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November 13, 2013

Greenspan's Epiphany: As Entitlements Rise, Savings Fall



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Source of book image: http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/BN-AB661_bkrvgr_GV_20131021130523.jpg







(p. C11) In his new book "The Map and the Territory," to be released on Tuesday, Mr. Greenspan, 87, goes on a hunt for what has gone wrong in American politics and in the U.S. economy.


. . .


Mr. Greenspan's biggest revelation came one day about a year ago when he was playing with gross domestic savings numbers. What he found, to his surprise and initial skepticism, was that an increase in entitlements has closely corresponded to a decline in the country's savings. "We had this extraordinary increase in benefits, with each party trying to outbid the other," he says. "That practice has been eroding the country's flow of savings that's so critical in financing our capital investment." The decline in savings has been partly offset by borrowing from abroad, which brings us to our current foreign debt: "$5 trillion and counting," he says.


. . .


Studying the minutiae of the events leading to the financial crisis brought to mind some lessons from his famous friendship, from the 1950s on, with the late Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand.


. . .


Mr. Greenspan then believed in analysis based mainly on hard science and empirical facts. Rand told him that unless he considered human nature and its irrational side, he would "miss a very large part of how human beings behaved." At the time they weren't discussing economics, but today he realizes the full impact of emotions and instincts on markets. He also has come to admire psychologist and Princeton University professor emeritus Daniel Kahneman's work applying psychological insights to economic theory, for which he won a Nobel Prize in 2002.


. . .


With his new book, Mr. Greenspan hopes to provide politicians and the public with a road map to avoid making the same mistakes again. His suggestions include reducing entitlements, embracing "creative destruction" by letting facilities with cutting-edge technology displace those with low productivity, and fixing the political system by encouraging bipartisanship.



For the full interview/review, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE, interviewer/reviewer. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Alan Greenspan." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview/review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Alan Greenspan: What Went Wrong; The former Fed chairman on where the economy went wrong, where he went wrong--and Ayn Rand.")



The book discussed is:

Greenspan, Alan. The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.






May 3, 2012

Steve Jobs Channels Ellis Wyatt



(p. 260) In 2007 Forbes magazine named Steve Jobs the highest-paid exec-(p. 261)utive of any of America's five hundred largest companies, based on gains in the value of stock granted to him at Apple. He was on the board of directors of the Walt Disney Co. Yet his former residence in Woodside, where he had once met with Catmull and Smith and mused about buying Lucasfilm's Computer Division, was now in a state of decay under his ownership.

He had wanted to demolish it; after a group of neighborhood residents opposed his plan to do so, he left the house open to the elements. The interior suffered damage from water and mold. Vines crept up the stucco walls and wandered inside.

The memories that haunted its hallways were those of Jobs's darkest times. He had bought the house only months before the humiliation of his firing from Apple; he lived in it through that firing and through the hard, money-hemorrhaging years of Pixar and NeXT. He left it as his fortunes were about to change, as he was sending Microsoft away from Pixar, convinced that he had something he should hold on to.

When a judge ruled against his quest for a demolition permit, Jobs appealed in 2006 and 2007 all the way to the California Supreme Court, but he lost at every stage. He received proposals from property owners offering to cart the house away in sections and restore it elsewhere; he rejected them. One way or another, it seemed, he meant for the house to be destroyed.



Source:

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: The passage above is from the Epilogue and the pages given above are from the hardback edition (pp. 260-261). The identical passage also appears in the 2009 paperback edition, but on p. 265.





April 20, 2011

Impressions of the Movie Atlas Shrugged, Part 1



Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged was the most important book of my youth. I still believe that it is an important, and mainly good, novel.

My brother Eric asked me what I thought of the Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 movie that my family went to see on Saturday afternoon (4/16/11). I sent him these first impressions:

I think some of the people making the movie probably meant well---but it turned out pretty wooden.

Rearden is the main male character in the movie, and the range of his facial expressions is between mildly annoyed and mildly amused.

There isn't anger or passion or joy or fear in the movie, although all of those were in the first part of the book. Watching the movie is like watching a set of dramatized homilies.

The hokey scenes of a shadowy John Galt, kill some of the suspense. (And dressing him in a 1940s fedora seems awkwardly atavistic, given that the movie is supposed to be taking place in 2016.)

It wasn't all bad. There are some nice scenes of a fast train traveling through Colorado and over a sleek bridge of Rearden metal. And I agree with many of the homilies.

Overall, I wasn't appalled, but I was disappointed.






