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Category Archives: Ayn Rand
Posted: October 24, 2019 at 11:13 am
Rorschach, whose visage is prominently featured in HBOs new Watchmen series, is a growly detective who wears a mask, hunts criminals, and refuses to compromise on his principles. That probably sounds familiar.
But Rorschach isnt parodying the icon with pointy ears and the cape. His black and white moral ideals are a political philosophy that Watchmens writer, Alan Moore, found laughable, not laudable.
Heres the real comic book origin story of Rorschach, starting with something that seems obvious, until you realize its anything but.
At least, not primarily.
In the early stages of conception, Moore planned for the leads in Watchmen to be heroes from the stable of Charlton Comics, which DC Comics had recently acquired. But when DC editorial decided theyd rather incorporate those characters into the main DC Universe, Moore and artist Dave Gibbons created original characters to evoke similar well-known comic book archetypes. Doctor Manhattan evolved from a carbon copy of Captain Atom to a parallel for Superman. The Comedian mashed the Peacemaker with Nick Fury.
And it would be easy to assume, in this era, that Rorschach is supposed to represent Batman. After all, Batman is exactly the kind of guy who opens a comic by monologuing about how dirty his city is. Batmans traumatic past has transformed him into a criminal-hating revenge machine who mistrusts all authority. Batman smashes through windows to interrogate thugs by breaking ribs and fingers.
But Rorschach isnt solely based on Batman because Batman wasnt any of those things when Watchmen was written. The Batman of the early 80s was darker than his 1960s counterpart, certainly, but he was still gadget-loving and justice-devoted. What we consider the foundational texts of our modern idea of Batman The Dark Knight Returns (1986), Batman: Year One (1987), Alan Moores own The Killing Joke (1988) simply had not been written yet when Watchmen #1 (1985) came on the scene.
The schlubby Nite Owl (who evolved from a retread of Blue Beetle) is just as much a Batman analogue as Rorschach, with his nocturnal animal theme, his basement full of gadgets, and his fancy vehicle with its onboard flamethrower.
Rorschach owes his ideals, his visual design, and his penchant for violence, to a couple of other characters who were doing the Late-80s-Batman thing way before Batman. Namely, the vigilante detectives known as the Question and Mr. A.
Mr. A first appeared in a 1976 issue of the underground comics anthology series witzend, as a vigilante who wore an impassive steel mask and the wardrobe of a 1940s private detective fedora, suit, and tie but all in white. His calling card was a literal card with a half-black, half-white face, symbolizing his belief that there was no grey area of morality, only good and evil. And, of course, he was the enlightened man who could tell the difference.
Less than a year later, the Question came on the scene, as a backup feature in Blue Beetle. He was a vigilante who also dressed like a 1940s private detective and wore a pseudoderm mask that made him appear to be entirely without facial features. But unlike his other Silver Age comics contemporaries, hed leave the occasional criminal to drown if he felt they deserved it.
The Question and Mr. A were both from the pen of writer-artist Steve Ditko, one of the co-creators of Spider-Man. The reason they seem so similar is that the Question was simply Ditkos attempt to make Mr. A fit into Comics Code restrictions, which would make him a much more lucrative project.
Both characters were Ditkos way of expressing his politics through the superhero metaphor.
Ditko was an avowed Objectivist, following the philosophy first espoused by Ayn Rand, which rejects altruism for the individualistic platform that mans moral obligation is to achieve his own happiness and act as his own judgement determines. Therefore, unobstructed free capitalism is the only moral society, and the only role of the government is to provide police, armed forces, and objective courts.
With Mr. A and the Question (and a few other characters, notably DCs Hawk and Dove) Ditko sought to express that philosophy through fiction, much as Rand herself had done with novels like The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. And naturally, with superhero comics as his genre of choice, that meant that Mr. A and Ditkos Question (though other creators would shift the Questions ideology significantly) were dealers of Objectivist justice.
Fools will tell you that there can be no honest person, Mr. A tells the reader in one story, That there are no blacks or whites ... that everyone is grey! [...] When one knows what is black, evil, and what is white, good, there can be no justification for choosing any part of evil! Those who do so choose, are not grey but black and evil ... and they will be treated accordingly!
In another Mr. A story, Ditko presents a hippie in tattered clothes and hair as the enemy of the good, as the man exhorts the masses to follow his brotherhood of the collective. We must banish individual selfishness, rights, property and good! [...] There is no one truth, but a truth that works for the common good! No differences are important! Better or worse is a cruel hoax! All must blend into equality! Ignore impotent reason and logic! Forget right or wrong!
Ditkos implication is that an altruistic push for equality, peace, and the haves helping out the have-nots is the path to a slave society. The bamboozled men taken in by the hippies words agree: Some guys never learn to compromise, to give in ... stubborn ... wont listen to reason ... greedy ... wont share their good fortune ... they need a practical lesson in getting a long with people.
Its not hard to see the path from Mr. A to Rorschach, who refused to compromise even in the face of armageddon.
Moore has minced no words about how he never intended Rorschach to be a laudable hero. And over the years, hes also talked about his opinion of Ditkos openly Randian leanings.
The writer respected Ditkos commitment to putting his politics in his art, telling Comic Book Artist magazine that that in some ways set him above most of his contemporaries. But he felt pretty differently about the content of those politics.
