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Impeachment inquiry: Who are the diplomats Congress wants to testify? – NBC News

Posted: October 4, 2019 at 3:41 am

WASHINGTON House Democrats leading an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump have called on five State Department officials to appear before their committees, thrusting several veteran diplomats into the middle of a partisan clash between Congress and the White House.

Who are the diplomats at the center of the case?

Three are seasoned diplomats with years of experience under both Republican and Democratic presidents and stellar reputations among their colleagues. Two are newcomers to the State Department, one with close ties to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and another a businessman turned ambassador who contributed to Trump's inauguration.

All five could deliver key insights into Trump's actions related to Ukraine after a whistleblower complaint alleged that Trump sought to hijack U.S. foreign policy for his own political gain, delaying military aid to Ukraine while pushing for a probe of Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son.

Trump and his deputies have dismissed the whistleblower complaint, defended the president's phone call and actions on Ukraine, and blasted the impeachment inquiry as a purely partisan attack designed to damage the president and the administration.

Kurt Volker, perhaps the most important witness from the State Department given his rank and his role, is due to testify on Thursday. Volker stepped down as U.S. special envoy to Ukraine after his name appeared in the whistleblower report and after he was deposed to testify before House lawmakers. He served for more than two decades as a diplomat and does not have political ties to Trump. During his career, he worked on the 1995 Bosnia peace agreement and served as a legislative fellow in Sen. John McCain's office before rising to be Washington's ambassador to NATO under President George W. Bush. Volker is known for favoring a tough line on Russia and backing robust support for Ukraine. After his stint as NATO envoy, he worked in the private sector until Trump named him in 2017 as a special envoy for Ukraine negotiations, an unpaid, part-time post.

According to the whistleblower's report, Volker and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, flew to Kyiv and "reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to 'navigate' the demands that the president had made of Mr. Zelenskiy," meaning Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. A day before their meetings, Trump asked Zelenskiy for "a favor" to look into allegations against Joe Biden's son, according to a summary of the phone call between the two leaders released by the White House last week.

Volker and Sondland, and other State Department officials, spoke with the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in an attempt to "contain the damage" to U.S. national security from Giuliani's efforts to dig up information on Biden in Ukraine, according to the whistleblower's report.

Volker and Sondland "sought to help Ukrainian leaders understand and respond to the differing messages they were receiving from official U.S. channels on the one hand, and from Mr. Giuliani on the other," the report said.

Daniel Fried, a retired diplomat who held several senior posts during 40 years in the foreign service, said Volker's approach as described in the whistleblower report was an understandable response that many other diplomats might have undertaken. "I think Kurt is going to explain how he tried to advise Ukrainians on how to handle themselves given this difficult if not impossible situation," Fried told NBC News.

"He is relentlessly constructive," Fried said. "He was applying his skill and constructive attitude to a situation where his good instincts and skills were not enough because of the situation the president and Giuliani created."

In Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy, Trump refers to the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine as "the woman" who he says is "bad news." Marie "Masha" Yovanovitch, a decorated senior diplomat who has served in three ambassadorships, most recently in Ukraine, is due to testify on Oct. 11.

She was removed abruptly from her post in Ukraine in May, months ahead of her scheduled departure, after coming under attack from right-wing media, who alleged she was hostile to the president. Her departure set off alarm bells among Democrats in Congress but the State Department said at the time her exit was "as planned."

According to the whistleblower complaint, which cited several U.S. officials, Yovanovitch's tenure was cut short because she had run afoul of the then-prosecutor general, in Ukraine, Yuri Lutsenko, and Giuliani. Lutsenko at one point alleged she had given him a "do not prosecute" list. The State Department has said the assertion was an outright fabrication and Lutsenko himself later walked back his comments.

Her former colleagues describe her as one of the State Department's most talented and conscientious diplomats, and that it would be totally out of character for her to engage in partisan politics.

"There are some foreign service officers who are willing to go out on a limb if they think it's important," said one former senior diplomat who worked with Yovanovitch and helped shape U.S. policy on Russia and former Soviet republics. "She's one who always stays within her instructions. The charges against her are preposterous given the type of person she is. She is an innocent victim of political machinations in two capitals."

In their interview with Yovanovitch, lawmakers likely will ask the diplomat if she or the embassy staff were asked to assist Giuliani in any way, and what her response was.

During her tenure, Yovanovitch was outspoken in her calls for Ukraine to tackle corruption, a stance in keeping with U.S. policy over successive administrations.

After Yovanovitch gave a tough speech in March urging the government to sack a senior anti-corruption official, she came under fire from Lutsenko, conservative voices in the U.S. and the president's son, Donald Trump Jr.

"I think she was a minor player in this whole burgeoning problem, who was taken out because the people in Ukraine who were useful to Giuliani and President Trump had it in for her. And they had it in for her because she was doing her job," the former diplomat said.

Yovanovitch is currently a State Department fellow at Georgetown University where she is teaching graduate students a class entitled "Policy Analysis on Ukraine" for the fall semester.

George Kent is a career foreign service officer who was the No. 2 ranking diplomat at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine from 2015 to 2018, serving under Ambassador Yovanovitch for much of that time. He is currently the deputy assistant secretary in the European and Eurasian Bureau overseeing policy on Ukraine and five other countries. Lawmakers will likely want to know if he is one of the State Department "officials" referred to by the whistleblower as taking part in conversations with Ukrainian officials about how to manage inquiries from the president's lawyer.

Fluent in Russian, Ukrainian and Thai, Kent joined the diplomatic corps in 1992. Former colleagues say Kent is a brilliant diplomat who had an excellent understanding of Ukraine. One former senior U.S. official who worked with Yovanovitch and Kent said the Ukraine affair has placed them in an uncomfortably public position.

"These people like Masha and George, they just want to keep their heads down and do their job. They don't want any part of the media limelight. They hate this stuff. They were just trying to help Ukraine to become less corrupt and more stable," the former official said.

U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who House Democrats have asked to testify on Oct. 10, is a political appointee and long-time Republican donor without prior diplomatic experience.

According to the whistleblower report, Sondland met at least twice with Ukrainian officials, along with Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine, "to help Ukrainian leaders understand and respond to the differing messages they were receiving from official U.S. channels on one hand and from Mr. Giuliani on the other."

Two former U.S. officials say he was supportive of Volker's diplomacy on Ukraine, and favored lending U.S. assistance to Kyiv to counter the threat posed by Russia and pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

A hotel mogul, Sondland is director of the Aspen Companies, a private equity firm, and CEO of Provenance Hotels, a network of 14 boutique hotels. Among his most prized possessions is a first edition of Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged," signed by the author, which he gave to his wife, Katy Durant, according to a 2018 interview.

Sondland's support for President Trump was not unqualified. In July 2016, Sondland was listed by the RNC as one of more than 80 bundlers for Trump. But one month later, Sondland publicly pulled his support after Trump criticized Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq.

After Trump was elected, Sondland donated $1 million to Trump's 2017 inaugural committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He was nominated as ambassador to the E.U. just over a year later.

Two weeks before the Ukraine revelations, Sondland discussed his role in negotiating trade relations between the E.U. and the U.S. and defended Trump's approach to Europe in an interview with Politico. Asked if Trump was good company, he said, "He's a hell of a lot of fun."

Soon after taking the helm as secretary of state in May 2018, Mike Pompeo named an old classmate from West Point, T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, to be State Department counselor, a senior adviser role. Pompeo and Brechbuhl's shared experiences go back decades. Both graduated from the same West Point class in 1986, and both earned higher degrees from Harvard. Brechbuhl's degree was in business, while Pompeo went to the law school.

