Sunday, June 30, 2013

Our Town on Long Island

I got a tip to see the Hofstra University-hosted production of OUR TOWN which closes today (Sunday), and on the spur of the moment decided to go Saturday. It was a big deal getting there and back from Astoria without a car - I had to take two subways, a train and a taxi each way. But I had never seen much of Long Island (not counting the NYC parts) except for a couple of quick drives through on big highways, and a couple of brief visits to Oyster Bay on theater business over five years ago, and so on the way to Hofstra I enjoyed seeing the towns go by, mellow in the setting June sun through the Long Island Railroad train window.

This is the first time I've seen OUR TOWN in person. My daughter gave me tickets for Christmas 2009 to see the acclaimed production directed by David Cromer, but I was sick the night of the show and so my daughter took a friend of hers instead.

Ironically the first time I saw OUR TOWN, I was home sick from work and caught the public television recording of the Lincoln Center Theater production directed by Gregory Mosher with Spalding Gray as the Stage Manager. Maybe because that was the first production I've seen, and maybe because I'm a playwright, but I think the Mosher/Gray version is right way to do the play.

Frank Rich gave the production a fairly critical review, but then he doesn't seem to actually like the play itself very much:
As prettied up by Wilder, the sleepy Republican town of Grover's Corners, N.H., from 1901 to 1913, seems to say less about the country we live in now than does the earlier New England of 18th- and 19th-century literature. As an example of American playwriting of the 1930's, ''Our Town'' is closer in weight to Kaufman and Hart than to O'Neill.
But you can't win with Rich because although he thinks the town of the play is "prettied up" he complains the production's aesthetic isn't pretty enough:
With such stylization, Mr. Mosher seems to be attempting to justify his unadventurous saunter into ''Our Town'' by linking it to such other Lincoln Center productions of the year as ''Waiting for Godot'' and ''Speed-the-Plow.'' This esthetic statement is made at a price, because it has led to one major casting miscalculation, Spalding Gray's flip Stage Manager, that constantly disrupts the fragile text, the firm staging and the otherwise well-chosen cast.
Rich couldn't be more wrong. This isn't "unadventurous" at all. In fact I would say it is adventurous to do what Mosher did - stick to the text for once. American directors seem to think that it is their duty to make each and every play their bitch, tarting them up with pointless intrusions, just to put their personal stamp on it. It's this way of thinking that led the loathsome Edward Einhorn (with the full support of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society) to make a legal claim that since he directed the second production of my play TAM LIN all subsequent productions owed him a royalty.

But back to OUR TOWN. Spalding Gray had just exactly the right demeanor as the stage manager - dry and matter-of-fact. He was very upset by Rich's claim that he was too post-modernist and mentioned that in one of his monologues.

One of my complaints about the show I saw last night was the way the Stage Manager was played - too emotional, even maudlin at times, and too much a part of the town, rather than the  meta-observer he should be. Although at least the actor could do a New England dialect when he wanted to and a standard American dialect the rest of the time. (Not an issue for Spalding Gray in any case since he is a native of New England.) But the rest of the cast was all over the place, dialect-wise: some used their native Lon Guyland dialect and some sounded like they thought Grover's Corners was in Alabama. I would rather they stuck with their own native dialects, even if it was Long Island.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Best Rearden Family Thanksgiving Ever

So many offenses against coherence and literature in the third and fourth chapters of part 2 of Atlas Shrugged! I really need to stick to one chapter at a time when I blog about AS  because there is so much material in any one chapter that if I do two, I end up glossing over too much in the blog post.

On the other hand, I am trying to finish this damn thing so I can start my play which features the spectre of Ayn Rand appearing to Alan Greenspan. And I'm almost at the half-way point, so I pushed on, but after those two chapters had to take a rest. I'm not made of stone.

The highlight, if you can call it that, of these two chapters is the Rearden family Thanksgiving with the standard Superman~moocher dynamic.

At the Thanksgiving dinner Rearden's family berates him for not caring about their feelings when he got arrested (for selling his Rearden Metal to Kenneth Dannager, I'm still not sure why this became a law). And they point out that his arrest is an embarrassment to them all. But even though they are all financially dependent on Rearden, (as Rearden explicitly acknowledges in his confrontation with his brother, whom he tells "whatever affection I might have had for you once is gone") none of them seem in the least worried that his possible prison term might impact their luxurious lifestyle. Moochers are so inscrutable.

Since Rand can't be bothered to give us any flashbacks to what they were like once, when Rearden did have affection for his brother, this statement has no emotional resonance. Rearden has despised his three moocher family members throughout the novel so far, and we've never seen anything that would lead us to believe he ever had any affection for any of them, ever.

Except, ever so briefly, for Lillian, whom he didn't hate for an entire month after they were married, but has pretty much hated her for the next eight years, which even the normally slow-witted Lillian realized:
"Do you wish to divorce me?"
"Oh, wouldn't you like that! Wouldn't that be a smart trade to pull! Don't you suppose I know that you've wanted to divorce me since the first month of our marriage?"
I'm not entirely sure, but I think this might be the first time the word "divorce" has appeared in the novel. Since the world of Atlas Shrugged is so different from the real one, I wasn't sure if divorce had been outlawed by the government, which would be the only plausible reason why Rearden hasn't divorced his much-loathed wife.

I will say that when Lillian caught Rearden (not in flagrante delicto unfortunately) cheating on her and proceeded to hurl insults at him, it was the one moment in the entire novel so far where a Rand character sounds like an actual human being.

But it only lasts for a couple of pages. And then, lest we forget that we are in an Ayn Rand novel, we see Rearden's peculiar response to Lillian expressing displeasure with his infidelity:
There was neither thought nor feeling left in him, nothing but a sense that merged the remnants of both, the sense of congratulations upon the greatest victory he had ever demanded of himself: that Lillian had walked out of the hotel suite alive.
It's striking that not only are Rearden's family life and marriage hideous, his is almost the only family life and marriage depicted at all in Atlas Shrugged up to this point. Marriages/families are barely mentioned: Nat Taggart offering to gamble his wife into sexual slavery; the lightly sketched flashback family comprised of Mrs. No-name Taggart and her children; and the moochers that Cherryl Brooks has come to New York City to escape from. The only other family depicted are the hicks that Dagny and Rearden meet on their road trip. The hick children throw rocks at Rearden's spiffy roadster and their mother looks like an old hag.

Maybe the absence of family life is why Eddie Willers keeps cornering an unfortunate anonymous worker in order to deliver expositional monologues. Oh yes, he did it again! If the worker was getting paid by the hour, and was on the clock, it wouldn't be so bad, but Rand sets up the second monologue by noting they are in the Taggart Transcontinental cafeteria. Willers can't even let this guy have his lunch in peace!

But lucky for Rearden, he has his love for Francisco d'Anconia to keep him warm. And fortunately I don't even have to write about it, another blogger has already cataloged the manly love in Atlas Shrugged.

As I noted in a previous blog post, d'Anconia told Dagny nothing about his life at college and she didn't ask. People in love in Atlas Shrugged don't make pillow talk about their hopes and dreams and past history. It is the same thing between Dagny and Rearden, which explains why Rearden has no idea that d'Anconia knows about metal smelting. He discovers it when they are spending some quality time together (d'Anconia is lecturing Rearden on the evils of the looters and the moochers and the virtues of selfishness, etc. - the usual) and there is an accident at the factory. Caused by, what else, a moocher:
A young man with a look of chronic hurt and impertinence, together, rushed up to him crying: "I couldn't help it, Mr. Rearden!" and launched into a speech of explanation. Rearden turned his back on him without a word. It was the assistant in charge of the pressure gauge in the furnace, a young man out of college.
d'Anconia saves the day by demonstrating his unmatchable (of course) skill at lobbing clay into a furnace hole, and Rearden, stars in his eyes and little hearts flying around his head, pledges his troth to d'Anconia.

I was going to say d'Anconia's skill was acquired while working in the copper biz, but let's face it, based on everything else we know about him, he no doubt did it perfectly the very first time he tried it.

Now I can understand why Dagny doesn't tell Rearden that d'Anconia is her former boyfriend, because Rearden has twice been on the verge of a jealous meltdown, demanding Dagny tell him who her other boyfriends were. d'Anconia was the only other boyfriend (or friend of any kind except for poor lonely Eddie Willers) that Dagny has ever had, and they didn't see each other for ten years which means that Dagny was celibate for ten years until she got together with Rearden. But if Dagny and Rearden had exchanged any information about their childhoods of course Dagny would have mentioned that she and d'Anconia knew each other since childhood and that d'Anconia had been working in the copper mines since he was a teenager.

But since Rand's heroes spend most of their waking hours talking about the usual, there is no time for that personal stuff.

