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Atlas Summer: Part Two: Chapter 8: By Our Love

September 28, 2010 7 comments

The Taggart Comet meets its end.

Chapter VIII: By Our Love

Summary: While the passengers and crew of the Taggart Comet chug towards their doom, Dagny slowly goes mad in the seclusion of her family cabin.  The woman is congenitally incapable of relaxing, which, of course, signals her worth as a human: she craves purpose, she must create at all times! She even considers creating a new roadway near Woodstock to reduce travel time.  Her restlessness is made even worse by her ceaseless pining for Hank Rearden, who she hasn’t spoken to since fleeing into the wilderness.

Someone finally shows up, but it isn’t Hank, it’s Francisco.  He’s finally ready to reveal to Dagny the secret of his mysterious hedonism and business failure, and shepherd her away from Taggart Transcontinental once and for all.  But before he can finish, an absurdly detailed radio report announces the fate of the Taggart Comet.  Sure enough, everyone on the Comet was asphixiated in the tunnel, and then, after the train broke down in the middle of the tunnel, the explosives-laden Army special collided with it, blowing both trains up and collapsing the Taggart tunnel forever!  Dagny is running to her car to get back to New York before Francisco can stop her.

Meanwhile, at Taggart Transcontinental, the fallout of the Comet disaster continues to reverberate.  James has written his resignation (with no intention of submitting it, of course, just as a hole card), and Eddie Willers is quitting rather than revealing Dagny’s whereabouts.  James blows his stack as the insolence, but before they can come to blows or James can summon the employment police, Dagny arrives.  Instantly, she’s issuing orders to reestablish the Comet line; extending track, buying trunk lines, changing gauges, generally showing just why Dagny is basically the only person on earth who can keep Taggart Transcontinental going.  After a hard day of saving the American economy singlehandedly, Dagny gets a booty call from Hank, setting the stage for a night of life-affirming, purposeful intercourse.

Reflections: Chapter Eight is a mercifully short chance to bask in the Objectivist Mindset, as personified by Dagny Taggart.  Left at loose ends in the wilderness, Dagny is unable to rest at all: her mind is constantly working on challenges: there is no introspection, there is no contemplation, there is no quiet.  According to Rand, people are like sharks: if they’re not moving forward, they’re dying.  Undergirding the whole ethos is a fundamental hostility to the natural world, as exemplified by Dagny’s compulsive need to enforce order on the wilderness around her.  Nature, in the Randian view, is a stupid, thoughtless mechanism. People only show themselves valuable to the degree to which they impose their minds on the dumb tabula rasa of the natural world.  This means building roads through woods, paving the unruly wilds, replacing dirt with concrete, wood with plastic, and animals with robotic simulations of same.

The only dog worth a damn is a dog with batteries.

This speaks to the fundamental conflict between libertarianism and the environment.  Of  course, libertarians have plenty of arguments that capitalism is the best way to preserve natural resources: if the natural world is owned by people, those people will have a rational self interest in seeing those resources preserved.  But that is a purely instrumental argument that sees nature only as a commodity.  If the “resource” part of the term “natural resource” became obsolete because of some technological breakthrough (nanobots, perhaps?) , is there any doubt that Randians would gladly trade the Redwood forests for a glittering array of polycarbon robots?  Since a redwood tree was not brought into being by the will and intelligence of humans, just the dumb machinations of seeds and dirt, it has no value.  Hell, a McDonalds Happy Meal toy from  “The Emperor’s New Groove” has more value than a redwood tree in the Randian cosmology.  I don’t think that any person who values the majesty and transcendence of the natural world could embrace a philosophy that fetishzes the most banal human output while treating the actual environment like an obstacle to achievement.

Tacoma, WA Best Buy parking lot >>>>> Grand Canyon

Quotes:

“A circle, she thought, is the movement proper to physical nature, they say that there’s nothing but circular motion in the inanimate universe around us, but the straight line is the badge of man, the straight lineof a geometrical abstraction that makes roads, rails and bridges, the straight line that cuts the curving aimlessness of nature by a purposeful motion from a start to an end.”

“I am destroying d’Aconia Copper, consciously, deliberately, by plan and by my own hand.  I have to plan it as carefully and work as hard as if I were producing a fortune–in order not to let them notice it and stop me, in order not to let them seize the mines until it is too late.  All the effort and energy I had hoped to spend on d’Aconia Coppe, I’m spending them, only…only it’s not to make it grow.  I shall destroy every last bit of it and every last penny of my fortune and every ounce of copper that could feed the looters.  I shall not leave it as I found it–I shall leave it as Sebastian d’Aconia found it–then let them try and exist without him or me!” –Francisco d’Aconia

“We kept mankind alive, yet we allowed men to despise us and to worship our destroyers.  We allowed them to worship incompetence and brutality, the recipients and the dispensers of the unearned.” –Francisco d’Aconia. Dude’s on fire.