April 11, 2011

For Rand Money Was a Reward and a Noble Means, But Her Vision Was the End



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Source of book image:
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_ZnmbvrcWaFQ/TQDZppbZS6I/AAAAAAAAAoM/CjtOtOuGYAM/s1600/ayn-rand-and-the-world-she-made.jpg






For Rand, adopting the dollar sign as a symbol was an ironic gesture--an elegant and graceful way of thumbing her nose at those who attacked the innovation and creativity of capitalism. They criticized a caricatured version of capitalism, and she threw the caricature back at them.

But at her most serious, money was never an end-in-itself for her, but rather a reward for achieving creative innovation, and a means for accomplishing even more ambitious creative innovation.

Remember that in Rand's pure and lyrical Anthem, the hero is willing to give his invention away, and even be killed, as long as the Council agrees to allow the light he invented to keep shining.

In that wonderful moment with Bennett Cerf, Ayn Rand lived up to the hero she had created:


(p. 8) When Bennett Cerf, a head of Random House, begged her to cut Galt's speech, Rand replied with what Heller calls "a comment that became publishing legend": "Would you cut the Bible?" One can imagine what Cerf thought -- he had already told Rand plainly, "I find your political philosophy abhorrent" -- but the strange thing is that Rand's grandiosity turned out to be perfectly justified.

In fact, any editor certainly would cut the Bible, if an agent submitted it as a new work of fiction. But Cerf offered Rand an alternative: if she gave up 7 cents per copy in royalties, she could have the extra paper needed to print Galt's oration. That she agreed is a sign of the great contradiction that haunts her writing and especially her life.


. . .


Yet while Rand took to wearing a dollar-sign pin to advertise her love of capitalism, Heller makes clear that the author had no real affection for dollars themselves. Giving up her royalties to preserve her vision is something that no genuine capitalist, and few popular novelists, would have done.



For the full review, see:

ADAM KIRSCH. "Capitalist With a $." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 1, 2009): 1 & 8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated October 29, 2009 and has the title "Ayn Rand's Revenge.")


Book reviewed:

Heller, Anne C. Ayn Rand and the World She Made. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2009.


Here is what the hero says in the key passage of Anthem:

"Our brothers! Your are right. Let the will of the Council be done upon our body. We do not care. But the light? What will you do with the light?" (p. 72)


Source:

Rand, Ayn. Anthem. Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1946.





June 2, 2010

Did the Rothschilds Anticipate Atlas Shrugged?



DrumlummonMineRothschilds2010-05-18.jpg"A consulting geologist, Ben Porterfield, exiting the Drumlummon Mine." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 14) Marysville, a dot of a town in the mountains near Helena, was covered in gold dust in its heyday in the late 1800s. It was home to one of the great mother-lode gold and silver fortunes of the West, the Drumlummon Mine. Then it petered out -- familiar story -- to near ghost-town status through the long decades after the mine closed around 1904.


. . .


Old mysteries of law and public relations cloud the story of the Drumlummon -- especially how and why it closed in the early 1900s. Its owners at the time, the Rothschild family from Europe, were locked in an extended court battle over nearby mining claims when they announced in 1901 that the mine's lower levels would be allowed to flood because profitable ore had not been found there.

RX's mining operations director, Mike Gunsinger, said he became convinced in reading the old accounts that the Rothschilds had lied -- flooding the mine not because it was played out, but to conceal its riches. The company suing the Rothschilds eventually won, but they never had the capital to drain the water. A last attempt, by a new set of owners, failed in 1951.

"I think it was a dog-in-the-manger attitude," Mr. Gunsinger said, referring to the Rothschilds. "If I can't have it, nobody can."

That told him, he said, that the gold was still down there.



For the full story, see:

KIRK JOHNSON. "Marysville Journal; As a Near Ghost Town in Montana Watches, a Gold Mine Is Reborn." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., May 2, 2010): 14.

(Note: the online version of the commentary was dated April 30, 2010.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





March 12, 2010

The Entrepreneurial Epistemology of Wikipedia



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Source of book image: http://kellylowenstein.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/wikipedia-revolution1.jpg



Wikipedia is a very unexpected and disruptive institution. Amateurs have produced an encyclopedia that is bigger, deeper, more up-to-date, and arguably of at least equal accuracy, with the best professional encyclopedias, such as Britannica.

I learned a lot from Lih's book. For instance I did not know that the founders of Wikipedia were admirers of Ayn Rand. And I did not know that the Oxford English Dictionary was constructed mainly by volunteer amateurs.

I also did not know anything about the information technology precursors and the back-history of the institutions that helped Wikipedia to work.

I learned much about the background, values, and choices of Wikipedia entrepreneur "Jimbo" Wales. (Jimbo Wales seems not to be perfect, but on balance to be one of the 'good guys' in the world---one of those entrepreneurs who can be admired for something beyond their particular entrepreneurial innovation.)

