Wednesday, July 31, 2013

More from the shore

We eventually walked over from Wildwood Crest to Wildwood proper and it is still definitely trashy in Wildwood. I guess some things never change.

Speaking of which, we also went to Cape May, which has also not changed since I was last there on vacation fourteen years ago.

It was definitely the highlight of the trip. We had tea at the Emlen Physick Estate tea room - although the tea itself was a disappointment. It was not what I consider a real tea service, since all the other places I've been to that serve traditional afternoon tea - at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia, at Lady Mendl's tea room, in London - they put tea leaves in a pot and you pour from there into your cup - with a mesh to catch the leaves, usually. Well here they gave us a pot of hot water and tea bags. The desserts were good though, and they had a pretty little garden.

The best part though was going to Cape May point, which is the opposite of Wildwood - uncommercial and with few people. The beach was practically empty - although I suppose the fact that you can no longer swim in the state park area of the beach is a big reason. Anyway, a pod of dolphins showed up and it was such fun to watch them.

Of course I couldn't get good dolphin pix thanks to this iPhone camera.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wildwood Crest

Wildwood Crest has fancy man-hole covers
My family has a place in Wildwood Crest this summer so I went down to visit for a few days. If it was up to me, it would have been Cape May, but Wildwood Crest turned out to be much better than I expected. I guess Wildwood Crest is the non-trashy Wildwood - although I was last in Wildwood twenty years ago, so maybe things are less trashy in the Wildwoods all around.

Wildwood survived Hurricane Sandy better than most parts of the Jersey Shore thanks no doubt to its really wide beaches. It takes forever to get from the street to the water's edge.

It's too bad my cell phone camera lens is so scratched up. It makes everything look foggy. But I'm not about to buy a whole new iPhone just for the camera.

Long walkway to the longer beach

I took this for the umbrella composition

Charming breakfast nook 

Party girl here got too much sun and too little sleep the night before and wound up with a killer headache and so had to bail out on my mom's birthday dinner. But at least Elvis showed up and my niece got a picture for Facebook.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The synergy of greatness that is St. Elmo's Fire

Brian Eno in 1974
I knew who Eno was, vaguely. I knew he was part of the whole glam rock thing, and had worked with David Bowie - but since I was never big on glam rock or David Bowie I hadn't paid much attention to Eno.


It turns out that Eno had a hand in two songs that I absolutely love.
Eno, along with Daniel Lanois was the producer of the U2 album Achtung Baby, with a favorite song "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World." When I discovered this I wondered if Eno was involved in another favorite song, Daniel Lanois' "The Maker." And sure enough, Eno played and sang on Lanois' album Acadie.

And then there is the Talking Head's Remain in Light, which, according to Wikipedia:
All songs written and composed by David Byrne, Brian Eno, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, and Tina Weymouth.

Truly amazing. Brian Eno has had a huge influence on music that I loved my whole life and I had no idea.

What really got me to notice Eno though, was his own album, from 1975, Another Green World, specifically the one song St. Elmo's Fire (nothing to do with the Brat Pack movie from 1985.)

I love St. Elmo's Fire. But why is it so great? Here it is on Youtube. Unfortunately the sound quality doesn't do the song justice.

The reason it's so great is because it's a synergy of separate greatnesses.

The greatness that is easiest to detect is the solo by Robert Fripp, a well-known guitar virtuoso. But it's only a lesser greatness without the synergy. 

There is the electronica setting greatness. The noodling at the beginning that turns into a solid bedrock of sound, with the rhythm piano, and then the rising-falling stair-step electronic sound behind the refrain "the blue August moon, the cool August moon."

The minimalist evocative lyrics greatness:
Brown eyes and I was tired
We had walked and we had scrambled
Through the moors and through the briars
Through the endless blue meanders. 
In the blue august moon
In the cool august moon 
Over the nights and through the fires
We went surging down the wires
Through the towns and on the highways
Through the storms in all their thundering. 
In the blue August moon
In the cool August moon 
Then we rested in a desert
Where the bones were white as teeth sir
And we saw St. Elmo's Fire
Splitting ions in the ether. 
In the blue August moon
In the cool August moon
In the blue August moon
In the cool August moon.
At first the lyrics describe a fairly commonplace journey, with moors, briars and meanders (bends in a river) in the blue, cool August moon. Although being cool in August seems slightly off, but then Eno is British. But then:
Over the nights and through the fires We went surging down the wires Through the towns and on the highways Through the storms in all their thundering.  
Surging down the wires? What's that about? It adds a whole dimension concerning the identities of Brown Eyes and I. And then the last set of lyrics, the crowning moment of greatness:
Then we rested in a desert Where the bones were white as teeth sir And we saw St. Elmo's Fire Splitting ions in the ether.  
And this is where the timing greatness comes in and pulls it altogether. Because the guitar solo, which lasts the entire rest of the song kicks in right before "splitting ions in the ether."

Now I admit I didn't notice a lot of this until after repeated listenings. I must have listened to this song a hundred times by now. In fact, it gets better with repeated listenings because it's too hard to process the synergy of greatnesses in one single listen. Only after a few go-rounds does it really kick in that the epic guitar solo begins right at "...saw St. Elmo's Fire" -with a sustained note that goes from soft to loud and doesn't change until just after the word "ether" and the first bang of the rhythm piano. And then it goes all out. It's a mind-expander.

But what is "St. Elmo's Fire?" Well, I don't think it's necessary to know what it is in order to appreciation the song, but I found that reading this account by James Braid, the primary discoverer of hypnotherapy did add to my appreciation - which I consider one more greatness to add to the mix:
...It was about nine o'clock, P.M. I had no sooner got on horseback than I observed the tips of both the horse's ears to be quite luminous: the edges of my hat had the same appearance. I was soon deprived of these luminaries by a shower of moist snow which immediately began to fall. The horse's ears soon became wet and lost their luminous appearance; but the edges of my hat, being longer of getting wet, continued to give the luminous appearance somewhat longer. I could observe an immense number of minute sparks darting towards the horse's ears and the margin of my hat, which produced a very beautiful appearance, and I was sorry to be so soon deprived of it...
Eno has a web site.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Saturday, July 27, 2013

They hate him for his greatness

I have finished reading Atlas Shrugged!

I started this task while blogging about it all the way back on May 6. There were long stretches at the beginning where I stopped reading it but I've been really pushing myself for the past couple of weeks to get it done - I wanted to get on with my life.

There's not a whole lot to tell about the rest of the novel after John Galt's long-ass speech. The US goes downhill rapidly, and the parasite characters just keep getting progressively more hysterical and screechy and at last James Taggart loses his marbles and realizes why he and the other parasites hate John Galt and by extension all the other Randian Supermen:
...he knew it was Galt's greatness that he wanted to torture and destroy.
So the rest of the novel is Rand settling accounts with everybody who has committed a thought crime against Objectivism - Robert Stadler is killed by the parasite destructo-machine, but then we always knew that he could never fit in down at the Gulch - he's initially described as bald and homely.

