way of establishing broad and influential intellectual movements in historytheir ideas slowly filtering through many different levels of social discourse, including popular cultureit is also true that popular culture itself has a way of altering consciousness and fueling broad-based social change.

Indeed, one might say that there is a reciprocal connection between the forms of popular culture (films, TV shows, comic books, etc.) and the "consciousness-raising" necessary to all social change. As Aeon puts it in his Spring 2003 paper, "all social problems depend for their successful resolution on grassroots-level changes in peoples thinking, a shift in general perception from the bottom up, as opposed to edicts from the top down. ... Comic books both reflect trends in social change and help foster social change."

This doesn't mean that a Watchmen movie is going to usher in a political and social revolution; but it does mean that the forms of popular culture can have an important effect on social and political attitudes ... and realities.

Like I said: We "Comic Book Geeks" are revolutionaries at heart.

In any event, pick up one, or all, of the books in which Aeon's terrific work is featured. You won't be disappointed.

Update: Praise God! Aeon has finally posted (as a PDF) his APA article, "A Reflection on the Relevance of Gay-bashing in the Comic Book World."

Comments welcome. Mentioned at L&P.

Posted by chris at 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (10) | Posted to Culture Dialectics Film / TV / Theater Review Politics (Theory, History, Now) Sexuality


Chris, thanks so much for the kind words (and the plugola)! I am indeed blushing. In any case, I'd glad you finally had an excuse to read Watchmen, and glad you thought my essay on Moore and Miller was meritorious - praise from you means a lot. As to the Spring 2003 paper, which focuses on, but isn't exclusively about, a now-famous storyline in Green Lantern - for some reason, most of the APA Newsletters are available as PDFs on the APA website, but for some reason there's a 2 year gap, which unfortunately covers Spring 2003. I have promised in the past to make a PDF of it myself, but haven't gotten around to it; perhaps this will be my motivation. Anyway, thanks again.
PS- Roderick may well contest your awarding me the uber-geek title; he's in many ways geekier. I'll have to do a book he can contribute to!

Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | September 14, 2005 10:24 AM

I'm hoping you can make that APA essay available before too long.

As for Roderick: Well... we are academics, after all, and publications are important in our line of work. So, while I personally know he can give any Uber-Geek a run for their money---I suspect he might show up at the APA meetings in an Anarky costume---he will have to publish a lot more in this area of study to displace you.

What costume will you be wearing? I won't give you any, uh, Static, no matter what you choose. :)

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 14, 2005 10:35 AM

Well, if I could find one of those Rorschach masks...

Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | September 14, 2005 10:42 AM

I just took the quiz; turns out I'm 65% comic-book geek. How about you, Aeon?

Posted by: Roderick T. Long | September 14, 2005 01:33 PM

Really enjoyed this, Chris. (And your book, Aeon.)

Posted by: Joe | September 14, 2005 01:35 PM

Joe - thanks!
Roderick - I scored a 60, so this is one of the respects in which you out-geek me. I was delighted to see, however, that relative to my gender and age demographic, I'm in the top 1 percentile, as you must be also. Woo-hoo!

Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | September 14, 2005 01:43 PM

Hey guys, I'm confused. Did you get your scores in this test:

or in this test:

The score I posted in the entry was the latter test.

At least let's measure this along a common standard. :)

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 14, 2005 06:08 PM

The score I reported was from whatever the first link in your post was, I think it's the OKCupid one. The other one looked like it would take a month to answer all the questions! But if you insist...

Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | September 15, 2005 07:32 AM

Oh, you mean the first link in the L&P post and the first link in my comment above. I took the second link test first. :)

On the Ok Cupid test, my age showed---since I've not read many of those older comics in many, many years and senility is setting in.

I only scored 43% and was told: "You know some basics about comics. Maybe you read them casually, maybe you read them when you were younger [YES, THOUGH SOME OCCASIONALLY NOW, ED.] but stopped, maybe you just have geeky friends [MANY]. Maybe you should read more comics. [AT LEAST I FINALLY READ 'WATCHMEN'.]

However, the result also confirmed this:

"My test tracked 1 variable How you compared to other people your age and gender: You scored higher than 99% on Geekiness."

So... there you have it. The CBGS is riding high.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 15, 2005 08:00 AM

As I say in the update above: Aeon has finally posted (as a PDF) his APA article, "A Reflection on the Relevance of Gay-bashing in the Comic Book World."

Check it out!!!

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 15, 2005 11:40 AM


Song of the Day #394

Song of the DayMission: Impossible ("Main Theme") is another cool and jazzy opening theme composed by Lalo Schifrin. Listen to an audio clip here.

Posted by chris at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 13, 2005

Ben-Hur: A Tale of A Great DVD Collection

Readers of Notablog are certainly familiar with my life-long love of the 1959 film version of "Ben-Hur," as expressed in essays such as this one.

As I mentioned here back in May, a 4-DVD collector's edition of the great William Wyler-directed film has just been released today. The digital restoration and sound have made this one remarkable release. There are many wonderful extras, commentary by film historians, a music-only track showcasing the immortal Miklos Rozsa score, trailers, newsreels, screen tests, Academy Award Ceremony highlights, several fabulous documentaries, including a brand new one entitled "Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema." And on top of all this, you get the magnificent 1925 original silent version, starring Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman, with its Carl Davis orchestral score.

This is an utterly superb collection. Do not miss it. I am awestruck by this DVD's clarity and quality. And I'm still in love with every aspect of this great epic (and I told the Miklos Rozsa Society Forum the same thing).

Also: Check out the Cool Warner Brothers Promo Site!

Comments welcome... but don't waste time! Go get the DVD collection now!

Posted by chris at 11:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | Posted to Film / TV / Theater Review

That DVD collector's edition is a must!

Posted by: James Valliant | September 13, 2005 07:59 PM

It certainly is... I'm plowing my way through it right now. The digital transfer is sparkling, and it is wonderful too to see a DVD version of the classic 1925 silent version.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 13, 2005 08:44 PM

BTW, I really like the way they blended previous commentary from Charlton Heston (featured on a previous DVD version) with brand new commentary from film historian (and pal), T. Gene Hatcher, with whom I've had nice correspondence for many years. I have yet to see the documentaries (which feature another correspondent and pal, Bruce Crawford).

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 15, 2005 08:35 AM


The Rand Transcript, Revisited

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the publication of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and still marking the Rand Centenary, I have been publishing a number of retrospectives.

Today comes yet another essay. Published in the new issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, it is another installment in my continuing research on Rand's education in Russia, which I first examined in Russian Radical, and explored even further in two 1999 articles: "In Search of the Rand Transcript" (published in Liberty magazine) and "The Rand Transcript" (published in the very first issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies).

The newest article makes use of archival materials that were recently uncovered by Anne Heller, who is currently working on a biography entitled Ayn Rand: An American Life, scheduled for publication by Doubleday in 2007. Anne was remarkably generous in sharing these materials with me, and they provided some interesting additions to the historical record. I'm delighted as well to see a continuing stream of evidence that does not impugn, in any way, the conclusions I reached in my earlier studies over the past decade.

I've not only revisited the archives in this new essay; I've also revisited the subject of philosopher N. O. Lossky, who was Ayn Rand's philosophy professor during her first year at the University of Petrograd. We were able to recover and publish a rare photograph of Lossky, taken from his secret police file (kept by the GPU). It is a photo of a man who seems to echo the physical attributes of a philosophy teacher named "Professor Leskov," a character that Rand eventually cut from her most autobiographical novel, We the Living.

For my thoughts on all this, and on many other subjects of historical importance, read the whole essay, which is available today on my "Dialectics and Liberty" website:

"The Rand Transcript, Revisited" (PDF available here)

Comments welcome.

Posted by chris at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Posted to Rand Studies

New JARS: The Seventh Volume Begins

The temperatures are going to hit 90 degrees again in New York City on this late summer day. But Autumn is arriving a little early.

Today, the Fall 2005 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies has been published. It begins our seventh volume, our seventh year.

Here is the Table of Contents:

The Rand Transcript, Revisited - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Mimesis and Expression in Ayn Rands Theory of Art - Kirsti Minsaas

Langer and Camus: Unexpected Post-Kantian Affinities with Rands Aesthetics - Roger E. Bissell

The Facts of Reality: Logic and History in Objectivist Debates about Government - Nicholas Dykes

Ayn Rand versus Adam Smith - Robert White

Feser on Nozick - Peter Jaworski

Kant on Faith - Fred Seddon

Seddon on Rand - Kevin Hill

Reference and Necessity: A Rand-Kripke Synthesis - Roderick T. Long

Reply to Ari Armstrong: How to Be a Perceptual Realist - Michael Huemer

Rejoinder to Michael Huemer: Direct Realism and Causation - Ari Armstrong

Abstracts for this issue are available here; contributor biographies can be found here.