Lih's book also does a good job of sketching the problems and tensions within Wikipedia.

I believe that Wikipedia is a key step in the development of faster and better institutions of knowledge generation and communication. I also believe that substantial further improvements can and will be made.

Most importantly, I think that you can only go so far with volunteers--ways must be found to reward and compensate.

In the meantime, much can be learned from Lih. In the next few weeks, I will be quoting a few passages that I found especially illuminating.


Book discussed:

Lih, Andrew. The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia. New York: Hyperion, 2009.





January 15, 2010

The Decline of Motive Power in Socialist Venezuela



VenezuelaEnergy2010-01-10.jpg"In Venezuela, which faces power shortages, blackouts have spurred protests like this demonstration in Caracas." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A11) CARACAS -- Venezuela, a country with vast reserves of oil and natural gas, as well as massive rushing waterways that cut through its immense rain forests, strangely finds itself teetering on the verge of an energy crisis.


. . .


The government has forced draconian electricity rationing on certain sectors, which could make matters worse for an economy already racked by recession. Critics say the socialist government is trying to snuff out capitalist-driven sectors with the rationing, while allowing government-favored industries in good standing to continue with business as usual.

Shopping malls, which analysts say use less than 1% of the power consumed in Venezuela, have nonetheless been a main focus for the government.

Malls have been told most stores can only be open between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.

"In a certain way, Chávez is attacking capitalism with the orders on shopping malls," said Emilio Grateron, mayor of Caracas's Chacao municipality, a bastion of those opposed to Mr. Chávez. "By limiting the hours we can go to malls, he is trying to slowly take away liberties, to create absolute control over things such as shopping."

In Venezuela, whose capital Caracas is consistently ranked among the world's most dangerous cities, residents see shopping malls as one of few havens in the country.

The government's rationing efforts are also hitting metal producers. Their production has already been cut as much as 40%. Mr. Rodriguez, the electricity minister, said they may have to be completely closed to save more electricity.




For the full story, see:

DAN MOLINSKI. "Energy-Rich Venezuela Faces Power Crisis." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JANUARY 8, 2009): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





November 28, 2009

Nationalizing Health Care: Communists Seized Pharmacy Owned By Ayn Rand's Father



AynRandBooksBK.jpgSource of book images: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.



(p. C6) Ayn Rand poses theatrically in her signature cape and gold dollar-sign pin on the cover of a groundbreaking new biography. Rand also poses theatrically in this same Halloween-ready costume (Rand impersonators have been known to wear it) on the cover of another groundbreaking new biography. The two books are being published a week apart. And both have gray covers that make them look even more interchangeable. Yet Rand, whose Objectivist philosophy is enjoying one of its periodic resurgences, loathed the very idea of grayness. She preferred dichotomies that were strictly black and white.


. . .


Ms. Heller's book is worth its $35 price, which is not the kind of detail that Rand herself would have been shy about trumpeting. When Russian Bolshevik soldiers commandeered and closed the St. Petersburg pharmacy run by Zinovy Rosenbaum, they made a lifelong capitalist of his 12-year-old daughter, Alissa, who would wind up fusing the subversive power of the Russian political novel with glittering Hollywood-fueled visions of the American dream.


. . .


Crucially, both authors understand the reasons that Rand's popularity has endured, not only among college students dazzled (and thronged into packs) by her triumphant individualism but also by entrepreneurs. From the young Ted Turner, who rented billboards to promote the "Who is John Galt?" slogan from "Atlas Shrugged," to the founders of Craigslist and Wikipedia, who have found self-contradictory new ways to mix populism with individual enterprise, it is clear that (in Ms. Burns's words) "reports of Ayn Rand's death are greatly exaggerated."



For the full review, see:

JANET MASLIN. "Books of The Times; Twin Biographies of a Singular Woman, Ayn Rand." The New York Times (Thurs., October 21, 2009): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)





September 1, 2009

BB&T Founder John Allison Speaks for Rand's Free Market Philosophy



AllisonJohn2009-08-14.jpg "John A. Allison IV, chairman of the banking company BB&T, is a devoted follower of Ayn Rand's antigovernment views." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) OVER much of the last four decades, John A. Allison IV built BB&T from a local bank in North Carolina into a regional powerhouse that has weathered the economic crisis far better than many of its troubled rivals -- largely by avoiding financial gimmickry.

And in his spare time, Mr. Allison travels the country making speeches about his bank's distinctive philosophy.

Speaking at a recent convention in Boston to a group of like-minded business people and students, Mr. Allison tells a story: A boy is playing in a sandbox, only to have his truck taken by another child. A fight ensues, and the boy's mother tells him to stop being selfish and to share.