So anyway, Rearden goes on trial for selling his Metal to Kenneth Dannager - who buggered off, or as Dannager described it "retired. " There doesn't seem to be a manhunt underway to track him down.

The trial provides a chance for Rand to give us some sense of how the government works, how it got to be that way, etc. etc. but as always Rand declines this opportunity and instead presents the government as a mysterious fog. The trial, run by three judges and completely open to the public, is apparently created to give Rearden a soapbox from which to expound on the usual, to much public acclaim, except of course from the most extreme moochers:
The crowd burst into applause.
Rearden whirled around, more startled than his judges. He saw faces that laughed in violent excitement, and faces that pleaded for help; he saw their silent despair breaking out into the open; he saw the same anger and indignation as his own, finding release in the wild defiance of their cheering; he saw the looks of admiration and the look of hope. There were also the faces of loose-mouthed young men and maliciously unkempt females, the kind who led the booing in newsreel theaters at any appearance of businessmen on the screen; they did not attempt a counter-demonstration; they were silent.
Meanwhile d'Anconia was listening on the radio:
"Do you mean my trial?"
"I mean, your trial."
"How do you know, you weren't there."
Francisco smiled, because the tone of the voice confessed an added sentence: I was looking for you. "Don't you suppose I heard every word of it on the radio?"
Now I have to wonder - is Rearden a complete idiot, or is his playing dumb deliberate in order to get Francisco to admit he heard every word on the radio - as part of their mutual flirtation? Because Rearden had already been told two pages earlier that his speech was on the radio. So why would he ask an idiotic question like "how do you know, you weren't there."?

Or did Rand just not have any editors?

In spite of Dagny's inability and/or disinterest in the personal history of her lovers (and vice-versa) Rearden and d'Anconia get very chatty with each other - and d'Anconia confesses to Rearden that the Latin playboy persona was all an act and launches into a longish lecture on how true manly man only have sex with the most exalted female (i.e. Dagny) and although he doesn't directly say it, it is implied that Francisco d'Anconia has also been celibate for ten years - or actually 11, I think. That means that during the peak of his youth and sexual desirability - and as we know he's charismatic and perfect at everything he does - Francisco d'Anconia has not had sex at all.

So Rand's Supermen are almost as weird as her moochers/looters - Dagny and d'Anconia, despite having no qualms about sex in general each spend a sexless young adulthood and Hank Rearden has been having sex for eight years with a woman he despises and who screws him only out of a wifely duty.

Rand herself had much more sex than her heroes when she was twice their age:
Rand convened a meeting with Nathaniel, his wife Barbara (also a Collective member), and Rand’s own husband Frank. To Branden's astonishment, Rand convinced both spouses that a time-structured affair—she and Branden were to have one afternoon and one evening a week together—was “reasonable.” Within the Collective, Rand is purported to have never lost an argument. On his trysts at Rand’s New York City apartment, Branden would sometimes shake hands with Frank before he exited. Later, all discovered that Rand’s sweet but passive husband would leave for a bar, where he began his self-destructive affair with alcohol. 
By 1964, the 34-year-old Nathaniel Branden had grown tired of the now 59-year-old Ayn Rand. Still sexually dissatisfied in his marriage to Barbara and afraid to end his affair with Rand, Branden began sleeping with a married 24-year-old model, Patrecia Scott. Rand, now “the woman scorned,” called Branden to appear before the Collective, whose nickname had by now lost its irony for both Barbara and Branden. Rand’s justice was swift. She humiliated Branden and then put a curse on him: “If you have one ounce of morality left in you, an ounce of psychological health—you'll be impotent for the next twenty years! And if you achieve potency sooner, you'll know it’s a sign of still worse moral degradation!” 
Rand completed the evening with two welt-producing slaps across Branden’s face. Finally, in a move that Stalin and Hitler would have admired, Rand also expelled poor Barbara from the Collective, declaring her treasonous because Barbara, preoccupied by her own extramarital affair, had neglected to fill Rand in soon enough on Branden's extra-extra-marital betrayal. (If anyone doubts Alan Greenspan’s political savvy, keep in mind that he somehow stayed in Rand’s good graces even though he, fixed up by Branden with Patrecia’s twin sister, had double-dated with the outlaws.)


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Well it's certainly a funny way to talk at a party!

Oh dear God not another Atlas Shrugged party! I thought that the Rearden wedding anniversary was bad, but James Taggart's wedding party, in Part 2 Chapter II is even worse. 

One of the reasons why Rand's party scenes are so excruciating is because they invariably contain lots of moochers and looters - those ugly, stupid haters of anything good, who speak as no humans at a party - or anywhere else - have ever spoken.

The funniest aspect of the whole thing is when Hank Rearden tries to get away from stupid women doing stupid women things but:
He could not find a single straight statement in the conversation of the men; whatever subject they seemed to be talking about never seemed to be the subject they were actually discussing.
Rearden must be making a serious effort to find these seeming tautologies because everywhere else at the party people are saying exactly what they seem to be talking about, right out loud. Which leads to a series of confrontations: Lillian Rearden corners James Taggart to point out that he owes her for bringing Hank Rearden to the party; Lillian Rearden tells Dagny that if she doesn't return her Rearden Metal bracelet it will look like she's having a "scandalous" affair with Hank; and James Taggart and Francisco d'Anconia share with each other most of the contents of their brains concerning the state of d'Anconia Copper.

But mostly Francisco talks for four pages, in his role as the mouthpiece of Ayn Rand's monetary "philosophy" and instead of walking away from this stunning bore, the partygoers all stand around staring at him with their moocher/looter mouths hanging open, causing one woman (I think it's the "flabby-faced" one) to say, once he finally shuts the hell up, "Well it's certainly a funny way to talk at a party!"

Mais non, Madame Flabbyface, it is the only way to talk at an Ayn Rand party!

But at least d'Anconia finally clears up the difference between a moocher and a looter - I had been using the terms interchangeably, but that was wrong:
Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or the looters, who take it from you by force.

So there you go. So far we've only really seen moochers in action although we've heard of the Pirate King who steals government aid supplies - but surely he can't be a looter if he's one of the Randian Supermen.

But that d'Anconia - he's so suave. Is it any wonder that Hank Rearden has a gigantic man crush on him?

It was the muscles of his own face that made Rearden realize the nature of his reaction to Francisco's arrival: he noticed that suddenly he was smiling and that his face had been relaxed into the dim well-being of a smile for some minutes past, as he watched Francisco d'Anconia in the crowd. 
He acknowledged to himself for the first time, all the half-grasped half-rejected moments when he had thought of Francisco d'Anconia and thrust the thought aside before it became the knowledge of how much he wanted to see him again. In moments of sudden exhaustion - at his desk, with the fires of the furnaces going down in the twilight - in the darkness of the lonely walk through the empty countryside to his house - in the silence of the sleepless nights - he had found himself thinking of the only man who had once seemed to be his spokesman. He had pushed the memory aside, telling himself: that one is worse than all the others! - while feeling certain that this was not true, yet being unable to name the reason for his certainty. He had caught himself glancing through the newspapers to see whether Francisco d'Anconia had returned to New York - and he had thrown the newspapers aside, telling himself angrily; What if he did return? - would you go chasing him through night clubs and cocktail parties? - what is it that you want from him?
Pretty surprising coming from a huge homophobe like Rand. For a moment there I thought that Ayn Rand was going to go all slash fiction on her own novel.

And I discovered yet another humorous blog analysis of this awful novel, Atlas 'Clubbed - he concludes his discussion of Part 2 Chapter II perfectly:
The trigger pulled on his latest financial suicide-bomb, Francisco scans the room. Only he, Dagny, and Rearden are left, all exchanging looks. Frank himself is grimly satisfied. Dagny is nonplussed. Rearden is conflicted.
“So, look, I’m just throwing this out there,” he says. ”What are your guys’ thoughts on menage a trois?” 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

It's some sort of fraud, very ancient and vast

OK! I made it through the first chapter of Part 2 of Atlas Shrugged.

While reading I was reminded of the case made in the article Defending Capitalism against Ayn Rand that in fact Rand's heroes are anti-capitalists.

It isn't clear because the world of Atlas Shrugged is incoherent, and she gives lots of lip-service to capitalism - or rather the glory of selfish commerce.

Dr. Stadler is one of the few characters in the novel who isn't completely part of the great dichotomy that runs throughout the book - you're either a moocher or a Superman. Dr. Stadler was in with the Supermen, but he won't stand up to the State Science Institute in its presumably anti-science crusade.