“Dagny, any office boy could have issued orders here since the morning and everybody would have obeyed him.  But even the office boys know that whoever makes the first move today will be held responsible for the future, the present and the past–when the buck-passing begins. He would not save the system, he would merely lose his job by the time he saved one division.” –Eddie Willers

Atlas Summer: Part Two: Chapter 7: The Moratorium on Brains

September 20, 2010 2 comments

“Now go get your shine-box!”

“That was it. No more letters from truant officers. No more letters from school. In fact, no more letters from anybody. How could I go back to school after that and pledge allegiance to the flag and sit through good government bullshit.”

“For us to live any other way was nuts.  To us, those goody-good people who worked shitty jobs for bum paychecks and took the subway to work every day, and worried about their bills, were dead. I mean they were suckers. They had no balls. If we wanted something, we just took it. If anyone complained twice they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again.”

Henry Hill, Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)

Chapter VII: The Moratorium on Brains

Pages: 567 – 607

Summary: The chapter begins with Eddie Willers again talking to the unknown worker in the underground cafeteria.  Another exposition dump bringing the reader up to date on things.  (Given the inordinate length of the novel and the static nature of the scenes, couldn’t Rand just as easily written an epic tome but with more action in it?  The exposition-speech-exposition shtick is wearing thin.)

Ragnar kind of looks like this guy.

In Philadelphia, Hank attempts to find a way to divorce his wife Lillian, provided she receive no money or property in the settlement.  Hank Rearden wanders down a lonely road and meets a man looking like a bandit.  The man reveals himself to be none other than the dread pirate Ragnar Danneskjöld.  Hank can be forgiven for not recognizing him, since Rand describes Ragnar as a blonde-haired blue-eyed athletic man in a windbreaker.  Despite the fact that a pirate raiding ships would make for compelling action and provide more illustrative examples of Objectivism at work, Rand chooses to have Ragnar uncork a Francis D’anconia-like speech on Hank.  At the end of the speech (about the usual topics: gold, lazy poor people, and the evil income tax), Ragnar offers Hank a gold bar.  The gold bar represents the profits the looters stole from him.  He also vows to give Hank what the government stole from him on his income tax.  In his lengthy monologue, Ragnar tells Hank that he’s raised funds from trading with black marketeers in the People’s States of Europe.  He fancies himself the Anti-Robin Hood, since he steals from the poor and gives to the rich.  More accurately, he steals from the undeserving poor and gives to the productive rich.  Hank, the perpetual Mary Sue, refuses the gold bar since he wouldn’t accept anything from a lawbreaker.

Kip Chalmers isn’t one for subtlety.

On a special train, that one could call The Poetic Justice Express, Kip Chalmers and a pair of looter sycophants travel across the country on their way to a political rally out west.  Chalmers, a Legislator, is part of the nomenklatura, a special caste “more equal” than the rest.  The train does not make it because it is beset with mechanical problems and Chalmers has to deal with the Byzantine bureaucratic foibles of Taggart Transcontinental employees.  Buck-passing by incompetents ensues until finally an outdated diesel engine is sent to the derailed train, trapped in a tunnel.  With ferocious relish, Rand describes each and every passenger of the train.  Each passenger (men, women, and children) are found collectively guilty because they subscribed to the looter philosophy.  Because of this, they meet their Objectivist-justified deaths.  Did I mention I find this ugly and repellent?

Observations: Thank the Almighty Dollar we’re nearly halfway done with this book.  With each successive chapter, it seems like Rand is daring the reader to throw the book across the room.  Her philosophy has gone from debatable to morally repellent.  I know what you’re going to say.  “This is just a book, man.  Chill out.”  Sure, sure.  So was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Jungle, the Turner Diaries, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and the Da Vinci CodeUncle Tom’s Cabin was just a book too … or so people in Kansas thought until John Brown bisected them with a sharpened broadsword.

Moving on …

I mentioned in the summary that I now find Atlas Shrugged morally repellent.  The charge requires clarification and explanation.  The anarcho-libertarian thread weaving its way through the narrative is debatable.  One can discuss the philosophy’s finer points and at least come away with an appreciation for an alternate perspective on morality and economics.  What happened in Chapter VII borders on jumping the shark.  Due to the world of Atlas Shrugged becoming more and more like a kakistocracy, the reader is left with no option but to put his or her loyalty behind the philandering, wife-beating, rough sex-having Objectivist Heroes.