"You learned in that sandbox at some really deep level that it's bad to be selfish," says Mr. Allison, adding that the mother has taught a horrible lesson. "To say man is bad because he is selfish is to say it's bad because he's alive."

If Mr. Allison's speech sounds vaguely familiar, it's because it's based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand, who celebrated the virtues of reason, self-interest and laissez-faire capitalism while maintaining that altruism is a destructive force. In Ms. Rand's world, nothing is more heroic -- and sexy -- than a hard-working businessman free to pursue his wealth. And nothing is worse than a pesky bureaucrat trying to restrict business and redistribute wealth.

Or, as Mr. Allison explained, "put balls and chains on good people, and bad things happen."

Ms. Rand, who died in 1982, has all sorts of admirers on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms and in the entertainment industry, including the hedge fund manager Clifford Asness, the former baseball great Cal Ripken Jr. and the Whole Foods chief executive, John Mackey.

But Mr. Allison, who remains BB&T's chairman after retiring as chief executive in December, has emerged as perhaps the most vocal proponent of Ms. Rand's ideas and of the dangers of government meddling in the markets. For a dedicated Randian like him, the government's headlong rush to try to rescue and fix the economy is a horrifying re-(p. 6)alization of his worst fears.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW MARTIN. "Give Him Liberty, but Not a Bailout." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., August 2, 2009): 1 & 6.

(Note: the online title is the slightly different: "Give BB&T Liberty, but Not a Bailout.")





April 9, 2009

How Ayn Rand Matters Today


(p. A7) Ayn Rand died more than a quarter of a century ago, yet her name appears regularly in discussions of our current economic turmoil. Pundits including Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santelli urge listeners to read her books, and her magnum opus, "Atlas Shrugged," is selling at a faster rate today than at any time during its 51-year history.


. . .


Rand . . . noted that only an ethic of rational selfishness can justify the pursuit of profit that is the basis of capitalism -- and that so long as self-interest is tainted by moral suspicion, the profit motive will continue to take the rap for every imaginable (or imagined) social ill and economic disaster. Just look how our present crisis has been attributed to the free market instead of government intervention -- and how proposed solutions inevitably involve yet more government intervention to rein in the pursuit of self-interest.

Rand offered us a way out -- to fight for a morality of rational self-interest, and for capitalism, the system which is its expression. And that is the source of her relevance today.



For the full commentary, see:

YARON BROOK. "Is Rand Relevant?" Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 14, 2009): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)





January 30, 2009

"Atlas Shrugged is a Celebration of the Entrepreneur"


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"The art for a 1999 postage stamp." Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. W11) Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that "Atlas Shrugged" parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.

Rand, who had come to America from Soviet Russia with striking insights into totalitarianism and the destructiveness of socialism, was already a celebrity. The left, naturally, hated her. But as recently as 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated "Atlas" as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible.

For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.

. . .

Ultimately, "Atlas Shrugged" is a celebration of the entrepreneur, the risk taker and the cultivator of wealth through human intellect. Critics dismissed the novel as simple-minded, and even some of Rand's political admirers complained that she lacked compassion. Yet one pertinent warning resounds throughout the book: When profits and wealth and creativity are denigrated in society, they start to disappear -- leaving everyone the poorer.



For the full commentary, see:

STEPHEN MOORE. "DE GUSTIBUS; 'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years." Wall Street Journal (Fri., JANUARY 9, 2009): W11.

(Note: ellipses added.)




August 21, 2008

Atlas Statue "Reveals the Powerful Paradox of Strength and Despondency"


AtlasStatue.jpg "The Atlas at Rockefeller Center has years' worth of lacquer and wax, in addition to the weight of the heavens, to bear. The four-story-high statue will undergo a six-week cleaning." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 31) Of course, he's angry. Of course, he's disheartened. The weight of all the heavens has been on his shoulders for 71 years and, according to the mythological timetable, he has exactly forever to go.

But only a close-up view of Atlas, at the base of the International Building in Rockefeller Center, reveals the powerful paradox of strength and despondency created by Lee Lawrie and Rene Chambellan, the artists behind the four-story-high, seven-ton bronze.

. . .

"Everyone reads the substance of things through the surface," said Jeffrey Greene, president of EverGreene Painting Studios, which is about to begin a six-week cleaning of Atlas, down to the original patina.

. . .

A snapshot staple of any visitor's souvenir New York album shows Atlas and the 21-foot-diameter armillary sphere on his shoulders (representing the heavens with which he was burdened by Zeus as a member of the losing Titan team), silhouetted in front of the twin spires of St. Patrick's Cathedral across Fifth Avenue.

. . .