Strangely enough, although the SSI is presented as a sham science organization with metallurgists who can't do anything right, Stadler is thinking in the first page of Part 2 (subtitled "Either-Or" - how's that for a blatant dichotomy?):
Five days of stillness, he thought, with the great laboratory motors stopped and irretrievable hours wiped out, when his staff had been working on problems that involved the heart of the universe.
Now if this was any other novelist I might think Rand was being humorously ironic. So is Stadler so delusional that he thinks that his staff really is working on problems that involve the heart of the universe? And we're suppose to think he's a fool? But even Dagny Taggart thinks he's smart, she calls him in to have a look at the magic motor she found.

Stadler meets with Dagny's approval because he loves machines and scientific achievement as much as she does (and his three favorite students were d'Anconia, the Norwegian terror of the seas, and John Galt) - but then he reveals his fatal character flaw:
...By the time he raised his head - and before he saw the look of admiration in her eyes, the open look he had begged for, the look of forgiveness - he destroyed his single moment's atonement by adding in a voice of drawing-room sarcasm: "Apparently the young man had no desire to work for the good of society or the welfare of science. He told me he would not take a government job. I presume he wanted the bigger salary he could hope to obtain from a private employer." 
He turned away, not to see the look that was fading from her face, not to let himself know the meaning.
So Stadler knew the effect it would have on Dagny, for him to criticize someone for not caring about society or the welfare of science, because immediately after he says it, he avoids looking at her response.

So if he wants her admiration so much, why didn't he just stop himself from blurting out something that he knows will repulse Dagny and just let her admire him for their common love of applied technology?

Because everybody blurts out exactly what they think in Atlas Shrugged, all the time. Even the neurotypicals (i.e. moochers) - and we know that Stadler is a neurotypical and not an Asperger's Syndrome Superman because towards the end of the chapter Dagny and Rearden are trying to puzzle out Stadler's behavior:
"Dagny, they're doing something we've never understood. They know something we don't, but should discover. I can't see it fully yet, but I'm beginning to see parts of it. That looter from the State Science Institute (not Stadler somebody else) was scared when I refused to help him pretend that he was just an honest buyer of my Metal. He was scared way deep. Of what? Public opinion was just his name for it, but it's not the full name. Why should he have been scared? He has the guns, the jails, the laws - he could have seized the whole of my mills, if he wished, and nobody would have risen to defend me, and he knew it - so why should he have cared what I thought? But he did. It was I who had to tell him he wasn't a looter but a customer and friend. That's what he needed from me. And that's what Dr. Stadler needed from you - it was you who had to act as if he were a great man who had never tried to destroy your rail or my Metal. I don't know what it is that they think they accomplish - but they want us to pretend we see the world as they pretend they see it. They need some sort of sanction from us. I don't know the nature of that sanction, but, Dagny - I know that if we value our lives, we must not give it to them. If they put you on a torture rack, don't give it to them. Let them destroy your railroad and my mills, but don't give it to them. Because I know this much: that's our only chance...
...Yes," she said. "yes, I know what you've seen in them... I've felt it too - but it's only like something brushing past that's gone before I know I've seen it, like a touch of cold air, and what's left is always the feeling that I should have stopped it... I know that you're right. I can't understand their game but this much is right: We must not see the world as they want us to see it. It's some sort of fraud, very ancient and vast - and the key to break it is: to check every premise they teach us, to question every precept, to - "
Dagny is cut off because this speech has made Rearden horny and they go at it until the end of the chapter.

I don't know how Ayn Rand could make it any clearer that she has some kind of autism-spectrum syndrome and can't understand the way most people perceive the world - or as Dagny and Rearden prefer to say: "the world as they pretend to see it."

Lacking the ability to see things from another's perspective, Rand thinks that the sympathetic fellow-feeling that the moochers want from other people is a pretense - of course the moochers don't really feel that way if Rand doesn't feel that way. Or as a writer with Asperger's put it:
When I think of Theory of Mind, I think of an amusing, but of course very inaccurate, belief I harbored as a young child.  While playing games like hide and seek, I used to think, "If I can't see them, they can't see me."  Of course, I learned very quickly that that was not the case.  However, the mindblindness of individuals with autism or Asperger's can be similar - "If I can't/don't feel it or perceive it, then they can't/don't feel it or perceive it" (or vice versa).
And this is definitely Rand declaring her beliefs - she was always using the phrase "check your premises" which Dagny proposes as a method that she and Rearden can use to keep out of the clutches of the neurotypicals.

The give-away this isn't some political view, but more elemental, is this passage: "it's some sort of fraud, very ancient and vast."

Yes, ancient and vast as the neurotypical culture that Rand lives in and cannot comprehend, like an alien. And "alien" isn't my concept as a neurotypical - the most prominent Autism community blog is called "Wrong Planet."

And Stadler didn't actively work against Dagny and Rearden. He simply didn't take steps to stop the activities of the SSI or the government. Because, obviously, he loves his job as the head of the SSI. Stadler thinks it's doing work involving "the heart of the universe." But for Dagny and Rearden to see Stadler's actions as sincere self preservation rather than pretense covering malice would mean they'd be forced to acknowledge the complexity of human interactions - which, if they could do that, would destroy their Superpowers and render them mere neurotypicals.

But back to Rand's strange attitude towards capitalism. Rearden can't just sell his Metal and let it go:
"I created that Metal. It is my moral responsibility to know for what purpose I permit it to be used"
As the author of Defending Capitalism says:
In Part II, Chapter 10, Dagny says that Nathaniel Taggart, supposedly the archetypical capitalist, “couldn’t have worked with people like these passengers. He couldn’t have run trains for them.” But no one running a train line, even in a socialist economy, could possibly consider the moral worth of its passengers, or any consideration besides their paying for the ride.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ron Lindsay's real apology

Here it is.

I predicted it, in my post (which was referenced by several other bloggers) Ron Lindsay's non-apology apology for his non-welcome welcome.
I'm guessing the CFI board is going to make him issue a proper apology, and he'll do it rather than lose the prestige of being CEO.
I was able to predict this outcome because that's what happened after Larry Summers suggested the evolved female brain was primarily to blame for women having less distinguished careers in math and science. Although give Ron Lindsay credit - it only took him two tries to come up with a true apology. It took Larry Summers three tries.

The people who lionized Summers and Lindsay for their brave stand against the politically correct somehow forgot that Summers and Lindsay held/hold positions that are in fact political. And so of course their insulting remarks about women - especially at events meant to encourage women's participation in the organizations sponsoring those events, would result in a huge blowback.

Evolutionary psychology promoters are at the root of both controversies. Summers was only echoing Steven Pinker (who came to his defense during the controversy), and Lindsay's hostility, especially towards Rebecca Watson, was the result of the "elevatorgate" controversy sparked by Richard Dawkins' insulting response (and second response which made it worse) to a 3-minute video clip in which Watson recounted an incident that made her uncomfortable.

The evolutionary psychology-infused message is that women need to dial back their charges of discrimination because:
a. it's the fault of their own brains and
 b. men's feelings have been hurt by the charges of male privilege.
Pinker and Dawkins are not politicians - they are celebrity intellectuals who can get away with saying insulting things about women.

Lindsay and Summers perhaps felt they were also celebrity intellectuals rather than of heads of organizations that included women they were insulting. Which makes them not only deluded but very bad politicians.

Perhaps it's a generational thing - Lindsay, Summers, Pinker and Dawkins are all old enough to remember the good old days when you could shit on women and totally get away with it because they're just women. So it must be quite a shock to all of them when women occasionally give them shit back.

After my prediction on the previous blog post I wondered:
Now will all his fanboys who considered him a hero start calling him a "mangina?" We shall see.
I really hope Rebecca Watson or the other skeptic feminist bloggers check in with the various Men's Rights types and report back to the rest of us if that happens - I sure don't want to visit the slymepit.

The awesome somegreybloke appears to be the creator of the excellent parody of MRA/PUA atheists: Dan Cardamon. Although it's only two years after elevatorgate, I don't know if the error is part of the parody or what.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

When he’s not listlessly condemning humanity like a mid-nineties goth girl, he’s fondling hors d’oeuvres and launching them down his gullet

Jesus, another Atlas Shrugged blogger. Here I thought I was some kind of pioneer and instead I'm at least two years late. At least.