Rand liked to claim that Objectivism was a philosophy for living on earth, but actually it was a philosophy for Ayn Rand living on earth, built on Rand's preposterously high self-regard and personal mythologizing that, as she states explicitly in the afterwards to Atlas Shrugged:
No one helped me, nor did I think that at any time it was anyone's duty to help me.
Nobody except the Bolsheviks, her family in Russia, her extended family in Chicago, Cecil B. DeMille, her husband, her sycophants, Bennett Cerf who admitted he despised her belief-system, but published her novel any way, the Social Security Administration, and a whole bunch of others. But like all those who receive government aid who believe that they are self-made, Rand simply takes it all as a deserved entitlement.

This belief-system is encapsulated in the behavior of John Galt, who is hired to work for the Twentieth Century Motor Company, where he designs a motor. Please note that John Galt was not an entrepreneur - he designed the motor while on the clock for this company, using their equipment and resources, and if it's like any other company, working under some kind of agreement that the company has rights over his motor. So Galt takes off when he doesn't approve of the company's new management structure (they hilariously collectivized their own factory) and conveniently he's the only person who knows how the motor works.

And this is why you should always hire technical writers for any technological project.*

But like Ayn Rand, John Galt is convinced that he did it entirely on his own - nobody helped him. Which is why he's so pissed off, like Richard Halley, for never being properly appreciated and in just the right way.

I think that this blogger sums up Galt and the book pretty well:
The fact that apparently a very large number of people don’t recognize Galt as the genocidal prick he is suggests a) Rand’s skill at stacking the story-telling deck is not to be discounted, and b) as with any audience with a large number of nerds in it, a non-trivial number of Atlas Shrugged readers are possibly far enough along the Asperger spectrum that they don’t recognize humanity does not in fact easily suss out into Randian capitalist superheroes on one side and craven socialist losers on the other, or that Rand’s neatly-stacked deck doesn’t mirror the world as it is, or (if one gives it any sort of genuine reflection) model it as it should be.
As for Rand herself, whether she had Asperger's or not, at heart she was an authoritarian, and that particular trait become more pronounced as she aged, as the Heller biography notes:
From the Blumenthals and Leonard Peikoff, she demanded a foot soldier's forfeiture of privacy. "She was relentless in pursuit of psychological errors" Allan (Blumenthal) recalled, and she seemed abnormally preoccupied with uprooting all deviations from her convictions and aesthetic tastes. Throughout the 1970s she needled Allan about his penchant for playing Beethoven and other pre- or post-Romantic composers privately, on his own piano, and ridiculed Joan (Blumenthal) for her appreciation of painters including Rembrandt... After an evening's bickering about the immorality of the Blumenthals "sense of life," she would phone the next day to find out if they had reconsidered their opinions; if not she renewed the argument the following evening and the evening after that. She questioned their choices of travel, entertainment and friends and accused them of being secretive when they withheld information from her... 1978 these friends of twenty-five years' standing phoned to tell her they would no longer see her. She talked of 'denouncing' them but was persuaded that another public falling-out might further undermine her reputation. They were quietly designated enemies and Allan was written out of her will.
 (Rand's secretary) Barbara Weiss resigned. Over the course of fifteen years, Weiss had looked on as dozens of hapless followers had endured interrogation and humiliation. At first, she had attributed her employer's anger to a blind, passionate, highly charged moral temperament. Later, "I saw how repressed she was, and I knew [her anger] had to come from fear." Weiss said, echoing an observation made two decades earlier by Random House copy editor Bertha Krantz. "I decided she was possibly the most fearful person I had ever met." After the Blumenthal's departure, Weiss decided that Rand was not, after all, unconscious of the turbulence and pain she had caused in the lives of people who had cared for her, including Frank (O'Connor, Rand's husband). "She just robbed him of everything," the secretary said. "I [came to] look on her as a killer of people."
Sad. But when you think of her severe personality limitations, Ayn Rand had a much better life than anybody could possibly expect. But it's not because no one helped her. And they didn't hate her because of her greatness.

In addition to the two Rand biographies, I also got a copy of Rand's play, NIGHT OF JANUARY 16th. It had a run on Broadway - and has an entry the Playbill Vault and you can watch what looks like a college performance of the play here.

But I think I deserve a break from Ayn Rand, for a little while.


And if you still haven't had your share of Rand fail, check out the ongoing analysis of Atlas Shrugged over at Daylight Atheism.

*I have been earning my living for the past 20 years as a technical writer.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The second NYCPlaywrights June monologue

Another one down, two more to go. I felt bad for Tony the actor. We recorded this before the heat wave broke - it was done in my apartment and I had to turn off the window air conditioner because it was too noisy. It quickly became seriously hot in my living room, especially with all the lights I had on - you can see he was sweating, although it doesn't look as bad on camera as it did live. The playwright was pleased though,  so we did our job.

More on Ayn Rand and Monthy Python

I came across these pithy remarks by film critic Joel E. Siegel about the biography Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life:
Like lice, the writings of Ayn Rand keep reinfesting the American consciousness. Resistant to dousings of rational analysis and common sense, they attach themselves to impressionable adolescent minds, vulnerable hosts for her simplistic pseudo-philosophical rejection of collectivism and religion, and celebration of individualism, capitalism, solipsism, romanticism, and self-esteem. By the time one generation matures sufficiently to recognize the shallowness of her thinking, a new one begins itching.
Yes, perfect. Except that this was written in 1997 before the age of Paul Ryan. But to the Monty Python part:
With her large, luminous eyes and unflappable self-assurance, Rand is a magnetic camera subject. But her ideas bear the same relation to philosophy that Pop-Tarts do to Viennese pastry. As she soberly explains her Objectivist principles to Mike Wallace in the film’s opening sequence, one can’t help recalling Anne Elk’s vapid theorizing in a memorable Monty Python episode. Riding the same hobbyhorse for half a century (and, in Paxton’s movie, 137 minutes), this self-dubbed “fanatic of individualism” quickly wears out her welcome.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Eddie Lampert and the Twentieth Century Motor Company