Print-out and mail-in your subscription form today!

Comments welcome. Also noted at L&PSOLO HQHumanities.Philosophy.Objectivism Usenet Group, and the Ayn Rand Meta-Blog.

Posted by chris at 08:49 AM | Permalink | Posted to Periodicals Rand Studies

Song of the Day #393

Song of the DayThe Fugitive ("Main Theme"), composed by Peter Rugolo (with lyrics by Roy Huggins, William Conrad, and Glen Campbell), was just the title track to a haunting score that echoed the existential loneliness and alienation of Dr. Richard Kimble, played to perfection by David Janssen in this television morality drama. One of my favorite themes and scores from one of my all-time favorite series. Listen to an audio clip here and here.

Posted by chris at 07:38 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 12, 2005

The Beams of Renewal

September 11, 2005 began at Ground Zero with a reading of the names of those who were killed four years ago in the terrorist attacks on New York City. This year, siblings read the names.

Watching this annual tribute unfold on television, where all the local channels preempted national programming, we recognized the faces of friends and colleagues, both among those who recited the names, and among those who were killed.

Four years have come and gone, and the sadness of that day never truly dissipates.

In the evening, like last year, we marked the anniversary by going to see the Twin Towers of Light. I'd seen these up close in Manhattan, birds looking like sparkles flying within the glowing light. But there is something almost ghostly about these beams when one views them from afar.

This time, we viewed the tribute not from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, as we did in 2004, but from the 69th Street Pier, which has been renamed the Veteran's Memorial Pier. Every night, since its debut in May 2005, a 25-foot tall bronze sculpture called "Beacon" has shone a similar beaming light from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. On this night, the beam reached to the heavens, as if to meet the two beams from Manhattan Island. And the pier was illuminated further by the glowing candles held by those who had come to remember. It was, after all, from this pier that so many Brooklyn neighbors saw the horror of that day unfold ... while the Lady in the Harbor stood within their field of vision, holding her torch as if in defiance.

Last night, the tribute on the pier featured a color guard, military-gun salute, and a number of speeches, including one by the daughter of one of those killed on 9/11, who spoke tearfully of her mother's last moments.

Like last year, at 9:11 p.m., the Empire State Building dimmed its lights.

Coming together with other New Yorkers on this night, once a year, allows for a certain poignant solidarity. Looking into each person's eyes, there is a bond of shared tragedy. But there is also a common strength.

We left the pier feeling a sense of renewal.

The beams shone all night; I walked my dog Blondie at 4:15 this morning, and still saw them comforting the north sky. I threw a kiss to them. Till next year.

Comments welcome.

Posted by chris at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Posted to Remembrance

Song of the Day #392

Song of the DayHawaii Five-0 ("Main Theme") composed by Mort Stevens, conjures up images of that tropical surfer wave in the opening title sequence. Book 'em, Danno! Murder One! Listen to an audio clip here.

Posted by chris at 08:56 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 11, 2005

Song of the Day #391

Song of the DayThe Winds of War / War and Remembrance ("Main Title" / "Love Theme"), composed by Bob Cobert, was heard throughout the miniseries versions of the Herman Wouk novels. It is a melancholy, unforgettable theme that graces some of the most poignant, and most harrowing, scenes of these grand productions. Listen to audio clips from the soundtrack here and here. It is in keeping with our TV theme tribute, and appropriate too for a day of remembrance ...

Posted by chris at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 10, 2005

Song of the Day #390

Song of the DayMannix ("Title Track"), composed by the prolific Lalo Schifrin, is one of the jazziest main themes to ever grace the TV screen. Listen to an audio clip of several versions of that theme here.

Posted by chris at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 09, 2005

Rand and the Ad Hominem Fallacy

One would think after several years in the development of modern Rand studies that Rand scholars would not have to continue dealing with the fallacy of ad hominem, which is a familiar tactic used by Rand critics to discredit Rand as a philosopher.

This is quite apart from any genuine, substantive criticisms of Rand's work, which are needed, and which Randians should engage.

Granted, because Rand ended her postscript to Atlas Shrugged with the comment "And I mean it," suggesting that her life itself was a testament to the philosophy and morality she extolled, she virtually invited discussion of how well or how poorly she reflected Objectivism. And as I have said in my review of James Valliant's book here, "we can learn things about a philosophy by examining the ways in which those who adhere to it, or who claim to adhere to it, behave. But we cant reduce a philosophy to a study of biography. Ideas have analytical integrity quite apart from the people who enunciate them. And this is coming from a writer who has enormous respect for the necessity of placing intellectual figures in both a personal and historical context so as to better appreciate the process by which such figures came to their conclusions."

Nonetheless, the "commingling" of biography and philosophy continues, especially in discussions of Rand's work. The most recent example of this comes from Commentary magazine, in which Algis Valiunas attempts to dissect "the work of the high priestess of reason," whose "centenary has gone uncelebrated."

Hogwash! As my own Centenary articles make clear, the Rand Centenary attracted quite a bit of coverage. As I wrote: "Every publication from ReasonThe Free Radical, and The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies to the Chicago TribuneBoston GlobePhiladelphia Inquirer, and New York Times featured something of significance in its pages. There were sponsored parties and panel discussions from California to New York to the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C."

But disparaging the Centenary isn't Valiunas's purpose; it's disparaging Rand's person as a means to disparaging her ideas that is most obvious here:

In Rand's psychology, reason unfailingly determines emotion, never the other way around. But in her own erotic life Rand was at the mercy of a turbulent unreason that pulled her under even as she burbled on about her unimpeachable rationality. As she could only love an extraordinary man, she endowed the man she married, Frank O'Connor, with all the qualities of a hero, even of a god. In fact, in almost everyone's eyes but hers, O'Connor, a failure as a movie actor, was a raging mediocrity. At the age of forty-nine, Rand fell for yet another god, Nathaniel Branden, the husband of her biographer and himself a disciple younger than she by 25 years. She expounded the perfect reasonableness of their adultery to each of the injured spouses, whom she expected reasonably to accept their twice-weekly scheduled trysts in the bedroom she shared with her husband. After years of this, the Brandens' marriage collapsed and Rand's husband swirled down the alcoholic drain. When Rand was sixty-one and Branden thirty-six, the sexual fire went out for him and he found a younger lover. Rand nearly went insane in her jealousy. Maintaining that she was entirely reasonable and right, and Branden purely evil, she destroyed his professional reputation and banished him from the Randian kingdom where he had been until then the crown prince. Heroic reason, heroic freedom, heroic love ended, as they began, in folly.

As I mentioned in my critique of Valliant's book, I have devoted only a few paragraphs in toto, in all of my Rand scholarship, to the discussion of the Rand-Branden Affair. When the critics focus on this Affair and reify it as if it were a whole unto itself, one must begin to question precisely what this strategy seeks to accomplish. They wouldn't do this typically with Plato, Kant, or Hegel, would they?

As Rand once said: "Don't bother to examine a folly, ask yourself only what it accomplishes."

Of course, we live in a culture that encourages a focus on prurient interests; that's why tabloids sell so well. And it's fairly typical that discussions of Rand end up becoming discussions of Rand's life. In these instances, however, biography doesn't supplement a discussion of ideas; it often supplants that discussion entirely. Even the New York Times, which has reviewed many Rand works, has never actually reviewed any books about Rand, unless those books are of a biographical character. Reading the Times, one would not even know that there is a growing secondary literature, a veritable industry, of scholarship focused on Rand's ideas.

As I acknowledged in my review of Valliant's book, "[t]he particular charges concerning Rands sex life can be traced to claims made in the Branden books. That much is true." But these charges are almost always used by others as the veneer to cover up an essentially ideological opposition. Back to Valiunas:

What is one to make of it all? In Rand, soundness and charlatanry commingle. In the end, charlatanry prevails. Having learned the lessons of socialist dystopia on her own body, she embraces a utopian fantasy of her own ... In her passion to reshape the world in accordance with her idea, Rand begins to sound like the tyrants she hates. Her capitalist revolutionaries speak of their opponents as "subhuman creatures," "looting lice." Galt's radio address to the nationhe has commandeered the airwaves by some electronic magicis positively Castrolike in its mad zealotry, running to over 50 pages and unfolding every half-truth and alluring lunacy Rand ever entertained. ... But compassion disgusts Rand; John Galt scorns it as love of the unworthy, a triumph of sloppy feeling over lucid reason. This is no doubt why, for all her continued popularity, Rand is anything but a commanding figure these days. Very few conservatives want any part of her, for she is the conservative bogeyman that liberals invoke to terrify their children: money-worshipping, absorbed in the pursuit of her own happiness, indifferent to the pain of others. Though she will no doubt continue to sell-there are certain effects she brings off as well as anyone, and they haye their undeniable appealit is hardly a matter for regret that her centenary has gone largely unmarked.