I do think mine does cover some bases not covered by the other two I've seen - my critique is more detailed and serious than the others, but what they lack in analysis they more than make up for in entertainment value. I got a good belly laugh out of this passage, especially the part that I bolded - now that is a fine piece of humorous writing:

The most contrived centipede in Ayn’s philosophical vagina is Dr. Simon Pritchett. I guess he’s a postmodernist. I’ll cop to hating them as much as the next guy (assuming that guy gives a shit). I’ll even grant – based on a presentation I watched tried to watch about PoMo jerkoff, Jean-François Lyotard — Pritchett’s arguments could’ve been taken verbatim from a sincere PoMo dipshit. I can’t explain why it’s worth debating a marginal and little understood philosophy aside from it being an easy target. 
Anyway, the effete Pritchett’s all, Who’s to say what’s real? We’re just meaningless chemicals and what not! Nothing matters… and so forth. 
Rearden insists that things do indeed matter. 
Rand, you fucking rebel! Underscoring the hypocrisy and degeneracy of Pritchett’s remarks is that he’s eating. Possibly the only one mentioned eating at all – certainly the only one emphasized doing so. It’s a minor point, but odd. When he’s not listlessly condemning humanity like a mid-nineties goth girl, he’s fondling hors d’oeuvres and launching them down his gullet. I can almost hear him chewing, Lahff ith menninglthss. Weh’r thutht thumb ahnhimals
In the Randverse, the repugnance of his eating snacks and talking at a party is apparently self-evident. If not for her belaboring some point about the seemingly appropriate behavior, I wouldn’t even know it was a problem for her. It’s like she’s saying, Hey, look at this guy. Eating food set out for guests at a party. What an asshole.
So excellent. And no, I didn't notice the blatant symbolic eating by Pritchett. That was a good catch. But really, there is so much egregiously wrong about Atlas Shrugged that it would take a team of bloggers to catch all the bullshit.

Bonus artifact: the scene from ANGELS IN AMERICA where Louis confronts Joe about his relationship with Roy Cohn - they get into a knock-down fight and then after Louis says: "it was like a sex scene in an Ayn Rand novel, huh?"

Saturday, June 22, 2013

She added, "They're the people I hate."

OK this isn't funny any more.

I was all cocky for the first 200 pages of Atlas Shrugged, having a good time mocking Rand's incessant iteration of the simplistic dichotomy that is the basis of her "philosophy" which she uses to replace story-telling.

But now it's just grinding me down. I was determined, though, and I slogged through all the way to the end of Part 1. I won't say it didn't cost me - it was a brutal, bitter, sneering contemptuous struggle - much like Dagny and Rearden having sex.

The simplistic dichotomy is best expressed in the scene between James Taggart and his nineteen-year-old admirer who thinks he's responsible for the success of the John Galt Line. It's set up like a seduction scene, but in the end James Taggart is just too feeble to want sex. Just like Rearden's wife, who makes a play for Rearden when he shows up after months of screwing Dagny - Mrs. Rearden doesn't actually want to have sex with Rearden, she says she was simply doing it out of her wifely duty.

But back to the simplistic dichotomy. This is James Taggart talking to his admirer:
...I'm not so sure it was great - inventing this complex new Metal when so many nations are in need of plain iron - why, do you know that the People's State of China hasn't even got enough nails to put wooden roofs over people's heads?"
"But... but I don't see that that's your fault."
Somebody should attend to it. Somebody with the vision to see beyond his own pocketbook. No sensitive person these days - when there's so much suffering around us - would devote ten years of his life to splashing about with alot of trick metals."
So there it is. You can either help people, or you can have technological innovation. The concept of helping other people through technological innovation is inconceivable.

I have to admit that James Taggart's admirer gave me a brief moment of hope - when her character was introduced I felt a sense of lightness because it seemed that the relentless dichotomy had ceased for a moment - here was a character who could not be put into either the Superman or moocher category, but existed purely for novelistic interest.

What a fool I was. As you can probably guess from the quote above, the admirer is a larval-stage Randian Superman. Her backstory is that she escaped from her moocher family to come to New York City to make something of herself.

Speaking of moochers, it turns out that "Rearden's Washington man" Wesley Mouch, has turned against him and joined the moochers. Wow, who could have seen that coming?

Speaking of Washington - I keep expecting Rand to give us some insight into the dastardly machinations of the government, which produces the various Bills that crop up ("The Equalization of Opportunity Bill", "The Anti-Dog Eat Dog Bill") whenever the Randian Supermen need to be temporarily thwarted. But except for the brief meeting among the non-angular businessmen (also attended by Mouch) in Chapter 2, there is virtually nothing.

And it is the most extraordinary government devised - we've already seen how it generates all-powerful Bills while incapable of forcing the John Galt Line to abide by infrastructural testing regulations or zoning laws. It's a government that is able to provide foreign aid, but unable to stop a Norwegian pirate from stealing it all. The government allows a free market, and a free press - that is, no evidence has been presented that it is the government that is preventing the press from reporting on facts, like the success of the John Galt Line. It seems as though it is simply a societal consensus that facts should be suppressed, the government has made no efforts to directly control the news, like the Soviet Union and Pravda.

As a result, it's impossible to get a handle on the government in Rand World. But I'll let Ayn Rand herself describe it:
(Dagny) had made an appointment to (go to Washington to) see Eugene Lawson, but she told herself she would cancel it and postpone her quest - if she could think of some action to take against the things that she had found on her return to New York, the things Eddie begged her to fight. 
She had tried to think but she could see no way of fighting, no rules of battle, no weapons. Helplessness was a strange experience, new to her; she had never found it hard to face things and make decisions; but she was not dealing with things - this was a fog without shapes or definitions, in which something kept forming and shifting before it could be seen, like semi-clots in a not-quite-liquid - it was as if her eyes were reduced to side-vision and she were sensing blurs of disaster coiling towards her, but she could not move her glance, she had no glance to move and focus.
Exactly. We don't see the machinations that produce one irresistible Bill after another  - it's an inexplicable fog and then suddenly a Bill pops out.

And whose fault is that? Ayn Rand's - she won't explain how the government works - or possibly isn't able to express the complexity of governmental machinations because she only understands simplistic dichotomies.

But Ayn Rand's avatar Dagny doesn't like human machinations anyway - she's only interested in machine machinations, as spelled out in the chapter where Dagny and Rearden take a road-trip/vacation together:
The earth went flowing under the hood of the car. Uncoiling from among the curves of the Wisconsin hills, the highway was the only evidence of human labor, a precarious bridge stretched across the sea of brush, weeds and trees. The sea rolled softy in sprays of yellow and orange, with a few red jets shooting up on the hillsides, with pools of remnant green in the hollows, under a pure blue sky. Among the colors of a picture postcard, the car's hood looked like the work of a jeweler, with the sun sparkling on its chromium steel, and its black enamel reflecting the sky.
Dagny leaned against the corner of the side window, her legs stretched forward; she liked the wide, comfortable space of the car's seat and the warmth of the sun on her shoulders; she thought that the countryside was beautiful.
"What I'd like to see," said Rearden, "is a billboard."
She laughed. He had answered her silent thought. "Selling what and to whom? We haven't seen a car or a house for an hour."
"That's what I don't like about it." He bent forward a little, his hands on the wheel; he was frowning. "Look at the road."
The long strip of concrete was bleached to a powdery grey of bones left on the desert, as if sun and snows had eaten away the traces of tires, oil and carbon, the lustrous polish of motion. Green weeds rose from the angular cracks of the concrete. No one had used the road or repaired it for many years; but the cracks were few.
"It's a good road," said Rearden, "it was built to last. The man who built it must have had a good reason for expecting it to carry a heavy traffic in years ahead."
"Yes..."
"I don't like the look of this."
"I don't either." Then she smiled. "But think how often we've heard people complain that billboards ruin the appearance of the countryside. Well, there's the unruined countryside for them to admire." She added, "They're the people I hate."
I guess local officials are too busy taking bribes to engage in governmental road-building - Rearden believes that "the man" built it.

It isn't just people admiring nature that Dagny hates. It's quotidian human needs desecrating the beauty of machinery:
...(Dagny) felt the anger trembling within her, the hurting, helpless anger that answers the signs of desecration. She wondered whether someone's diapers hung on a clothesline made of the motor's missing wires - whether its wheels had become a rope pulley over a communal well - whether its cylinder was now a pot containing geraniums on the window sill of the sweetheart of the man with the whiskey bottle.
Oh the humanity - babies with their shitty diapers, and drinking out of community wells and the enjoyment of flowers. But don't worry - they'll get theirs.

Once again I was struck by the evidence of the Asperger's point of view. Rand describes a nightmare scenario:
Rearden had to decide how much he could risk to invest upon the sole evidence of a man's face, manner and tone of voice...
In other words, Rearden must be able to "read" another person - that skill used in all face-to-face business transactions, from haggling in a Moroccan souk to cutting deals in a Manhattan boardroom. But for someone with Asperger's, it is impossible.