I have to say I found Ayn Rands philosophy laughable, Moore continued. It was a white supremacist dreams of the master race, burnt in an early-20th century form. Her ideas didnt really appeal to me, but they seemed to be the kind of ideas that people would espouse, people who might secretly believe themselves to be part of the elite, and not part of the excluded majority.
Moore and Gibbons Rorschach isnt the shining example of the philosophy that Mr. A represents. Rather than exhibiting objective moral beliefs about every persons right to pursue their own happiness, he is a casual misogynist and homophobe. His closest allies find him, at best, off-putting and hard to get along with contrary to Randian reasoning, his commitment to his ideals has not brought him personal success or happiness.
Rorschachs final act of Watchmen, in which he refuses to keep Ozymandias hoax a secret, is considered by many to be the characters most purely heroic moment. But its an empty one, as Rorschach believes that hes already spoiled the whole thing by mailing his journal to the New Frontiersman. Moore and Gibbons had a different idea in mind: Not self-motivated heroism of the individual, but the self-imposed tragedy of individualism.
We realized Rorschach wouldnt survive the book, Moore told the BBC documentary Comics Britannia. It just became obvious; we realized that this was a character if ever there was a character that had a king-sized death wish. He was in pain, psychological pain, every moment of his life, and he wanted out of it, but with honor in whatever his own twisted standards of honor might have been.
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How Has The Right Shifted Tactics On Climate Change? A Debate In Boulder Had Some Answers – Colorado Public Radio
Posted: at 11:13 am
If you think youve heard every argument about climate change, you werent at a debate at CU Boulder on Monday.
It pitted Alex Epstein, a leading conservative voice on climate change and the author of "The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels," against Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmentalist likely best known as a leader in the anti-vaccine movement.
The question before them: Should the world radically restrict fossil fuels to prevent climate change?
Epsteins answers revealed how some on the right have shifted tactics on climate change. Rather than focusing on science, he emphasized all the good fossil fuels have done for humanity and what society may have to give up to move to alternatives.
A few hundred people packed a vast auditorium on campus to hear Epstein and Kennedy square off. Many worked in the oil and gas industry and wore I Love Fossil Fuels or Colorado Energy Strong buttons. Some paid $300 to attend a VIP meet-and-greet ahead of the event, stocked with wine and chocolate mousse cups.
Fox News contributor Guy Benson moderated the debate. Right at the start, he told the audience that hes a center-right kind of guy, then added another point.
We're not up here debating whether climate change exists, he said before shifting into an impression of President Donald Trump with a single finger framing either side of his face. There's no one up here saying: It's a total hoax made up by China."
That comment won a laugh from Epstein, who wore a gray blazer and read notes off of an iPad. A philosopher and a past fellow of the Ayn Rand Institute, Epstein is now the founder and director of the Center for Industrial Progress, a for-profit think tank.
Epsteins main argument is that eliminating fossil fuels would come at a major cost to human flourishing. In particular, he said it would deny the worlds poorest access to cheap, reliable energy.
If we want more people in the world to have long, healthy, opportunity-filled lives, we need to continue our massive use of fossil fuels, he said. And we actually need to expand it.
Epstein has been tagged as a climate denier in the past. While he rejects the label, he did quibble with some widely accepted points of climate science during the debate.
For example, he said he believes humans have contributed to some warming but not run-away, catastrophic warming. Scientists have long connected human society to a rapid rise in atmospheric carbon. The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change also warns of the major toll climate change could take on humans, by fueling things like food shortages and massive wildfires, no later than 2040.
As a debate opponent, Kennedy largely shared Epsteins admiration for free-market capitalism. While he said he doesnt support a radical restriction of fossil fuels, he is in favor of market-based solutions like a price on carbon. Such a policy, he said, would force companies to cover the cost of greenhouse gas emissions, rather than passing those costs to the public.
Cleaning up your mess is a lesson we were all supposed to learn in kindergarten, he said.
At some points, Kennedy also veered off track and tried to debate Epstein about vaccines.
Republican CU Regent Heidi Ganahl founded the Free To Be Coalition, the campus free-speech group that organized the debate. When asked why her group chose two such controversial participants, she said the students involved wanted to bring intellectual diversity to campus.
We need to stop labeling people and start listening to people, she said.
Cory Katuna, a 28-year-old CU alumna who attended the event, was glad she got the chance to hear out Epstein. While she said she didnt agree with all of his points, he did manage to break her out of what she called a liberal bubble.
I do hear a lot of the same stuff from the left and Im starting to get skeptical, she said.
In Epstein, she saw someone who hadnt bought into the dogma and offered an optimistic picture of humanity. It reminded her of Ben Shapiro or Jordan Peterson, two right-wing intellectuals she follows online.
At the very least, she said shed make a point to check out Epsteins podcast.
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Posted: at 11:13 am
In the 1985 movie "Back to the Future," Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) travels in a time machine from the 1980s to the 1950s. When he tells people of the '50s he is from the '80s, he is met with skepticism.
1950s person: Then tell me, future boy, who's President of the United States in 1985?
Marty McFly: Ronald Reagan.
1950s person: Ronald Reagan? The actor? [chuckles in disbelief] Then who's vice president? Jerry Lewis [comedian]?
In the 1950s, Reagan was head of the Screen Actors Guild and led the purges of Hollywood actors, writers and directors who were suspected of having left political sympathies, but the idea that he might, one day, become president must have sounded absurd.