On Monday, Mr. Greene said, a translucent scrim will be wrapped around the scaffolding. After that, the statue will get a low-pressure steam bath. Any residue will be cleaned with a gel solvent. A clear acrylic protective coating will be applied and the statue will be hand-waxed to a sheen that is more polished at sculptural highlights and flatter in the interstices.

One block south, Atlas's popular brother, Prometheus (by Paul Manship), was restored nine years ago.



For the full story, see:

DAVID W. DUNLAP. "Bringing a Smile (Well, a Shine) to a Burdened Statue of Atlas." The New York Times, Section 1 (Sun., May 4, 2008): 31.

(Note: ellipses added.)




August 9, 2008

Blacklisting of Voight Urged in Display of Liberal Hollywood McCarthyism


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Source of the images: screen captures from the CNN report cited below.

With self-righteous indignation, the left often accuses the right of "McCarthyism."

But many on the left are happy to limit free speech when what is spoken is not to their liking.

Jon Voight's column in the Washington Times has ignited a firestorm, and caused at least one Hollywood insider to openly advocate blacklisting Voight from the movie business. The CNN story cited and linked below, gives some of the details.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example.

On our campuses, free speech is often violated if the speaker speaks what is not politically correct. For many examples, see some of the cases discussed on the web site of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Another example is from my own personal experience as a young scholar many decades ago. I had applied to three or four top PhD programs in philosophy and was initially rejected from every one of them, even though I had a nearly perfect GPA, and very high test scores.

I was especially surprised by the rejection from Chicago, because an Associate Dean had visited the Wabash campus the year before and talked with me about applying to Chicago. He had looked at my record and said, 'with your record, if you score X, or above on the GREs, it is almost certain that you will be accepted.' (I don't remember the exact number he said.) Well I scored above X, but was rejected. So I wrote to the Associate Dean, saying I was disappointed and asking if he had any insight about the rejection. He told me that he was dumbfounded and that he would look into it.

Awhile later, I received a letter reversing the decision of the University of Chicago Department of Philosophy. I never learned all the details, but apparently the Dean of Humanities had over-ruled the Department of Philosophy. (This is fairly unusual in academics, and though I do not remember her name, I salute that Dean for taking a stand.)

Years later, the episode came up in a conversation with a member of the philosophy faculty. He said that he had been on the admissions committee the year that I had applied, and that I had been rejected because I had mentioned Ayn Rand in my essay about how I had become interested in philosophy.

For some of the details of the Voight story, see:

Wynter, Kareen. "Bloggers Fire Back at Voight." CNN Feature, broadcast on CNN, and posted on CNN.com on 8/8/08. Downloaded on 8/8/08 from: http://www.cnn.com/video/?iref=videoglobal

(Note: the clip runs 2 minutes and 27 seconds.)

Voight's op-ed piece ran in the Washington Times on July 28, 2008 under the title "My Concerns for America" and can be viewed at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jul/28/voight/





April 5, 2008

Blindly Imitating a False Vision of Ancient Sculpture


TrojanArcher.jpg "Trojan Archer from the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

Ayn Rand's Howard Roark in The Fountainhead railed against the mindless imitation of the classics, as embodied for instance in the Parthenon. In sculpture there has also been blind imitation of white classical figures, such as one that has recently been installed next to the Arts and Sciences Building on my campus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

One imagines that Rand and Roark would have been amused by the article quoted below, that shows that the classical sculptures were actually rich in color.


(p. D8) The Venus de Milo: white. The Apollo Belvedere: white. The Barberini Faun: white. The passing centuries may have cast their pall of grime, yet ever since the Renaissance rediscovered antiquity, our Platonic ideal of classical statuary has been bare marble: bleached, bone white.

The Greeks and Romans did not see it that way. The current show "Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity" -- through Jan. 20 at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum on Harvard University's campus -- makes a bold attempt to set the record straight. On view are replicas painted in the same mineral and organic pigments used by the ancients: pulverized malachite (green), azurite (blue), arsenic compounds (yellow, orange), cinnabar or "dragon's blood" (red), as well as charred bone and vine (black). At first glance and quite a while after, the unaccustomed palette strikes most viewers as way over the top. But few would deny that these novelties -- archers, goddesses, mythic beasts -- look you straight in the eye.

. . .

By the 18th century, practitioners of the then-new science of archaeology were aware that the ancients had used color. But Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the German prefect of antiquities at the Vatican, preferred white. His personal taste was enshrined by fiat as the "classical" standard. And so it remained, unchallenged except by the occasional eccentric until the late 20th century.