Lynne Stuart Parramore at Slate made the Lampert-Rand connection and writes: Ayn Rand killed Sears. Here she spells out the Rand connection and the failures.
At Sears, Lampert set out to create the Ayn Rand model of a giant firm. The company got a radical restructuring. It was something that had been tried at giant industrial conglomerates like GE, but never with a retailer.
First, Lampert broke the company into over 30 individual units, each with its own management, and each measured separately for profit and loss. Acting in their individual self-interest, they would be forced to compete with each other and thereby generate higher profits.
What actually happened is that units began to behave something like the cutthroat city-states of Italy around the time Machiavelli was penning his guide to rule-by-selfishness. As Mina Kimes has reported in Bloomberg Businessweek, they went to war with each other.
It got crazy. Executives started undermining other units because they knew their bonuses were tied to individual unit performance. They began to focus solely on the economic performance of their unit at the expense of the overall Sears brand. One unit, Kenmore, started selling the products of other companies and placed them more prominently that Sears’ own products. Units competed for ad space in Sears’ circulars, and since the unit with the most money got the most ad space, one Mother’s Day circular ended up being released featuring a mini bike for boys on its cover. Units were no longer incentivized to make sacrifices, like offering discounts, to get shoppers into the store.
Sears became a miserable place to work, rife with infighting and screaming matches. Employees focused solely on making money in their own unit ceased to have any loyalty the company or stake in its survival. Eddie Lampert taunted employees by posting under a fake name on the company’s internal social network.
What Lampert failed to see is that humans actually have a natural inclination to work for the mutual benefit of an organization. They like to cooperate and collaborate, and they often work more productively when they have shared goals.  Take all of that away and you create a company that will destroy itself.
In 2012, Lampert bought a $40 million home on Indian Creek Island, near Miami, just around the time he decided to sell 1,200 Sears stores and close an additional 173. That same year, Sears Holding was named the sixth worst place in America to work by AOL Jobs.
She then concludes:
It’s probably a good thing Ayn Rand never tried to run a business.
Not only did Ayn Rand never try to run a business, virtually the only business she had any dealings with ever was show business.
I consider it just desserts for Rand to get the blame for Lampert's failure, in exchange for the Twentieth Century Motor Company, the Straw Business that was suddenly, inexplicably collectivized by its owners, causing John Galt to go Galt. The Bum on the Train explains:
It was when the old man died and his heirs took over. There were three of them, two sons and a daughter, and they brought in a new plan to run the factory. They let us vote on it too, and everybody - almost everybody - voted for it. We didn't know. We thought it was good. The plan was that everybody would work according to his ability, but would be paid according to his need.           
 Of course it isn't enough to ask us to believe that people who inherited a factory would suddenly decide they wanted to give six thousand other people a say in how the factory would be run. Rand wants us to believe that this "communist" factory would also turn into a sweatshop:
"We're all one big family" they told us, we're all in this together. But you don't stand, working an acetylene torch together ten hours a day..."
Of course it doesn't take a pseudo-Communist parable system to force people to work long hours for low pay. It's happening all over the world right now, under 100% capitalism.
And note that the "Communists" refer to their collective as a family. Families are never a source of good in Atlas Shrugged. 
Rand discounts entirely any possible materialistic causes of socialist movements and blames the cause on her favorite villains:
Hadn't we heard it all our lives, from our parents and our schoolteachers and our ministers and in every newspaper we ever read, and every movie and every public speech?
And the primary force behind the Twentieth Century Motor Company is one of the two heirs (the third committed suicide) name Ivy Starnes, who doesn't care about wealth. The only, absolutely only reason given by Rand for why this person collectivized her own factory is pure psychopathy:
She had pale eyes that looked fishy, cold and dead. And if you ever want to see pure evil you should see the way her eyes glinted when she watched some man who'd talked back to her once and who'd just heard his name on the list of those getting nothing above basic pittance. And when you saw it, you saw the real motive of any person who's ever preached 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."
So there it is right there. Ayn Rand seriously believed that the only possible reason for anybody to favor socialist policies was sadism
But why would Ivy Starnes have to go to the effort to collectivize her factory when it is an entirely unnecessary step? If what you want to do is jerk people around, dock their pay, demote them, fail to live up to your promises, etc. etc. I can testify from personal experience that your standard private property loving employer is entirely capable of doing anything that Ivy Starnes did after she collectivized her own factory.

And in fact, the only reason why it isn't done more often by private property loving employers is because of unions. We know the results of laissez-faire capitalism, both in the United States before unions, and all over the world right now.
Ayn Rand's simplistic parable offers no reasoned analysis about aspects of Communism, socialism, capitalism, monarchy, etc. It's a children's battle of Good vs. Evil that is entirely useless for adults, and extremely silly to boot. 
When men with lots of money take the extremely silly as their Bible, all hell will break loose.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ayn Rand's Revenge

OK, so John Galt's long-ass speech. I skimmed it. It was impossible to read it carefully word for word since it is just a rehash of what Rand had already said throughout the book.

What I found far more interesting was the response of some of the members of the public to Galt's inspiring call to anti-altruism:
Nobody had ever granted them the title of "the better men" or granting it, had paused to grasp that title's meaning, but everybody knew, each in his own community, neighborhood, office or shop, and in his own identified terms, who would be the men that now failed to appear on some coming morning and who would silently vanish in search of some unknown frontiers - the men whose faces were tighter than the faces around them, whose eyes were more direct, whose energy was more conscientiously enduring...
Rand just hate hate hated a fat or flabby face. Truly, having a "tight" face was a sign of innate superiority in Rand's strange mind.

And one of the examples of the little people going Galt is especially strange:
...the case of a woman with a fractured jaw: she had been slapped in the face by a total stranger, who had heard her ordering her five-year-old son to give his best toy to the children of neighbors.
Of all the illustrations of the noble cause of going Galt, why would Rand come up with this? A mother ordered her own kid to give his best toy away. Is this really a common problem that requires Objectivism to address? Whoever heard of a mother doing such a thing anyway?

And then I remembered...
When Rand was five or so, she recalled, her mother came into the children's playroom and found the floor littered with toys. She announced to Rand and Rand's two-and-a-half year old sister Natasha, that they would have to choose some of their toys to put away and some to keep and play with now; in a year, she told them, they could trade the toys they had kept for those they had put away. Natasha held onto the toys she liked best, but Rand, imagining the pleasure she would get from having her favorite toys returned to her later, handed over her best-loved playthings, including a painted mechanical wind-up chicken she could describe vividly fifty years later. When the time came to make the swap and Rand asked for her toys back, her mother looked amused, Rand recalled... (and) explained that she had given everything to an orphanage, on the premise that if her daughters had really wanted their toys they wouldn't have relinquished them in the first place.
 - Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller
Clearly the stranger breaking the woman's jaw is the spectre of Ayn Rand, getting her revenge against her mother's betrayal and the loss of her beloved wind-up chicken.

The chick of course, could only have been named "Rosebud."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Atlas Shrugged is such a whirling merry-go-round of awfulness that it’s difficult to find a starting point to grab onto...