Brechbuhl, born in Switzerland and fluent in four languages, later became a business partner with Pompeo in Kansas, helping him found Thayer Aerospace, a firm that reportedly included investment backing from the Koch brothers.

He has kept a low public profile as Pompeo's adviser, but given his close ties and access to the secretary, lawmakers likely will be asking him what he knows about the administration's dealings with Ukraine over the past year.

When he started his post, Brechbuhl's priorities included helping to fill numerous vacant top leadership positions and "get our team staffed up," then-State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said at the time.

As counselor, he reports directly to the secretary, providing "strategic guidance" on foreign policy, conducts special international negotiations and handles "special diplomatic assignments," according to the State Department.

Brechbuhl was a guest at a June 4 dinner hosted by Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the E.U., at which Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the president of Ukraine, was also in attendance, as was Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to photos released from the U.S. mission to the E.U.

None of the five diplomats responded to requests for comment from NBC News.

Apart from testimony from the deposed State Department officials, House congressional committees conducting the impeachment inquiry have subpoenaed Pompeo for an extensive list of documents. Pompeo has pledged to produce the documents on Friday.

Those documents include records related to the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy, as well as a list of State Department officials who "participated in, assisted in preparation for, or received a readout," and any copies of a transcript that is in the State Department's hands. In addition, the congressional committees are asking for records referring to Giuliani, and those that refer or relate "in any way" to the suspension of security assistance to Ukraine.

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Impeachment inquiry: Who are the diplomats Congress wants to testify? - NBC News

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Unmanned at the Fleabag Hotel – The Smart Set

Posted: at 3:41 am

I dont watch TV. A big contributor to my joy at becoming single three years ago was the option to read a book rather than watch tv with my ex at night. There is no better distinction between tv and books than the fact the former can be consumed with other people, while the latter demand solitude. My introversion grows with the years, and I mostly eschew TV these days; in part, because reading feels more introverted all the voices are in my head rather than my home. Lately, I cull my friend-verse by focusing on the ones who want to talk about what theyve read rather than watched.

Yet the occasional show reels me in if Im lucky, maybe one a year. I Love Dick floored me; released when I was newly single, it reassured me that the change in my gynecological status (you know, when your doctor asks the sexually active? question that feels nosy and doesnt seem to have a right answer) was temporary, because guess what?! all kinds of women (and non-binary genders) were having all kinds of sex, including epistolary. A couple of years later, I stumbled onto the first season of Fleabag, which hooked me with different bait the titular character, so wicked that she drove her best friend to suicide, was also so clever that I wanted to be her new bestie, despite the clear occupational hazards of the role. The reviews leading up to its second season tantalized me there was a priest! And a wedding! And merch! (A boob-revealing black jumper, Marks & Spencer cans of gin and tonic). I spent a half-hour early in May trying to find it, only to discover that it wasnt dropping on Amazon Prime until May 17th. My lust for it felt like a sin, a betrayal of the tower of books on my bedside table.

When Fleabag Season Two finally hit my screen, I rationed it like the best kid in the marshmallow experiment, watching in doubles because I could not bear watching a mere half-hour at a time (so not the BEST kid, but surely the top tier). I made it last a month, with three discrete viewing sessions. Over the course of those three hours, I grew increasingly stalker-ish in my feelings for the shows star and creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge (PWB to those obsessed with her). My season one admiration had escalated by the final episode that last look back at the audience, quick headshake, and departure from my life forever to something restraining-order-worthy. How does this woman GET me, I kept whisper-moaning to the screen of my iPad the only screen I trusted to get this show right for me. I needed to watch it inches from my face.

Fleabag and I are unlikely BFFs. She is in her fertile 30s; Im peri-menopausal, pushing 50. She lives in London; I live in a small US city. Im a soccer mom; she has a guinea pig. Im a money manager with a running addiction; shes a struggling caf-owner in a perpetually hungover state. She has sex with lots of men; subsequent to separating from the father of my child, I am celibate (now proudly proclaiming No! when my doctor asks if Im sexually active). If anything I identify more with Fleabags big-career sister Clare, who is trying to get pregnant with her socially maladroit husband Martin (in fact, my exs name is Martin, although happily the baby-daddy resemblance ends there).

So I wouldnt put Fleabag in the category of, say, Eat, Pray, Love (EPL). The publication of EPL coincided with my Elizabeth Gilbert stage of life: single, childless, mid-30s, questing. Presumably many women have such a phase, one they look back on (from their next phase, perhaps a Rachel Cusk era of new motherhood and career sacrifices) with a mixture of embarrassment and nostalgia. In a predictable clich, I read the book on vacation in Bhutan, where I fell briefly in love with a strapping young Bhutanese guide who delighted in overnight treks to escape his infant daughter and exhausted wife, and I visited a fertility monastery as I contemplated conceiving my own child with anonymous, expensive, frozen sperm (or, possibly, the Bhutanese guide). I was a poor womans Elizabeth Gilbert, someone dipping her toe in the ocean of adventure, passion, and well reckless abandon into which the writer flung herself, with no life raft other than a book contract. (No small thing, as I have come to find out, but a smaller raft than I would have required to part ways from my cushy, overpaid job).

I was in the exact right place and time for EPL but lots of friends havent enjoyed it as much as I did. Women my moms age, grandmothers settled into comfy retirements punctuated by weekly golf games with their husbands, raved about the book. Gilberts female Odyssey to find her home, her self, captivated women across generations. With the benefit of hindsight, I am more nuanced in my idolatry of EPL and its author; the book now shares space with Atlas Shrugged, which Ill only admit to reading in college, and Lean In, loved and later debunked by a combination of personal and Sheryl Sandberg-specific circumstances. Its not (only) that Gilbert left the man who rescued her (although not before writing another book about the merits of marriage based on their idyllic relationship). Its that I have come to view the book, not as an odyssey, but just another goddamned marriage plot, the umpteenth Jane Austen remake with a sassy protagonist which culminates in a good match.

EPL provides a template for target audience that is much broader than the outline of the lead character herself. Fleabag shows those of us putatively with our shit together our reflection in the face of an emotionally disheveled woman. Fleabag, cest moi: hard around the edges, wickedly funny in a way that occasionally hurts people (although mostly is for my own benefit, or that of the invisible camera following me around), worried that I am unlikeable, in fact frequently unlikeable, and as her addled dad points out in a rare moment of clarity capable of tremendous love.

In season two, Fleabags search for meaning lands her in a love triangle with a priest (granted, a hot, sweary priest, as far from the asexual pedophiliac version as you can get) and God, who shows no signs in His portrayal on the show of being anything other than a traditional male deity. There is a hilarious scene at Quaker Meeting my faith home of choice these days in which Fleabag is moved by the Spirit to cast aspersions on her feminist credentials. I wish I felt so moved in the soporific Asheville Friends Meeting House.

Spoiler alert: the holy triangle eventually folds in on itself to force Fleabag out. The priest chooses God (the good ones usually do), and bids our heroine farewell with an I love you too and This will pass. We know he is right; and, we know this is the only honest ending for the series. It is a measure of my trust or, shall we use that freighted word, faith? in PWB that even in the first scene of the season when a bloody-nosed Fleabag assures us, This is a love story I know that it cant be, because there is no such thing as a love story. Fleabag is an anti-marriage plot, and also an anti-odyssey. It doesnt end just as our life journeys do not end until death do us part from them. Call it a reality narrative (leave plot, with its suggestion of a formula and ending, out of it), which shows us one persons messy life and allows us to laugh and cry along with her in her attempts to address her messes, which, while not identical to our own, elicit universal emotions: shame, grief, schadenfreude, anger, love, lust.