In the waning months of the Reagan administration (December 1988, nearly 30 years before Trump became president])Mad Magazine presented a parody of Donald Trump, imagining him telling the story of the 1946 Christmas movie "Its a Wonderful Life":
George Baily [Jimmy Stewart] inherited a small building-and-loan business from his father. He lent money for mortgages. When people couldnt make their payments he told them not to worry about it. What a schmuck! He should have foreclosed and kicked them out! He could have gotten a tax abatement and build condos, a high-rise office complex, and a gambling casino. He just didnt understand the art of the deal
In my opinion, George was a total loser! He never made a million-dollar deal, he never had his picture on a magazine cover, and he never shook hands with Mike Tyson [champion boxer] or Don King [boxing promoter]
This is a wonderful life? Come on!
In the 1980s, Trump was already famous as a billionaire who articulated the philosophy oflook out for your own profit and dont care how much you hurt anyone else in the process. However, no one would imagine he would eventually become president. Long before he entered politics, Trump called anyone who challenged him a loser. With that vocabulary, he perpetuated the idea that victims are weak and lazy and don't have the stuff to prevail. They deserve their fate and must submit to the triumphant. As a landlord, Trump brutally intimidated his tenants cutting heat and hot water, refusing to maintain and repair his buildings, which sometimes became rat infested in the hope of driving them out of rent-controlled apartments that he planned to convert into condominiums.
Trumps presidency has been treated as a fluke, but it actually represents a very old ideology of capitalism. When Trump became president, the media and liberals became nostalgic for Reagan, saying that Reagan would never do what Trump was doing. In reality, Trump was Reagans heir. Reagan appointed Alan Greenspan as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Greenspans five terms as Chairman included two reappointments by Bill Clinton, which suggests his paradigm was accepted by some Democrats.
Greenspan regularly published with Ayn Rand, the self-proclaimed philosopher and novelist of capitalism. Her economics underlie Reaganism and Trumpism and have a long lineage, going back at least to the British workhouses of the early 1800s and the American gilded age of the late 1800s and early 1900s. She divided the world into two distinct orders of being: creatives and moochers. To defend her when her book "Atlas Shrugged"was badly reviewed, Greenspan wrote in a letter to the New York Times:
Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment.Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.
Similar to Trumps winners, Ayn Rands creatives are chosen to rule by some higher, perhaps biological, force and, if unrestricted, will bring progress and prosperity to everyone. They must be motivated with the promise of greater wealth in order to fulfill their productive potential. She was convinced If they are unrestrained in their pursuit of fortune, their riches will trickle down and bring affluence for everyone, although, of course, ordinary people will never be as rich as they are. Unfortunately, creatives are often held back by the moochers-similar to Trumps losers. At various times, especially during the New Deal from 1932 to 1980, the moochers controlled the state, with disastrous results. The ruling moochers were the liberal professional-managerial class (PMC), bleeding hearts who were so selfish they could not bear to look at other mooches poor parasites who might be homeless and destitute. To soothe the PMCs guilt, they used the state to give the extremely poor welfare and other government benefits. They may have improved the lives of the victims in the short run, but in the long run, they denied the poor the incentive to uplift themselves by their bootstraps and allowed them to wallow in their misery. The programs were presented as benefiting the poor, but they really served the PMC who have to be thrown out of power for the good of everyone else.
The Capitalist class itself is divided over the cut-throat ideology of Rand-Reagan-Trumpism (also called neoclassicism and neo-liberalism), with some embracing it as a license to do whatever they want, but others fearing it is too blatant in telling the 99% they are on their own and the elite owes them nothing. Under neoclassicism, wealth did not trickle down; rather from 1980 to 2016, the ratio of pay for the average Standard & Poors 500 American corporate CEO to the average worker grew from 42 to 1 to 347 to 1 as the percentage of national income held by the richest 1% doubled. Capitalism strives to win the support of the 99% through a utilitarian pledge of a higher standard of living for everyone willing to work hard. It will be shared, but not equally. The gap between the 1% and the 99% shows this is not a promise kept. Accordingly, if capitalism is going to win the acquiesce of the vast majority, it must find another way of legitimating itself a kind of glorious cause. This become urgent when inequality zooms up and workers are forgotten. In the first year of Trumps presidency, the stock market as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial average grew 27%, but the wages of working people were stagnant, growing at 0%. Wages, in fact, had been stagnant since the beginning of the Reagan presidency.
Western Capitalist democracies proclaim equality, material prosperity and security but produce extreme differences in wealth and power. The promises broken, elites often turn to other visions partially borrowed from feudalism to win public support. Nations turn to glory, honor, nobility and war as a way of winning over workers and legitimating the capitalist system itself.
Capitalisms contradictions have produced a cultural divide. Borrowing terms from German sociologist Wolfgang Streeck, we call one side cosmopolitans mainlyurban people, who see themselves as citizens of the world, notone region or country, identify assecular, value critical thinking, preach multi-culturalism, champion racial diversity, entertain state welfare systems, and are cautious about going to war. Their opponents, called by both Streeck and us, traditionalists, are primarily people who live in rural areas, reject welfare, tend to be racist, are super-patriotic, are often living paycheck to paycheck, feeling left behind, economically insecure, and culturally deplored. They typically champion community, tradition, authority, God, family, and their race and nation.