Before I get into John Galt's long-ass speech, I want to quote from this humorous but for the most part accurate description of the strange entity that is John Galt in Atlas Shrugged in the Uncyclopedia...
...His second career was that of a track laborer at Taggart Transcontinental... There he apparently worked for twelve years, never getting laid. Ever. At all. He took his minimal wage track laborer's salary and used it to finance a multi-thousand dollar lab in his slum apartment and to fund his cross country trips to every industrialist, artist and scientist in America. He not only had the extra cash for these train trips, but plenty of vacation time to take those trains to every state in the union. And plenty of cash to stay in hotels while persuading rich men to give up all they own and live in the wilderness of Colorado. 
Evidence of his staggering super-proselytizing power is evident in that he could take a vacation not only for one month each year, but also any other time he pleased. Stationed in New York City, he could get time off to take a train trip to Pennsylvania, Colorado, Utah...
...It was at this point that he was able to persuade Michael "Midas" Mulligan to buy a huge patch of wilderness in Colorado, and hide it with super futuristic ray screens to camouflage it. Then all the formerly rich folk moved there. And with no prior training or ability, were able to live off the land, becoming farmers, sheep herders, cattle ranchers, fishermen, miners, smelters, blacksmiths and a few dozen other highly specialized trades that take years of training and far more than just common sense and an HGTV video series. 
We are to imagine here that they all funded their little homes and factories and businesses in the middle of nowhere themselves, though perhaps Midas loaned out a lot of gold -- gold to people who had no place to spend it but amongst their currently assetless selves. 
Plumbing and electricity found its way there, all the machines and materials pretty much just appearing. Or Midas bought it all and had it super secretly shipped in. And again gave it away to assetless people. Hoping that they'd duplicate two centuries of industrial progress quickly enough to pay him back with interest. And without the thousands of manual laborers necessary for the construction of even a small foundry, the 'men of the mind' constructed power plants, factories, aircraft mechanic shops and -- seriously -- a mint. How? Somehow. Don't start that again!
Sometime in all of this, he peeped at Dagny Taggart, Vice President of where he worked. And by "peeped", this is literal. He first spied her legs as she was walking down some stairs in a dress. As most guys know exactly what they are likely to see when staring up stairs while women in dresses walk down, this seems to have been a special hobby of the J-Dawg's. Though as he's not been laid in the entirety of his life, this may perhaps be forgiven, though feared. 
In any case, having seen Dagny's legs, and then the rest of Dagny, he knew -- as does any Randian hero -- everything he needed to know about her philosophy, morality and outlook on life. A Randian hero always knows these things just by looking at faces, and in the J-Dawg's case, he had seen her legs, too, so he also knew how she voted and what her favorite color was. I guess. 
Interestingly, he was aware that his old college buddy Cisco had laid Dagny. And that Cisco was still carrying a torch for her. A torch that Cisco was willing to carry forever, and had carried for at least 12 years, never laying a single other woman... 
...J-Dawg, like most sixth graders, shows he likes a girl by torturing her. Fully aware that Dagny is trying to keep the industrialists working, so that her life is easier and the world works well, he deliberately uses his super-proselytizing powers to remove each industrialist that she relies on. 
Of course, if he was just about some noble mission, he'd persuade each industrialist to quit in a more logical order, and at least, do so in order of ease of reaching them - he being confined to a train and his track laborer's salary. That and his foreman is getting tired of the endless and weekly vacation requests. 
Or, if pure and decent love was his motive, he'd persuade Dagny first, then get the rest of the industrialists. But seeing how well the plan "torture first, win her love later" had worked for his buddy Cisco, he decided to do the same.
J-Dawg... told Dagny that there were "no rules" but then immediately told her yet another rule. 
  • "Our first rule here, Miss Taggart, is that one must always see for oneself." (A "first" implies a "second", last I checked.) 
  • "Miss Taggart, we have no laws in this valley, no rules, no formal organization of any kind. But we have certain customs which we all observe..." (The word "but" is used to negate what just preceded, especially with the word "all" instead of "most of us" used, and if there are "no rules", what happened to the "first rule" he already told her of?) 
  • "I'll warn you now that there is one word that is forbidden in this valley: the word, 'give'." ("warn"? "forbidden"? Wow, sounds pretty free, Kim Jong Galt!) 
  • "We have no rules of any kind, except one. When a man took our oath, it meant a single commitment: not to work in his own profession, not to give to the world the benefit of his mind." ("except" negates the concept of "no rules", and note that the "one" rule is different than other "one" rules!)
The "customs" that "all" observe seem rather vague and all encompassing. And to mean whatever J-Dawg wants them to mean at any given time. 
Apparently then Galt's Gulch is a monarchy with the concept of "benign neglect". In other words, if J-Dawg's not paying attention, it's benign, otherwise, words are forbidden, jobs regulated, communications prohibited, learning from bitter experience required, and the love of your life hit upon.

Since I'm on this non-original work binge, I might as well quote from this blogger's brilliant critique of Atlas Shrugged:
John Galt’s most impressive feat isn’t that he stopped the motor of the world, it’s that he stopped  the motor of the world in his spare time, during his month-long annual leave from his job as a railroad laborer in Taggart Terminal.  Say, since when did railroad laborers get month-long  vacations?  As Daffy Duck once declared (really), “strong union!”  Not only did America’s unions “bring you the five-day work week,” they gave John Galt the freedom to build his Gulch in the bargain. John Galt is an inspiration and mocking rebuke to every wannabe author convinced that his day job is the only thing between him and that Great Novel inside him.   
You have to love the irony. Almost as much as the irony that Ayn Rand was able to overcome sexism, anti-Semitism and poverty and go to college thanks to the Bolsheviks.

And then this blogger, the Wit Memo, to my delight, calls out that whiny bitch Richard Halley:
It’s through Richard Halley, and her rendering of other artists, that Ayn Rand reveals the most about herself. In reading the following two passages, keep in mind that according to a November 2009 NYer article, Ayn Rand was personally devastated by poor reviews and never quite made it as a screenwriter, her initial dream.  First, right before the Comet train explodes in Taggart Tunnel, Ayn presents a roster of the doomed Looters occupying the train’s sleeper compartments, making clear through hokey, bilious descriptions that they well deserve their imminent, fiery deaths.  She saves her most curious choler for a playwright... 
The man in Roomette 3, Car No. 11, was a sniveling, little neurotic who wrote cheap little plays into which, as a social message, he inserted cowardly little obscenities to the effect that all businessmen were scoundrels.
Jump from there right to Richard Halley’s rant against a certain type of artist, at page 728:
This, Miss Taggart, this sort of spirit, courage and love for truth --- as against a sloppy bum who goes around proudly assuring you that he has almost reached the perfection of a lunatic, because he's an artist who hasn’t the faintest idea what his art work is or means, he's not restrained by such crude concepts as ‘being’ or ‘meaning,’ he’s the vehicle of higher mysteries, he doesn’t know how he created his work or why, it just came out of him spontaneously, like vomit out of a drunkard, he did not think, he wouldn’t stoop to thinking, he just felt it, all he has to do is feel---he feels, the flabby, loose-mouthed, shifty-eyed, drooling, shivering, uncongealed bastard! 
Wit Memo likes to think of that “flabby, loose-mouthed, shifty-eyed, drooling, shivering, uncongealed bastard!” part as the icing on a deliciously diagnostic cake.  
Although my favorite part is the first claus of this paragraph:
“Atlas Shrugged” is such a whirling merry-go-round of awfulness that it’s difficult to find a starting point to grab onto, so we might as well begin with the Bad Guys, the villains.  Selling Big Ideas in a work of fiction requires credible antagonists to be vanquished by heroes exemplifying the Big Ideas, and the antagonists in “Atlas Shrugged” don’t sell because they’re simply not credible.  
"Whirling merry-go-round of awfulness." Perfect.

And how timely - in the latest New Yorker: John Hodgman: Ask Ayn.  Best bit:

I do not approve of the so-called hippies, but I do not approve of any government control over drugs. The government does not have the right to tell any individual what to do with his or her health and life. You probably know that I received a prescription for the stimulant Benzedrine, or “speed.” I can say rationally that it increases my happiness and my productivity. For example, some time ago I went to Studio 54, because I love to dance on speed. I took fifteen speed pills, and I got into a contest with Liza Minnelli over who could roar most like a jaguar. She simply sounded like a stupid lion. 
Then the inside of my head began to sound like a jet engine and so I went to the bathroom. I took maybe ten more speed pills and sat in a stall and wrote a new chapter of “Atlas Shrugged.” Perhaps twenty-five thousand words, all on toilet paper. I cannot include these words in a new edition, alas, because I did not write them so much as encode them on the toilet paper by biting it. 
As I write this, I am drinking speed, and you cannot stop me. You cannot stop me, America, with your altruism and your Alan Alda and your Fresca cans biting at my skin. I shall speed across this country like a great high-speed train and the U.S. shall be forever changed in my wake.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Francisco sat down on the couch beside him, and slowly moved his hand over Rearden's forehead

I admit I skimmed much of chapters 3 - 6 of Atlas Shrugged. As Bennet Cerf said to Rand, when he pleaded with her to edit, she's already hit the same points three or four times. So I didn't miss much by skimming.