Now, even if Valiunas is absolutely correct in every assertion (and these are assertions, since nowhere does Valiunas actually provide any argument), what "commingles" here is ad hominem and an essential hatred of Rand's intellectual body of work.

If only more mainstream critics would focus on that body ... instead of, literally, Rand's body, or Branden's body, the state of Rand criticism and critical engagement would advance considerably. I know we are working very hard at The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies to advance that critical engagement (information about our new Fall 2005 issue will be posted here at Notablog on Tuesday, September 13, 2005). But more work needs to be done.

In any event, even if one wishes to focus on Rand biography, or on the particular issues surrounding the Rand-Branden Affair, then it is incumbent upon the critic to focus on all the material now available. Whatever one thinks about the Valliant book, I do believe that the publication of Rand's private journals changes the landscape considerably in any discussion of this particular aspect of Rand's biography. If Valiunas wishes to indict Rand's philosophy by assassinating her character, then it's important for Valiunas to at least weigh the evidence that is now available to scholars on this subject, for better or for worse. And though I have been intensely critical of how Rand's private papers have been edited up till now (see herehere, and here), I stand by my expressed belief that there is no reason to doubt the quality of Valliant's editing of those papers in his book. One may quibble with Valliant's parenthetical interpretive remarks. And one may still long for the unedited publication of all of Rand's private papers. But, in his publication of Rand's notes, Valliant is very careful to place any changes or substitutions in [brackets], unlike previous editors of Rand's letters, journals, and lectures. Such editors do not realize that their attempts to smooth out some of Rand's previously unpublished materials lead those of us who have not seen these materials to question their full authenticity.

Quite clearly, Valliant's book and my review of it are not the last words on this subject. Nor was my review or the lengthy dialogue on Notablog the last word on his book. In describing what is the essence of the "hermeneutical" enterprise, I state in my review:

The publication of [Rand's private] journals, however, will have unintended consequences; any published text is liable to generate such consequences, since it will be read and interpreted by many different people, each of whom brings a given context of knowledge and experience to the reading. And whereas people have been reading the Branden books and analyzing them for years, I suspect that even clinical psychologists will now have a field day poring over Rand's personal journals.

And so... the dissection of Rand's private life is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

In fact, Rand's private life has now been made the subject of a comic book! Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey have just published this past June the newest installment of their "Action Philosophers" series. This one is an "All-Sex Special" that focuses on "the shocking contradiction of Thomas Jefferson," the "Hard-Drinkin', Hard-Lovin' Saint Augustine," and "Ayn Rand's Non-Objectivist Love Affair." Oy.

The cover design for Issue #2 of this series only hints at the contents. The comic tells the story of Rand's life from her beginnings in Russia. In the context of a comic book, it accurately renders Rand's thinking, but the last two pages of it tell the story of the Affair. And on that note, Van Lente concludes: "Rand liked to say that modern culture 'seemed totally indifferent to my ideas and to ideas in general.' She made sure that that would be a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Van Lente provides us with a "Recommended Reading" list at the end, which includes The Virtue of Selfishness. Though he "find[s] Rand's novels turgid and dated (the plot of Atlas Shrugged hinges upon the centrality of passenger railroads to the American economy, for example)," he believes "she is perhaps the most entertaining writer of philosophy since Nietzsche (whom she rejects as a non-rational pseudo-hedonist)."

The Rand-Branden Affair is not going away. And the rancor and divisiveness it provokes won't dissipate, I suspect, for a few generations. All the more reason for Rand scholars to insist that critics adopt a scrupulous focus on ideas in their engagement with Rand's philosophy. And if their subject is Rand biography, then they should do their best to assess all the information now at our disposal.

To reiterate: There is a place for biography and there is always a place for situating ideas in a larger historical context. But I don't think it serves the cause of Marxist criticism, for example, to criticize Marx's private life as a means toward criticizing his analytical framework. This tactic has been adopted by some critics of Marx (Gary North's essay, "The Marx Nobody Knows," published in the Yuri N. Maltsev volume, Requiem for Marx, and available as an mp3, comes to mind).

That kind of thing may be of interest to our understanding of the development of an idea. But it serves no purpose in grappling with the complexity of Marx's legacy.

If, in the future, Rand's legacy is treated with the same critical respect that has been given Marx's, it will be no small achievement.

Comments welcome.

Posted by chris at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (16) | Posted to Dialectics Rand Studies


Nice post. Another annoying thing about this sort of attack is the idea that Atlas Shrugged is "dated" because railroads figure so prominently. (I've heard similar criticisms of The Fountainhead, re her lionizing of modernist architecture.) That's like saying "Shane" is dated, because of the centrality of horesback riding. Total missing of the point. But it seems people are only this obtuse about Rand's novels, because they have decided a priori that they must be bad, inasmuch as they were written by Rand.

Posted by: Aeon J. Skoble | September 9, 2005 01:12 PM

Your insights here are profound and should not be overlooked. I can only express my desire that you (and other scholars) be granted the same access to the Rand materials that was given so generously to me.

Posted by: James Valliant | September 9, 2005 01:13 PM

Thanks, Aeon and James, for your comments.

Of course, it helps that Aeon illustrates his point with "Shane"... which is one of my favorite Westerns. :)

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 9, 2005 04:51 PM

Chris, your post was, for me, cathartic. I vicariously enjoyed getting that off my chest.

I vaguely remember someone writing about Marx and his neglecting his family or was that Rousseau? And I remember reading about Einstein not being the best of fathers. Such a gossipy focus, as a way of discrediting ideas, is embarrassing to watch.

Posted by: Jason Pappas | September 9, 2005 10:48 PM

I enjoyed your post. I think people forget that the purpose of a philosophy is to guide you. Since we are falliable creatures, we are not always going to make the most reasonable choices. It is philosophy's job to help us know when we have made an error. In Rand's novel's she has characters that have an error in their thinking. Forexample, there is dagny who contiues to have an error in thinking up till the end. John Galt does not give up on her because she has the qualities he looks for and the potential to overcome her mistake. The old saying "don't throw out the baby with the bath water," comes to mind. I personally have never looked at Ayn Rand as perfect, however she strove to live up to her ideals, and that is honorable. As well as the huge contribution she has made to the world.

P.S. Chris, you write so well. I want to improve my writing skills for articles and non-fiction/fiction books. I was wondering if you can recommend any resources i.e. websites, or books to read.

Posted by: Kamarat McWashington | September 11, 2005 11:20 AM

Rand�s life as entertainment, as pure theater, will always hold hypnotic fascination, and that is especially true of the Rand & Branden relationship. That part of her life is probably better left to playwrights and novelists. That instead it has been vigorously taken up by those with a prosecutorial or tabloid bent is at least partly due to Rand�s own influence: rendering moral judgment has been a central implication of her philosophy, and a constant theme of her and many of her followers. However, it�s a bit whiny to make moral judgment such an issue, and then be surprised and outraged when others judge by using a standard of morality imbued in the culture for several centuries prior to one�s own ethical advances. A little objective study of how long it takes a culture to change its basic moral principles might provide a bit of perspective here. As a parenthetical note to that last point, a book recommended by Objectivists in the past, namely Crane Brinton�s History of Western Morals, is helpful here.

I would also take issue with the �don�t bother to examine a folly, ask yourself only what it accomplishes�. To the extent the Valiunas is an extended ad hominem (and I am not convinced that is all he is up to), it is surely somewhat interesting that a fallacy that was identified so many centuries ago can have such appeal today in a magazine such as Commentary. That magazine is neither edited nor read by ignorant fools. What ad hominem is intended to accomplish is always clear, but why it is so appealing even at this late date to apparent intellectual sophisticates is surely a bit of an interesting mystery. How can such people believe that it will actually succeed? It makes me wonder, to use another method that Rand favored: what are the users of such a fallacy counting on? We might also ask: do they really see themselves as using this fallacy?