The morning after I finish watching Fleabag (and dream about it after a half hour of sobbing over the priests choice), I hear someone named Richard Rohr talking to Krista Tippet about how hard it is for men who dont have good father figures to embrace Christianity because it is a distinctly male theism. And I make the final connection to Fleabag that she is not just looking for her man, but also for her (presumably male) God. Like me, Fleabag is unmanned the term I use for my current life chapter. Fleabag has lost her father to marriage; the priest and the inklings of God she saw through him are gone as well. My split with my ex coincided with my fathers death; I lost half of my son to joint custody; even my exs dog was male. I went from swimming in a pool of testosterone to a desert.

I could use agood, old-fashioned, male God to offset these losses, but when I mouththe words of the Lords Prayer, I might as well be talking about my own father(who, presumably, art in Heaven). These days, unmanned, I have to findmy own worldview. This might include a God; although I am duly unmoved,intellectually speaking, by the prospects for one, I have come around to DavidBrooks view that, in its best form, religion does a lot of work for people byproviding creedsthat have evolved over centuries. (Secularists meanwhile are painfullysweating the details of their reinvented wheels of moral code.) I have come tounderstand my newfound longing for faith, which I manifest by listening for(not, sadly, to, not yet) God at Quaker Meeting, as a longing forsomething to replace the men in my life.

At the end of Fleabag, we dont know what she will do next. Go find God? Go fuck that lawyer who gave her an almost-uncomfortable nine orgasms in one encounter? Get herself to a nunnery? (Either version?) Im not sure what Ill watch next, either. (The next season of Better Things, another exception to my book-trumps-tv rule, wont be out for a while). I might just continue to ponder Fleabag, and delight in the company of her unmanned misery.

Or I might get up my courage to write a letter to my idol, something along the lines of:

Dear Phoebe Waller-Bridge,

Will you come findGod with me?

With love andrespect,

Your biggest fan,Unmanned

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Unmanned at the Fleabag Hotel - The Smart Set

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A Mix of Malcolm and Milton: On Corey Robin’s The Enigma of Clarence Thomas – lareviewofbooks

Posted: at 3:41 am

SEPTEMBER 30, 2019

THAT CLARENCE THOMAS is now the longest-serving justice on the US Supreme Court, as Corey Robin tells us at the outset of The Enigma of Clarence Thomas, inspires me to start doing the math on my own age. Anita Hill, jade-suited, sitting alone before the Senate, is among my earliest memories of American politics and what is now called the news cycle.

Since his 52-48 confirmation in October 1991, Thomas has exerted quiet influence on American jurisprudence and politics. The majority of justices now share Thomass politics, if not his unique perspective and reasoning. Neil Gorsuch and freshman Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose own confirmation hearing was a Thomas-like affair, are lockstep with their judicial elder. Among Thomass former clerks are 11 nominees to the federal bench, including seven on the court of appeals, and 10 who are either administration officials or members of the Office of US Attorneys, helping to craft current US immigration and deregulation policy. Just as importantly, Thomas has written more than seven hundred opinions, staking out controversial positions on gun rights, campaign finance, and other issues that have come to command Supreme Court majorities.

But he remains an enigma, particularly to liberal White America whose knowledge of him is often limited to the Anita Hill hearing, his silence during oral arguments, and the mistaken belief that Thomas was merely Antonin Scalias puppet. As a longtime reader of the right from the left, Robin writes, I know how tempting it is for people on one side of the spectrum to dismiss those on the other as unthinking defenders of partisan advantage. To his great credit, Robins aim is to avoid facile critiques from the left of Thomass political and legal philosophies.

He also aims for something other than a biography of the justice who filled the seat of Thurgood Marshall, who was himself too easily dismissed by liberal heavyweights like Archibald Cox and Bob Woodward. He writes,

Because the temptation to dismiss is even greater in Thomass case perversely mimicking the dismissal of Marshall and because its sufficiently difficult to get people to believe that Thomas has a jurisprudence, much less to hear it, the imperative to let him speak without the interruption of easy criticisms is that much more acute.

Instead, Robin engages in a close reading of Thomass writings in the hopes of providing a coherent description of Thomass political and legal philosophies as well as their historical and personal contexts.

Throughout, Robin demonstrates that Thomass worldview is complex, contradictory, and, at times, has plenty in common with far more progressive modes of thought than liberals might think. For one thing, Thomas is a Black nationalist. He can quote Malcolm X, chapter and verse. As the child of Jim Crow, he remains deeply skeptical of the conciliatory, post-racial politics of liberal America. His jurisprudence is almost universally informed by a race-consciousness that stands in stark contrast to the thinking of almost all of his fellow Justices.

Moreover, despite his conservatism, many of his arguments have, over the years, utilized a type of structural analysis of race and class in American society that could rest, if uneasily, next to that of radical left thinkers. Whats most fascinating about the book is watching Thomass thoughts evolve, seeing him move to the right in real time; from the Black Student Union treasurer at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, who chanted, Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh during a rally in Cambridge to free Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins; to the law student at Yale who argued for government regulation with a young John Bolton; to the head of Reagans EEOC who was still relying on the theory of disparate impact when considering affirmative action policies; to the nominee who claimed that the Anita Hill hearings were a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks; to the Justice who has staked out the most conservative position on the Supreme Court.

Robin splits the book into three parts Race, Capitalism, and Constitution, the primary categories of Clarence Thomass jurisprudence and their development corresponds, roughly, to Thomass biography. The parts build off one another as we get closer to the present. His early experiences in Jim Crow Savannah and his chastening experiences as a Yale Law student flow into his post-law-school drift toward political and economic conservatism, thanks in large part to encounters with explicitly pro-capitalist Black thinkers in the mid-to-late 1970s. By the 1980s, with Thomas heading the EEOC under Reagan, there appeared a real chance of being named to the bench; only then did he start thinking seriously about developing a constitutional jurisprudence, of which, as a career politician, he had had little need. Thomas was on the federal bench a mere 16 months before his nomination by George H. W. Bush.

At Holy Cross, Thomas spoke the grammar of 1960s Black Power and was elected secretary-treasurer of the newly formed Black Student Union. The BSUs 11-point manifesto was steeped in the Black nationalism of Marcus Garvey, Kwame Ture, and Malcolm X, whose Autobiography Thomas read as a freshman: 7. The Black man wants [] the right to perpetuate his race; 9. The Black man does not want or need the white woman. Thomas was one of the more radical members of the BSU, remembered for his edgy race consciousness.

But it wasnt all Little Red Books and hard left resistance to The Man, as Robin explains:

Like all ideologies, black nationalism is a contested tradition, whose exponents and analysts seldom agree on its basic tenets. While a stringent definition might entail a belief in the separate cultural identity of African Americans and a commitment to their gaining a sovereign state, black nationalists frequently have taken up one position without the other, larding both with a thick layer of pragmatism.

One evening Thomas might take a hard line on an issue, but by the next morning, he might soften his stance. He was a young man testing the limits of his politics during one of the more incendiary periods in American history.