For the full story, see:

MATTHEW GUREWITSCH. "CULTURAL CONVERSATION With Vinzenz Brinkman; Setting the Record Straight About Classical Statues' Hues." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 4, 2007): D8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




October 19, 2007

Business Should Stop Apologizing for Creating Wealth

 

   Source of book image:  http://hoeiboei.web-log.nl/photos/uncategorized/atlasshrugged.jpg

 

David Kelley's op-ed piece, excerpted below, was published in the WSJ on October 10, 2007, the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand's greatest novel.

  

Fifty years ago today Ayn Rand published her magnum opus, "Atlas Shrugged." It's an enduringly popular novel -- all 1,168 pages of it -- with some 150,000 new copies still sold each year in bookstores alone. And it's always had a special appeal for people in business. The reasons, at least on the surface, are obvious enough.

Businessmen are favorite villains in popular media, routinely featured as polluters, crooks and murderers in network TV dramas and first-run movies, not to mention novels. Oil company CEOs are hauled before congressional committees whenever fuel prices rise, to be harangued and publicly shamed for the sin of high profits. Genuine cases of wrongdoing like Enron set off witch hunts that drag in prominent achievers like Frank Quattrone and Martha Stewart.

By contrast, the heroes in "Atlas Shrugged" are businessmen -- and women. Rand imbues them with heroic, larger-than-life stature in the Romantic mold, for their courage, integrity and ability to create wealth. They are not the exploiters but the exploited: victims of parasites and predators who want to wrap the producers in regulatory chains and expropriate their wealth.

. . .  

. . .   At a crucial point in the novel, the industrialist Hank Rearden is on trial for violating an arbitrary economic regulation. Instead of apologizing for his pursuit of profit or seeking mercy on the basis of philanthropy, he says, "I work for nothing but my own profit -- which I make by selling a product they need to men who are willing and able to buy it. I do not produce it for their benefit at the expense of mine, and they do not buy it for my benefit at the expense of theirs; I do not sacrifice my interests to them nor do they sacrifice theirs to me; we deal as equals by mutual consent to mutual advantage -- and I am proud of every penny that I have earned in this manner…"

We will know the lesson of "Atlas Shrugged" has been learned when business people, facing accusers in Congress or the media, stand up like Rearden for their right to produce and trade freely, when they take pride in their profits and stop apologizing for creating wealth.

 

For the full commentary/review, see: 

DAVID KELLEY. "Capitalist Heroes."   The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., October 10, 2007):  A21. 

(Note:  ellipsis in Rearden quote was in original; the other two ellipses were added.)

 




August 8, 2007

Dinner with Hayek

 

Recently (6/10/07) at dinner with a group of foreign graduate students at George Mason University, I learned that one of the students was from Venezuela, and so I mentioned to her that one of my friends during my graduate student days at the University of Chicago had been from Venezuela, and that he had been responsible for bring F.A. Hayek to speak at the University.  When I said his name was “Cartea,” she said that she had had a professor named Cartea who was an admirer of Hayek, but who had unfortunately died in an accident a few years ago.

This was surprising and distressing news.

Cartea had charisma, and was not afraid to use it.  He was not always a model of responsible behavior, but he had such child-like enthusiasm, that it was hard to be mad at him for long.  One of his main weaknesses is that he loved books.  Often he would bring me his latest purchase from the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, hold it up, and say in his inimitable accent and cadence:  “Pure Gold!”    

In Chicago, I had a car, and Cartea did not.  He asked if I would drive him to pick up Hayek and Hayek’s wife at the airport.  When we got to the airport, Cartea was hungry and wanted to stop and get a hamburger.  I thought it was not prudent to take the time to do this, but Cartea was insistent, and we stopped. 

We ended up getting to the gate just barely by the time of the Hayeks’ scheduled arrival (these were the innocent pre-terrorism days when you could actually meet guests at their gate).  But to our dismay, we learned that the flight at arrived early, and apparently Hayek had grabbed a cab to the University.

So we drove to the Center for Continuing Education where the Hayeks were staying.  There we learned that they had headed to the then-best restaurant in Hyde Park, called something like the “Courtyard.” 

At some point along the way, while still in the airport I think, Cartea purchased a single rose.  We walked into the restaurant, and found the Hayeks.  And then, with a charm that I could admire, but not imitate, he flamboyantly presented the rose to Mrs. Hayek, to her obvious delight.  (I do not remember what he said, or how he explained-away our absence from at the airport---I do remember that the word “hamburger” did not pass his lips.

The pleased Hayek invited us to join them for dinner.  We did.  It was just me, Cartea, and the Hayeks, and it stuns me to think that of the four, only I am still alive.