But don't worry, this inability is actually a sign of Rearden's moral superiority. Cue the simplistic dichotomy on the next page:
"I guess I'm not smart enough to make the sort of deals needed nowadays," he said in answer to the unspoken thoughts the hung across his desk.
The purchasing manager shook his head. "No Mr. Rearden, it's one or the other. The same kind of brain can't do both. Either you're good at running the mills or you're good at running Washington."
"Maybe I ought to learn their methods."
"You couldn't learn it and it wouldn't do you any good. You wouldn't win in any of those deals. Don't you understand? You're the one who's got something to be looted."
It's looter-types who possess the power to read people. Not producers.

And another Objectivist responds to this blog with the usual rational arguments (see comments).

Friday, June 21, 2013

Atlas Shrugged Chapter 8 - reasons to be a bad novelist - plus, I am not alone

One of the most stunning aspects of Atlas Shrugged fandom is how many fans declare that Ayn Rand was a good novelist. You can read the praise for yourself on the Amazon comments for the novel.

Now I can see why fanatical right-wingers would defend the novel - because it is in complete agreement with their extreme us-against-them view of the world, let's kill the moochers, etc. etc. But to claim it's a good novel? By what twisted bizarro world standard could Atlas Shrugged have literary value?

I happened to read Chapter 8, The John Galt Line, this evening and it is a veritable catalog of why Ayn Rand was such a truly bad novelist. Let us count the ways:

The chapter starts out with a two-page monologue by Eddie Willers, Dagny's loyal flunkie. I have to say that I spaced out a little while reading it because while the point of the monologue is sheer exposition, the exposition reiterates for the hundredth time the message of the book, which is that the Randian Supermen are superior, and the moochers are inferior. So at about the half-way point I had the impression that Willers was talking to somebody on the phone and we could only hear his side of the conversation - as if this was a play instead of a novel. But actually no, he's talking to somebody who is right there in the room with him. I had to go back and check because the reference to the other person is so fleeting it made no impression:
The worker smiled, looking at Eddie Willers across the table.
"I feel like a fugitive," said Eddie Willers. "I guess you know why..."
That's it. "The worker smiled." The entire next two pages are Eddie Willers' stream-of-consciousness to the worker.

As I recall, one of the signs of Aspergers is "one-sided verbosity" and this example is so extreme because it's in the context of a novel, and it breaks all the rules of writing a scene containing two alleged people. Although you could make the argument that Rand doesn't consider a worker people.

But the one-sidedness is so extreme that the smiling worker is apparently asking Willers questions but Rand can't even be bothered to write out what the worker says:
No, no, I never asked her why she chose that name. A sort of challenge I guess... I don't know to whom... Oh, it doesn't matter, it doesn't mean a thing, there isn't any John Galt, but I wish she hadn't used it. I don't like it, do you?... You do? You don't sound very happy saying it."
Rand even has Willers say that the worker doesn't sound happy, as if to underline the fact that she couldn't be bothered to just let the worker talk.

Now this isn't some kind of literary device. For the first seven chapters the conversations in the book were written in the standard way. She just suddenly felt like giving Eddie Willers an expositional monologue without any tiresome talking from the other side.

Or consider this tortured sentence a few pages later, while Dagny is having a sort of braniac amour:
A man who existed only in her knowledge of her capacity for an emotion she had never felt, but would have given her life to experience...
But even more egregious than Rand's crappy technique is her inability to create a logical, coherent world for these Supermen and moochers to dwell in. Consider this strange juxtaposition - apparently this world has a free and open stock market and yet the "businessmen" are idiots:
A few businessmen thought that one should think about the possibility that there might be commercial value in Rearden Metal. They undertook a survey of the question. They did not hire metallurgists to examine the samples, nor engineers to visit the site of the construction. They took a public poll. Ten thousand people, guaranteed to represent every existing kind of brain, were asked the question: "Would you ride on the John Galt Line?" The answer was, overwhelmingly, "No, sir-ree!" 
No voices were heard in public defense of Rearden Metal. And nobody attached significance to the fact that the stock of Taggert Transcontinental was rising on the market; very slowly, almost furtively.
OK so this is a world in which most businessmen don't even think that one should think about the possibility that there might be commercial value in Rearden Metal. And of the few who do, they don't hire metallurgists to test the metal, they survey "every existing kind of brain."

So that begs the question: who is buying stock in Rearden Metal? And on what basis are they buying the stock? Because in spite of the fact that this world has a free and open stock market, its newspapers are tightly controlled by some all-powerful anti-fact monopoly:
No space was given by the newspapers to the progress of the construction of the John Galt Line. No reporter was sent to look at the scene. The general policy of hte press had been stated by a famous editor five years ago. "There are no objective facts," he had said. "Every report on facts is only somebody's opinion. It is, therefore, useless to write about facts."
So if even businessmen don't care about facts, how does the stock market in this world work? Hank Rearden brags how much money he's going to make on it by converting Dagny's bonds into stock, and Dagny brags about being a major stockholder in the John Galt Line, so it must be a legitimate financial market. But who else is playing the stock market? Only Randian Supermen? But if there are that many of them, enough to populate a functioning stock market, how is it that their world is completely controlled by the moochers?

In other words, Ayn Rand, who liked to think of herself and her supporters as supremely rational has created a world that does not add up.

And then there's the fact that apparently the one and only test of a bridge made of Rearden Metal will be to drive a train full of people over it.

The chief metallurgist of Associated Steel (who must be unemployed since not even profit-seeking business men will hire metallurgists in Rand World) opines:
"Why no, I don't say that the bridge will collapse... I don't say it at all. I just say that if I had any children, I wouldn't let them ride on the first train that's going to cross that bridge. But it's only a personal preference, nothing more, just because I'm overly fond of children."
So apparently the government run by the Moochers is unable to require the testing of the structural soundness of a bridge before allowing it to open for business.

And then there is the logistics of the John Galt line test drive, going from Cheyenne Wyoming to Denver Colorado (103 miles according to Google Maps - and apparently Rand World has cities with the same names as ones in the real United States):
Eddie Willers was watching her. He stood on the platform, surrounded by Taggart executives, division heads, civic leaders and the various local officials who had been outargued, bribed or threatened, to obtain permits to run a train through town zones at a hundred miles an hour.
So the Moocher government, which up until now has been a formidable opponent against the Randian Supermen, couldn't figure out that all they had to do to prevent the John Galt line from its public-endangering test run was to enforce the existing zoning laws.

Who exactly bribed these local officials? Rand doesn't say - she uses the passive "had been bribed" - but obviously it was somebody acting on behalf of the John Galt Line. So the mighty individualists are able to achieve their crowning moment of glory in the most pedestrian way possible - through the corruption of petty officials.

And let us stop and consider for a moment why public officials would allow themselves to take bribes to permit a train to barrel through their town at dangerously high speeds. Clearly their actions were not for the public good. No the bribed officials were acting out of selfishness.

And as Hank Rearden is constantly bragging, selfishness is the best thing ever. Ayn Rand must believe that the selfishness of public officials in taking bribes is a very good thing indeed.

There are so many other examples of this brain-damaged incoherence and failure of rationality. But for now, I will go to the end of chapter eight, which made me recall the character Louis in ANGELS IN AMERICA saying to former lover Joe Pitt, after they'd just had a vicious fight: "it was like a sex scene in an Ayn Rand novel."
The shock became numbness spreading through her body- she felt the tight pressure in her throat and stomach - she was conscious of a silent convulsion that made her unable to breathe. But what she felt, without words for it, was: Yes, Hank, yes - now - because  it is part of the same battle, in some way that I can't name... because it is our being against theirs... our great capacity, for which they torture us, the capacity of happiness...
Apparently Dagny can't stop thinking about the parasites even while she's being uber-ravished by Hank Rearden.

It only gets more S&M from there. And remember, this book was praised by the former head of the Federal Reserve like this:
"Atlas Shrugged" is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should. 
We will get to the perishing of parasites in Atlas Shrugged soon enough.

I guess I was foolish to think that I was the first to  live blog Atlas Shrugged. This person beat me to it by a couple of years. Although she seems to have not finished it yet, which is a worrying sign for me. I am looking forward to reading her posts, she notices things that I missed - she's absolutely correct in her comment about a scene at the Rearden anniversary party:
The talking heads tell ghost stories about a Norwegian pirate named Ragnar Danneskjöld, exactly as if he were Bloody Mary and they were trying to conjure him up in a bathroom mirror.
And thanks to one of the comments on the post, I discovered this hysterical Atlas Shrugged parody. It's a pitch-perfect rendition of Rand's style and I laughed out loud several times, especially here:
 A distinctive sound caught Dragnie’s ear as she neared the main entrance lobby. It was the sound of a human voice, emanating from the school’s auditorium. She felt herself drawn involuntarily toward it, as if something in her unconscious were responding to something of which she was not conscious.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ayn Rand's theory of mind

Well I gotta say, no topic has brought strangers out of the woodwork to comment on this blog more quickly than my ongoing real-time review of Atlas Shrugged. Last week there were intellectually incurious types who found a single post about Atlas Shrugged on this blog and never ventured out of that one post.