Ragnar Danneskjöld espouses the usual free market mythology to Hank Rearden.  Another case of preaching to the converted, or semi-converted, since Hank agrees with nearly everything Ragnar says but refuses to take the gold bar due to his own unalloyed ideological purity.  The scene’s utter lack of drama is not my concern here.  The Republic and The Symposium weren’t that plot-heavy either and the philosophical novels of the Marquis de Sade possess characters railing off equally long-winded tirades.

“Is that crazy Ayn Rand lady still yammering on about the income tax while we die on the street?”

First, Ragnar’s appearance is a bit disconcerting, given that World War 2 ended only a decade earlier.  The blonde-haired blue-eyed athletic person is the hero.  Throughout the novel, morality has been unambiguously linked to appearance.  Ragnar looks like a Nazi caricature.  Francisco D’anconia is a Spaniard.  (In 1957 Spain was also ruled by a non-communist whose first name was Francisco.)  Hank Rearden is a muscular Nordic genius.  And the entire novel swoons when it describes technology and speed … two main motifs in the proto-fascist movement called Futurism.  When do these accumulated motifs stop becoming coincidental?  Francisco Franco and Adolf Hitler were both dictators and butchers, but they were also committed anti-communists.  One of the social trends following the War was that “We had fought on the wrong side.”  One of Churchill’s crazier schemes was to continue fighting the War until the Allies reached Moscow.  It could have possibly ended the Cold War decades earlier, but it could have also seriously depopulated the Earth.

The Nazis had awesome technology that could have been used to fight the USSR.  The USSR and the USA both used Germans to build their space programs.  (Then again, FOX News has numerous blonde-haired female news readers.  I’m probably just overreacting.)

But does the ideological carpet match the drapes?

Second, Ragnar’s monologue is at once a hyperventilating rant against the status quo and a fatuous attack on the income tax.  World events provide a degree of context.  In 1956, the Soviet Union sent troops and tanks to crush the Hungarian Revolution.  The Korean War ended less than five years after Atlas Shrugged was published and World War 2 remains real and raw in the memories of every American.  So while Hungarians were dying at the hands of brutal Soviet oppression and American troops were dying at the hands of Korean and Chinese Communist arms, Rand expounds on the most profound evil imaginable: the income tax.  (NB: The income tax is in the US Consitution.  Article 1, Section 8 reads as follows:

“The Congress shall have power To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”)

The income tax reached very high levels, especially for the wealthy, in the Fifties and Sixties.  Following the Soviet incursions and real threats of nuclear annihilation, how else was the US government going to finance its military-industrial complex?  Rand and Objectivism were indeed popular, but could the free market warriors raise the funds to purchase, say, a wing of B-52s or an aircraft carrier, without the income tax?

How many Objectivist bake sales would it take to purchase a B-52?

Ironically, the libertarian philosophy espouses replacing the income tax with the flat tax.  (The income tax boils down to “the more you make, the more you pay” whereas the flat tax means “everyone pays equally.”)  Given what’s been said in Atlas Shrugged, the flat tax seems oddly egalitarian and therefore suspicious.  Only looters and second raters want to be treated equally.  That said, the US tax code should be radically reformed, since it is an incomprehensible Byzantine labyrinth and used as a mechanism for social engineering by condescending nitwits from both the Right and the Left.  It doesn’t matter which major party controls Washington, DC, the idea that the government knows what its doing is laughable.  Most politicians will slavishly adhere to whatever the polls say or whatever will garner them more votes for their inevitable re-election.  However, I don’t need Ayn Rand to tell me the government is full of crap.

But why would anyone trust his advice?

Third, Ragnar characterizes himself as an Anti-Robin Hood, since one has to justify a hatred for economic redistribution somehow.  While his characterization is typical Rand purposely misreading a common text anyone could understand, this relates to Ragnar’s anti-tax, anti-regulation anarcho-capitalist philosophy.  Rand blames the misreading on the looters (obviously), having propped up a false mythology of the needs of the poor over the proper moral of the legend, which is restoring property.

Since the world of Atlas Shrugged is such a miserable kakistocracy, a kleptocracy founded on the presumption that the government knows what’s good for the people, it allows Ragnar to justify his sleep-inducing ideological purity.

Let’s compare Atlas Shrugged to Robin Hood.

Robin Hood aka Robin of Locksley: Prince of Locksley who “stole from the rich to give to the poor,” or more accurately returned the wealth stolen from them by the nefarious Sheriff of Nottingham.  (Since the Sheriff was both a law enforcement official and a tax collector, Rand has to misread the Robin Hood legend to oppose it.)