I would like to be able to report that some deep issues of classical liberal political theory were discussed, but if they were, I have no memory of that.  My memory is that the discussion was mainly of a personal, small-talk variety.  For example, one or both of the Hayeks had long wanted to view a solar eclipse, so they had recently flown to somewhere in the world where such an eclipse had occurred.

And I remember Hayek teasing Mrs. Hayek for delaying their being together by marrying someone else before Hayek, and I remember her teasing him back that he should have made his intentions clear earlier.  (This was the second Mrs. Hayek; at some point I learned that he had divorced the first Mrs. Hayek.)

I only have a couple of other memories of this visit of Hayek to Chicago.  One was when (the next day?) Cartea had me drive Hayek to a press conference downtown.  Hayek thought I was going the wrong way, and was annoyed.  I was pretty sure I was going the right way (and it turned out I was right), but it was stressful for a graduate student to be disagreeing with an insistent, and highly admired, Nobel-prize-winner.

Another disjointed memory is that sometime during the visit I asked him to sign my copy of the first volume of Law, Legislation, and Liberty.  This he did with a disdainful frown, seeming to be annoyed that I would bother him with such a foolish request.

 

(Note one:  I do not remember when the dinner described above occurred, although it could be learned; I bet David Theroux of the Independent Institute would remember.  I was at the University of Chicago from the fall of 1974 through the spring of 1981; and I think the Hayek visit occurred sometime during the latter half of this period.)

(Note two:  this was not the first time I had encountered Hayek.  I drove down to St. Louis with Joe Cobb and another libertarian Chicago student whose name I regrettably cannot remember.  I believe that it was on this occasion that I had a good talk with Phylis Schlafly’s son, who made an articulate economic argument against patents; I think he even gave me an article by someone to bolster his case.  Ben Rogge introduced Hayek.  What I remember about the introduction was that in part of it, Rogge made a polite, but strong, swipe at Ayn Rand, saying I think, that Hayek’s thinking was a much sounder grounding for a libertarian philosophy.  Rogge knew I was a strong Rand enthusiast, so I imagined that he was making the comment mainly for my benefit.  Before the introduction, Rogge offered to take me over to introduce me to Murray Weidenbaum, who was at the event.  I regret that out of some temporary shyness, I declined the offer.  Anyway, on the way back from St. Louis, the discussion was so intense and interesting that I neglected to attend to the gasoline indicator, and we ran out of gas in some small town in Illinois.  I managed to get us to the town gas station, but it was closed because the owner, and all employees, were attending some local social function.  We ended up having to stay overnight in this God-forsaken berg.  Joe was very mad at me.)

(Note three:  the blog entry above was written on 6/11/07.)

 




February 7, 2007

Hope for Film Version of Atlas Shrugged


  Rand, Ruddy, Wallace, and Jolie.  Source of photos: http://ustimes.us/ayn_rand_no_longer_has_script_approval.htm

 

(p. 9)  BACK in the 1970s Albert S. Ruddy, the producer of ''The Godfather,'' first approached Ayn Rand to make a movie of her novel ''Atlas Shrugged.'' But Rand, who had fled the Soviet Union and gone on to inspire capitalists and egoists everywhere, worried aloud, apparently in all seriousness, that the Soviets might try to take over Paramount to block the project.

''I told her, 'The Russians aren't that desperate to wreck your book,' '' Mr. Ruddy recalled in a recent interview.

Rand's paranoia, as Mr. Ruddy remembers it, seems laughable. But perhaps it was merely misplaced. For so many people have tried and failed to turn the book she considered her masterpiece into a movie that it could easily strike a suspicious person as evidence of a nefarious collectivist conspiracy. Or at least of Hollywood's mediocrity.

Of course Rand herself had a hand in blocking some of those attempts before she died in 1982. Her heirs in the Objectivist school of thought helped sink some others. And plans for at least a couple of television mini-series fell to the vicissitudes of network politics and media mergers.

But Rand's grand polemical novel keeps selling, and her admirers in Hollywood keep trying, and the latest effort involves a lineup of heavy hitters, starting with Angelina Jolie. Randall Wallace, who wrote ''Braveheart'' and ''We Were Soldiers,'' is working on compressing the nearly 1,200-page book into a conventional two-hour screenplay. Howard and Karen Baldwin, the husband-and-wife producers of ''Ray,'' are overseeing the project, and Lions Gate Entertainment is footing the bill.

Whether Ms. Jolie, who has called herself something of a Rand fan, will bring the novel's heroine, Dagny Taggart, to life on screen, or merely wind up on a list with other actresses who sought or were sought for the role -- including Barbara Stanwyck, Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch, Farrah Fawcett and Sharon Stone -- remains to be seen. Until now, at least, no one in Hollywood has figured out a formula that promises both to sell popcorn and to do justice to the original text, let alone to the philosophy that it hammers home endlessly, at times in lengthy speeches. (The final one is 60 pages long.)