Materially, feudal peasants lived in a misery hardly anyone in the modern West could imagine. However, feudal ideology, resting heavily on Christian religion, offered a sense of ultimate meaning and purpose which capitalism cannot match, for capitalism envisions nothing higher to strive for than economic wealth. Under capitalist secular ideology, if life here on earth is bad, there is no compensation. Feudal Christianity gave hope of a better life in the next world, even if it can only be reached after death. While capitalist ideology teaches youre on your own, psychologist Erich Fromm pointed out that even the lowest medieval peasant gained a sense of security from the knowledge that he had been assigned a place within the Great Chain of Being:
The social order was conceived as a natural order, and being a definite part of it gave man a feeling of security and of belonging.
Feudal ideology does not obligate the ruling aristocrats to deliver anything concrete, observable and measurable. On the other hand, capitalism promises a prosperity that can clearly be seen. Hence, it is obvious when capitalists fail to deliver. Largely because capitalism was never able to eliminate economic and social insecurity, feudal values never completely died. To prevent discontent from going rampant in times of anxiety, capitalism might borrow a vision of ultimate purpose from feudalism. Feudalism teaches sacrificing yourself for some higher cause, which capitalism does not. Feudal values like honor and valor are more likely to galvanize soldiers to kill and die in war than the capitalist pursuit of profit. They might willingly forfeit their lives for their king or country, but not for Shell Oil.
The feudal crusades, with their devastation, plunder and massacre of tens of thousands of Moslems, Jews and Christian were Divinely sanctioned missions to restore the Holy Lands from the heathens for Christ. While capitalism offers individual profit as a reward, feudalism promises Gods grace, a place in the world to come, community and national identity, honor, valor, glory -all bringing a sense that you are part of some greater cause beyond yourself. Feudalism promoted the idea that if my God, my king, my community, my nation is great, I am great- an attitude that persists today and capitalism finds useful. It does not matter if I am starving peasant or an underpaid worker; I am great! Since my side, whether tribe, nation, or civilization, is sanctioned by some higher force- be it God, nature or whatever-it is good; its foe is evil.
When the 99% faces a declining standard of living, appealing to feudal values might help breed stability. Reagan successfully did this when Europe and Japan began to challenge American economic domination and America lost a war in Vietnam. In an extreme crisis, when capitalism is in danger of collapse, the capitalist elite has -and might again- turned to fascism which melds capitalism with feudal thinking.
A compete merging of feudalism and capitalism would be difficult to achieve for they are logically incompatible. The Medieval Catholic Church labeled usury, avarice, pride and gluttony as deadly sins. The New Testament teaches The love of money is the root of all evil. Ayn Rand openly called selfishness a virtue. She was a Russian born Jewish atheist who considered religion a tool of moochers. Capitalists saw feudal aristocrats as lazy, parasitical and incompetent, while aristocrats considered capitalists upstarts, who grubbingly worked for money, and lacked grace, refinement and manners. The aristocracy saw themselves as endowed with a superior essence that biologically separated them from the common lot. With a grace given to them by God, they were blue blooded guardians within a great chain of being, grounded in tradition, in which everyone was interconnected but had an assigned place. The goal was to maintain harmony, order and stability. As such, progress, trying to uplift yourself, or seeking a profit was shunned. Living off of trade or industry was a sign of inferiority. The truly worthy glowed in their essence and their inherited status and need not work. Despite these differences, aristocrats and capitalists often intermarried, especially as the aristocracy lost the power to challenge capitalism.
Both supporters and critics of capitalism see it as undermining the sacred. Even Karl Marx, probably its greatest opponent of all, praised it for this. While Marx wanted to see capitalism overthrown, Max Weber, another social theorist almost as acclaimed as Marx, begrudgingly accepted it. However, he feared capitalism would lock people into iron cages where they would lack a feeling of meaning, purpose and direction and he worried who or what would fill that void. Weber feared capitalism, along with science and bureaucracy, would produce disenchantment without a mystical sense binding people together. Consequently, capitalism would be unstable.
As intellectualism suppresses belief in magic, the world's processes become disenchanted, lose the magical significance, and henceforth simply 'are' and 'happen' but no longer signify anythingBureaucracy develops the more perfectly, the more it is 'dehumanized', the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements which escape calculation.
Marxs critique of capitalism was much more brutal than Webers. To rally the 99% against it, Marx and his followers on the Left addressed the rational interests of people they considered its victims. On the other hand, rightwing movements, including fascism, the American Christian right and the Ku Klux Klan, effectively won followers by offering an alternative to disenchantment, and appealing to the irrational, an alleged reality- not knowable through science, reason or empiricism.
Fascism may carry these ideals to extreme, but even in more democratic forms of capitalism, the rulers need a population that will be compliant employees and fight their wars. The Marines would have little trouble fitting into fascism. They recruit by proclaiming themselves The Few, The Proud, The Brave and expect subordinates to show they have the right stuff through blind obedience. The private is supposed to submit to the sergeant, who in turn must submit to the lieutenant, all the way up the hierarchy to general. This is little different from the feudal great chain of being, which it may be modeled after, with the peasant expected to submit to the lord who also carries deference up the chain all the way up to king.