The same is true of Michael R. Brown, a Randian fanatic who came to this blog and posted on it just so he could tell me that it was a waste of space.

Like the other Objectivists, this one also lacks intellectual curiosity, not bothering to venture off that one blog post (according to my web statistics) to see what else I've said about Rand.

Well nobody said intellectual curiosity was a virtue for a cult member.

Most of the people who like Rand are right-wingers, so it's always a surprise when right-wingers critique Rand like this piece in the National Review. Although it is the National Review, founded by William B. Fuckley (as the Reverend Bookburn likes to call him), who never warmed to Rand because her atheism made the Baby Jesus cry.

But the piece contains an Atlas Shrugged spoiler that made me re-evaluate Rand: here I thought she was a sick fuck - but based on the revelation in the NR critique, she's an even sicker fuck than I previously imagined.

It does give me an incentive to continue reading though, to at least get to the bit about the gas train - one of Rand's final solutions for the "moochers."

But before I continue reading Atlas Shrugged I have to go back to Rand's inability to intuit what people are feeling - the ability to do so is called the "theory of mind" which is impaired in somebody with Asperger's Syndrome:
Theory of mind is based on empathy, the ability to feel for others and put yourself in their situation. Being able to do so will make interacting socially much easier. Understanding the emotions people go through will give you the ability to predict their behavior which will effect social interaction. Knowing what to expect will help you know how to respond to the situation. To children who are unable to take into consideration how others might feel, think or respond, the world can be a terrifying place to be.
I found this fascinating Sally and Anne Test designed to evaluate a child's theory of mind skills. As the test result discussion says:
In order to get the test right, the child has to be able to put itself (sic) in the shoes of Sally. 
Sally does not know the ball has been replaced and the right answer of the test will have to be: Sally will search for the ball in the basket. 
Children with Asperger generally will say: Sally will find the ball in the box because that is where it is! 
In spite of the necessity to change perspective 20% of children with Asperger will give the right answer: sally will search the ball in the basket.
Most children with Asperger can answer this right when they are older and more experienced.
 
Children without Asperger Syndrome will have no trouble giving the right answer: Sally will search the ball in the basket. 
So the discussion mentions what a neurotypical child will probably say, and what the child with Asperger's Syndrome is likely to say.

But what might the child with Asperger's say about the child who says that Sally will look for the ball in the basket?

Would the child with Asperger's say the neurotypical child is stupid because they gave the "wrong" answer?

Something else of interest from the same web site, asperger-advice.com:
Due to misunderstanding their behavior, adults with Aspergers can be seen as selfish by their peer group members. Other unfair labels can be: egoistic, cold, rigid or uncaring. Their behavior might appear to be unkind or callous. This kind of labelling is unfair and has nothing to do with behaving inappropriately on purpose. Adults with Asperger syndrome are neurologically unable to see things from the other persons point of view. They are frequently told by their peers or partners that their actions or remarks are considered painful or rude which comes as a shock to them since they were never aware of this in the first place. It’s therefore important to get a diagnosis so people around them understand their behavior better. 
How often does one of the "moochers" in Atlas Shrugged accuse a Randian hero of being selfish, egoistic,  etc? All the fucking time.

Reading a scene in Chapter 7 of Atlas Shrugged made me think about Rand's lack of a theory of mind. When Dagny visits d'Anconia's old college professor, Dr. Stadler, she asks him to explain why the State Science Institute he runs has come out against Rearden Metal. He says:
...if you consider that for thirteen years this Institute has had a department of metallurgical research, which has cost over twenty million dollars and has produced nothing but a new silver polish and a new anti-corrosive preparation, which, I believe, is not so good as the old ones - you can imagine what the reaction will be if some private individual comes out with a product that revolutionizes the entire science of metallurgy and proves to be sensationally successful!
Stadler then gives his reasons for this response to the sensationally successful Rearden Metal:
...Men are not open to truth or reason. They cannot be reached by rational argument. The mind is powerless against them...
Now people like superior goods. They will generally pay more for superior goods. So if Rearden Metal is that awesome, why wouldn't people like it? Well in the case of the metallurgists at the State Science Institute, they don't like Rearden Metal because it threatens their own rational self-interest. They may not be the best metallurgists in the world, certainly not compared to Randian Superman Hank Rearden, but they are smart enough to understand that if Rearden Metal makes their work look bad, it's possible they could lose their jobs, or the very least, suffer from a loss of status. People care about income and social standing.

Coming out against Rearden Metal may be corrupt and in fact harmful to society - dare one say selfish? - but it's a rational, strategic move on the part of the SSI workers. But only if you are willing to grant that they have their own minds, their own motivations, their own point of view.

Instead of granting those things, Rand has the revered teacher of d'Anconia and Galt and the Norwegian pirate explain that it's because the people at SSI are not open to truth, reason or rational argument. They are "nothing but vicious animals" according to Stadler.

And Ayn Rand knows just what to do with those vicious animals who are too stupid to reason with. More about that soon.

For the record, a small sampling of people with autism spectrum disorder do not believe Rand had Aspergers.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The nays have it

To be honest, I was pretty confident that the vote would go against changing the NYCPlaywrights no-fee policy, which is why I had no qualms about posting the poll. The no-change forces won by a handy 80%.

I suspected sentiment was against posting calls for submissions that charged a submission fee but I didn't really have empirical evidence. Now I do. So if anybody ever complains about the policy I can say in all honesty that most people like it.

I certainly like it. I believe it's an insult to ask playwrights to pay for someone to read their script - or not. The fact is that there is virtually no guarantee that your script will even be read, which means that the fee-submission scenario is ripe for abuse. And let's face it, if somebody can pull a scam, it's probable that somebody is pulling a scam.

What really impressed me was how many people were willing to go on the record in support of their opinion which I posted (by explicit permission) on the NYCPlaywrights web site. Not too shabby at all.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Asperger's Shrugged - chapters 6 & 7

Atlas Shrugged makes so much more sense if you don't read it as a pro-capitalist screed  crossed with an ubermenschen romance but rather as someone with Asperger's Syndrome expressing her incomprehension and hostility towards a world dominated by neurotypicals.

That's the only way I was able to get through chapters 6 and 7 of the damn thing this weekend.

So what are the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome? Well according to the Mayo Clinic web site these are some:

  1. Engaging in one-sided, long-winded conversations, without noticing if the listener is listening or trying to change the subject
  2. Displaying unusual nonverbal communication, such as lack of eye contact, few facial expressions, or awkward body postures and gestures
  3. Showing an intense obsession with one or two specific, narrow subjects, such as baseball statistics, train schedules, weather or snakes
  4. Appearing not to understand, empathize with or be sensitive to others' feelings
  5. Having a hard time "reading" other people or understanding humor
  6. Speaking in a voice that is monotonous, rigid or unusually fast
  7. Moving clumsily, with poor coordination

Certainly items 1, 3, 4 and 5 all seem to apply.

This is how Rand describes the relationship between d'Anconia and Dagny, who are the love of each other's lives:
She did not question him about the university. Days later she asked him only whether he liked it.
"They're teaching a lot of drivel nowadays," he answered, "but there are a few courses I like."
"Have you made any friends there?"
"Two."
He told her nothing else.
Mind you, these are Rand's superheroes - this lack of curiosity in each others' lives isn't just an odd trait of characters in a novel - as with all aspects of the Rand superheroes (aka "prime movers") this is supposed to be the ideal mode of behavior.

Dagny learns from d'Anconia's old professor in chapter 6 that his two friends were Ragnar Danneskjold, the Norwegian terror of the high seas (no lie), and John Galt.

One of Ayn Rand's traits according to Ayn Rand Fun Facts is that she despised small talk. This comes as no surprise because she absolutely cannot write small talk. Neither the superheroes nor the looters in Rand's simplistic dichotomy make small talk. Ever. At the excruciating party thrown by Hank Rearden's wife for their eighth wedding anniversary the conversations of the looters are entirely dominated by two blowhards who make the standard anti- "selfishness" and pro-modern art proclamations, peppered by questions from random no-name characters.