But Mr. Baldwin said he believed that Mr. Wallace and the rest of their team were up to the task. ''We all believe in the book, and will be true to the book,'' he said.

 

For the full story, see: 

KIMBERLY BROWN.  "FILM; Ayn Rand No Longer Has Script Approval."  The New York Times, Section 2  (Sun., January 14, 2007):  9 & 14.

 

    A 1957 photo of Rand in New York.  Source of photo:  http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/01/11/news/atlas.php

 




January 17, 2006

Ayn Rand Admirer Illarionov Pushed Russia Toward Free Market


Image source: WSJ article quoted and cited below.

Since the following interesting article, Andrei Illarionov has resigned. That's probably a bad sign for Russia, unless you argue that Illarionov can be more effective outside the government than inside it.

The article begins by quoting Al Breach, who is chief strategist at Brunswick UBS:

(p. A13) It's a one-party state, and if you're out, you're out," Mr. Breach says. "If he can help stop some of the bad things, it's worthwhile sticking around."

This year, however, things haven't gone his way, with state-owned oil and gas companies swallowing up independent oil producers, vastly expanding the state's presence in the economy. The result, says Mr. Illarionov, has been a fall in private investment in the oil industry and slowing oil-production growth--at a time when world crude prices are soaring. Meanwhile, state outfits have also bought stakes in private engineering companies and taken over the management of Russia's biggest car maker, AvtoVAZ.

It is all anathema to Mr. Illarionov, a St. Petersberg-trained economist and longtime admirer of Ayn Rand, the American writer who lauded unfettered capitalism. In the early 1990s he was an adviser to Yegor Gaidar, then- prime minister and architect of Russia's early market reforms. But he quit in 1994, criticizing the government for failing to curb inflation and for putting the brakes on overhaul (sic). He then became one of Russia's most respected independent analysts: He was the only prominent economist to call for a sharp devaluation of the ruble before the currency crashed in August 1998.

Mr. Putin hired him as an adviser in 2000, and he was a top (sic) force in drafting the liberal, modernizing agenda that the president pushed through in his first term. His ideology -- trimming state spending, slashing taxes, cutting red tape and deregulating Russia's gas, electricity and railway monopolies -- became official policy.

Mr. Illarionov was seen as one of the key drivers of crucial overhaul initiatives: a flat income-tax rate of 13%, a rainy-day Stabilization Fund for Russia's oil windfall, and the decision to dip into the fund to make early repayments on Russia's foreign debt.

But his reputation suffered in later years from a long, bruising fight over how to restructure the electricity industry, and a quixotic campaign against the Kyoto Protocol, both of which he largely lost. Russia ended up ratifying the climate-change pact last year.


For the full article, see:

GUY CHAZAN. "Putin Insider's Outsider Game; Adviser Illarionov Preaches Capitalism, but Who Is Listening?" THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (Fri., December 23, 2005): A13.

(Note: There are several differences (e.g., in the title, and in the reference to Ayn Rand) between the online version of this article, and the print version of this article.)




January 16, 2006

Do-Nothing Leaders Are Not Always Wrong



The source of the above image is:  http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/posters


Edward Tufte says that the graph/map above is the best graphic ever drawn.   His criterion is how much information is communicated per unit of ink.  (Sort of a signal to noise ratio?)

The tan line that starts thick on the left, and gets thinner toward the right, represents Napoleon's army as it enters and crosses Russia.  The width of the line is scaled to the remaining size of the army.   On the right hand side, the tan line ends in Moscow, where the army disasterously wintered.   The black line moving left shows the diminishing size of the army as Napoleon retreated.

When I was a student at Wabash College, I was a determined and vocal advocate of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.   My economics professor Ben Rogge, was not so enthused.  He thought there were better Russian novels to read, and on several occasions, suggested:  'Diamond, you should read War and Peace.'

I often did not take Rogge's advice quickly, but usually I took it eventually.  After leaving Wabash, I read War and Peace.   Parts of it, I found too much like a soap opera for my taste.  But I did find a part that resonated.

Part of Tolstoy's story is about the Russian general facing Napoleon, who would not fight, but who continued to retreat into the heart of Russia.  He was widely castigated as a do-nothing leader.   But as a result of the Russian general doing nothing, Napoleon ordered his army further and further into Russia.

It is very hard for leaders in government to do nothing.  They will be castigated.  But sometimes nothing is exactly the right thing for them to do.

Edward Tufte's wonderful book is:

Tufte, Edward R.   The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. 2nd ed.   Cheshire, CT:   Graphics Press, 2001.




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