Anyway, Valiunas� article is more in the vein of a kind of profile that is not uncommon in Commentary and other places. It amounts to this: if we put this character�s life up against what we (as in �our group here�) generally agree upon are our shared values and principles, how does this person measure up? Objectivists and non-objectivists do it. When non-objectivists do it to Rand, that may produce a judgment that objectivists find objectionable, but one cannot simply dismiss it as fallacy. It is something objectivists and Objectivists are going have to deal with for a very long time in the battle for the culture. Better to attack the principles that give rise to the erroneous aspects of the judgment, than simply attack it as an example of ad hominem. For, in the end, it is probably not fallacious to Valiunas, and calling it fallacious will carry little weight in argument with him, or with those even modestly sympathetic to him.

Posted by: Cliff Styles | September 13, 2005 08:26 PM

Cliff, thanks for your comments here. You make a number of very interesting points that I'll respond to briefly.

Rand�s life has actually been portrayed "as pure theater," in such movies as "The Passion of Ayn Rand," with Helen Mirren, and in such plays as The Emotionalists, which was written by Sky Gilbert. There was an exchange between Karen Michalson and Gilbert in the Spring 2004 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies on this very subject (see the abstracts here).

And Lord knows, people will be talking about the theatricality of Rand's life for a very long time to come.

And I agree with you that Rand's own approach has had an influence on those who wish to apply the same judgments to Rand's own life. But my essay is not "whiny" on this subject at all (and, in fact, I don't even identify myself as an "Objectivist"); all I've said is that if critics are going to focus on that life by selecting only evidence that is available in, say, the Barbara Branden biography or in the Nathaniel Branden memoir, then they're only getting one part of a complex picture. There are now other sources available, which require critics and scholars to weigh the evidence in coming to any judgment about Rand's life. They may come to the same judgment as before, but I won't accuse them of not looking at all the evidence, that is, I won't accuse of them of being anything less than scholarly.

I agree with you completely that it takes cultures a very long time to change their basic moral principles. To make my own parenthetical point, that insight is partially what has motivated my own critique of the attempts of neoconservatives to build "liberal democracy" in societies that have few or none of the cultural prerequisites that nourish liberalism.

As for the issue of "don�t bother to examine a folly, ask yourself only what it accomplishes": I don't believe that Commentary is a magazine written, edited, or read by fools. I can't imagine that Valiunas would admit to using this ad hominem fallacy; but I think it is clear that Valiunas's indictment of Rand's character and life is part of a much larger rejection of Rand's philosophy. All I'm saying is: That philosophy should be accepted or rejected on the basis of an analysis of its core ideas, not on the question of whether Rand herself lived up to its principles.

I have---and would---give the same respect to any other thinker, including Karl Marx, whom I mention in my essay, and who was one of the subjects of my book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. My critique of Marx in that book is a critique of Marx's ideas, not a critique of his family life, or how well he treated his wife, or the fact that he was supported much by his pal, Frederick Engels.

I do agree that it's important to focus on "the principles that give rise to the erroneous aspects of the judgment"; in fact, as I suggest here, I welcome an ideological battle. I would prefer that the battle remain ideological.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 13, 2005 09:29 PM

I also wanted to thank Jason and Kamarat McWashington for their comments.

Jason, I think it may have been Marx that you're talking about (but I don't know enough about Rousseau's life to say one way or the other).

Kamarat, thanks too for your comments, and for your kind words about my writing.

As for resources on writing: It's hard to suggest style guides, since style is such a personal thing. Since this thread is about Rand, I should certainly mention Rand's own guides, derived from her lectures on fiction-writing and nonfiction-writing: The Art of Fiction and The Art of Nonfiction. See my own essay on the latter book, here. In that regard, I emphasize several points:

1. Place a priority not only on doing in-depth research on the object of your inquiry, but also on organizing your research methodically.
2. Know what you want to say.
3. Know your audience, its interests, level of knowledge, its context.

On the purely stylistic issues, just let your writing develop "organically." Go with the flow; worry about "editing" later.

I'll be writing more about this on Notablog over time for sure.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 13, 2005 09:49 PM

Chris, a quick note in response:

My comment about whining was not directed at your essay, though I can certainly see now that your thinking I suggested such is reasonable from your point of view. I blush at my own failure to appreciate your context here, and at the condescending tone it has in the light of the next day. I have great respect for your scholarship and objectivity, and your genial fair-mindedness. I can�t remember any whining from any of your writing. I apologize, and can only offer the lame excuse that I did it in a rush. I had in mind those lame objectivists who argue thusly: �Ayn Rand stood for the good, judge her enemies accordingly�. Such people simply don�t deal with the Valiunases of the world, but inhabit their own aerie, apart from the rest of us. Might one say that they are in but not of the objectivist movement?

Having said that, I now find that I do have a bit of residual uneasiness with your desire that Rand be fought over as an ideological battle. It may be a more reasonable expectation with respect to Marx, since he was mainly interested in determinist politics, but Rand had a great deal to say about ethics, human nature, and the consequences of personal choice. It seems to me that when one enters that territory, when one proposes oneself as a leader in that area, that it is reasonable to expect that people will be deeply interested in personal actions. They will also make their judgments in the light of both their own standards, and/or Rand�s own standards. This is not simply the tabloid mind at work, but a grappling with the problems of acting in accordance with professed principles. What I am trying to get at is that an evaluation of the personal actions of any moral guide is relevant to the ideological battle, and not simply an example of ad hominem. In fact, it�s a sort of inductive evidence of the value of said principles. It�s also something every one of us deals with, in ourselves, every day.

I would like to add, as a final antidote for you to the dismaying condescension in my previous comment, that your own struggles in this regard have been evident in your scholarly writing and in your daily commentary, and your reasonableness seems to win an enviable percentage of the time. I, like many others, flatly admire that, without reservation.

Posted by: Cliff Styles | September 14, 2005 01:07 PM

Hey, Cliff, as we say: "No harm, no foul." I appreciate your explanation and such.

I have seen some people who have behaved, at least implicitly, according to the premises you suggest. I've seen too many people who self-identify as "Objectivists" and who refuse to debate their intellectual adversaries for fear of "sanctioning" the opposition.

Of course, that's not where I come from: More often than not, I jump into the fray, and almost always focus on the intellectual and theoretical issues in question.

I do agree with you wholeheartedly that "every one of us deals with" the issue of consistency between principle and practice in our own lives, especially those of us who fight any alleged dichotomy between theory and practice, the moral and the prudent.

I wonder, though, how much of what you say about weighing intellectual and personal evaluation is a function of time, that is, of the fact that Rand is a relatively recent thinker whose biography is still fresh in the minds of admirers and critics, many of whom knew her personally.

Biography always helps us to contextualize ideas, both in terms of the personal life of the thinker and the historical period in which they wrote.

But except for a few studies about "Queer Wittgenstein" or about some of the ancient Greek thinkers' sexual proclivities, most scholarship on canonical philosophers focuses on their ideas, not on whether or not they themselves lived up to their philosophical premises. In commenting on Kant's ethics, how many writers focus on Kant's personal relationships with others? In commenting on Aristotle's ethics, how many published discussions focus on whether Aristotle himself was a "great-souled man"?

I'm not saying that such discussions are irrelevant; as I say in this very essay, Rand's own statement, "And I mean it," as a postscript to Atlas Shruggedinvites a biographical analysis.

Again, perhaps the focus on Rand's personal life is to be expected at this point in time because many of her contemporaries are still alive, and many people still have a "personal" stake in fighting the battle over her alleged virtues or vices. In time, however, I suspect that this whole realm of discussion will take a backseat to the more important debates over issues in Rand's epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and politics.

Eventually, if the ideas are worth anything, it is the ideas that will outlive considerations of the personal character of the individual who first enunciated them.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 14, 2005 07:33 PM

Sciabarra's comments: "If only more mainstream critics would focus on that body ... instead of, literally, Rand's body, or Branden's body..." though probably intended as humor demonstrates a constant misleading theme in the criticism of Valiant's book.

The book has nothing to do with bodies, but is solely concerned with Rand's integrity and the Brandon's lack of same. Unless one finds something erotic in the word "affair."

Almost no one cares if they had an affair, but everyone should care if they had integrity. Rand's integrity is worth carring about---and defending.

References to "caring about their bodies" creates distortion. Although I certainly agree that Rand's philosophy stands on it's own regardless of Rand's personal triumphs or the lack thereof.