The Galt's Gulch chapters are so much more enjoyable than these, because, although the Gulchers are just as implausible as the parasites in the outside world, they are implausible in virtuous ways, like angels. It isn't a constant misery to read about their appearances and their activities.

Whenever the chapters are about moochers/looters/parasites Rand has to inform the reader again that they are stupid, have goofy names, are ugly, fat (she uses the word "fattish" to describe two different parasites on two consecutive pages), flabby, loose-mouthed, cowardly, hypocritical, cruel, stupid, emotional, Buddhists, soy bean growers, sneaky, sloppy, impotent and stupid.

And nobody is spared. James Taggart's wife shows up after 300 pages so that she can be driven to suicide by Taggart - and just when she and Dagny became friends. So Dagny still has no female friends. But then again, she lives in a world where this is how social workers are:
The social worker was a woman whose gray face and gray coat blended with the walls of the district. She saw (James Taggart's wife)... approached her and asked severely, "Are you in trouble?" -and saw one wary eye, the other hidden by a lock of hair, and the face of a wild creature who had forgotten the sound of human voices but listens as to a distant echo, with suspicion, yet almost with hope.
The social worker seized her arm: "It's a disgrace to come to such a state... if you society girls had something to do besides indulging your desires and chasing pleasures, you wouldn't be wandering, drunk as a tramp, at this hour of the night... if you stopped living for your own enjoyment, stopped thinking of yourself and found something higher - "
This is what sends Cherryl Taggart to her death.

And biographer Jennifer Burns was not kidding when she said that Rand blames intellectuals for everything in Atlas Shrugged:
(Rearden) felt an anger too intense to identify except as a pressure within him: it was a desire to kill. 
The desire was not directed at the unknown thug who had sent a bullet through the boy's body, or at the looting bureaucrats who had hired the thug to do it, but at the boy's teachers, who had delivered him, unarmed, to the thug's gun - at the soft assassins of college classrooms who, incompetent to answer the queries of a quest for reason, took pleasure in crippling the young minds entrusted to their care.
Not only incompetent but cruel too. So let's see, social workers are evil, college professors are evil - what's left? Oh yes:
...there was this boy's mother, who had trembled with protective concern over his groping steps, while teaching him to walk... then had sent him to be turned into a tortured neurotic by the men who taught him he had no mind and must never attempt to think.
And would you believe a large segment of intellectuals failed to find much to like in Atlas Shrugged. What's wrong with some people?

So anyway, the world outside of Galt's Gulch is falling apart thanks to all those parasites who didn't express gratitude to Richard Halley for his music, among other thought-crimes. But there are a few bright spots. Like when Hank Rearden, in the Randian Superman tradition, puts himself in Dagny's friend zone before anybody asks him to:
...I know it and accept it: somewhere in the past month you have met the man you love, and if love means one's final, irreplaceable choice, then he is the only man you've ever loved.
After Dagny admits this is true, Rearden responds in a way that is completely alien to everything we've been told about his character. Remember, this is the guy who punched d'Anconia for merely stating that he loved Dagny:
I think I've always known that you would find him. I knew what you felt for me, I knew how much it was, but I knew that I was not your final choice. What you'll give him is not taken away from me, it's what I've never had. I can't rebel against it. What I've had means too much to me - and if I've had it, can never be changed. 
Well how convenient for Dagny. But then again, maybe we already know why it was so easy for Hank and Francisco to give Dagny up without a fight:
It seemed to Rearden that his consciousness shot forward ahead of his body, it was his body that refused to move, stunned by shock, while his mind was laughing, telling him that this was the most natural, the most-to-have-been-expected event in the world...'ve been torturing yourself for months," said Francisco, approaching him, "wondering what words you'd use to ask my forgiveness and whether you had a right to ask it, if, you ever saw me again - but now you see that it isn't necessary, that there's nothing to ask or to forgive." 
"Yes" said Rearden, the word coming out in an astonished whisper, but by the time he finished his sentence he knew that this was the greatest tribute he could offer. "Yes, I know it." 
Francisco sat down on the couch beside him, and slowly moved his hand over Rearden's forehead. It was like a healing touch that closed the past. 
"There's only one thing I want to tell you." said Rearden "I want you to hear it from me: you kept your oath. You were my friend." 
"I knew that you knew it. You knew it from the first. You knew it, no matter what you thought of my actions. You slapped me because you could not force yourself to doubt it." 
"That..." whispered Rearden, staring at him, "that was the thing I had no right to tell you... no right to claim as my excuse..." 
"Didn't you suppose I'd understand it?" 
"I wanted to find you... I had no right to look for you... And all the time you were - " He pointed at Francisco's clothes, then his hand dropped helplessly and he closed his eyes. 
"I was your furnace foreman," said Francisco, grinning. "I didn't think you'd mind that. You offered me the job yourself." 
"You've been here, as my bodyguard, for two months?" 
"You've been here, ever since - " He stopped. 
"That's right. On the morning of the day you were reading my farewell message over the roofs of New York, I was reporting here for my first shift as your furnace foreman." 
"Tell me," said Rearden slowly, "that night at James Taggart's wedding, when you said you were after your greatest conquest... you meant me, didn't you?" 
"Of course." 
Francisco drew himself up a little, as if for a solemn task, his face earnest, the smile remaining only in his eyes. "I have a great deal to tell you," he said. "But first, will you repeat a word you once offered me and I... I had to reject, because I knew I was not free to accept?" 
Rearden smiled. "What word, Francisco?" 
Francisco inclined his head in acceptance, and answered, "Thank you, Hank." Then he raised his head. "Now I'll tell you the things I've come to say, but did not finish, that night when I came here for the first time. I think you're ready to hear it." 
"I am." 
The glare of steel from a furnace shot to the sky beyond the window. A red glow went sweeping slowly over the walls of the office, over the empty desk, over Rearden's face as if in salute and farewell.
The chapter ends there with the shooting steel and Hank and Francisco, murmuring each other's names. What better segueway could there be into Chapter Seven, John Galt's Long-ass Speech?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Richard Halley is a whiny little bitch

So when Dagny shows up in Galt's Gulch she finally meets the composer Richard Halley whose whereabouts have been unknown since the first chapter of the book.

There is a moment in the book when a group of representative Randian Supermen sit around explaining why they went Galt, and really they have the same general reasons - but Halley's is the most blatantly petulant. For years the parasites (i.e. most of humankind) failed to get Halley's work but then suddenly they do:
But what I saw in their faces, and in the way they spoke when they crowded to praise me, was the thing I had heard being preached to artists... They seemed to say they owed me nothing, that their deafness had provided me with a moral goal, that it had been my duty to struggle, to suffer, to bear - for their sake - whatever sneers, contempt, injustice, torture they chose to inflict on me, to bear it in order to teach them to enjoy my work, that this was their rightful due and my proper purpose. And then I understood the nature of the looter-in-spirit... I saw the impertinent malice of mediocrity boastfully holding up its own emptiness as an abyss to be filled by the bodies of its betters...
So in other words, on the night that Richard Halley finally received recognition after waiting for it for years, he has an epic tantrum because the entire audience, in his judgment, were the wrong people and they liked his music for the wrong reasons.  They didn't appreciate his greatness sufficiently in spite of their clear adulation. Halley is afraid that they think he wrote his music for them, and he finds this intolerable. And so he takes his piano and goes Galt.