Although Thomas has since denied being a Black nationalist, Robin points out that he has never completely disavowed the movements grammar as the formative base upon which he built his subsequent politics. Black nationalist theory continues to pepper his court opinions. Thomas is the only justice to frequently quote W. E. B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass. Hes even lifted from James Baldwin, without attribution.

At Yale Law chosen because it had a more liberal reputation than Harvard Thomas first questioned the welfare states intervention on behalf of African Americans. He began to view such liberal political programs as both perpetuating and masking the deep racism at the heart of the American project. In Thomass mind, to a White student, a Black student at Yale Law could only ever be the result of White largesse, thereby undermining any sense of achievement the Black student might derive from having gained admission.

His position on the court, undermining affirmative action programs, was an irony lost on no one, with Rosa Parks once quipping, He had all the advantages of affirmative action and went against it. Yet, unlike fellow conservatives who decry affirmative action as simply reverse racism, Thomass beliefs rest on the notion that affirmative action further marks already marked bodies. For Thomas, Robin explains, the most important form that racism takes is the stigma or mark it puts on black people, designating them as less worthy or capable than white people. Thomas has said as much in the 1995 decision Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pea:

So called benign discrimination teaches many that because of chronic and apparently immutable handicaps, minorities cannot compete with them without their patronizing indulgence. Inevitably, such programs engender attitudes of superiority or, alternatively, provoke resentment among those who believe that they have been wronged by the governments use of race. These programs stamp minorities with a badge of inferiority and may cause them to develop dependencies or to adopt an attitude that they are entitled to preferences.

Yet Robin astutely notes that Thomass form of race-consciousness doesnt extend to all classes: The victim of racial stigmas Thomas has most in mind is not a poor black person racially profiled by the police but the ambitious black striver condescended to by liberal whites. The victim he has in mind is someone like him.

Thomass feelings about affirmative action were still inchoate in the early 1970s. And even several years into his appointment, Thomas was conflicted about completely giving up on such political measures. It makes sense that, as Thomas struggled with the racial politics of the welfare state, he became receptive to the radical free-market ideology that had started creeping into the mainstream from the fringes, while faith in Keynesianism on both the center right and left disintegrated under the weight of the Vietnam War and domestic civil unrest.

Free markets promised solutions to Black self-sufficiency in a still utterly racist landscape. After Yale, Thomas went west, where he found himself working in the Missouri Attorney Generals office, headed by the Republican John Danforth. At this point, according to Thomas, the most conservative thing hed done was vote for George McGovern in 1972, but philosophically he was in transit, writes Robin, moving away from a black left that disquieted him and white liberals who looked down on him.

In 1976, he had his first important encounter with conservative Black politics when a friend recommended the University of Chicagotrained economist Thomas Sowells Race and Economics, which Robin calls a mix of Malcolm and Milton. Through an analysis of urban and rural slavery and the varying economic experiences of immigrant groups in the United States, Sowell lays out an argument that politics is the domain of White power and that the market is the key to Black survival. Even in the antebellum South, argues Sowell, market logic constrained the masters cruelty more than morality. A slave was, after all, an investment and an asset; to harm a slave was to work against the goals of capital accumulation. This contention had an immense impact on Thomass politics and, later, his jurisprudence. He registered as an independent in 1976, voted for Gerald Ford, and became the most conservative attorney in an office that included John Ashcroft.

Though Thomas claims a Pauline conversion to conservatism, Robin is skeptical. Sowell may have been the final straw, but in the summer of 1971 Thomas read Ayn Rands Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead (he still requires all his clerks attend a judicial term-opening screening of King Vidors 1949 film version of The Fountainhead), and was increasingly disenchanted by his own participation in tear-gassy demonstrations as an undergraduate, which never seemed to put a dent in state power.

Thomass personal path in the 70s also reflected larger currents in Black politics at the time, which were increasingly shot through with pessimism and fatigue and the belief that, for all its achievements such as 1964s Civil Rights Act and 1965s Voting Rights Act the movement had done little to improve the daily life of African Americans and left a bloody trail in its wake. Black nationalism often gains traction, Robin writes, when conditions for African Americans are getting worse, as was the case with the Garvey movement in the 1920s, or when the movement for multiracial democracy comes up against the hard limits of white supremacy.

Under these conditions, Black leaders, like Thomas, turned to the markets, recalling Adam Clayton Powells initial use of the phrase Black Power to suggest Black business ownership. This is not to say that Black Power in the 70s was simply co-opted by capitalism, but there was significant discussion and disagreement within the movement about the direction in which it should head. And the discussion remains relevant today, as the recently slain Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle is eulogized for encouraging Black business ownership and entrepreneurship as a means of empowerment.

Capitalism resonated with Thomas on a personal level as well. His own father, M. C. Thomas, or simply C, abandoned his family when Thomas was one, and the boy and his siblings were raised primarily by Myers Anderson, their grandfather, to whom Thomas refers as Daddy. In Thomass memory, Myers represented what capitalism could accomplish for African Americans. As a young man, Myers owned his own fuel oil business, supplied ice, and had several rental properties. In Myers, Thomas saw the archetype of a strong, independent Black man living on his own terms; he contrasted his grandfather with his mother and sisters, whom he viewed as weak and incapable of providing for their family. This valorization of Black masculinity, which was also deeply informed by the vernacular of Black Power, remains a core feature of Thomass worldview.

Memories of his grandfather and Sowells writing confirmed to Thomas that there was a surer route to Black emancipation than politics. On the court, he has gone out of his way to deemphasize, even discourage Black political participation, in the hope that African Americans would turn to the markets something of a rehash of Marcus Garveys declaration:

[The Negro] cannot resort to the government for protection for government will be in the hands of the majority of the people who are prejudiced against him, hence for the Negro to depend on the ballot and his industrial progress alone, will be hopeless as it does not help him when he is lynched, burned, jim-crowed, and segregated.

While Thomass jurisprudence regarding ballot access hews mainly to the conservative line on federalism, when it comes to the question of electoral power, or the ability of a group to elect representatives of its choosing, he diverges from the general consensus of the court as well as from conservative politics at large.

Since the 80s, when Thomas briefly tried to convince Blacks that they should be Republicans either to influence Republican politics or to signal to Democrats that the Black vote could not be taken for granted, Thomas has largely abandoned the belief that there is any constitutional solution for incorporating Blacks into a political process that Sowell and others argued was forever rigged against them. Thomas sees the Courts attempt to address Black disenfranchisement and voter dilution as just more liberal White paternalism, which allows Whites to maintain symbolic and real power over Blacks.

Robin identifies this as an argument of despair, which resembles the social theorist Albert O. Hirschmans futility thesis. According to Hirschman, futility is a common tool for conservatives, who argue that attempting broad political action results in largely superficial changes, leaving structural inequities in place. And Hirschman notes that thinkers on the left may also be daunted by the difficulty of structural change and fall into the trap of futility thinking. Futility arguments, along with the concomitant arguments of perversity (that a policy will have the opposite effect) or jeopardy (that a policy will undo some previous achievement), are convenient for Thomas; he uses them frequently to demonstrate the failure of state intervention and regulation.

Another important aspect of Thomass project to steer African Americans away from politics is his contention that they do not constitute a stable, collective political class. They may share a collective stigma and experiences vis--vis racism, but for Thomas that doesnt necessarily translate into a coherent collective Black politics. Its hard to argue with the notion that individuals hold wildly different perspectives on a great number of things, or that there is an obvious class hierarchy within Black life. Still, when Thomas argues for a Black capitalism at the expense of politics he fails to take into account how capitalism and race are inextricably tied. If American politics is rigged against Blacks, capitalism is doubly so. As Huey Newton warned on the pages of Ebony in 1969, Black capitalism would merely be trading one master for another. A small group of blacks with control our destiny if this development came to pass. People like Thomass grandfather entered the rentier class, extracting labor value and rents from the Black community.