King John: A greedy incompetent boob who stole the throne from Richard, the rightful heir.  Sounds a bit like James Taggart, friend to the looters and incompetent fool.

Maid Marian: Dagny, although she’s hardly a maid as Lillian aptly noted, since she’s been laid by half the section hands of Taggart Transcontinental.  To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, Patron Saint of Snark, “If you laid the graduates of Patrick Henry University from end to end, you wouldn’t be the least surprised.”  Atlas Shrugged is like Chasing Amy, but with more minutiae about trains.

Richard the Lionheart: The saintly heroic king who had his throne stolen from him while he fought in the Third Crusade.  In Atlas Shrugged, Hank Rearden seems a likely parallel.

The Sheriff of Nottingham: The corrupt chiseling sheriff, who extracts the earnings of the peasantry, then throws the indebted in jail.  The looter government of any people’s state seems an obvious comparison.  The Sheriff as both a law enforcement official and tax collector is representative of the libertarian concept of “limited government.”  King John was a moron, but at least he had one person doing both tasks.  The Sheriff also puts a crimp in the Objectivist mythology of limited government, since Objectivists are anti-taxes but pro-law enforcement.

Little John: Robin’s right hand man.  In Atlas Shrugged, Eddie Willers fits the bill as omnipresent sidekick.

Friar Tuck: A goodhearted friar who helps Robin.  No equivalent in Atlas Shrugged, since Ayn Rand thinks religion is for irrational stupid people.

Ragnar’s misreading of the Robin Hood legend is based on the premise that all rich people are industrious and all poor people are lazy thieves.  Since Rand deals in easy caricatures, it only follows her philosophy should be built on the bedrock of generalizations.  Suffice it to say, all rich people aren’t evil and all poor people aren’t lazy.  How ironic for a philosophy that fetishizes the individual to traffic in these generalizations.  Karl Marx, in his critique of free market economics, attacks this misguided premise at its root:

“This primitive accumulation plays approximately the same role in political economy as sin does in theology.  Adam bit the apple, and thereupon sin fell on the human race.  Its origin is supposed to be explained when it is told as an anecdote about the past.  Long, long ago there were two sorts of people; one, the diligent, intelligent and above all frugal elite; the other, the lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living.   …  Such insipid childishness is every day preached in the defense of property.  …   In actual history, it is a notorious fact that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, in short, force, play the greatest part.  In the tender annals of political economy, the idllyic reigns from time immemorial.  …  As a matter of fact, the methods of primitive accumulation are anything but idyllic.”

Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1 (1867)

What is fascinating is that Ragnar’s tirade in favor of the powerful comes close to another atheist philosopher:

“Destruction being one of the chief laws of Nature, nothing that destroys can be criminal; how might an action which so well serves Nature ever be outrageous to her?  The destruction of which man is wont to boast is, moreover, nothing but an illusion; murder is no destruction; he who commits it does but alter forms, he gives back to Nature the elements whereof the hand of this skilled artisan instantly re-creates other beings.”

Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795), Marquis de Sade.

Which brings us to the end of the chapter, where Rand, with relish, describes a variety of individuals on the train?  In the end, they all die from inhaling toxic fumes from the old coal burning train.  Since the accident was caused by the incompetence of those following the looter philosophy, not only do the passengers die, they deserved to die.  It isn’t said so explicitly, but one can hardly misinterpret the scene.  Unfortunately for any reader of the novel, the kakistocracy is now in power and the reader has to swallow that these deaths were a good thing.  Granted, it’s just a novel, and not a well-written one at that, so my repulsion is more with the principle of the thing and not its artless inventory of caricatures traveling on the train.  So soon after World War 2 and the Holocaust, the death via smoke inhalation just didn’t sit well with me.

Quotes:

  • “That is the horror which Robin Hood idealized as an ideal of righteousness.  It is said he fought against the looting rulers and returned the loot to those who had been robbed, but that is not the meaning of the legend which has survived.  He is remembered, not as a champion of property, but as a champion of need, not as a defender of the robbed, but as a provider of the poor.”
  • “It is the foulest of creatures – the double-parasite who lives on the sores of the poor and the blood of the rich – whom men have come to regard as the moral ideal.”  This is reminiscent of another Ragnar: “Socialism, Christianism, Democratism, Equalityism are really the whining yelpings of base-born mongrel-multitudes.  They howl aloud for State intervention – “protection for suffering humanity” – regulated mill-grinding, as it were, with the State to be their Supreme Idol, their God and Master, their All-in-All, their Great Panjandrum.” (from Might is Right, Ragnar Redbeard [1896]).