Posted by: St, eve | September 19, 2005 12:53 AM

Ste, eve, while I agree that the argument is, in fact, over Rand's integrity as a person (Valliant's book makes that clear too), I, personally, would prefer to focus on the ideas themselves.

I think that once you open this can of worms, especially with mainstream critics who reject Rand's moral framework to begin with, you end up in an endless debate over Rand's "consistency" or "hypocrisy," which, for me, tells us nothing, ultimately, about the integrity of her philosophic system. As you suggest, that integrity does not stand or fall with Rand's personal "triumphs" (or "failures" for that matter). And, as I've explained, I treat other thinkers in the same manner---not evaluating their philosophic legacy by (or reducing it to) their own ability (or inability) to practice what they preach.

Fortunately, we do have an intellectual division of labor, and there are plenty of others who prefer to focus on those personal dynamics. I'm not saying that that focus is illegitimate; it's just not mine.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 19, 2005 08:17 AM

Thank you for your response. I never posted here, or anywhere, before. I do benefit from reading your many thought provoking articles.

Two somewhat unrelated points I would like to make, neither of which really disagree with your above comment.

In my selfish desire to live in a world that shares my values, I want people to read Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged without the immediate mind block that "she's an atheist" or "she's a libertarian" (of course Rand was not a libertarian). The Brandons' messages have just added to the distortion by claiming she is a hypocrite. More far reaching, if it weren't clarified by Valient's book, historians will be distracted by the Brandons.

A second point. It is interesting to analyze NB's lie to Rand (at least as it is memorizlized through Rand's notes and NB's own accounts). Much discussion has focused on that NB lied, but not much discussion on the type of lie he chose to tell. If NB understood objectivism he never would have chosen the lie he told. The fact NB lied is proof NB was not acting as an Objectivist.

Assuming that the purpose of NB's lie was to fool Rand into believing that NB was an objectivist and was still romantically interested in Rand, NB told a lie that virtually confessed he was neither. NB provides Rand with information from which Rand could only conclude that NB did not know his highest values and he had drifted for a long time without knowing his highest values. There is no objectivist romance without an absolute clarity of one's highest values.

An objectivist can be factually or logically incorrect about his values and seek to change or amend them----but drifting is not within objectivist morality any more than choosing not to think is within Objectivist morality.

NB's discussion of a hypothetical third person is a virtual confession that he did not understand Rand's philosophy. [Dagny held Reardon as her highest value (although she would not have used that term then) until she met Gault. Dagny did not "drift" or feel any need to lie. Dagny had no concern about "how Reardon would react."]

NB's lie to Rand demonstrates a "libertarian rights" analysis of values not an objectivist sense of life. NB's self-defense focuses on Rand having no right to prevent his affairs and no right to impose an onerous and extreme punishment for NB's affair. Of course Rand had no "right" to prevent NB from having affairs, and no "right" to impose an unfair or extreme punishment. (Rand did have a right not to be lied to.)

Objectivism shares the libertarian recognition of not invading the rights of another. However, Objectivist morality requires far more than avoiding violating another's rights. An objectvist lives in accord with his values at all times because he has chosen those values as his own. Integrity to another is important, but integrity to oneself is paramount.

NB's focus in his relationship with Rand, or anyone else, per force must be on seeking his own highest values, or it is not moral. One should be faithful to a lover, becuase they are one's own highest value, not because they "made a commitment" or "a promise."

An objectivist stays in a relationship because that relationship is an expression of the values he chose, not out of some obligation that arises because his partner also chose him. An objectivist has integrity in a relationship primarily out of a commitment to his own values, and not primarily because he does not want to tread on his partner's rights.

To lie is not per se immoral. In order to judge, one must know all the facts. As you wrote in an earlier article, relationships are very complex, it is usually not worth my effort to unravel someone else's relationship in order to make such a judgment.

However, to not act in accord with one's own highest values is per se immoral. Of course, NB, or anyone else, is free to not be an objectist, and as long as they repect the rights of others, that is fine with me. NB had no libertarian duty to hold onto his highest values. NB was immoral as an objectivist to not do so.

The lack of integrity that Valiant's book exposes is that that NB did not act consistently with his own chosen values, and was in that sense immoral. Those who focus on a "rights" analysis focus on the lie to Rand as the primary immorality, as it invaded her rights to make a free, informed choice about her relationship with NB.

As is easy to see from Rand's notes, NB's lies, quickly alerted Rand that NB was not following objectivist morality. NB's belief that it was necessary to lie to Rand, shows he didn't understand objectivist morality. Once Rand was no longer NB's highest value, Rand would of course accept that fact. [If Reardon sought revenge on Dagney or Gault, I must have missed that part.] NB's primary concern at all times should have been on seeking NB's highest values.

For NB to claim that Rand would not or could not accept that she was no longer NB's highest value, is the equivilant of saying that Rand really did not understand objectivist morality. NB would then be lying to Rand to convince her that she was his highest value, in order to preserve his ability to help Rand decieve the public about an objectivist philosophy that neither she nor NB apparently had much faith in. Yes, it is just that preposterous.

One has merely to ask, exactly what highest value was NB seeking to achieve or preserve by his fraudulent therapy sessions with Rand?

Rand's notes show that Rand really did "mean it."

Posted by: st, eve | September 20, 2005 07:13 AM

ste, eve, thanks again for your response here. I'm somewhat honored that you've not only never posted here, but anywhere before. Please feel free to come back and leave comments here at Notablog any time.

As to your comments, just a few points in response, which take us slightly off-topic.

1. You state that "of course Rand was not a libertarian." I agree that Rand never defined her mature political views as "libertarian." But I still titled the tenth chapter of my book Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, "A Libertarian Politics" for a reason. As I have said in my other book, Total Freedom: Libertarianism is simply the political ideology of voluntarism: a commitment to voluntary action in a social context, where no individual or groups of individuals can legitimately initiate force against others. It's the modern equivalent of classical liberalism insofar as it is a celebration of the rule of law, and the free exchange of goods, services, and ideas.

Granted: the above definition/description is wide enough to include anarchists who celebrate the rule of law achieved through a "competitive" legal framework.

But "egoism" is the moral theory that roots morality in self-interest... and that is wide enough to include philosophers as different as Nietzsche, Stirner, and Rand.

And "capitalism" is a social system in which all property is privately owned ... but that leaves us with many unexamined implications too... not to mention the fact that most people would argue that Adam Smith, Carl Menger, Herbert Spencer, William G. Sumner, Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman are all advocates of "free market capitalism."

But none of this stopped Rand from proclaiming a "new concept of egoism" or defending "capitalism" as an "unknown ideal."

In a sense, Rand's exploration of capitalism and egoism is an exploration of each of them as "unknown ideals"---since all prior conceptions of these terms were either wrong, or, at best, incomplete.

But I'd say the same about libertarianism; and at one time, Rand herself even used the word "libertarian" to describe her own politics (and the politics of those like Mises). It was only when the word became intensely identified with anarchists that she turned so violently against it.

In any event, for me, the bottom line: If it is legitimate to call Rand an "egoist," or a defender of "capitalism" ... then it is legitimate to call her a "libertarian" in her politics.

All of this said, I almost never characterize myself as a "libertarian" without qualification; one of my reasons for using the phrase "dialectical libertarianism" is that it does place me in, well, a different category altogether. :) In fact, few people would be caught dead uttering these words in the same sentence. :)

Anyway, that's just my take on it. (I'm not now and I have never been a member of the Libertarian Party; I think there is a distinction between upper-case Libertarian, in this context, and lower-case libertarian.)

2. With regard to your discussion of Rand and the Brandens: I discuss this at length in my review of Valliant's book here and there's a lively discussion that this provoked here. I am not wanting to re-open that discussion (it still goes down as the lengthiest thread in the history of Notablog), but I wanted you to at least be aware of my thoughts on the subject.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 20, 2005 01:42 PM

I didn't respond until I had a chance to fully re-read your RPH article. I'd like to respond to two issues. NB and the label "liberarian." That label itself can be an ad hominem attack, in some circles.

By the way, I am not judging NB, except in the limited context of his deception of Rand and the unfortunate effects caused by NB's discrediting or Rand. Of course, that is the only context that is relevant to me. I assume NB was an intellectual giant and a great man, or Rand would not have spent so much time with him, or held him in such high esteem. I don't think I will ever personally know enough to understand the nature of the relationship between them-----besides I'm much more interested in understanding the relationship between Dominique and Roark.