One of the messages that Rand hits again and again is that the true ubermensch is not concerned about what others think, but rather strives for achievement for the pleasure it gives. So you have to wonder why Halley cared whether the parasites didn't like his music in just the right way.

Rand herself, for all her big endless talk, cared very much what the critics thought of Atlas Shrugged. Reportedly she cried over the bad reviews. According to the Burns biography:
...What she dwelled upon was the painful absence of intellectual recognition. Rand longed to be hailed as a major thinker on the American scene.
But as Burns rightly notes:
With her focus on the mind, Rand blamed contemporary intellectuals for every evil in the world, particularly the expanding welfare state. It was true that many prominent intellectuals had supported Communism and socialism, but Rand went far beyond standard conservative rhetoric about traitorous eggheads... Even the scientists in the form of Robert Stadler (character from Atlas Shrugged) came in for criticism. It was not clear if there were any living intellectuals whose endorsement Rand would have accepted.
 Exactly so - if she had gotten good reviews from the intellectuals, would that have been enough? Or would she have decided that they did not like the book in just the right way? In any case, Atlas Shrugged was the last novel she wrote and we can all be thankful for that.

And speaking of Robert Stadler - in the second chapter of Part 3, Dr. Atkinson explains that Stadler is the biggest traitor to Objectivism:
Of any one person, of any single guilt for the evil which is now destroying the world, his was the heaviest guilt.
We know what kind of fate Rand has for all characters in Atlas Shrugged who sin against Objectivism, don't we?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What happened to Ragnar Danneskjold?

As I was reading the first two chapters of Part 3 of Atlas Shrugged, it hit me how often Rand had good opportunities to spice up the book and how she failed because her priority was the message of bad moochers/good Supermen.

For example - Ragnar Danneskjöld is a pirate, stealing US foreign aid supplies constantly - but Rand doesn't describe a single act of piracy. We get tales of his piracies second hand. And it turns out that Rand actually wrote about it - and then took it out of the novel, according to one of her former sycophants Barbara Branden:
Q: I heard that she wrote a whole section of Ragnar Danneskjold's adventures that were cut out, is that true? 
Branden: It wouldn't be a whole section. There were certain things that were cut out. At one point she had a priest as one of the people who goes on strike, but it just didn't work. She wasn't happy with it. He was too much like another character; so she took that out. But there weren't really long sections. I think that was probably the biggest thing she cut out.
Perhaps even Rand realized, after she'd written it, how absurd it was, with Ragnar and his men robbing a US government supply ship without any trouble at all. Also, Rand wasn't as interested in ships as she was in trains, and so couldn't be bothered to learn about them well enough to write about them. Kind of like how she had no clue how the US government worked and so made the moocher government a foggy inscrutability.

The screenwriters for the 3-part movie version of Atlas Shrugged appear to have realized how absurd the pirate scenario was because they left the Nordic hottie out of both parts one and two, and given that part 2 ends with Dagny crashing into Galt's Gulch, it seems unlikely he will suddenly be introduced in part 3.

And then there is the dramatic tension that Rand completely wastes with d'Anconia's search and rescue mission for Dagny. Instead of beginning Part 3 after Dagny crash lands in Galt's Gulch by immediately showing us that Dagny is OK, Rand could have shown us a scene from d'Anconia's point of view as he desperately searched for the woman of his dreams - it could have been exciting and poignant and dramatic. And Rand completely wasted it.

I've already noted the simplistic, fairy tale nature of Atlas Shrugged. That nature is nowhere better illustrated than in an unusually brief speech that Galt gives to Dagny:
"Did it ever occur to you, Miss Taggart ...there is no conflict of interests among men, neither in business nor in trade nor in their most personal desires - if they omit the irrational from their view of the possible and destruction from their view of the practical. There is no conflict, and no call for sacrifice, and no man is a threat to the aims of another - if men understand that reality is an absolute not to be faked, that lies do not work, that the unearned cannot be had, that the undeserved cannot be given... the businessman who wishes to gain a market by throttling a superior competitor, the worker who wants a share of his employer's wealth... they're all wishing facts out of existence..."
Wishing facts out of existence. Talk about lack of self-awareness. Several times denizens of Galt's Gulch refer to the world outside as "hell" which makes the Gulch heaven - and it is - it's a place where everybody behaves themselves and nobody is ever envious and there is never any romantic rivalries.

Rand compared her book to the Bible and in a way she was right - her tale is every bit as plausible as the story of the Flood and Jesus walking on water.

Rand liked to believe that she herself lived in the most rational way possible, and when she and Nathaniel Branden decided to have an affair:
They defended the rightness and the rationality of a full-throttle sexual affair in a series of conversations that went on for weeks. Each was the embodiment of the other's highest values, they pointed out in the language of Atlas Shrugged, and because neither suffered from an irrational mind-body split, they naturally felt sexual longing for each other.
Both spouses gave permission, and then Rand's husband turned to drink and Branden's wife started to have panic attacks. During one attack...
Barbara called Rand's apartment from a pay phone, choking with anxiety and pleading to come over for a little while... In a rage Rand took the phone and railed: "Do you think only of yourself? Am I completely invisible to you?" The older woman refused to let her join them, pointing out that no one had helped her in times of trouble.* "Why should I be victimized for Barbara's problems?" she said to Branden afterward. 
As always, Rand defines "rational" as not giving a shit about anybody else's feelings but her own. It is truly appalling that so many otherwise sane, non-evil people take this woman's novels as the Word of God - much like she herself did.
*Completely untrue - Rand was helped by many people, which is detailed throughout the two biographies, including Cecil B. DeMille who gave Rand a job in Hollywood when she showed up with no work experience; Rand's Chicago relatives who let her live with them rent-free for six months when she first came to America; and even the Bolsheviks. Thanks to their policy of allowing women and Jews into university - and making universities tuition free - Rand was able to go to college. But claiming nobody helped her is exactly the kind of thing Ayn Rand would do, especially while denying comfort to someone in emotional distress because you're screwing her husband.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Obama at his very best

Low-keyed, empathetic, honest and, since we still live in a country full of deranged racists, incredibly brave.

I am loving my president today. No matter what disagreements I may have with him, I have complete respect for this man.

The Lord of the Rings, by Ayn Rand

So part 3 of Atlas Shrugged. I'm already done with the first two chapters! Eight more to go!

At first I was reminded of The Wizard of Oz when Dagny wakes up in Galt's Gulch after her airplane chase above Colorado.

But soon it struck me that Galt's Gulch is much more like a place from another novel, a novel with a cult-like following to which Atlas Shrugged has already been compared:
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
As much as I love that quote - and I first read it via the Mighty Krug-man, I have to disagree because both novels involve orcs: Rand has so dehumanized the characters who stand in the way of her personal Triumph of the Will that they are very similar to orcs - in their physical unsightliness and stupidity and especially their instinctual hatred of anything good.