While Thomass views on capitalism and race are unique among his peers on the court, they often fit, without too much effort, into the arc of contemporary conservative politics. His justifications may be different, but the result is the same. However, Thomass conception of the Constitution, to which Robin devotes the last third of his book, resides in a wholly different sphere. This section of Robins book may represent his most interesting break with the conventional reading of Thomass thought.

While many legal scholars brand him a constitutional literalist, often to fit the Scalias puppet narrative, Robin argues that Thomass originalism is at best episodic, and of greater import is his conception of two separate versions of the Constitution. This conception supports his belief that a strong moral authority is necessary for keeping African Americans on the straight and narrow. One version is the Constitution of Reconstruction, with its signal achievements, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, since undermined by liberal paternalism and a misapplication of their content. The other is the original Constitution of three-fifths and states rights, which, after the failure of Reconstruction, was revitalized as Jim Crow.

At no time does Thomas argue that United States should return to forced segregation or chattel slavery. Rather, he looks to those times as exemplary moments when African Americans developed virtues of independence and habits of responsibility, practices of self-control and institutions of patriarchal self-help, that enabled them to survive and sometimes flourish. During Jim Crow, in other words, authority was clearly marked out; it offered a framework within which Black men could protect and provide for their families and communities. That framework was obscured and undermined by the welfare state.

Both Thomass Black and White Constitutions work to create a stark form of authority meant to order Black political and social life. For Thomas, the most important part of the Black Constitution is its extension of the Bill of Rights to all citizens after the Civil War, most notably, the right to bear arms. This Constitution granted Black men the means to physically confront White terror, a means that was with notable exceptions like the Nat Turner Rebellion in 1831 absent in the antebellum United States. Thomass Black Constitution allows [him] to tell a version of American history from the revolution against slavery to the counterrevolution of Jim Crow in which racial violence has been the motor of change [and] black actors and black violence are central both to the making of freedom and to its unmaking.

However, in order for Thomass Black Constitution to exist, society must remain in a permanent state of tension, and its in the last chapter, The White Constitution, that Robin presents the Justices logic at its most perverse. Only an antagonistic White Constitution of states rights can re-create the conditions that made for black survival[,] undo the culture of rights and replace it with a state of exigency. That exigency is to be found in the harsh rules of the penal state. All the better if these harsh rules are implemented in a racist fashion, because only then will the necessary tension rescue Black patriarchal authority.

How could a Justice who spends so much of his energy arguing that affirmative action and welfare are the tools of White domination give a pass to the carceral state? Here, Robin reads between the lines, surmising that the carceral state

serves a vital function: it provides African Americans with every reason they need to steer clear of trouble. That is a foundation not only for law-abiding behavior but also for the market-based activity [] Thomas regards as critical to the African American community. The carceral state re-creates the kind of adversity African Americans once suffered under Jim Crow.

Unless the state enacts carceral violence there is no hope, in Thomass mind, of bringing about his ideal of the strong Black patriarch, who will protect his race from the forces of White supremacy. This is the disturbing core of Thomass constitutional jurisprudence a nostalgic project that aims to return us to the idealized life of his childhood, where men were patriarchs, women wore their finery to church, and boys never strayed from the lines that authority had laid out for them.

Corey Robin has done all US citizens a great service by reading Thomas with such care, and by providing a fascinating and original interpretation of the man who, in many cases, quietly determines the direction we are taking. Thomas now wields significantly more power on the Court than he did even a decade ago, and his acolytes are in step with him on deregulation, the expansion of the state monopoly on violence, and the project to erode hard-won rights. Even if they dont share his unique views, the results are the same: the vote is 5-4.

John W. W. Zeiser is a poet, journalist, and critic. He no longer lives in Los Angeles.

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OkCupid bans white supremacist for life, asks daters to report others – Ars Technica

Posted: August 20, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Dating site OkCupid made the unusual move of announcing that it had given a single member a "lifetime" ban on Thursdayand naming himin order to make a point.

"We were alerted that white supremacist Chris Cantwell was on OkCupid," the company wrote at its official Twitter account on Thursday. "Within 10 minutes, we banned him for life."

Cantwell was the subject of a Vice documentary about the white-supremacist Unite The Right marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the past weekend, where he offered numerous racist and threatening comments while acting as a march organizer and riding in a car alongside former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. ("We're not non-violent," Cantwelloffered at one point in the documentary. "We'll fucking kill these people if we fucking have to.")

In announcing this ban,OKC alsoasked its users to be vigilant about any other active members of hate groups found on the site. "If any OkCupid members come across people involved in hate groups, please report it immediately," the company wrote on its Twitter page. The tweet linked to the company's official "feedback" site.

On OkCupid, Cantwell wentby the handle "ItsChris603" where he described himself as "a professional podcaster and writer specializing in controversial political satire" who specifically sought only"white" women. His dating profile did not contain statements anywhere near as sensational as those in the Vice documentary, though in a section titled,"I spend a lot of time thinking about," Cantwell wrotethe following: "Getting married, and how to stop the Democrat party from destroying Western Civilization." (A 2015 archiveof his dating profile is different, as it containsa shout-out to Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and a declaration that "I will make you laugh at things you might feel guilty laughing about, which is my favorite kind of laughter.")

Cantwell's OkCupid profiles look remarkably different fromonewritten by theSouthern Poverty Law Center, which describes him as "an unapologetic fascist who spews white nationalist propaganda with a libertarian spin" (and with many citations).

OkCupid's media relations team actively approached news outlets at the moment the company announced the ban, including Gizmodo, whichpublished a statement from OKCupid CEOElie Seidma: "We make a lot of decisions every day that are tough. Banning Christopher Cantwell was not one of them."

In that same report, Gizmodo went to the trouble of rifling through Cantwell's Internet history to find his own "dating advice for the ladies" post that revolved around his use of OkCupid; this post included a "tip" to women that simply said, "In a photo of you and a friend, I assume you are the ugly one." Cantwell has since deleted that and similarposts from his personal site.

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Heather Yakin: Decent people and bigots are not morally equivalent – Times Herald-Record

Posted: at 6:41 pm

Heather Yakin Times Herald-Record @HeatherYakin845

The chaos and horror that erupted in Charlottesville, Va., are not, I fear, a passing thing.

These attitudes of hate, the desire of a certain sort of white person to beat down or extinguish those whom they deem less human, less worthy, have never really gone away.

The hate has been underground, ashamed. In private quarters, they complained about political correctness and how those others just dont know their rightful place. They complained about change, about progress, about their opposition to the rights and beliefs of others.

They refer to us as animals and parasites, as objects and property and above all as inferiors. They worship the false idols of the Confederacy, venerating a flag at its heart that signifies treason.

This culminated Saturday in an act of terror, a car driven into a crowd by a dogmatist, no different than the vile dogmatists who have driven into other crowds in other places in the name of other gods or ideologies.

Our president, two days later: Racism is evil. Thanks. (And then Tuesday he took that back.)

There is bad behavior, lots of it, on both sides. Brawls have broken out at other rallies. These antifa so-called activists are basically vandals looking for an excuse to break things. Smoke bombs and spray-painted slogans do nothing to change minds.