The feudal peasant seldom ventured more than a few miles from where he was born and felt strong affinity to his manor or village. In contrast, the largest capitalist corporations are cosmopolitan, transcending national boundaries, and as they become global, willingly sacrifice local communities to profit. Throughout much of American history, there was antagonism between large monopoly capitalists and traditionalists. Traditionalists tend to be more patriotic, have more intense national and racial identities, and stronger ties to community, family and religion. Reagan did something that, at one time, would be considered unimaginable. He built an alliance between traditionalists and the corporate cosmopolitan elite. As of this writing, this alliance continues. It is referred to as conservativism and it is the core of the Republican Party. It brought us Trump. It has not yet brought us fascism, but in a more extreme crisis, it could.
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Posted: at 11:13 am
A political scientist in Washington says President Donald Trump's suggestion next year's G-7 summit be held at one of his resorts raises concerns under the Constitution's emoluments clause. (Aug. 27) AP, AP
Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
Or as we say in 2019 a sucker.
What else can you say these days, in this culture? A culture of doping athletes, abusive priests,Wall Street scammers,piratical corporations, sexual predators, college admissions cheats,and a swaggering chief executive, now rapidly barreling toward impeachment.
Ethics defined by Merriam-Webster as "a set of moral principles" sometimes seem to have vanished, like the passenger pigeon, from the American landscape.
Nor do you have to look to Washington D.C. for examples. There are others,closer to home. As theNovember elections near, we can't help but wonder: is the local mayor or council person we pull the lever for today going to be resigning in disgrace tomorrow? Certainly there are ethical boondoggles enough in New Jersey: nepotism in Palisades Park, political skulduggery in Englewood Cliffs and Rockaway Township. And of course, the Matterhorn of Jersey scandals: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
And yes, there are unethicaljournalists. Even if it is the ethically questionable Donald Trump who says so.
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Playing by the rules, it would appear, is achump's game in 2019 something best left to Boy Scouts, whose famous 1908 "law," quoted above, might soundquaintin an era of Bernie Madoff, Felicity Huffman and Paul Manafort. "Boy Scout," these days, can bealmost a sneer. As in, "He's a real boy scout." Not a compliment.
Yet Ryan Hanley, 15, of Dumont,takes the scout oath at every meeting. And he means it.
Boy Scout Ryan Hanley of Dumont, 15(Photo: Nancy Ziemba)
"Society, in general ignores these principles that describe what a model citizen should be," said Eagle Scout Hanley, a member of troop 1345. He's been a scout for 10 years.
"We, as a society, are preoccupied with things that we feel are more important," Hanley said.
Is America on the verge of an ethical extinction event? Are principles, standards, moral codes as endangered as the polar ice caps?
Or have we always been this way and just too naive to know it?
The story continues below the quiz.
"I don't think we have evidence to say it's worse than it's ever been," saidElizabeth Kaye Victor, who teaches "value theory" a.k.a. ethics at William Paterson University in Wayne.
"There were robber barons, oil barons, 100 years ago," Victor said. "But one of the things we're getting more evidence about is that people are making more subjective judgments about what's right and wrong."
Officially, Americans value honesty.We'rea nation of Sunday schools, honor rolls, gentleman's handshakes.
But we're also something else.
We are also, famously, a nation of liars, flim-flammers, con men.
P.T. Barnum, the original humbug(Photo: AP file photo)
Among our heroes:P.T. Barnum, The Wizard of Oz, Frank "Catch Me if You Can"Abagnale, and Harold Hill, the bogusmusical instrument salesman in "The Music Man," which is coming back to Broadway in 2020 with Hugh Jackman.
We love the guys who Get Away with It. The ones who are wised-up. The ones who look out for No. 1.
There used to be a synonym for ethical:"square." Asquare deal, a square meal, treating someone fair and square. Square, because all sides are equal.
Inthe 1930s and '40s, a new term came into use. It referred to people who were conventional, naive, high-minded.People who played by the rules.
They were called "squares."
"Americans have always had a dual consciousness," Victor said. "We do like the noble person, the George Washington, the paragon. But we also like the renegade, the man who pushes and breaks and redefines the rules."
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Americans, in short,have struggled overethics for centuries ever since George Washington chopped down the cherry tree.
George Washington, painted by Charles Willson Peale, didn't chop down a cherry tree -- but he was a strong believer in "Virtue Ethics"(Photo: Montclair Art Museum)
That famous story, which biographer Parson Weems used to teach kids not tolie, was a lie.
"We tell all sorts of lies to get children to behave, to adhere to our system of ethics," Victor said. "This gets into the whole question of the Noble Lie. Is a lie sometimes better than the truth?"
Many of us wouldagree that ethics can besituational.Lying is bad but so is telling your friend what you really think of his singing. Stealing is wrong but letting your family starve is worse.
From there, of course,it's a short step to the Felicity Huffman defense.Cheating on a college admissions test is criminal but so is not helping your kids succeed.
Actress Felicity Huffman was convicted of cheating to get a child into college(Photo: DANNY MOLOSHOK, AP)
The judge who fined the actress $30,000 and sentenced her to 14 days jail time didn't agree.
"That's a classic struggle in ethics," Victor said. "Do we allow exceptions to our ethical code?"
George Washington, for his part,really did care about ethics. He was very conscious that he was setting an example. Everything he did, including famously relinquishing power after two terms, was about personal honor. There's a term for this in philosophy: "Virtue Ethics." Leading a good life because being good leads to happiness. Aristotle and Confucius were big boosters.
"In Virtue Ethics, you're asking what kind of person should I be," said Lisa Cassidy, who teaches a course on ethics at Ramapo College in Mahwah.