And the people living in Galt's Gulch are every bit as realistic as the Elves in Rivendell, and John Galt is every bit as noble and in control of his emotions as Elrond. The Gulchers only live to work - either sustenance labor or their real work which is being the greatest musician, or greatest surgeon, or greatest actress or greatest metal smelter or whatever, of all time. And they never quarrel and they are never jealous of each other. Very like the Elves, although Tolkien's Elves are more likely to sing than smelt metal. Almost all the metal-smelting in the LOTR gets done by dwarves.

And as in the Mines of Moria in Middle Earth, Galt's Gulch too has a voice-activated door. Although instead of the simple Elvish "say friend and enter" Galt makes you recite his anti-Communist Manifesto: "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man nor ask another man to live for mine."

Rand's characters never tire of being humorless and dreary.

Like Frodo, waking up in Rivendell after his injuries, Dagny wakes up in The Gulch and meets up with old friends while healing.

Francisco d'Anconia shows up - he was missing for a little bit because he was out trying to rescue Dagny who, for all anybody outside of the Gulch knew, died in an airplane crash. Because although John Galt is able to create a deflector shield to hide the entirety of Galt's Gulch, and a voice operated door and a zero-point energy motor, etc. etc., he can't figure out some way to communicate with Gulchers outside the Gulch.

D'Anconia's thrilled to see Dagny alive and in Galt's Gulch and immediately tells her that although he has been celibate for twelve years because she's the woman of his dreams, he's perfectly OK with her choosing Rearden over himself.

Well within the context of this book it makes perfect sense: in a world where the bourgeoisie collectivize their own factory then surely it's no big deal if a handsome man at the peak of his super-competent virility puts himself, without anybody suggesting he does so, in the friendzone.

And the bitter irony of it all is that although d'Anconia thinks he's stepping aside for Rearden, Dagny has summarily dumped Hank in favor of John Galt.

Come to think of it, The Lord of the Rings was actually more realistic when it came to romantic triangles - Aragorn clearly feels much worse about having to reject Éowyn because he's already betrothed to Arwen than Dagny ever feels about rejecting d'Anconia. And Éowyn is clearly much more upset about being rejected than d'Anconia is.

The men of Galt's Gulch, although they are impressed that Dagny has shown up - she's famous, especially in the Gulch -  don't seem to express any sexual interest in her and that's odd because the only women mentioned in Galt's Gulch besides the Dagster are Kay Ludlow, the most beautiful actress in the world - who is married to Ragnar Danneskjöld (I'm glad his manly beauty isn't going to waste as the focus of Rearden's imagination only) and "the fishwife" because she fishes, and an unnamed mother of two boys - so we can assume she's in a monogamous marriage in the land of Galt's Gulch. So there are two single women in the Gulch and one of them is called The Fishwife.

So what's a single attractive railroad executive got to do around here to get a little Übermenschen action?

But would you expect wolf-whistles in Rivendell, where the male:female ratio is about the same?

So I'm musing over the similarities between Rivendell and Galt's Gulch and I'm thinking how funny it would be if somebody did a mash-up between LOTR and AS - and abracadabra, say friend and enter, somebody already did - and it is hysterical!

Ayn Rand's The Lord of the Rings begins like this:
Page 1: 
When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was a great stir in Hobbiton. Friends and relations gathered to pay tribute to this brave individualist. Bilbo was rich and therefore a good person, having gained wealth from a mysterious journey many years before. But the party-goers’ thoughts were occupied with a different mystery, one that had nothing to do with the source of Bilbo’s wealth. There was another question on the lips of the Tooks, the Sackville-Bagginses, the Brandybucks. And that question was this—
             “WHO IS SAURON BARAD-DÛR?”
The second-most funniest part is:
“We must hurry,” said Gandalf. “Already the statists and the welfare bums are moving across the land — a vast, vile tide of compromise and mendacity. There is not a second to spare!” 
“But wait,” said Frodo. He held the ring up to the light. “This is a most interesting metallic alloy.” 
“It is a mixture of aluminum, mercury, lead, and bromide,” Gandalf replied.
“Of all the exciting things in the world! A metallic alloy!” 
“With an 0.0003% ad-mixture of strontium,” Gandalf added. 
“You must tell me more!” 
Gandalf nodded. He exhaled a cloud of smoke from his pipe. 
“Certainly. …Shall we discuss the metallic alloy for, say, three hundred pages or so? The actual plot of the book can wait.” 
“I insist that we do so!”
Page 383: 
“…And after the strontium smelting process is complete; well, that is that, as they say.” 
Frodo glanced out the window. Winter had turned to Spring. “How absolutely engrossing that was,” he murmured. 
“Well!” said Gandalf. He put his hands on his knees and rose with a creaking sound. “Shall we be on our way?” 
Frodo wrinkled his brow in thought. “Actually, I did have one or two more questions about the metallic alloy…”
Page 803: 
“…And the distribution center for the ball-bearing castings used in the rail-line in order to transport the strontium to the subsidiary in Jakarta… that distribution center — as I say — is located in… Chicago.” 
“Fascinating,” murmured Frodo. A light autumn wind blew through the tree branches, setting them tapping against the windowpane, reminding him that time was of the essence. “Well! Shall we be on our way, then?”
But the funniest part is this (this is Sauron talking):
"Is it ever proper to help another man? No; and also give me my Ring back. I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man because I want my Ring back…  I have many, many more thoughts on this subject. In fact I have 33,300 more words worth of thoughts on the subject. Using this magical palantír, you, Peregrin Took, son of Paladin Took, may see these words now.”
And then to my wonderment and merriment, the author provides a link to a parody of the endless speech that John Galt delivers in Atlas Shrugged. I haven't gotten to that part yet, and so I don't know how much Sauron's speech differs from John Galt's, it could just be a replace-all with "the Ring" throughout. But somebody doing this much work for the sake of an Atlas Shrugged parody is impressive.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Who is Bennet Snerf?

I had a vague idea who Bennett Cerf was before I read Atlas Shrugged, but I certainly couldn't have picked him out of a line-up. In the Heller biography Cerf comes off as cynical and a bit of a trickster. He was working at Random House at the time Rand was shopping around for a publisher for AS - she was dissatisfied with Bobbs-Merrill, the publishers of The Fountainhead:
She explained that Atlas represented a moral defense of capitalism and contained a complete, unique and radically anti-Left philosophy... Cerf surprised her by announcing, "I find your political philosophy abhorrent." But he added, "If we publish you Miss Rand, nobody is going to try to censor you. You write anything you darn please and we'll publish it."
The co-director of Random House, Donald Klopfer, thought Rand was "wacky as a fruitcake."

A couple of weeks ago I was commenting on the fact that after Hank Rearden's Big Speech somebody tells him they heard him on the radio, but then when Hank meets up with Francisco d'Anconia he somehow forgets this because when d'Anconia says he heard his speech, Rearden asks him how this is possible, he wasn't in the room in which he made the speech. And I wondered at the time if Rand had any editors.

And the answer is no, not really.