RPH is an excellent article {It's what originally brought me to your site} and I agree with many of your major points. However, I think perhaps my previous post was not sufficiently clear.

I was not pointing out that NB was immoral to lie. That point is not only obvious, but you already said it. Heck, Valliant and NB wrote books about it.

I was trying to make a new point about NB's attack of Rand; i.e., that the lie itself was flawed and exposed NB's objectivist errors. Since even my friends think I'm not sufficiently clear, I developed an analogy that I think makes my point, if you have the patience to read on.

An example: If X tried to empress Kant that X was an altruist by making the following false claim: "I risked my life to save my son from drowning, but unfortunately I had to let the stranger next to my son drown." X would be immoral to lie in order to achieve a false social metaphysical value of Kant's approval. However, X would also be demonstrating X did not understand Kant's version of altuism-----that Kant would prefer that X let X's son drown, save the stranger, and then tell no one, nor even feel proud. The correct lie to Kant would be to pay someone to tell Kant that "X had let his son drown to save a stranger but X didn't want anyone to know. The anology holds the same whether the liar, X, wanted to actually be a Kantian altruist, or was a wanna-be Objectivist.

The same can be said about NB's deception to Rand. It was a lie that exposed that NB did not uderstand that his fabricated story exposed his lack of understanding of Objectivist values. One example is repeated by you in RPH. The possibility of a Ms. X. Perhaps this explanation would make my previous post more clear.

I've said enough about that for now at least. I also want to respect your "division of labor in philosophy."

The libertarian issue. To me, libertarianism is a bit like a manual on how to sail a boat. It provides some excellent basic sailing rules, but it provides no quidance on where to go. Since the whole point of my life is to decide "where to go" the moral values as expressed by objectivism are indispensible to me.

Another concern of mine, is that I view libertarians, as sometimes tending to be intrinsicists. With no overarching moral theory, the libertarian rules can be come the equivilant of the book of Moses (the Milton Freedman tablets?). Hedonists and anarchists are examples. I don't think that the istrinsisim is intentional, but is the result of not begining with Rand's egoism. To respect the rights of others is great, but it doesn't help me decide what to do with my life.

I enjoyed your "capitalist" example. Adam Smith was a near mystic with his "invisible hand" explanation. Mises and Hayek may have staved off the Dark Ages by exposing the dangers of government controlled economies, but were still altruists in a sense. I think only Rand defended capitalism on moral grounds.

However, as far as capitalism goes, none of them held a position that was contrary to capitlism, therefore they all fairly come within the concept of "capitalist." (as you defined it.) I believe the label libertarian is insconsistent with objectism, even though they share "the rules of sailing."

HOWEVER, I will add chapter 10 of your book to my reading list, and give the issue some more thought.

Posted by: st, eve | September 23, 2005 11:25 PM

Your comments on the Branden issue were thought-provoking. At the very least, I certainly do agree that NB's choices at that time showed a 'disconnect' between his enunciated understanding of abstract principles and his lack of integration or application of said principles into the context of his own life.

On libertarianism and intrinsicism: I think you're right that there are so many libertarians who approach the whole issue of freedom from an intrinsicist perspective. And it undercuts, in my view, their very commitment to freedom.

But I still think one can use the word "libertarianism" in a very general sense in the way I've described---even as one emphasizes that such a doctrine be based on objective premises.

One of the reasons I've called myself a "dialectical libertarian," btw, is precisely because I almost have an aversion to using either word without qualification. :)

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 24, 2005 11:20 AM


Song of the Day #389

Song of the DayTheTwilight Zone boasted two distinct main titles and both were wonderful in that "other dimension" sort of way. The original "Main Title," which debuted in Season One, was composed by the great Bernard Herrmann; the alternate theme, which debuted in Season Two and became quite famous, was written by French avant-garde composer Marius Constant. That theme was actually an integration of two of Constant's compositions: "Etrange #3" and "Milieu #2." Episodes of this terrific Rod Serling show were scored by HerrmannJerry GoldsmithNathan Van CleaveFred SteinerLeonard RosenmanJeff Alexander, and Franz Waxman, among others. Listen to audio clips of the main titles and other themes here.

Posted by chris at 09:20 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 08, 2005

The New Aristos

The new Aristos has been posted here. As readers know, it is now an online journal of the arts, edited by Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kamhi, both of whom have been contributors to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

Of course, I noticed immediately that Lou and Michelle had some very kind words of praise on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. Those reflections are posted on their "Notes and Comments" page.

All in all, a good read.

Posted by chris at 08:10 AM | Permalink | Posted to Periodicals

WTC Remembrance: Patrick Burke, Educator

Starting in 2001, I began an annual series that I entitled: "Remembering the World Trade Center." I subsequently posted my comments "As It Happened," and I have revisited the subject each year: in 2002, a tribute to "New York, New York"; in 2003, a tribute to the World Trade Center; in 2004, reflections on the tragedy by "My Friend Ray."

I will be posting these remembrances for as long as I can. "Never Forget" is no cliche here. It is a matter of life and death.

This year, as we near the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, I publish the fifth, and newest, installment of my series:

"Patrick Burke, Educator"

Patrick was previously interviewed, briefly, by The Advocate for that magazine's October 23, 2001 issue. He was the principal of the public high school closest to Ground Zero. I am honored that he agreed to have this discussion. It is an important one.

Update: I've heard from Patrick, who tells me that a 20-minute documentary film was recently made that depicts the therapeutic art project (referenced in the interview) conducted by St. Vincent's Hospital at the High School of Economics & Finance on the anniversaries of 9/11. That film will have its premier at the Museum of the City of New York (Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street) at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, September 11, 2005. The program will begin with a musical segment followed by the film at 3:00 p.m. and then a Q & A session. The event should conclude by around 3:30 p.m. It is open to the general public. The film will also be shown at a number of locations across the country.

Comments welcome. Noted also at L&P and the Ayn Rand Meta Blog.

Posted by chris at 07:34 AM | Permalink | Posted to Education Remembrance

Song of the Day #388

Song of the DayStar Trek ("Main Title"), composed by Alexander Courage, opened up every episode of the classic sci-fi series. Listen to an audio clip of this theme here. I also like a version by the Maynard Ferguson Big Band (audio clip at that link). [William Shatner performed this theme on the 2005 Emmy Awards telecast with opera star Frederica von Stade.]

Posted by chris at 06:55 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 07, 2005

Song of the Day #387

Song of the DayThe Jackie Gleason Show (aka "Melancholy Serenade"), composed by "The Great One," Jackie Gleason, for his CBS-TV show, is one of those recognizable television themes. It was a glorious show in its heyday, one that gave birth to classic characters from Reginald Van Gleason III and the Poor Soul to Joe the Bartender and Ralph Kramden. And don't forget the June Taylor DancersGleason was also a composer and music producer. Listen to an audio clip of this theme here. Today kicks off twelve days of favorite TV themes, in anticipation of the Emmy Awards.

Posted by chris at 08:33 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 06, 2005

Santorum and Big Government Conservatism

For several years now, I have been going on and on about the continuing growth of the religious right in conservative circles. My antipathy to theocratic conservatism had been at fever pitch long before I wrote my essay, "Caught Up in the Rapture," which, with its sister essay, "Bush Wins!," predicted a Bush victory a good six months prior to the 2004 election.

In this context, a recent Jonathan Rauch essay, "America's Anti-Reagan isn't Hilary Clinton. It's Rick Santorum," has been making the rounds all over the blogosphere; it's a dissection of Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum's anti-libertarian philosophy. The fact that Santorum is a Roman Catholic only adds weight to my own long-time contention that a growing coalition of Catholic and Evangelical ideological blocs poses a threat to individual liberty in this country.

What one will not find in Rauch's essay, however, are two words: "Bush" and "Iraq." In my view, Santorum's new book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, is only the newest manifestation of a religious conservative movement, whose titular head is George W. Bush. Whereas the religious conservatives wish to remake the culture and politics of this country, the neoconservatives wish to remake the culture and politics of the Middle East. Together, these tendencies make for one very potent anti-libertarian, anti-individualist politics. As I wrote in my "Rapture" essay:

The Bush administration has thus become a focal point for the constellation of two crucial impulses in American politics that seek to remake the world: pietism and neoconservatism. The neocons, who come from a variety of religious backgrounds, trace their intellectual lineage to social democrats and Trotskyites, those who adopted the "God-builder" belief, prevalent in Russian Marxist and Silver Age millennial thought, that a perfect (socialist) society could be constructed as if from an Archimedean standpoint. The neocons may have repudiated Trotskys socialism, but they have simply adopted his constructivism to the project of building democratic nation-states among other groups of warring fundamentalistsin the Middle East.