A comedic take on what a goofy talk show interview between this reporter and Founding Father George Washington might look and sound like, on the topic of ethics. Paul Wood Jr., Jim Beckerman and Michael V. Pettigano, North Jersey Record
Meanwhile, Americans, over the last 400 years,have found lots of other reasons to Do the Right Thing.
Preachers, from Cotton Mather to Martin Luther King Jr.,have proclaimed ethics from the pulpit. The Ten Commandments has the ultimate endorsement: God. The Divine Command Theory, it's called.
Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, George Maize IV, in 2017(Photo: Wexler, Kevin, Kevin R. Wexler/NorthJersey.com)
"The TenCommandments came from God," said Rev. George Maize IV, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Hackensack. "The further we get away from God, the more unethical we get."
Others, like your mother, subscribe to the theory of Duty. We are obligatedto not behave badly because what if everyone else did the same? Immanuel Kant,the 18th century philosopher, championed this idea.
"All mothers are Kantian, because they always tell you, 'What if everybody else did that?' " Cassidy said.
Then thereareutilitarians the greatest good, for the greatest number overall. Consider thehero firefighters of 9/11, who sacrificed their own lives to rescue others. Philosopher John Stuart Mill is their spokesman.
"Utilitarians are very concerned with the greatest outcome, overall, for everybody," Cassidy said. "You almost have to do a calculus: the unhappiness of some, compared to the happiness of most."
Compassion, too, is an ethical ideal."Care Ethics," Cassidy said, has feminist roots."Caring is a rational activity," Cassidy said. "It involves choices to preserve relationships, to preserve what matters to us."
But America is alsothe land of "individualism." So it's no surprise thatselfishness, here, its has cheerleaders.
Ayn Rand, co-author of "The Virtue of Selfishness"(Photo: File)
Ayn Rand the thinker beloved of libertarians and conservatives like Paul Ryan and Alan Greenspan is mostassociated with this viewpoint. But Rand,said Gregory Salmieri, co-editor of a book on the subject, is often misunderstood.
Rationality, not greed,is really the point of the "Objectivist" philosophy that Rand espoused in books like "The Virtue of Selfishness,"Salmieri said.
"It's about treating people rationally, which means justly," said Salmieri, who teaches at Rutgers University. "Which means above all else leaving them free to lead their own lives, by their own judgment, and for their own sakes."
Living for your own sake does not mean living dishonestly, Salmieri points out.
But in practice, if winning is everything, and cheating helps you win?
Such attitudes, by the way, are not confined to the so-called far right even if that's where the media spotlight is right now.
Abbie Hoffman, left, authored "Steal This Book," a counterculture guide to theft(Photo: AP)
In 1971, activist AbbieHoffman published "Steal This Book," a paperback thaturged hippiesto shoplift, swipe food from restaurants, and use slugs in vending machines. A quarter-million people bought the book,thoughit may have reached more given how many radicals and college students likely stole it from each other.
So what, at the end of the day, is ethical behavior? And who gets to decide?
No secret that our culture is fragmented. More and more, we're marching to our own drummers. Fundamentalist Christianity, radicalsocialism, predatory capitalism eachhas its cheering section, greatly magnified by the media.
But ethically compatible?Not so much.Rules, we may have but no one setthat everyoneagrees on.
The"social contract"is the basis on which the stateexists, according to philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679).Now, some fear, it might be unraveling. Much as thestate itself might be unraveling.
"One of the things that's really broken down, in the last 30 years, is trust in experts." Victor said. "Experts including journalists, politicians, professors. Even those we might think of as the source of ethics in our community, like church leaders. People don't know who to trust."
"Ethics," Salmieri points out, means morethan just social rules. The word "Ethos"is Greek, meaning habits or customs. But more casually, most of us would probably define ethics in terms of our relations to others. It'sourprinciples of behavior in thelarger world.
If weare less ethical now than in the past, JosephChumanwonders, could it be because of our relationship to other people? Is it because we'remoresolitary?
"People are more alienated and isolated than they used to be," said Chuman,leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, a Teaneck-based chapter ofa 142-year-old national organization thatpromotes social justice andethicalbehavior.
Joseph Chuman, leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, speaks in 2012(Photo: Joe Camporeale)
More people these days, he said, are interacting with each other second-hand, on iPhones and computer screens. We spend more time alone,texting and tweeting, and less time in groups, in churches, in social and fraternal organizations.
Including yes The Boy Scouts.
"Scouting guides us on how to become a leader, from teaching younger Scouts how to tie a knot, all the way through giving back to the community through an Eagle Scout project," Hanley said.
Scouting, in other words, is inherentlysocial. Scouts interactwith the community, with adults, with other scouts
People who don't relateto others, face to face, are also likely to spend less time thinking about how theyshould relate to others. Our neighbors and the rest of the world become abstractions. As in the old ethical test: "What if you could press a button and get a million dollarson condition thatsomebody you didn't know dropped dead?"
We won't be fooled again!: 10 times Americans lost their innocence to scandal
Paterson is working on it: How can a police department riddled with scandal earn back public trust?
A yacht and a wink: How college-crazed parents turn to bribes to get kids into school
That's whatChumanworries about as the 21st century barrels on, and the crimes and scandals mount.