  • “If men like Boyle think that force is all they need to rob their betters – let them see what happens when one of their betters chooses to resort to force.”

  • “You’re one of them, Mr. Rearden.  I cannot compute all the money that has been extorted from you – in hidden taxes, in regulations, in wasted time, in lost effort, in energy spent to overcome artificial obstacles.”  Granted the laws and regulations enacted by the looter government in the novel are profoundly stupid, this is not real life, nor should it be interpreted as such.  These generalizations simplify the novel’s drama – what little there is – but paper over complex government and corporate issues.  Living in the Great Recession, nearly two decades following the collapse of the USSR, one can see how both a totally planned economy and a totally deregulated economy can fail.  With proper regulations, the economy can be disciplined into thoroughbred performance.  With no regulations whatsoever, the economy is about as stable as a meth lab.  What makes for proper regulation?  It’s best decided on a case-by-case basis and with a non-politicized regulatory body.

Atlas Summer: Part Two: Chapter 6: Miracle Metal

September 12, 2010 1 comment

Chapter VI:  Miracle Metal

A gathering of Satan’s minions, or the House subcommittee  on Agriculture? You be the judge!

Summary: Chapter Six opens on a Witch’s Sabbath in Washington.  The high priest of looterdom himself, “Head of State” Mr. Thompson presides over a collection of public and private criminals as they plot the final government takeover of the economy.  There’s Orren Boyle and Jim Taggart and Wesley Mouch and union kingpin Fred Kinnan and the chief propagandist of socialism, Dr. Ferris.  They’ve gathered to prepare for the declaration of Directive Number 10-289.  This set of laws will make it illegal for people to quit or be fired from their jobs, or for companies to go out of business.  All patents will be turned over to the government and all future inventions will be banned (?).  Both manufacturing production and consumer purchasing will be fixed by a “Unification Board.”  Dr. Ferris and James Taggart try to justify the new laws on philosophical and political grounds.  It’s left to the comically vernacular language of the gangster Kinnan to lay out the reality of the situation.  “I know that I’m delivering the poor bastards into slavery, and that’s all there is to it.  And they know it too.  But they know that I’ll have to throw them a crumb once in a while, if I want to keep my racket.”  He’s a tough guy, see?

Jimmy Hoffa ain’t got nuttin’ on Fred Kinnan

Dagny is hard at work at Taggart Transcontinental, rerouting trains and cannibalizing old lines to temporarily fix new ones, when the news comes over the transom about Directive Number 10-289.  She promptly quits and escapes to the Taggart family cabin in the Berkshires.

At the Rearden foundry, all the competent engineers have fled, leaving Hank increasingly alone and beset by government vampires intent on expropriating Rearden Metal.  Dr. Ferris shows up to blackmail Hank’s patent from him: proof of his affair with Dagny, provided by James Taggart, who got it from Lillian Rearden.  Sitting across from Ferris, Hank has an epiphany.  He has treated his affair with Dagny as a sordid, dirty failing instead of the radiant celebration of life it was.  As a result, Hank refuses to punish Dagny by allowing their affair to become public.  He signs over control of Rearden Metal, the product of ten years of arduous work, to the government by way of penance.

Reflections: After spending 500 pages depicting the government as a shadowy cabal of corrupt, power-drunk moochers with vague to opaque motivations, Rand finally puts the puppeteers of the vampire state front and center.  The reader gets to marinate in the hellbroth of cynicism, greed, arrogance and, above all, jealousy that drives the looters.  There’s an interesting tension in the Washington meeting scene between the professed views of the political elite and their true motivations.  Union boss and laughable attempt to represent working class argot Fred Kinnan is completely cynical: he recognizes the essential injustice of the current order but figures that he’s got a better chance to improve his own position and, to a lesser extent, the position of his union brothers, by pissing outside the tent.  Dr. Ferris clearly relishes his role as intellectual architect of the governing ethos, but there’s a degree of sophistry in his bloviating: he embraces radical relativism because it allows him to argue anything. Crooked industrialists like James Taggart are driven by an opportunistic desire to cash in on croney capitalism and a burning jealousy of brilliant producers like his sister and Hank Rearden.  The upshot is that none of the rulers of the new order truly believe that they are bringing happiness or justice to the people of the land.

It’s a good thing for Michael Savage that Ayn Rand didn’t go with her original title.