In another scene where Dagny is having coffee in a greasy spoon, the conversation proceeds thusly:
Her head fell down on her arm on the counter.
"It's no use lady." said the old bum beside her.
She had to raise her head. She had to smile in amusement at him and herself.
"It isn't?" she asked.
"No. Forget it. You're only fooling yourself."
"About what?"
"About anything being worth a damn. It's dust lady. All of it, dust and blood. Don't believe the dreams they pump you full of, and you won't get hurt. "
"What dreams?"
"The stories they tell you when you're young. About the human spirit..."
And on and on. That's why reading Rand prose is so tiresome - you never get a moment's rest from the proselytizing. Except when Rand is expressing her truly creepy views on human sexuality. In a passage where Rand is writing about the Dagster looking superfine in her ladywear at the Rearden party she says:
The black dress seemed excessively revealing - because it was astonishing to discover that the lines of her shoulders were fragile and beautiful, and that the diamond band on the wrist of her naked arm gave her the most feminine of all aspects: the look of being chained.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Yes, Groucho performed in Gilbert and Sullivan


This also happened according to Wiki:
During a tour of Germany in 1958, accompanied by then-wife Eden, daughter Melinda, Robert Dwan and Dwan's daughter Judith, (Groucho Marx) climbed a pile of rubble that marked the site of Adolf Hitler's bunker, the site of Hitler's death, and performed a two-minute Charleston
That pretty much sums up human civilization.

In case you wondered what the Charleston looks like.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Up votes for forced fatherhood

Let us pause from analyzing the work of Ayn Rand for a moment to discuss the work of that other eccentric opinionated big-mouth: moi.

I was very surprised by how many up-votes I got for my 2 cents on the question "Is Forced Fatherhood Fair?"

309 (by 1PM June 15) is not shabby at all. I thought at most I would get 10. But there's no telling how many down votes I would have received if the NYTimes had made that an option. Certainly some of the crankier respondents to my comment would have down-voted me, especially Terrence from Cincinnati who said, in part:
...Consider suggest a contrary position: that the art of contraception has so advanced that unless a woman signifies otherwise a man may assume the woman has taken steps to prevent pregnancy. If medical remedies advance to the point wherein a man simply has take a Plan-z pill, then perhaps he might be held to be equally responsible...
If this was Facebook I would engage in a debate, but the comments are closed - the NYTimes ain't no Facebook. 

I will say that it's remarkable he thinks the "art of contraception" is so advanced that any man engaging in intercourse with a woman can simply assume that she's taken precautions against pregnancy, and so if a man does impregnate a woman - Terrence clearly implies - he is not to blame and should not be forced into fatherhood. Because in his mind the default position is automatic no-fail birth control.

But his best statement is:
Nancy's remarks sound like a commonly encountered brand of feminism associated with lesbian hatred of men. 
I really have to wonder how things are there in Cincinnati for Terrance to declare the brand of feminism associated with lesbian hatred of men "commonly encountered."

I was wondering when men would start to squeal about being forced into legal fatherhood after they became unwilling biological fathers. This was not an issue until the very recent development of cheap and routine DNA testing completely screwed (so to speak) the traditional male option of denial or running off. 

As I noted in my NYTimes comment, the reason that men could always be so casual about heterosexual sex (well, besides the whole rape-potential issue and the double-standards issue) compared to women is because the stakes have always been lower for men as far as unwanted pregnancy. And now, suddenly, that playing field has been leveled. In the past the woman was always left holding the bag if the man so chose - and millions did - but now suddenly men are on the hook. And of course they hate that.

Now to be fair I could have tempered my last statement "And men don't want to give up the old unfair advantage" with "some men" although we really don't know what the percentages are. And people generally don't like to give up any kind of advantage, fair or not.

Maybe one issue with me is that my father loved being a dad. And he certainly wasn't the kind of person to run out. He was a rock. So it's hard for me to sympathize with men who think they can hit and run. Although I am very pro-choice I can't agree that because a woman could have an abortion in the case of unwanted pregnancy it means she should if the man is unwilling to be a father. And if she doesn't have the abortion, this position says, society should permit the man to refuse all responsibility for the child. 

DNA testing really does change things - men have to take more care in where they stick their penises now than ever before - and wow does that make some men mad. They want society to give them their old advantage back. Well too bad.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

More on chapters 4 & 5 of Atlas Shrugged

When I blogged about chapters 1 - 3 of Atlas Shrugged I said:
The funniest bit so far though, is Rand's imagining how non-angular businessmen talk, as in a scene from chapter 2:
And I quoted some of the things uttered by these "businessmen."

But in chapter 4-5 I discovered that there's an even more implausible way to talk about business - the way that angular businessmen talk. Here's Dagny telling Dan Conway:
I intended to give you the battle of your life, down there in Colorado. I intended to cut into your business and squeeze you to the wall and drive you out, if necessary.
If you've ever worked in business in any capacity, you know that this is how human beings in business do not talk. The primary hallmark of business talk is niceness. Even if you are trying to do something nasty, you talk nice. And so of course Dan Conway responds in a way that is typical of no businessman ever:
He chuckled faintly; it was appreciation. "You would have made a pretty good try at it, too," he said.
It should be noted that Ayn Rand was never a businesswoman - she was a screenwriter and a novelist. Her husband was an actor and a painter. Rand researched the railroad business for Atlas Shrugged not by working with the people who actually ran the business, she researched the business by hanging around Grand Central Terminal and driving a train.

But back to Dan Conway - lest you think he's not an angular businessman, Rand establishes his angular bona fides early on:
 Dan Conway was approaching 50. He had the square, stolid, stubborn face of a tough freight engineer, rather than a company president. 
Conway has a square face. A square, of course, is composed of four right angles.

But back to Rand's representation of the way successful business people talk. Here is Dagny with Hank Reardon (we've already taken the measure of his hypotenuse):
"Pretty steep, Hank. Is that the best price you can give me?"
"No. But that's the one I'm going to get. I could ask twice that and you'd pay it."
"Yes, I would. And you could. But you won't."
"Why won't I?"
"Because you need to have the Rio Norte Line built. It's your first showcase for Rearden Metal."
He chuckled. "that's right. I like to deal with somebody who has no illusions about getting favors."
"Do you know what made me feel relieved, when you decided to take advantage of it?"
"What?"
"That I was dealing, for once, with somebody who doesn't pretend to give favors."
His smile had a discernible quality now: it was enjoyment. "You always play it open, don't you? he asked.
We've already met Dagny's unlikely brother, James, a loser in every way, starting with his lack of angularity, and probably the bastard of a wayward government employee. Here he is in the childhood flashback speaking to Dagny and Francisco d'Anconia:
"Don't you ever think of anything but d'Anconia Copper?" Jim asked him once.
"No."
"It seems to me that there are other things in the world."
"Let others think about them."
"Isn't that a very selfish attitude?"
"It is."
Actually, no, it isn't. How can not caring about other things in the world be characterized as "selfish"? Boring, maybe. But it's only selfish if his interest in d'Anconia Copper somehow prevented other people from enjoying the contemplation of copper mining and processing. And ironically, d'Anconia shortly after this exchange, tells James that "words have an exact meaning."

But James must accuse d'Anconia of selfishness, just as Mother Reardon has to accuse Hank Reardon of selfishness, because Rand's heroes are virtuously selfish - and so the anti-heroes must be against selfishness, incessantly. Even if it means sacrificing the mot juste to describe Francisco d'Anconia's attitude towards his ancestral copper company, which would be "monomania."

So Rand considers monomania a good thing, and lacks insight into the motivations of human beings. Is it possible that Ayn Rand had Asperger's

I looked it up and discovered that although there's no record of her getting an official diagnosis, at least one of her admirers thinks so. In his review of two Rand biographies libertarian Stephen Kirchner writes:
...It is almost certain that Rand had Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition that has only come into greater awareness since the early 1990s... 
...It is possible that neither  author knew enough about Asperger’s to make the necessary connections, but there is abundant evidence for this proposition, particularly
in Heller’s description of Rand’s childhood. It is perhaps just as well that neither author explicitly considers this possibility, because it would be all too easy to pathologise
Rand, leading to a reductionist psycho-biography that would have done disservice to her ideas and influence. 
No surprise, Kirchner hates Paul Krugman, believing apparently that he played a successful round of gotcha with Krugman over some variation in the cover art of one of Krugman's books, while making common cause with crackpot Krugman-obsessive Donald Luskin.

The competing neuro-atypical theory is that Rand was a sociopath.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Who is the angularest one of all?

Well I finally got back to Atlas Shrugged. I read chapters 4 AND 5!

Although I must admit that the thing that kept me slogging along through two whole chapters was wanting to find out exactly how angular Francisco d'Anconia is. And I was not disappointed.

Chapters 4 and 5 are mostly a flashback to Dagny and d'Anconia growing up together and then falling in love as young adults - but then D'Anconia mysteriously went away.