Bush clearly believes that it is his role as President to change not only American culture but the tribalist cultures of nations abroad in the direction of democratic values. In an interview with Christianity Today, he asserts that "the job of a president is to help cultures change. ... I can be a voice of cultural change." This "cultural change," according to Bush, must begin "with promotingtaking care of your bodies to the point where we can promote a culture of life." It is from this essential principle that he derives his "position on abortion," and his advocacy of "the faith-based initiative," which "recognizes the rightful relationship between hearts and souls and government" (emphasis added).

Got that? For Bush, the role of government is to help construct "a culture of life" that protects the rights of fetuses and politically-funded religious social organizations. Whatever happened to the principle that the singular role of government is the protection of an actual human beings rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness?

For a man who once campaigned against the Clintonistas penchant for nation-building, Bush seems to have made the building of nations and the building of cultures a full-fledged state enterprise. Bushs maximthat "[t]he role of government is to help foster cultural change as well as to protect institutions in our society that are an important part of the culture"is an attempt to use politics as a cultural and religious tool. ...

It is quite revealing that, during his tenure, Bush has drawn lessons from the most activist Presidents in history: Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, Bush asserts, "gave his soul for the process" of taking America out of the Depression and into a world war against authoritarian tyranny.

What hope does a religiously based conservative administration have to inspire secular, liberal democracies in the Middle East when it is at war with both secularism and liberalism at home?

A recent NY Times article by Michael Ignatieff makes some of this clearer by reference to "Iranian Lessons." While the fundamentalist Shiite elements within Iranian society have embraced a "death cult," a younger generation of more liberal Iranians now longs "for 'a wall of separation' between religion and government, as Thomas Jefferson called it." These Iranians "found it puzzling, even disappointing, that religion and politics are not actually separate in the United States." Surprise, surprise. Ignatieff writes:

Democracy in Iran also means working free of what one student called ''the culture of dictatorship,'' a floating web of patriarchal controls over private life. All of the young people I talked to were under 30, invariably were living at home till marriage and were chafing under restrictions on their personal lives. For young women, living free means the right to choose whom you marry and how much hair to display around your hijab; it means leaving to get an M.B.A. in Australia and then coming back and running a business. For one young man, struggling to find how he might buy his way out of compulsory military service, it means the freedom, he confessed in a whisper, to be gay. Homosexuality is a crime in Iran, and seemingly the only time when conversations do become furtive, with anxious looks over shoulders, is when homosexuality is the topic.

The hostility toward homosexuality is not just a reflex of a deeply traditional family culture. The Shiite regime has waged a 26-year war on pleasures both homosexual and heterosexual. In Persian culture, however, the taste for pleasure runs deep. Just think of the music-making, dancing and the costumed beauty of the men and women in classical Persian miniatures. During the revolution, many of these Persian treasures were hacked off the walls of mosques and palaces by Shiite zealots.

Thankfully, Persian pleasure remains stubbornly alive. When I flew south from Tehran to Isfahan, the astounding capital of the Safavid shahs of the 17th century, I spent one night wandering along the exquisitely lighted vaulted bridges, watching men, not necessarily gay, stroll hand in hand, singing to each other and dancing beneath the arches, while families picnicked on the grass by the banks of the river and men and women passed a water pipe around. Though it cannot be much comfort to those who have to live, here and now, under public and private tyrannies, I came away from a night in Isfahan believing that Persian pleasure, in the long run, would outlast Shiite puritanism.

Give Santorum and his ilk a few years of unchecked political growth, and they'll start enacting laws that would make a Shiite fundamentalist proud. Ultimately, however, their battle is not primarily political; it is cultural. Make no mistake about it: The fundamentalists at home and abroad are at war with individualist culture.

Of course, the bout between secularism and religion is not specific to Iran or to America. It is a bout that is on grand display also within Iraq, that country which was "liberated" by the United States so that it might be free to pursue a majoritarian theocracy. With Shariah being bandied about as the governing code for women and marriage in the new Shiite-dominated government, it is no wonder that so many feel as if the US is "Off Course in Iraq." Yes, as Stephen J. Hadley and Frances Fragos Townsend put it here, "we face an enemy determined to destroy our way of life and substitute for it a fanatical vision of dictatorial and theocratic rule. At its root, the struggle is an ideological contest, a war of ideas that engages all of us, public servant and private citizen, regardless of nationality." But there is no way to "win" this war, ideologically or otherwise, when "our" side is so committed to compromising the very secular, liberal ideals necessary to victory. With mounting American casualties and mounting taxpayer-funded war expenditures, with growing rifts among Iraq's ethnic and religious groups, even some of the administration's former cheerleaders are fast abandoning any belief in the success of Iraqi "democracy." Frances Fukuyama, for example, who told us that we'd reached "the end of history" with the close of the Cold War, and who still fears premature US withdrawal from Iraq, had this to say:

The United States can control the situation militarily as long as it chooses to remain there in force, but our willingness to maintain the personnel levels necessary to stay the course is limited. The all-volunteer Army was never intended to fight a prolonged insurgency, and both the Army and Marine Corps face manpower and morale problems. While public support for staying in Iraq remains stable, powerful operational reasons are likely to drive the administration to lower force levels within the next year.

With the failure to secure Sunni support for the constitution and splits within the Shiite community, it seems increasingly unlikely that a strong and cohesive Iraqi government will be in place anytime soon. Indeed, the problem now will be to prevent Iraq's constituent groups from looking to their own militias rather than to the government for protection. ...

We do not know what outcome we will face in Iraq. We do know that four years after 9/11, our whole foreign policy seems destined to rise or fall on the outcome of a war only marginally related to the source of what befell us on that day. There was nothing inevitable about this. There is everything to be regretted about it.

But Fukuyama, who turned on the Bush administration prior to the last election, is still one of the neo-Hegelian founding fathers of today's neoconservatism, and it is this Republican administration's ideological marriage of neoconservative and religious conservative thought that is at the forefront of the very "Big Government Conservatism" at war with individual freedom.

There is only one remaining myth that must be put to rest. This "Big Government Conservatism" is not a fundamentally new development. As I wrote in this L&P post, "Brooks and the 'Progressive Conservative' Project," the GOP was never a "limited government" party to begin with. Yes, it has had its share of post-New Deal interventionist foes, and its Goldwater-Reagan libertarian rhetorical flashes, but in its inception, in its practice, in its essence, it has always been a party of Big Government. That some of today's conservatives are boldly embracing these "Big Government" roots, with a theocratic twist, is simply a return to the Republican Essence. As I put it back in August 2004:

... it is only in war that Bush has begun to solidify the "progressive conservative tradition," rooted in the neomercantilist politics of Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. This is the politics that forged government-sponsored "internal improvements" (today, we'd call it "building infrastructure"), the government socialization of risk, government subsidies for business, government land grants for railroads, and national bank cartelization and centralization.

Radical thinking is about integration; it is about connecting the dots dialectically, with an understanding of the full context within which each dot presupposes every other dot. And like the dots that make up a TV screen, it is only by viewing the whole that we can begin to grasp the reality before us.

It is only when we connect the dots between statist and religious barbarism that a genuine ideological revolution will begin to take shape, one that challenges fundamentally the zealots both at home and abroad.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted excerpt at L&P.

Posted by chris at 07:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | Posted to Culture Dialectics Politics (Theory, History, Now) Religion


Your point is well-taken about our chances for ultimate success in bringing secular government to Iraq--when we still struggle with this same issue ourselves.

Posted by: Jim Valliant | September 7, 2005 03:48 PM

Excelent post chris. I couldn�t agree more, except for a "little" detail. You usually speak of the alliance of neoconservatives and evangelical fundamentalists (and other religious conservative loons, Catholics mostly) as if both were different enteties. They are in the sense of their origins (neocons come from urban trotskiste or ex leftist intelectuals while MODERN fundies have a more rural southern background), but what is common among them is precisly their religious conexions. Neocons have -as i tried to show in my grade thesis- at least three mayor religious pillars supporting their ideology: neoorthodoxy, the eschatological remainings of communist though (where the unavoidable stablishment of paradise on earth was the dictatorship of the proletariat, and later, the rule of US values in the world), and the escahtologies inherent to US protestantism (with is invariable optimism, something I see also in secular libertarians as you), specially of evangelism (who, in its turn, has two conflicting eschatologies within it: the pessimistic premileniarism and the more optimist post milleniarism). You can see the religious conexions of neoconservative specially on Irving Kristol essays, which are very explicit and clear on the role and the key and fundamental role of religion in neocon though.