But if you see moral equivalence between these pseudo-anarchist punks who want to punch or pepper-spray people with whom they disagree and Nazis or the KKK, you've got problems.

The left needs to deal with its idiots. The right needs to take a long look at its allies, and make a decision. Real conservatives need to take back their movement. Man, do I miss real conservatives.

On Saturday, neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched in the streets of Charlottesville, ostensibly in defense of some Confederate monuments the city wants to remove.

Theyre provocateurs, proudly proclaiming what they view as their own innate superiority. In photos of these angry young men, they look like nothing so much as earnest young converts to objectivism, guys who read "Atlas Shrugged" or "The Fountainhead" and have not yet realized that Ayn Rand was a hypocrite and not a particularly good writer. Theyve immersed themselves in a virtual echo chamber where their every transgressive idea is applauded and reinforced.

Their online mantras of fake news and snowflake and go back to your safe space are kindergarten playground taunts. No, I take that back. In kindergarten, the teacher would have scolded such childishness.

The left needs to remember that these alt-right guys have a right to their speech, however vile it is, under the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court has upheld only the narrowest of exceptions to the First Amendment, and awful, pseudo-intellectual stupidity is not one of them.

Cut off one groups speech rights, and yours could be next. Fight bad ideas with better ideas.

Even white supremacists and the KKK and their sympathizers have a right to speak without government interference. Consider it a form of truth in advertising, with their terrible beliefs revealed by the light. Let decent people everywhere mock and scorn them for their awful speech, and help the marketplace of ideas to relegate their bigotry to museum shelves, as a cautionary tale.

Let us never forget the lessons of the past.

On Twitter @HeatherYakin845

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Cars of the future to be made of wood? THIS peek into future will leave you wonder-struck – Financial Express

Posted: at 6:41 pm

Rearden metal becomes something of a byword for revolution in manufacturing in the course of the novel.

One of the plot points in Ayn Rands Atlas Shrugged is the invention of an alloy far stronger, durable and lighter than steel called Rearden metal, named after Hank Rearden, the fictional industrialist who invents it in the novel. Rearden metal becomes something of a byword for a revolution in manufacturing in the course of the novel. Atlas Shrugged came out in 1957, and it spoke of a material that was to steel what steel was to iron. Six decades hence, steel still remains supreme. But the hunt for a substitute has, depending on end-use, variously thrown up plastic, aluminium, titanium, carbon fibre and whatnot. An unlikely candidate is a wood, or more specifically, nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC)nanofibres made of wood pulp. Wood, you would think, is lighter yes, but what about strength? Researchers at Kyoto University and auto-parts suppliers to Japanese car-makers like Toyota are betting their top yen on cellulose nanofibers to substitute steel, and even the popular carbon-fibre, in the decades to come. They say, as per a Reuters report, that it is one-fifth weight of steel and can be upto five times stronger.

Making NCC starts with the purification of wood. Substances such as lignin, a phenolic polymer that lends wood its rigidity, and hemicellulose, amorphous, randomly arranged heteroplymers that have little strength, are removed. The remainder is pulped and hydrolysed in acid to remove any remaining impurities. After the acid treatment, it is concentrated into a thick paste that can be used to laminate surfaces or is processed into nanofibril strands. The latter are hard, dense and hardy, but can be moulded into different shapes.

NCC has been widely used in the pastby Pioneer Electronics, the Japanese company, to make flexible electronic items, by IBM to make computer parts and by the US army to make lightweight body armour and ballistic glass, among others. The Kyoto University researchers, Denso Corp. (Toyotas largest supplier) and DaikyoNishikawa Corp are melding NCC with plastic to make a material that can some day be used to make entire cars. At the moment, though, the research is focussed on developing a car by 2020 that has cellulose-nanofibre parts.

The focus on lightweight cars stems from the push for electric cars worldwide. Given these will need to have heavier than conventional batteries, the car weight goes up significantly. A lighter car is double-blessingit balances out the weight of the batteries while a lighter car itself will need fewer such batteries to be powered. But, the wunder material cellulose nanofibre is turning out to be, it still is not cost competitive against carbon-fibre. Scientists, though, are optimistic. Plant wastebranches and even twigscould one day be used to make cellulose nanofribres and probably even waste paper. That may bring costs down.


Cars of the future to be made of wood? THIS peek into future will leave you wonder-struck - Financial Express

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Workers Are Going Galt – Slate Magazine

Posted: August 13, 2017 at 2:39 am

Heavy equipment lies idle waiting for construction of a residential building to begin on Jan 27 in Brooklyn, New York.

Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

In the early years of the Obama administration, as new taxes on upper-income Americans were enacted as part of Obamacare and the expiry of the Bush tax cut loomed, it was common to hear libertarian types warn that businesspeople and entrepreneurs might just Go Galt. That is to say, if they determined that losing 50 cents of every dollar in taxation wasnt worth their trouble, theyd take a cue from the hero of Ayn Rands Atlas Shrugged,fold up their businesses, and quit work altogether. Check out this March 2009 Michelle Malkin column for an exegesis of this, um, idea. Enough, she wrote. While they take to the streets politically, untold numbers of Americas wealth producers are going on strike financially.

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The logic of protesting taxes on income above a certain threshold by forgoing all incomeincluding the income taxed at much higher ratesalways escaped me. But people dont always behave in a rational manner, and they continually do have to weigh the utility of working for what will not be a satisfactory return against the free time or leisure they might enjoy from not working at all. Anyway, the movement fared about as well as the widely panned, hardly seen 2011 film adaptation of Rands book.

Fast-forward eight years, and it seems that a different group of people may be deciding to Go Galt: workers.

Earlier this week, the Department of Labor released the latest Job Opening and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS) report, which tallies job openings, hires, and quits. In June, the number of open positions spiked to 6.2 million, up 461,000 from May. Thats slightly more than the entire population of Missouri. Its a record, and its up 11 percent from June 2016.

There are plenty of explanations for the seeming shortage of workers. Baby boomers are exiting the workforce. Many of the undocumented immigrants who fill low-paying service jobs have left the country or have been deported. The economy has been expanding for more than eight years, and the unemployment rate is 4.3 percent. Which means many of the people who can hold down jobsor want to hold down jobsalready have them. In some areas, the need to pass drug tests is disqualifying individuals from the workforce. And in some instances, there just arent enough people with the relevant skills to fill the openings.

But as readers of this column have heard me say before, one of the bigperhaps the biggestproblem in the labor market today is that employers arent willing to pay people enough to fill their open positions. And this is happening even as they must fill a record number of openings. Hiring today means you have to convince someone to leave their job, leave school, or get off the couch. And if the incentive isnt sufficiently large, it is hard to find a new employee.

Now, there are plenty of people without jobs in the U.S., and there are plenty of people who are working part-time but would prefer to work full-time. But the labor market isnt always particularly efficient. People dont always live near where the jobs are plentiful. And even if they do, they may not be willing to do the job at the going rate. Some number of people are essentially telling employers to take their crappy jobs with their crappy wages and shove it.

And so crops are rotting in the fields in Florida and California because farmers cant find people to pick them. (Another way to think about this is that farmers were willing to invest the money to buy seeds, plow the fields, plant the crops, buy water and pesticidesbut arent willing to bring the stuff they grow to market.) Roofers have been forgoing taking on new jobs because they cant hire people to schlep the shingles. Bed and breakfasts and restaurants in Maine were slow to open or have operated with reduced hours this year because they cant find housekeepers and waiters.