Not only would Random House not censor Atlas Shrugged, it barely edited Atlas Shrugged:
(Editor Hiram) Haydn was ambivalent, at best, about its ethics and politics... he had doubts about the the novel's "drab" prose style and core ideas... he suggested a number of cuts, including cuts in John Galt's speech. When Rand refused he appealed to Bennett Cerf... (Cerf went to Rand and said) "Nobody's going to read that speech. You've said it all three or four times before... you've got to cut it." Answering with a comment that became publishing legend, she said, "Would you cut the Bible?" With that, Cerf threw up his hands, but cagily asked her to forfeit seven cents in royalties per copy to pay for the additional paper it would take to print the uncut speech and other long passages... She agreed... Haydn resigned himself to being an "apprentice copy editor" who helped her search for and remove words within a paragraph that rhymed "an obsession with her."
So for the promise of fat profits Bennett Cerf enabled Rand's megalomania and allowed this hideous un-edited half-wit novel to proceed.

And now it's time for What's My Part with Bennet Snerf, Arlene Frantic and Cookie Monster.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The first of 4 monologues

One down three more to go. Luckily I gave myself the entire summer to get these videos done. I think Amanda here did a great job including a specifically Northern Irish accent.

Hopefully it's not too obvious that this park that we shot the video in, which is across the street from where I work, is a teeny tiny park, and I just shot from every possible angle. Seriously the entire park is maybe three times the size of my living room.

In which the bourgeoisie collectivize their own factory

Of all the crazy illogical things that happen in Atlas Shrugged maybe the craziest thing is this tale told by a bum Dagny has just saved from certain death:
Well there was something that happened at that plant where I worked for twenty years. It was when the old man died and his heirs took over. There was three of them, two sons and a daughter, and they brought a new plan to run their factory. They let us vote on it too and everybody - almost everybody - voted for it.
The moocher US government in Atlas Shrugged is so incompetent that it can't even force Communism on factory owners - the factory owners have to collectivize themselves!

Naturally the collective becomes a moronic hellscape. The point of the story is to explain who is John Galt, but The Bum has to ramble on for page after page to get around to that. It was unpleasant getting through his story, and made even worse by Rand's own special brand of cruelty:
There was an old guy... who had one hobby: phonograph records. Well they didn't give him any allowance for records - 'personal luxury' - they called it. But at that same meeting, Millie Bush, somebody's daughter, a mean ugly little eight-year-old was voted a pair of gold braces for her buck teeth... the old guy turned to drink instead... one night he came staggering down the street, saw Millie Bush, swung his fist and knocked all her teeth out. Every one of them.
And thus we learn the dangers of socialized medicine.

Now since the old guy wasn't given an "allowance" for the innocent pleasure of listening to records (and you just know his favorite composer was Dagny's favorite composer Richard Halley) you may ask, well how did he get the money for alcohol, since this closed-system collective was operating in the middle of a capitalist currency-based society? Rand has an answer for you, my friend:
Don't ask how we got the money for it. When all the decent pleasures are forbidden, there's always ways to get the rotten ones.
So there you go, you parasitic moocher. Don't ask for a reason-based explanation for how, although the old guy isn't actually forbidden from buying records but instead is just denied the money, is nevertheless able to find money to buy alcohol. Who do you think you are, questioning your highest value?*

And then there is the matter of an old guy coming down the street encountering an unaccompanied eight-year-old at night. But I guess in a world run by self-looters that's how things are. So this old drunk guy punches a little girl in the face so hard that it knocks out all her teeth. Every one of them.

There have been boxers who have lost teeth in fights. Boxers who were punched very hard by very strong, non-drunk boxers. And they lose only a few teeth at a time, at most. If you were punched in the face hard enough to knock out every one of your teeth, your brain would be liquified, gold braces or no.

And Rand thinks that this eight year old girl deserved to be viciously assaulted because the collective decided to pay for her orthodontistry and because she was mean - and as we know an eight-year-old is fully responsible for their ethical beliefs and behavior and that's why we always try them as adults.

But most importantly the little girl was ugly. And in the world of Atlas Shrugged that makes her pure evil.

And lest you think that Dagny Taggart is guilty of compassion for a scummy old bum trying to mooch a free ride off her train, be assured, Dagny had her reasons to spare his life. The bum is about to be ejected from the train "to his certain death" when suddenly:
It was (the bum's) laundered collar and this gesture for the last of his possessions (a small dirty bundle) - the gesture of a sense of property - that made her feel an emotion like a sudden burning twist within her. "Wait" she said... let him be my guest."

That emotion was probably "empathy" but since Rand has so little experience with it, it strikes her as a "burning."

And if the bum had lost his bundle and had tucked in his collar Dagny would have gladly allowed him to be turned into coyote food.

Holy shit I hate Ayn Rand. And so apparently does either the screenwriter or the director of Dirty Dancing. Suddenly I want to watch this movie.

And thank my lack of God I am finally on Part 3 of this sociopathic wet dream of a novel with only ten more chapters to go.

*Ayn Rand is your highest value

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Who is Eddie Lampert?

An outspoken advocate of free-market economics and fan of the novelist Ayn Rand, he created the model because he expected the invisible hand of the market to drive better results. If the company’s leaders were told to act selfishly, he argued, they would run their divisions in a rational manner, boosting overall performance. 
Instead, the divisions turned against each other—and Sears and Kmart, the overarching brands, suffered. Interviews with more than 40 former executives, many of whom sat at the highest levels of the company, paint a picture of a business that’s ravaged by infighting as its divisions battle over fewer resources. (Many declined to go on the record for a variety of reasons, including fear of angering Lampert.)

David Atkins at Digby's Hullabaloo remarks:

Need I mention that Lampert is a big fan of Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged? Read the whole article. It's amazing. 
I think a lot of progressives don't understand that we're not just dealing with a bunch of big money boys who want to destroy government and social safety nets to benefit business interests. We're dealing with a full-fledged cult that is just as willing to destroy business as it is to destroy government. 
It would actually be more comforting to believe that economic self-interest is driving all this foolishness. Self-interest can be negotiated with, intimidated or shamed. Destructive religious cults are much, much scarier. There is no pleading, bargaining or reasoning with them.

The people who like Atlas Shrugged

Likes to imagine he's Ragnar Danneskjold,
the Norwegian terror of the high seas.
This Onion story 62-Year-Old With Gun Only One Standing Between Nation And Full-Scale Government Takeover is meant to parody gun nuts, but I think it could be applied equally to most libertarians (and there's plenty of libertarian/gun nut cross-overs) - especially the kind that like Atlas Shrugged.

Those are the kind of people who fantasize about their own immense power in the face of an incompetent gubmint. Much like the Norwegian terror of the high seas Ragnar Danneskjöld, who doesn't attack US military vessels in Atlas Shrugged  - not because he'd end up dead or in custody along with his band of reverse-Robin Hood merry men, but rather on principle - because in his considered opinion only aid supplies to poor people are worth looting justly appropriating because taxes.

And these people really do exist. There are those who think Atlas Shrugged was a brilliant work of art and a brilliant work of philosophy. You can read all about them at The Atlas Society.

And they recently had a Summit in Washington DC, and just as in Galt's Gulch, the ratio of male to female speakers is hugely lopsided in favor of men.

William R. Thomas writes:
Writing a good novel is very difficult in itself. A novelist needs to create well-realized characters, put them in a convincing setting, and make of their interactions a plot that is believable, interesting, and moving. That people remember Atlas Shrugged for its story and its characters is a testament to the job Ayn Rand did as a novelist.
But Atlas Shrugged fails in every particular here, especially the "convincing setting" and the "believable", "interesting" and "moving."

You really have to wonder what planet Objectivists come from.