Posted by: Sergio Mndez | September 8, 2005 12:42 PM

Sergio, you make very good points here. I have argued, and do think, that there is overlap between neocon and religious conservative. Indeed, the millennial streak you point to was very deep in the Russian-Trotskyite tradition from which the early neocons drew.

But I do think that overlap does not mean that both groups are identical. There are neocons who are heavily influenced by evangelical Christianity, and who believe that the Middle East is the site of the End of Days, which is why they are supporters of the state of Israel: 'When the Jews return to Zion...' the Second Coming can't be far behind.

And there are neocons who are not Protestant or Christian at all, but actually Jewish. So, again, there are many interesting lines of thought that are "cross-pollinating" here. There are also neo-Straussians, democratic socialists, reformed New Dealers, and so forth. It's not a monolithic group by any stretch of the imagination.

Posted by: Chris Matthew Sciabarra | September 9, 2005 04:49 PM



After a week of watching, listening, and reading about one of the most painful episodes in the history of American life, I don't think there is much I can say that hasn't already been said, better. I remember Hurricane Camille, but the human and financial costs of Hurricane Katrina are likely to be the worst ever recorded in the United States. I am only thankful that friends and colleagues who lived in the area (including Journal of Ayn Rand Studies advisor, Eric Mack) survived the storm.

I've read a lot of very interesting, provocative, and instructive commentary from writers such as John TierneyStephen Murray, Radley Balko (e.g., herehere, and here), Will BunchWayne R. Dynes, first-person accounts by Geoffrey Allan Plauche (start here, and also see his links to many other interesting libertarian discussions here), and Arthur Silber (e.g., herehere and especially here, with links to that Aaron Broussard appearance on "Meet the Press," which was heartbreaking to watch this past Sunday morning).

I must admit that I am morally outraged by the racist crap that I've read, which poses as sociological analysis in the blogosphere, in such places as this, where we are told that the "plain fact" is that "African-Americans ... tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society." Hence, this writer asks, why are we surprised over the catastrophe of New Orleans? After all, the city is two-thirds black!

I have always appreciated explorations of the sociological effects of interventionism on generations of African Americans, who have been subjected to a history of statist and collectivist coercion, from the injustices of slavery, Jim Crow, and hateful and murderous discrimination to the nightmare of public education, institutionalized poverty, and bureaucratic welfarism. I have no doubt that some of these injustices have affected the social psychology of some African Americans, the way it would affect the social psychology of any other groups in this country, indeed, all groups, to the extent that each is both parasite and host in the grand war of all against all that statism breeds.

But to blame the horrors of New Orleans on the "poorer native judgment" of African Americans is to sink into a fetid pool even worse than the one that has engulfed that city.

Let's not forget either that interventionism creates the underclass it attempts to quell with its welfare policies. Let's not forget either that interventionism creates and bolsters the privileges of other classes and groups through an ever-evolving network of corporatist policies, both domestic and foreign. (As if to emphasize the domestic-foreign connection, Kenneth R. Bazinet informs us "that Vice President Cheney's former company, Halliburton, which has handled much of the repair work as well as support services for the U.S. military in Iraq, was hired to restore power and rebuild three naval facilities in Mississippi that were wrecked by Katrina.")

It would be ideal for local, state, and federal officials to get out of the way, to allow entrepreneurial ingenuity to save the devastated areas of the South. But the structures and institutions of the system will not allow for this. There is a supreme politico-economic boondoggle in the making, in which billions of taxpayer dollars will pass through various levels of government bureaucracy. As Errol Louis puts it: "Ten billion dollars are about to pass into the sticky hands of politicians in the No. 1 and No. 3 most corrupt states in America. Worried about looting? You ain't seen nothing yet."

In the perfect storm of its first few days, the response to Katrina has revealed too the utter failure of local, state, and federal officials to grapple with crisis. It is not very reassuring in this post-9/11 world. It is also not very reassuring to know that tens of thousands of National Guard troops continue to do the work of an international army (hat tip to Ilana Mercer), even as their services are required here at home. There is an inescapable connection between this administration's foreign policy adventure in Iraq and the drain on domestic human and financial resources.

I'd like to make one final observation.

Many readers know the depths of my anguish concerning the nightmare that unfolded in New York City on September 11, 2001. This Thursday, I will be posting the next installment of my annual World Trade Center tribute (the remembrances are archived on each tribute page, starting here).

I was asked by several readers if I thought the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina was worse than 9/11.

I think the question compares apples and oranges.

The devastation of a natural disaster of this magnitude (and the accompanying man-made mismanagement) is worse on almost every level: Concerning New Orleans alone, we have witnessed the virtual obliteration of an entire city, with economic effects that will last decades. The thousands of deaths, the billions of dollars in property lost or damaged beyond repair, are simply hard to fathom.

But on another level, of course, 9/11 is worse: It was an attack, an act of war, which, unlike a hurricane, caught its victims completely unaware. The mismanagement of pre-9/11 intelligence and post-9/11 foreign policy adds yet another dimension to the level of tragedy entailed.

I think it matters not, however, to those who have been victims of the respective tragedies, to engage in a fruitless debate over whose hurt, whose pain of loss, is worse. There are certain things over which people have no control. All that matters is that they improve their ability to manage the things they can control, so that disasters of any kind are not an occasion for yet one more day of national mourning.

Comments welcome. Mentioned at L&P.

Posted by chris at 12:54 PM | Permalink | Posted to Politics (Theory, History, Now)

Song of the Day #386

Song of the DayToo Close for Comfort, words and music by George WeissJerry Bock, and Lawrence Holofcener, is from the 1956 musical "Mr. Wonderful." It has been performed by many artists through the years. There have been many swinging versions of this song; for a sampling, listen to audio clips at the following links from Mel TormeElla Fitzgerald (here too), Patti AustinNatalie Cole, and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Posted by chris at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 05, 2005

Song of the Day #385

Song of the DayEmpty Faces (Vera Cruz) features the words and music of Milton NascimentoMarcio Borges, and Lani Hall. Listen to an audio clip of this song by the great Sarah Vaughan and an instrumental version by guitarist Jim Hall. My sister-in-law, Joanne Barry, does a terrific version of this song on the album, "Embraceable You." It's her birthday... much happiness, health, and love always!

Posted by chris at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 04, 2005

Song of the Day #384

Song of the DayI Can't Give You Anything But Love, music by Jimmy McHugh, lyrics by Dorothy Fields (the centenary of whose birth was marked in July), has been performed by many artists through the years. It debuted in a 1928 production, "Blackbirds of 1928," the longest-running black musical of the twenties. Listen to a few audio clips from the Quintet of the Hot Club of FranceElla Fitzgerald (which features the lovely introduction), and New Orleans native, Louis Armstrong.

Posted by chris at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 03, 2005

Song of the Day #383

Song of the DaySigns, produced by The Neptunes, sports an abundance of writing credits: C. BroadusP. WilliamsC. HugoL. SimmonsR. Taylor, and Charlie Wilson, from the Gap Band, whose vocals are unmistakable on the track. It can be found on Snoop Dogg's album, "R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece," and it also includes some Old Skool-influenced falsetto from Justin Timberlake. All in all, it's a funky throwback. Listen to an audio clip here.

Posted by chris at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 02, 2005

Song of the Day #382

Song of the DayI Was Made to Love Her is credited to Sylvia MoyHenry CosbyStevie Wonder, and Lulu Hardaway (Wonder's mother). It was the first Stevie Wonder 45 rpm recording that my sister ever bought, and it is one of her favorites till this day. And it's one of my favorites too. Happy birthday to my sister, my friend! Much love, health, and happiness always. Listen to an audio clip here.

Posted by chris at 08:12 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music

SEPTEMBER 01, 2005

Song of the Day #381

Song of the DayConcerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 24, composed by Miklos Rozsa, is one of my favorite Rozsa concert pieces. Listen to audio clips of all three movements from the debut recording by violinist Jascha Heifetz, and another recording by violinist Robert McDuffie. I saw this grand piece performed live with violin soloist Glenn Dicterow and the New York Philharmonic. What better way to celebrate the First Anniversary of "Song of the Day"! I'll be posting music favorites (sometimes more than one on a single day!) for as long as there's a song in my heart.

Posted by chris at 09:08 AM | Permalink | Posted to Music