Once again, Rand refuses to credit her intellectual opponents with good faith.  The truth of Objectivism is so self-evident, so goddamn objective, that the only reason anyone would deny it is their own deformed moral sense. This is in sharp contrast to the conventional view of politics in liberal democracy,  where ideological conflicts are seen as powered by a conflict between interest gropus.  In the Randian universe, there are no interest group conflicts: all humanity should rightly defer to the meritocracy and find their place in a free labor marketplace.  “Interest groups” are the product of market distortions created by the government and the demagoguery of venal opportunists.  This view is strongly reminiscent of the holistic view of politics found in fascism.  It’s enough to make you tremble for the fate of any mediocre individual who tastes the fruit of Randian utopia and finds it bitter.

Would Rand have been cool with the Nazis if Hitler had been a better painter?

Quotes:

“Mr. Thompson, the Head of State, was a man who possessed the quality of never being noticed.”  This sentence has never applied to a single American president…except maybe Gerald Ford.

“There’s been enough invented already–enough for everybody’s comfort–why should they be allowed to go on inventing?  Why should we permit them to blast the ground from under our feet every few steps?  Why should we be kept on the go in eternal uncertainty?  Just because of a few restless, ambitious adventurers?  Should we sacrifice the contentment of of the whole of mankind to the greed of a few non-conformists?” –James Taggart.  When Rand DOES go to the trouble of articulating an opposing thought, she doesn’t bother with providing even a patina of coherence.  Yes, yes, Ayn, anyone who disagrees with you is, by definition, irrational and/or idiotic. I bet they smell bad, too.

“There’s my resignation, Jim. I won’t work as a slave or a slave-driver.” –Dagny Taggart.

“But I damned my body’s capacity to express what I felt, I damned, as an affront to her, the highest tribute I could give her just as they damn my ability to translate the work of my mind into Rearden Metal, just as they damn me for the power to transform matter to serve my needs.” –the internal monologue of Hank Rearden.  Gotta love a unified field theory.

Atlas Summer: Part Two: Chapter Five: Account Overdrawn

September 7, 2010 1 comment

SPIRITWOOD, N.D.—A hulking yellow machine inched along Old Highway 10 here recently in a summer scene that seemed as normal as the nearby corn swaying in the breeze. But instead of laying a blanket of steaming blacktop, the machine was grinding the asphalt road into bits.

“When [counties] had lots of money, they paved a lot of the roads and tried to make life easier for the people who lived out here,” said Stutsman County Highway Superintendant Mike Zimmerman, sifting the dusty black rubble through his fingers. “Now, it’s catching up to them.”

Outside this speck of a town, pop. 78, a 10-mile stretch of road had deteriorated to the point that residents reported seeing ducks floating in potholes, Mr. Zimmerman said. As the road wore out, the cost of repaving became too great. Last year, the county spent $400,000 on an RM300 Caterpillar rotary mixer to grind the road up, making it look more like the old homesteader trail it once was.

Paved roads, historical emblems of American achievement, are being torn up across rural America and replaced with gravel or other rough surfaces as counties struggle with tight budgets and dwindling state and federal revenue. State money for local roads was cut in many places amid budget shortfalls.

“Roads to Ruin: Towns Rip Up the Pavement,” by Lauren Etter, Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2010


29/04/2010 – Kenya is wooing China for assistance to accelerate its infrastructure development. President Mwai Kibaki has formally requested the Chinese Government to partner with Kenya on key development projects.

Constructionkenya.com

Chapter V: Account Overdrawn

Pages: 496 – 531

Summary: The chapter begins with a classic Rand set piece.  Because of the laws passed by the looters, trains can’t run, good can’t get delivered, and people starve.  The ossified economy and suffering masses are reminiscent of passages from The Grapes of Wrath.  For the first time in its history, Rearden Steel also fails to deliver its shipment of Metal on time.  Interspersed between these scenes of disaster and pain, Bertram Scudder comforts humanity with his fatuous bromides.


The notorious Minnesota bridge collapse.

Meanwhile Dagny has to deal with the Taggart Board.  Amidst the usual gang of idiots sits the ambiguous government man named Mr. Weatherby.  Rand, who was overly specific and lengthy in the description of economic mayhem, takes the easy way out by making Mr. Weatherby a figure of unknown powers.

“The Directors did not know whether he was present as the guest, the adviser or the ruler of the Board; they preferred not to find out.”

While the unknown status of Mr. Weatherby provides an indictment for the cowering mentally deficient attitudes of the Board members, it also shows Rand’s inability to flesh out her world-building.  Thus far, except for Rearden’s performance before the Economic Planning tribunal, the “Government” has been an invisible monolith.  Mr. Weatherby is another manqué, more a caricature than anything resembling a human being.