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Its not just happening in rural areas. At the end of June, there were 225,000 open positions in construction, up 31 percent from 171,000 in June 2016; 723,000 open positions in accommodations and food services (hotels and restaurants), up 12 percent from June 2016, and more than 1 million in trade, transportation, and utilities (which includes retail).

When you operate in a market, you have to keep raising your price until someone is willing to accept your bid. But for the last several years, American employers have steadfastly refused to raise wages. And now their stinginess is catching up with them. In many instances, employers simply arent offering sufficient incentives for people to apply for their jobs, show up to interviews, accept their offers, or show up to work. Some number of people would prefer the low level of income they have, or no income at all, to doing the work on offer at the wages listed.As Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari told a group of businesspeople earlier this week, If youre not raising wages, then it just sounds like whining.

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The Fountainhead: Machines for Living – Patheos (blog)

Posted: at 2:39 am

The Fountainhead, part 1, chapter 11

As the construction of his house proceeds, Austen Heller finds that hes becoming fast friends with Howard Roark:

Within a week, Heller knew that he had found the best friend he would ever have; and he knew that the friendship came from Roarks fundamental indifference. In the deeper reality of Roarks existence there was no consciousness of Heller, no need for Heller, no appeal, no demand.

That is not what friendship means.

If youre indifferent to someones presence or absence, dont need them, dont care about them, and in fact arent even really conscious of their existence, then whatever you are to them, youre not their friend. Friendship and indifference are antonyms, however much this book might insist otherwise.

Were told that Heller appreciates it when Roark praises one of his articles the strangely clean joy of a sanction that was neither a bribe nor alms but thats not friendship, that just means that they agree on some aspects of their political ideology. Friendship means that you enjoy a persons company and desire to spend time with them.

Granted, Rand was fuzzy on the difference. She assumed that people who have one thing in common would automatically and naturally agree about everything else too. Because Heller and Roark have the same sense of aesthetics that made Heller prefer Roarks modernist design, it was inevitable that he and Roark would also have the same political leanings. The flip side of this is how all the evil socialists and conformists in the novel like Greek and Roman-inspired houses.

We saw this facet of Rands worldview more jarringly, in Atlas Shrugged, in the secret valley of Galts Gulch. Its populated by the fiercest individualists and most ruthless take-no-prisoners businessmen in the world all of whom, once theyre living in the same place, start behaving with the instinctive unanimity of a school of fish.

Heller asks Roark what it is about this house that makes him like it so much:

A house can have integrity, just like a person, said Roark, and just as seldom.

In what way?

Well, look at it. Every piece of it is there because the house needs it and for no other reason. You see it from here as it is inside. The rooms in which youll live made the shape. The relation of masses was determined by the distribution of space within Your own eyes go through a structural process when you look at the house, you can follow each step, you see it rise, you know what made it and why it stands. But youve seen buildings with columns that support nothing, with purposeless cornices, with pilasters, moldings, false arches, false windows. Youve seen buildings that look as if they contained a single large hall, they have solid columns and single, solid windows six floors high. But you enter and find six stories inside Do you understand the difference? Your house is made by its own needs. Those others are made by the need to impress. The determining motive of your house is in the house. The determining motive of the others is in the audience.

Granted, I share Roarks distaste for houses that are built as a boast. But the distinction between my houses, which have integrity and those other guys houses, which were made to impress the yokels isnt as sharp as he thinks.

Its not as if a house that doesnt have fake columns cant also be braggy. There can be an implied attempt to impress in the sheer size of the house, or if its in a highly desirable location, or if rare and expensive materials are used to build it. And Roark aspires to build skyscrapers; isnt that an inherently boastful type of structure, regardless of how much ornamentation it has?

And, incidentally, thank you for all the thought you seem to have taken about my comfort. There are so many things I notice that had never occurred to me before, but youve planned them as if you knew all my needs. For instance, my study is the room Ill need most and youve given it the dominant spot and, incidentally, I see where youve made it the dominant mass from the outside, too. And then the way it connects with the library, and the living room well out of my way, and the guest rooms where I wont hear too much of them and all that. You were very considerate of me.

Although The Fountainhead is meant to be a work of dramatic realism, with none of the crazy super-science shenanigans of Atlas Shrugged, this is the part where my suspension of disbelief ran aground on the rocks and sank. Even by Ayn Rand standards, I just flatly refuse to believe this.

Howard Roark is good at architecture, but bad at understanding people. He knows that about himself; he says in chapter 13 that he cant handle dealing with people, that he was born without the sense that makes it possible for him to understand others.

But this bears directly on his ability to build houses! Houses, after all, are for people. If you dont understand what people want and why, how could you possibly design a house that meets their needs?

For example, Roark made Hellers study the dominant room because Heller is an author who spends most of his time there. But how would you know that unless you knew something about Heller as a person unless you could picture his typical day?

The list goes on. To know whether a house should have big open spaces and tall picture windows, youd need to know whether its owner enjoys the world and wants to feel connected to nature, or whether they appreciate privacy and a sense of coziness. To know whether a house should have narrow spiral stairways or broad ramps, youd want to know whether the owner had mobility problems. To know whether a row of townhouses need more sound baffles and insulation in the shared walls, you have to understand peoples concerns about noise.

You may have heard of a manifesto written by a bigoted Google engineer who questioned the necessity of employing women (because men like writing code and building stuff, which is what really matters, whereas women have a stronger interest in people rather than things).

Yonatan Zungers response is dead-on, and its relevant here too. Swap houses for devices, and you see the problem with what Rand is claiming:

Engineering is not the art of building devices; its the art of fixing problems. Devices are a means, not an end. Fixing problems means first of all understanding them and since the whole purpose of the things we do is to fix problems in the outside world, problems involving people, that means that understanding people, and the ways in which they will interact with your system, is fundamental to every step of building a system.

The architect Le Corbusier called houses machines for living in. To build a house that solves peoples problems (or answers their needs, if you prefer), you need to know what those problems are; and to understand peoples problems, you need to understand people. Theres just no getting around this.

An architect who doesnt understand people and their needs is likely to build white-elephant houses that might look impressive, but are uncomfortable, drafty, make poor use of space, or are otherwise unpleasant to live in. But not in this novel. In Ayn Rands imagination, you just have to sit and think about the house, and a design emerges thats magically perfect, somehow, for the person who intends to live there.

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The who, what, where, when, why, and how of The Question –

Posted: August 8, 2017 at 4:36 am

Who is The Question?

Created in the now-defunct Charlton-verse in 1967 before being absorbed into DC in 1983, the character has been around for the past 50 years, but his status in the overall DC universe remains, well, a big question mark.

Not good enough to get a permanent slot in the Justice League (though he did gain membership in the animated Justice League United series), and nowhere great enough to even be considered for a cinematic version, The Question has, nevertheless, remained one of the more enigmatic and mysterious characters in the DC universe.

What is it about The Question that has made him such a cult figure despite his relative obscurity? Surely there is a niche in which this character with the coolest calling card ever can reside?

Here are the answers to some of the more pressing questions concerning the character.

The Question was created by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko for Charlton Comics Blue Beetle (1967) series, which came four years after Spideys first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15.

Unlike Spidey, however, Charles Victor Szasz aka Victor Vic Sage doesnt have any powers. Instead, he has a highly inquisitive mind and a propensity for violence which, when you put it that way, doesnt really seem very superhero-like.

Vic Sage didnt have any powers. Instead, he had a highly inquisitive mind and a propensity for violence.

