Introduction to Bagels, Barry Bonds, and Rotten Politicians
by David Gordon
by David Gordon
Burt Blumert was one of the closest friends of Murray and Joey Rothbard, and it was in that connection that I met him in 1979. As he often did, he had invited the Rothbards to dinner and I was fortunate enough to be included as well. It was immediately apparent that Burt was a remarkable person. He knew almost everyone important in the libertarian movement, as well as in the hard money community of which he was a leading member. In his conversation, his sparkling wit was always apparent: he had an inexhaustible repertoire of funny stories.
His humor, as readers of this collection of his articles will discover, goes along with a serious purpose. Burt is firmly committed to a free society and sound money. He is much more than a bystander in his pursuit of this goal; quite the contrary, he has been a major supporter, not only of Murray Rothbard personally, but of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and the Center for Libertarian Studies. He is also the publisher of LewRockwell.com, in which all the articles in this book first appeared. In these organizations, Burt and Lew Rockwell have been an indispensable team.
His support for these organizations has remained constant over the years, but he has been involved as a major player in several presidential campaigns as well. He and Pat Buchanan are friends, and he vigorously defended Buchanan against false charges that neo-conservative war hawks like Norman Podhoretz brought against him. "The neocons are smart. The ugly campaign they orchestrate against Pat simply reveals how much they fear him. But that is no excuse."
Politics is a matter of friends and enemies; and for Burt, Rudy Giuliani belongs firmly in the latter class. He assails the ex-New York mayor for his ruthless tactics as a prosecutor. "Prosecuting attorneys are never lovable, but Rudy Giuliani was despicable." He expresses his feelings with characteristic humor: "Politically, Giuliani is like the horror film monster who refuses to stay dead."
One political figure stands foremost in Burt's estimation. Of course this is Ron Paul, and Burt makes no secret of his admiration. "The entire rotten establishment is terrorized by Ron's campaign, and they have employed every strategy to derail him. . . . These evildoers have at least one serious problem. The guy they are trying to destroy is a giant."
Burt's writings on politics are by no means confined to praise or condemnation of particular people. He grasps the essence of issues that most others fail to see at all. Thus, he asks, are the so-called Y2K doomsayers really so bad? "The Y2K scare motivated people to improve their emergency preparedness. If it abetted people's suspicions of basic institutions like banks, insurance companies, and government itself, what's wrong with that?"
He uses a hilarious joke about elephants to make a serious, and devastating point: "There is something deliciously perverse in seeing a major world government selling or renting their military paraphernalia to any and all customers. Some folks express panic at the mere thought of Russian weapons in the hands of ‘unaccountables.' Seems to me, that the risks are no greater when the weapons are in the hands of government murderers with ‘legal sanction.' (Ask Chechnya.)"
Burt's versatility is amazing. Among many other things, he is an authority on sports. He offers a vigorous defense of Barry Bonds. Should the accusation that he uses steroids, or complaints that he is aloof, Burt asks, prevent us for seeing that Bonds is a great athlete? In another article, "Seabiscuit Revisionism," Burt displays an expert knowledge of horseracing. Burt is also, by the way, an authority on boxing: the present collection of his articles offers only a sampling of his many interests.
Burt applies his keen analytical mind to explaining what goes on in our daily life. He inquires, "How is it that Chinese cuisine successfully cuts across all borders and cultures? The answer is simple: Most Chinese restaurants maintain an unusually high standard and the food is generally cooked when ordered, ensuring freshness." He lists, in careful detail, a number of other reasons for this success. Having dinner with Burt in his favorite Chinese restaurant is an experience hard to match.
Travel by airplane, under current conditions, does not evoke much enthusiasm: "It was like a WWII newsreel: the endless line of defeated people pushing their baggage, inching towards the inevitable checkpoint. ‘Achtung! Achtung!' blared the sound system at peak volume. ‘Do not leave your baggage unattended. It will be confiscated and destroyed.' The smell of fear was pervasive."
Burt also does not view doctors with complete approval. "We have coddled doctors long enough. They can't keep blaming government agencies, HMOs, and third-party payers for all their deficiencies. . . . Particularly objectionable is what happens when a medical office employee becomes expert in every medical specialty. The patient must convince this high priestess their condition warrants an appointment with the doctor."
As if this were not enough, Burt is also is a skilled book reviewer. His review of H.L. Mencken's In Defense of Women grasps the essence in a few sentences: "The book continues to be controversial through its many printings. Mencken was perplexed that women viewed his classic as an attack. The point he was making was that it was the superiority of women that had led to their dominance over men in the important aspects of life."
Like his great friend Murray Rothbard, Burt is an excellent movie reviewer. His careful account of Helen Mirren's portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II shows his considerable talent in this area: "There is a sadness as Mirren's queen grudgingly accedes to the pressures put upon her. She is powerless, yet, never loses her grace. Finally, Helen Mirren's Elizabeth realizes what we knew all along. We live in a ‘Pop Culture' and even tradition is fading fast."
Book and movie reviewing, and even writing on politics, are just avocations for Burt. He is by profession a dealer in coins and precious metals, and he offers readers the advice of a genuine authority in this field. Gold, he suggests, is in the long run a good investment, although investors should be able to cope with temporary falls in price. Beware the person, he tells us, who claims to have a scientific formula that predicts the market: "Of all the mystics, only the Chartist pretends a rational basis for his gobbledygook. The Chartist further elevates his status by including himself in a larger, even more virulent group that label themselves as ‘market-technicians'."
Burt's friends are dear to him. He vividly brings out the personality of R.J. Rushdoony, the founder of Christian Reconstructionism. "I advised Rush and [his wife] Dorothy I needed fifteen minutes to prepare for departure. He smiled, removed a small volume from his leather briefcase, and started to read. I don't recall the nature of the calamity. It might have been a fire, a flood, or an armed robbery, but my office was in total chaos that afternoon. I do know that Rushdoony's eyes never left the page of the book. From someone whose attention-span is about thirty-five seconds, I marveled at his power of concentration."
For Burt, one friend stood above all others: Murray Rothbard. "I think about Murray all the time and my midnight excursions to the fresh LRC page remind me that Lew [Rockwell] is Rothbardian #1. Read something Murray wrote a decade ago. Shake your head in wonderment. Whatever the subject, Murray comes armed with a rapier, while the rest of us blunder along with butter knives. Except in the realm of machines and technology. In that struggle the best Murray could achieve was a stalemate."
Burt Blumert is a great and good man. I'm honored to be his friend.
September 18, 2008
Copyright © 2008 Ludwig von Mises Institute