Controversy erupts as Mr. Weatherby insist that Taggart Transcontinental keep following the dictums of the government in addition to raising freight rates.  Dagny can’t stand it anymore and leaves the Board table to stare pensively at the window.  She ponders the calamities befalling the economy and then says, “Got what you’ve been asking for, all these years, gentlemen?”  The Board members complain that this situation has happened because the wrong people are in power, especially the ominously named Buzzy Watts, Chick Morrison, Kip Chalmers, and Tinky Holloway.  Apparently, the looters are Teletubbies.  (Maybe the late “Reverend” Jerry Falwell was on to something in his fear of UK television shows aimed at pre-toddlers?)

The faces of pure evil: Buzzy Watts, Chick Morrison, Kip Chalmers, and Tinky Holloway.

Dagny eventually leaves the farcical proceedings and determines to find a way to continue the railroad.  She remembers another Tall Tale of Nat Taggart, Mogul of Awesome.  Taggart refused to bow down to the city fathers and barge monopolists who were against him building a railroad bridge.  It’s a callback to an earlier event in the chapter, since the economic cataclysm involved many bridges collapsing, except the one built by Nat Taggart, Real Man of Genius™.



James Taggart then meets Lillian Rearden for a nefarious meeting that essentially boils down to quid pro quo.  She doesn’t reveal Hank’s philandering, but implies to James that she knows how to turn over Hank.

The chapter ends in an act of Objectivist Heroism.  Lillian wants to set up a public embarrassment for Hank, since she refuses to divorce him.  When a dozen roses are sent to Hank, he does not show up.  She ends up finding him on a railroad platform and is about to discover who he’s carrying on, expecting some chorus girl or other brainless slut.  She discovers Dagny Taggart.  After insulting Dagny’s honor, Hank says if she insults Dagny that way again, “If you ever do it again, I will answer you as I would answer a hoodlum: I will beat you up.”

Our Hero everybody!  Hank gives Lillian a talkin’ to.

In the 35th Anniversary Edition, Rand has this to say about Rearden when she was drafting her novel:

For Rearden – the friend.  The kind of understanding and appreciation he has always wanted and did not know he wanted (or he thought he had it – he tried to find it in those around him, to get it from his wife, his mother, brother and sister).”

When have threats of spousal abuse ever been heroic?

Observations: Once again, the chapter throws together a lot of disparate elements and weaves them into a single hysterical mass.  The set piece was well done, handled in a manner similar to Steinbeck’s depiction of rural poverty in the Grapes of Wrath.  As the two excerpted stories show above, we live in a far different time than that of the Okies and the Fifties when Atlas Shrugged cemented Rand’s reputation as moral philosopher.  While the Grapes of Wrath is grounded in literary realism (shades of Zola and Balzac), Atlas Shrugged has all this economic devastation occurring in an artificially constructed world.  Granted, economies were ossified and dying in the Eastern Bloc nations, Rand should have been more explicit about what this Government actually is in the novel?  Until some reveals in the next chapter, I was confused.  Because of our nation’s longstanding tradition of the Revolving Door and Corporate-Government partnership (for good and ill), the antagonistic portrait seemed absurd.

Either-Or?  That’s a good one.  Objective reality says otherwise, Ms. Rand.

Infrastructure and Ideology

Reading Atlas Shrugged in 2010 (versus reading it in 1957) is how radically the world has changed.  In 1957, the world was in a Manichean battle between the planned economies of a monolithic international Communism (before the USSR-China split) and free market capitalism.  Notice how it is not a battle between human rights.  In 2010, China has embraced the free market economy (but not democracy) while Russia has cowboy capitalism and reawakened imperialist ambitions.


Translated Chinese Text: “China will triumph when fat Americans from the Midwest buy our cheap crap at Wal-Mart and other Big Box retail stores!”

Kissinger writes in his memoirs how China’s long history and inscrutable foreign policy made it ripe for détente.  Because of China’s long history, the country could adapt and modify outside philosophies and political systems to its advantage.  China is eternal, unlike Communism, although, at present, Communism fits its purpose within the scheme of things.  As Deng Xiaoping said, “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”  So one should not be surprised at China’s latest permutation: the cultivation of a market-based economy, albeit one firmly entrenched within the Communist totalitarian political system.  The revenue accrued from American consumption of cheap goods has fueled China’s economic growth.  Now that growth is being used to fund infrastructure projects in other nations.  A Marshall Plan of sorts fed by American consumption of cheap crap bought at Wal-Mart and other big box retail giants.  The delineation between communist and capitalist has grown gray and muddy.

Giant government subsidized infrastructure program.  Eisenhower knew more about nation-building than Ayn Rand.