"Social institutions call them unions, clubs, fraternal organizations, churches command less attention and membership," Chuman said. "When people are isolated, they are not reinforced to act in ethical and moral ways. Hyper-individualism is not good for strengthening the ethical fiber of a society. If we suffer from radical individualism, ethics erodes. People need to be together. "
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;Twitter: @jimbeckerman1
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Posted: at 11:13 am
A legendary radio station may be on the verge of death. But we don't know for sure because, as is often the case with this station, everything is a mess.
The outlet is WBAI, the New York affiliate of the radical Pacifica network. A shadow of its former self, BAI has been spiraling through monetary, managerial, and other problems for years now. So it wasn't surprising when, on October 7, the Pacifica Foundation announced that it was laying off the station staff and suspending all local programming. Nor was it surprising when those some of those local staffers convinced a judge later that day to issue an order temporarily enjoining the network from enacting its plans. (Pacifica broadcasters are not known for quietly obeying the higher-ups.) There's been a tug-of-war over the transmitter since then, and a bitter split within Pacifica's national board too. The people trying to oust the staff say that they intend to revamp and relaunch the station; their critics accuse them of planning to sell it and use the proceeds to keep the rest of the network afloat. The two sides are scheduled to meet in court on Monday.
We'll find out soon enough how that turns out. But for now, let's look back to the happier (though no less contentious) days of the 1960s and early '70s, when this was one of the most diverse and innovative outfits on the radio dial.
WBAI began as an ordinary commercial station in 1955, broadcasting at 99.5 FM. Then an eccentric millionaire named Louis Schweitzer bought it, thinking this would be a good way to ensure he could hear more classical music on the radio. The station got an unexpected boost in listenership during a newspaper strike, as New Yorkers tuned to it for the news, and Schweitzer found he had a financial success on his hands. Unfortunately for Schweitzer, that meant he was hearing more commercials on his stationand he hated listening to ads. So he decided to hand the whole thing over to the Pacifica Foundation, which had been broadcasting a mixture of highbrow cultural programming and dissident political commentary in Berkeley, California, since 1949 and had just launched a second station in Los Angeles.
So Schweitzer cold-called Harold Winkler, Pacifica's president, and told him that he could have WBAI if he wanted it. Much of the ensuing conversation reportedly consisted of Schweitzer trying to convince Winkler that he was not a crankor, at least, that he was a very rich crank who really did intend to give away a radio station. The transaction was soon completed, and in 1960 WBAI became a noncommercial Pacifica station broadcasting in the middle of New York's commercial FM band.
This was seven years before the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, 10 years before the birth of National Public Radio. In those days, if you were a station that didn't run ads and didn't have a university to support you, you relied on a mixture of listener sponsorship, philanthropic support, volunteerism, and pure energy.
BAI had energy aplenty. It quickly became one of the most eclectic radio stations aroundthe kind of place that interviewed Yoko Ono in 1965, long before she had anything to do with the Beatles, just to have her sing Japanese songs and talk about Japanese culture. Its most famous host was probably Bob Fass, whose overnight free-form programs made a hash of every genre boundary. Fass did innovative music mixes (he may be the only DJ ever to layer Buddhist chants over a Hitler speech), brought on famous guests (at one point, he was the only radio host who Bob Dylan would allow to interview him), andas he got involved with the New Leftorganized demonstrations on the air. And he was just one of many on-air personalities enjoying enormous creative control.
The BAI broadcast that I'd most like to hear was transmitted shortly after student militants seized and occupied Columbia University in 1968. Three satiristsPaul Krassner, Marshall Efron, and future HBO executive Bridget Potterwere scheduled to sit in as guest hosts for Steve Post's late-night program. They opened the show by claiming to be a trio of students named Rudi Dutschke, Emma Goldman, and Danny the Red, and they declared that they were there to liberate the station. "They read all the standard station announcements, carefully followed all FCC regulations, including station breaks on the hour and half hour, and made no attempt to disguise their voices, which, after years of guest appearances on my program, were as familiar to my audience as my own," Post wrote in his book Playing in the FM Band. "Still, within an hour police arrived at the studios, having received reports of a student takeover and of my detention as a hostage in WBAI's bathroom."
I wish I could post that program herenot just as a tribute to WBAI, which may be about to die, but as a tribute to Efron (who died last month) and to Krassner (who died in July). Alas, I can't find a recording of it. But I do have some other samples of the station's early programming to share. The Internet Archive has a great selection of BAI audio files from 1960 through 2019, and I've embedded some highlights below.
First: From 1968, an episode of The New Symposium, a program dedicated to the gay community. Needless to say, this was not your usual radio fodder in 1968, when same-sex relationships were still taboo for most of the country. Most stations wouldn't touch the topic, and if someone did broadcast a show about it, it probably featured psychologists and other credentialed experts discussing homosexuality as an "issue," not a group of guys chatting about which local gay bars are mobbed up (all but one of them, apparently) and where the good pickup spots are. Yet here they are, having a calm conversation without any shudders or titters. At least not until the end, when someone mentions that one good place to go cruising is "the local bingo games in the Catholic churches in the Village." That sparks some knowing laughter.Second: A bit of black power, also from 1968. Recorded at a time when much of the black liberation movement was interested in decentralization and community control, this interview centers around the theory that Harlem had been illegally absorbed by New York City and therefore should be an independent, self-governing town. This wasn't a new idea, but here it gets filtered through a 1960s black nationalist lens.