Using Russian-American novelist-philosopher Ayn Rands views of objectivism as a focal point, Ditkos original version of the Question leans towards the right of the political spectrum and possesses a stark sense of morality.

(Objectivism is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute to quote from Rands Atlas Shrugged.)

When DC took Charltons characters into its fold, The Question was reintroduced in the pages of Blue Beetle #4 and subsequently got his own regular series, created by none other than the legendary Denny ONeil.

Given carte blanche to redefine The Question, ONeil tested new ground by shifting the character from being an objectivist to adopting a more Zen-like belief system, tackling hard-hitting issues such as politics, poverty, feminism, religion, and racism.

While his origins and subsequent reinvention by ONeil sounds pretty heavy for a comic book character, The Question isnt exactly a superhero in the first place.

Instead, Vic Sage is a television investigative journalist who goes the extra mile by actually solving crimes with his alter-crime-fighting-ego as The Question.

In his original form, Vic Sage was a television investigative journalist, who is also the vigilante known as The Question.

He does have one of the most unique stylish costumes and calling cards in comics, though. Often seen wearing a (usually blue) suit and tie with a long trench coat and matching fedora, the most unique part of his appearance is his lack of a face.

The Question wears a special mask made from Pseudoderm (the same material that gives the Elongated Man his powers) that he keeps in his belt buckle. The mask makes him look faceless and needs to be bonded onto his face with a gas that also alters his hair and fabric colour.

The Question has a special mask that makes him look faceless and needs to be bonded by a gas that also alters his hair and fabric colour.

He also has a blank calling card that emits a smoky question mark upon being touched.

Frankly, the idea of a masked vigilante detective solving crimes outside the law makes The Question sound like a B-grade Batman. While The Question has superior analytical skills and adequate crime fighting skills, he lacks the financial resources and the connections that Batmans Bruce Wayne has.

Another major difference between The Question and Batman is that the former tends to cross the line, Punisher-style, when questioning or dealing with criminals.

Ironically, it is the Dark Knight who gets him to upgrade his abilities, after a near-death encounter with Lady Shiva and her posse (in 1987s The Question #1).

As part of ONeils major overhaul of the character, The Question was beaten to a pulp and thrown into a river to die. But Shiva had a change of heart and Vic Sage did not end up as fish food. Instead, he lives to hear a stern lecture from the Dark Knight, which leads him to subsequently learn kung fu from the infamous Richard Dragon.

Subsequent upgrades to The Questions abilities include moving from being philosophical to acquiring shamanism techniques, to feeling the ground he operates on, ie Hub City.

In the Himalayan city of Nanda Parbat dead as a doornail!

In the 52 post-Infinite Crisis limited series in 2007, The Question headlined a sub-story where he and former Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) detective Renee Montoya teamed up for a series of adventures. It turned out that Sage was suffering from lung cancer and wasnt looking for a sidekick or partner at all, but rather, successor.

Renee Montoya made her comeback as The Question in Convergence, in which she teamed up with Batwoman and Huntress.

The 20+ issues he shared with Montoya stands out as one of his defining moments, as it really increased interest in the man behind the faceless mask. It also built the foundation for Montoya to assume the mantle and provided more granularity to a character closely connected to the GCPD and fellow detective Harvey Bullock.

Compared to his Ditko-roots, the ONeil days were certainly several notches more interesting both in depth and dimension. However, it was still not good enough to captivate readers minds in the 1980s or even today.

However, a winning blueprint for reinventing The Question exists in the form of Roscharch, Alan Moores protagonist from the Watchmen series.

Initially, Moore wanted to use the Charlton characters for Watchmen but was overruled by DC as he intended to kill off some of them, which didnt jive with DCs plans for its then recent acquisition.

Instead, Moore (and Dave Gibbons) created Roscharch based on The Question and the end result was an instant success!

Which brings us to another, er, question would The Question be an instant success if he were rebranded as Roscharch today? With the ongoing infusion of Watchmen elements into the DC-verse, there are valid reasons to do so, but it would come at the expense of tarnishing Roscharchs contributions to the epic Watchmen series.

Risking Watchmen to promote The Question? It just aint worth it!

To bring this debate to a close: ONeil did do a homage-within-a-homage (The Question #17), where Vic Sage actually reads Watchmen and wonders about being Roscharch but concludes that their methods are just too different.

Despite Vic Sages death in the 52 event, he was later resurrected as a Black Lantern during the Blackest Night event and on an alternate version of Earth. Later, in the 2011-2015 New 52 rebranding exercise, DC tried to ret-con him as one of the Trinity of Sin (together with Pandora and The Phantom Stranger), giving him a supernatural background. But that failed miserably he made his final appearance in Trinity Of Sin #6 and is never seen again.

Frankly, these feeble attempts only serve to soil the mans legacy, especially after his elegant exit in 52.

Reviving Vic Sage aside, theres also the presence of Renee Montoyas Question to contend with. While shes still far from an A-lister, the Montoya version of The Question has, nevertheless, held her own with what limited presence shes had. Having been completely dropped in the New 52, she made her comeback in Convergence with her own limited tie-in series Convergence: The Question in which she teams up with Batwoman and Huntress.

With her established links to the GCPD, Gotham City, and Batwoman, we think it would be better if DC just let Sage stay dead and allow Montoya to embark on an uninterrupted journey to mould her Question persona. But will she ever get her chance to shine? That, my friends, is the million dollar question.

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Author Michael Stafford visits Black Dog Books for signing – Current in Zionsville

Posted: August 6, 2017 at 3:32 am

By Chris Bavender

Black Dog Books will host a book signing from 2 to 4 p.m. Aug. 12 with Michael Stafford, author of Between the Walls of Time. The historical fiction centers on Cyrus Kohler, who starts an organization called The Front that one day becomes a major third political party in America.


They call themselves The Unbought and have no PACs or lobbyists. Everyone joins for $1, said Stafford, a Hendricks County resident. By books end, The Front has 32 million members. Surrounding the main plot are an ongoing number of other events that make the story come alive.

Stafford spent more than five years working on the 104-chapter book. It is divided into three books within the main book. It is the third full-length novel he has written and the first he has published.

The title came from my understanding of our evolutionary spot in this sea of time we now find ourselves in on Earth. We are a poorly evolved species that still believes violence is a solution to social problems, he said. We live in a time that has not yet committed to peace. We worship unseen gods as all our predecessors have done before us.

Between the Walls of Time was released June 15 by Grey Swan Press, the same publisher of Oprah Winfreys books. Stafford was introduced to the publishing group run by Jim Kelley and his daughter, Jocelyn who worked for Winfrey during her book club years by online blogger Jenn Mattern.

Grey Swan publishes three to four novels yearly and does a wonderful job with emerging writers, Stafford said. Everyone behind the book feels this is a worthy successor to powerful books about our government and society such as Brave New World and Atlas Shrugged. Only time will tell, but our hopes are high. It is quite a story.

Response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, Stafford said.

I want readers to remember the characters who lead this drama and what they stand for. I want readers to come face-to-face with the reality of social congruence and the Doctrine of Limited Rights. I want people to expand their mental universe, to think bigger about what is possible, he said. I want everyone who reads this book to decide for themselves if The Front, a more empirical, science-based organization, is the way to our future. It would be great for the planet if they acted on their decisions.

Between the Walls of Time is available at area bookstores, Amazon,, or Staffords website,

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Author Michael Stafford visits Black Dog Books for signing - Current in Zionsville

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