During the Fifties, the Eisenhower Administration helped initiate a major civic project: the interstate highway system.  This major government project created new roads in part to facilitate escape routes in case of a nuclear war.  The results turned out a little differently, since the interstate highway system assisted in White Flight, suburban sprawl, and the demise of the railroads.  But one thing stands eternal, interstate transportation projects will always require government funding.  The world of Nat Taggart and Atlas Shrugged still exists as pure fantasy for libertarian idealists untouched by the vagaries of how the world actually works.  It is truly a strange thing to have the United States ripping up its interstate road system while China builds up the infrastructure of foreign nations.

A Grover that’s more of a monster than the one on Sesame Street.

Rand and her minions can be blamed as directly responsible for our crumbling infrastructure.  Twenty years of sustained rhetoric about “drowning the beast” and slashing domestic spending has led to this sorry state.  I hope that this will satisfy Grover Norquist, the Right’s own version of Balph Eubanks.  The “drown the beast” oratory coupled with a sclerotic two-party system that enshrines bland compromise and empty rhetoric all the while bullying citizens into abandoning third party ambitions.  Both parties want a stupid, hidebound, unimaginative, and obedient populace.  Fewer voters are fewer worries for the pollsters, advisors, and donors who want the strings on their political puppet nice and tight.  Heaven forbid a candidate should actually say something that might not appeal to 51% of the population and contradict the vague meaningless poll questions.  No wonder everyone pushes optimism and hope, the alternative is too dismal to contemplate.


“We can build ourselves a monster if we all pull together as a team!”

Politics, like Objectivist philosophy, is an enterprise based on personal enrichment, philandering, and weapons grade moral hypocrisy.  Meanwhile, the citizens have been duped into thinking a candidate’s confessional brand loyalty actually matters to them, despite their shrinking pocket books and wars bleeding the national treasury white.  Despite a seriously demented moral philosophy encased in a book rife with intellectual dishonesty and characters who filibuster the reader to drive the point home, Rand at least has the decency to go for the jugular.  Despite successes at the polls, the Left is still too afraid to exploit a political windfall for fear of offending someone who might actually deserve to be ridiculed, pilloried, and generally laughed at.  Just because the tent is bigger doesn’t mean the Left has to play nice and parrot dead concepts like “bipartisanship” and “healing.”  The Red Army had the right idea when it cut a swath of destruction from the gates of Stalingrad to the front lobby of the Reichstag.  Objectivists are right to laugh at Leftist political caucuses that have all the bite and innovation of an Are You Being Served? marathon.  Politics is bloodsport.

Further Tales from the Legend of Nat Taggart

Despite its enormous size and potential use as a bludgeon, Atlas Shrugged existed in a much larger form.  The Limited Edition Executive Edition of Atlas Shrugged runs nearly 7000 pages long.  It is reputed that Tony Hayward, Objectivist Hero and Living Embodiment of Ellis Wyatt, has a copy of the text in his Maybach.  Not sure which Maybach?  Maybe the one he uses on Thursdays?  But reading Atlas Shrugged and learning its valuable life lessons (philandering, ruthlessness, a Michigan Militia-like hatred for governments), you’ll be able to make tons of money and drive to your business in a gold-encrusted Maybach.

In the Executive Edition, we learn more about the legendary Nat Taggart.  The standard edition poor people read only has driblets of Nat Taggart’s heroic deeds.  Through my contacts with the Trilateral Commission and Chase Manhattan Bank, I was able to get my hands on an Executive Edition and offer you a summary of Nat Taggart’s deeds.  These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Building a bridge by himself, despite the threats from the barge industry and the city fathers.
  • Killing a bear when he was only three.
  • Kills men by the hundreds and consumes the English with fireballs from his eyes and lightning from his arse.  (That might be William Wallace.  I get the two confused.)
  • Ate an entire train piece by piece that he derailed with his penis.
  • Drank Winston Churchill under the table.
  • Annexed Poland.
  • Beat Daniel Plainview in a game of bowling … by knocking down a seven-ten split.
  • Did a Triple Lindy and won the Bushwood Golf Tournament.
  • Beat Stephen Fry in Scrabble.
  • Defeated Communism.

“I refuse your modest tax increase over a ten year period!  FOR FREEDOM!”

Happy Labor Day!


“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital.  Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.  Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Abraham Lincoln

“It is essential that there should be organization of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize.”

Theodore Roosevelt

“The end of labor is to gain leisure.”

Aristotle

And here’s the opening credits to Season 2 of The Wire.

But when we get done lamenting the demise of America’s industrial base, it reminds me of another Tom Waits song, “Get Behind the Mule.”

Time to get behind the mule in the morning and plow.