Then we come back to the present and Dagny is meeting d'Anconia in a swanky hotel. There are many noteworthy items here but I'll save them for later. The most important aspect of these two chapters is the passage near the end of chapter five when Rand finally describes d'Anconia:
Nobody described his appearance as Latin, yet the word applied to him, not in its present but in its original sense, not pertaining to Spain but to ancient Rome. His body seemed designed as an exercise in consistency of style, a style made of gauntness, of tight flesh, of long legs and swift movements. His features had the fine precision of sculpture.
So there we go. The perfect Ayn Rand man - gaunt, tight, long, precise. She doesn't use the word angular but all that tight gauntness can lead to nothing else.

To be honest, I already knew he was the perfect Ayn Rand hero because prior to his physical description we learned he was obsessed with work and with making money and every single thing he ever attempts he does perfectly the first time, from hitting a baseball to driving a speed boat.

And when it comes to l'amour, well let's just say that ole Francisco takes what he wants with nary a trace of altruism.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Arguing with Objectivists

Like arguing with born-again Christians or Scientologists, it's really pointless to argue with Objectivists - hard-core devotees of cults cannot be reasoned with. So when, over the past couple of days, I got a couple of hard-core Rand-roids commenting on my recent post about Krugman name-dropping Francisco d'Anconia it was amusing for about the first couple of go-rounds before the zombie-like recitation of Objectivist talking points kicked in. A Leftist is to an Objectivist what a Body Thetan is to a Scientologist.

One thing I will say about Objectivism vs. Scientology - it's pretty clear that Scientology is far more organized and far more dangerous than Objectivism, even in spite of the popularity of Objectivism among Republican politicians. As Operation Clambake has documented, Scientology is far better at parting people from their money, friends and family, and is crazy-litigious to boot.

But the general principle of mindless cult behavior still applies to both: the Objectivist visitors are so intellectually incurious they couldn't even be bothered to check out the rest of this web site - my web statistics indicate that they only go to that one single web page every time they visit. Meanwhile they could be reading my review of the first three chapters of Atlas Shrugged.

Of course I'm not the first one to get the Rand-Hubbard connection, as this hysterical Cracked video demonstrates. Although really Ayn Rand should have a Russian accent.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

That perennial tautology - evolutionary psychology douchebag

Devotees of evolutionary psychology are in a never-ending campaign to prove that their  unifying personality trait is extreme douchebaggery.

I've been informally documenting the phenomenon on this blog for years now.

The latest I discovered by way of this week's New York Magazine Approval Matrix - and then I went to Jezebel to check out the response - and I was not disappointed in all the hearty EP-slamming that went on. Although maybe best of all is this GIF of Mr. Rogers flipping the bird times two - although this being Mr. Rogers I do not doubt that what he was actually doing was singing a song about counting up to two.

Without further ado:


I have no doubt that Geoffrey Miller, Twitter handle "@matingmind" considers college classes his personal dating pool and doesn't like fat chicks. Because you know, being fat is a sign of being evolutionarily unfit - never mind that being too thin lowers fertility much more than being too fat. But then EPs just make it up as they go along.

But let us review the douchebaggery of the evolutionary psychologists.

Pinker never misses a chance to claim that the real reason anybody opposes the claims of evolutionary psychology is because they are a leftist. And then he turns around and uses hard-core right-wingers like Razib Khan to support his work.

Apparently he's obsessed with supermodels.

Rybicki defended his "joke" by claiming that it's funny cause it's true, citing the Proceedings of the Third Annual Meeting of the NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society.

For most people who have heard of him, he's the guy who said that women aren't funny. Serves him right.

I disliked Merkin's writing anyway, but I didn't write about it until she wouldn't shut up about how nature made old men hot and old women shit.

he manages to blend that with anti-Muslim bigotry so perfectly.

Because according to Evolutionary Psychology women have evolved to only mate with men who have more money than them. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Three degrees of Ayn Rand

Something almost as exciting as reading "Atlas Shrugged" is discovering that I'm three degrees of Ayn Rand, sort of. The Ayn Rand Fun Facts notes that Ayn Rand was three degrees of Kevin Bacon:



Well, here's my Ayn Rand connection along those lines:


And Taylor Shilling wasn't only in the movie version of Atlas Shrugged, she played Dagny fucking Taggart. It's a small world after all.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Krugman and the Atlas Shrugged gang

One of the more amusing aspects of researching Ayn Rand for the play I'm working on is that I can just do a quick search of Paul Krugman's blog archives - he's mentioned Rand on many occasions as you can see here. But one mustn't only do a search on her name because Krugman also mentions characters from Atlas Shrugged. Just the other day he wrote:
Actually, before I get there, a word about self-styled conservative “market monetarists”: guys, have you noticed who your real policy enemies are? People like me, Brad DeLong, etc. are skeptical about the Fed’s ability to offset the effects of fiscal austerity, but we do want it to try. The furious academic opposition to quantitative easing is instead coming from moderate conservative macroeconomists, notably Taylor and Feldstein. So your problem isn’t just that the GOP’s effective leader on economic issues gets his macro from Francisco D’Anconia; it’s that even the not-so-silly wing of the party is dead set against what you consider reform.
Until recently I wouldn't have realized that this was a dig against Rand-worshipping Libertarians because I didn't know enough about Atlas Shrugged to realize that Francisco D'Anconia is the Latin millionaire playboy who had an affair with Rand's Mary Sue figure in the novel, Dagny Taggart.

Krugman also noted Paul Ryan's debt to Francisco D'Anconia.

But yes, I know. I can't keep avoiding it. The only way I can really critique Atlas Shrugged is to finally read the damn thing. And I promise I will read the whole damn thing. Even if it takes me years. Which it might.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The man who threw me for a loop

When this Scout Master was twenty-five he was the sexiest man on earth.

And to be fair, he's still pretty cute for his age, which is forty-seven. He still has a definite Harrison Ford thing going on. It's a shame he's losing his hair though, he had beautiful hair. But compared to many guys his age he's still pretty desirable. Even in that shirt.

I got this photo from Facebook, naturally. We aren't Facebook friends, there would be no point in friending him, but he's one of those people who leaves his Facebook profile open to the public. The Scout Master posted this because his son had received a Boy Scout badge or something. The Scout Master (SM) is very much into doing father-son things, judging from his Facebook profile, posting photos of his son's soccer games and camping trips all the time. Adorable. Although he never posts photos of himself - this was the only one I saw.

I don't often think about the SM these days, but it's hard to over-estimate how much impact this person had on my life and my erotic imagination, when I knew him when he was my supervisor in the graphics department of the corporate headquarters of a now-defunct toy manufacturer. I still remember the moment I first laid eyes on him. I was absolutely stunned by his beauty. I think I stood there for several seconds, staring and gaping, unable to believe my eyes as we were introduced. Working with him on a daily basis I was soon completely in love with him. Which I felt guilty about since I was in a ten-years-long relationship at the time, and the SM was dating the woman he would marry and produce a Boy Scout with. And I thought he was out of my league anyway, although he did once invite me to his apartment after work, and I didn't go because I had a prior appointment.

To get an idea of how sexy this man was, he was sexier than my friend Earl, who was legendarily sexy. When I told my friend Rachel, who was a coworker of mine and Earl about the SM and said that he was sexier than Earl, she could not believe it. But it was true. No wonder I used to have blue ovaries at the end of the work week from the intense, unfulfilled desire. And he wasn't only beautiful, he had (probably still has) a funny, down-to-earth personality too. I described him to Rachel as a cross between a young Harrison Ford and Michaelangelo's David, but with the personality of John Goodman. Predictably, women used to throw themselves at him - I once witnessed a woman arriving at a party grab him and French kiss him while his fiancee was ten feet away. He once mentioned to me that a coworker at the toy manufacturer told him she wanted to see him naked. The 50-something receptionist at the company was clearly ga-ga over him. He was that kind of sexy.

The SM had more impact on me than Earl, or the guy who inspired me to write dozens of sonnets. Ten years after I last saw the SM I was still having sexy dreams about him.

And thanks to this man I became a playwright. I was a graphic artist/illustrator when I met him but in an attempt to stay in contact with him after I left the toy manufacturer (I had only been a temp there for seven months) I entered a play contest at the community theater he worked with in Haddonfield NJ. My play, the first one I wrote, was one of four semi-finalists, although it didn't win the big prize. But it received a stage reading  and that was enough to get me started. Although the SM wasn't all that much into theater anyway, and by the time the play readings happened had since dropped out of the community theater.

I sometimes wonder if my life would have been better if I hadn't met the Scout Master - and if I had remained a visual artist and not become a playwright. Certainly I would never have met the dread Edward Einhorn or a certain gang of contemptible off-off Broadway actors. That would definitely have been a plus.

But mostly I wonder why the hell I didn't cancel that appointment and go over to the Scout Master's apartment when he invited me.