The socially conservative side of black nationalism rears its head around the 28-minute mark, when guest Herb Lambright complains that the police have been "allowing every kind of decadence to exist" in Harlem. The example he gives is gambling"You can hardly go two blocks without seeing a crap[s] game," he says in disgustbut I can't help wondering how he'd feel about the hosts of The New Symposium.Third: Not every voice on the station was enthusiastic about that uprising at Columbia University. Go to the 46:21 mark below, and you'll hear Ayn Rand deriding the Columbia rebels as hoodlums and praising a student group called the Committee for Defense of Property Rights.
Rand's radio editorials appeared regularly on WBAI in the '60s. National Review did something similar for a while, but it stopped participating in the Pacifica network's commentary series in 1961, explaining that it did not want its words to appear in a series that also aired commentaries by Communists.Fourth: a rather different political commentary, this one from the LSD evangelist Timothy Leary. It was 1970, and the Weather Underground had just broken Leary out of prison and spirited him away to Algeria, where he was taken in by the exiled Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver. That alliance ended poorly, but for the moment Leary was gamely spouting propaganda for what he calls "the noble and beautiful Weathermen Underground." In this rambling 16-minute phone call, he gives us such turns of phrase as "the wise, benign, and loving protection of the Black Panthers," "the wicked pig capitalist bourgeois press," and "the genocidal robot police establishment."Fifth: Let's wash all that down with some music. From 1971, here's a live performance by blues legend Big Mama Thorntonthe woman who sang "Hound Dog" before Elvis made it his own. Be forewarned: Before the concert actually starts, the recording features nearly nine minutes in which all you can hear is the crowd milling around and the musicians tuning their instruments. Did that part go out over the air too? Probably. Welcome to noncommercial radio!(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For WBAI's biggest mark on American jurisprudencethe famous "seven dirty words" casego here. And for more about WBAI, Pacifica, and free-form radio, read my book Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America, available here.)
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Posted: October 16, 2019 at 5:02 pm
Ladies and gentlemen, THIS is the current state of your PCAOB under the leadership of William Duhnke, according to the Wall Street Journal:
A watchdog tasked with protecting investors by policing audits of public companies has slowed its work amid board infighting, multiple senior staff departures, and allegations that the chairman has created a sense of fear, according to a whistleblower letter and people familiar with the situation.
But before we get into todays revelations by the WSJ, lets go back to last Friday, the day that ex-PCAOB inspections leader Jeffrey Wada was sentenced to nine months in prison for leaking confidential audit inspection information to KPMG executives in 2016 and 2017the scandal that turned the PCAOB into the shit-show it has become.
That afternoon, the SEC announced that Kathleen Hamm, a cybersecurity expert who Bloomberg described as a Democrat-aligned board member, wouldnt retain her seat on the PCAOB for a second term. Instead, the SEC appointed Rebekah Goshorn Jurata, a White House economic policy aide, to replace Hamm, effective Oct. 24.
In addition, the SEC announced that commissioner Hester Peirce will lead the agencys coordination efforts with the PCAOB. This is how bad things have gotten at the PCAOB when the SEC needs an intermediary to report back on what the hell the PCAOB is or isnt doing.
Compliance expert Matt Kelly wrote on his blog, Radical Compliance, that Peirce is an outspoken proponent of rolling back compliance with Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
I mean, Peirce would also probably try to make compliance with all federal securities law optional if she could do it, but 404(b) is one of her fave targets.
Poor Kathleen Hamm really wanted to stay on the PCAOB for another term, but you figured the writing was on the wall when the SEC posted for her board seat over the summer, as Francine McKenna of MarketWatch reported last month:
Hamm stepped into a term in 2018 that had approximately two years remaining, expiring this October. She is eligible for reappointment to the second five-year term, through 2024, but now shes had to reapply for her job and no one is saying why.
Well, apparently Hamm and Duhnke werent seeing eye to eye on policy issues, according to Bloomberg:
Hamm, who joined the PCAOB in January 2018 to complete a partial term, has had policy disagreements with Chairman William Duhnke III, according to people familiar with the matter. She resisted Duhnkes efforts to eliminate or severely cut back an investor advisory committee, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal matters at the board.
The lack of PCAOB Investor Advisory Group and Standing Advisory Group meetings of late is something else Francine wrote about last month. She noted that neither committee has held a meeting this year. And she also reported that the PCAOB has held no public meetings of its governing board since Dec. 20, 2018, which is in violation of Sarbanes-Oxley Act bylaws that require the PCAOB to hold at least one public meeting of its governing board each calendar quarter. We assumed this was because Duhnke hates meetings as much as Adrienne and I do.
Back to Bloomberg:
Others who follow the PCAOB closely also noted that until [SEC Chairman Jay] Clayton and the other SEC commissioners decided to replace the entire five-person board last year, members were regularly re-upped. As recently as last year, the SEC decided to give a second term to another current board member, Duane DesParte. His policy views are more closely aligned with Duhnkes than Hamm, the people said.
So the SEC got rid of the troublemaker in Hamm and put in Jurata, who began her professional career as a staff attorney in the SECs Division of Trading and Markets and was special assistant to the president for financial policy at the National Economic Council, because she wont make waves under the Republican leadership of Clayton and Duhnke.
And it just so happens that Jurata worked most recently for Andrew Olmem, a White House official who worked under Duhnke when the two men served on the Republican staff of the Senate Banking Committee, the WSJ noted. Before taking over as PCAOB chairman in January 2018, Duhnke served as staff director for the Senate Banking Committee under Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL).
Its all about politics, man, as Kelly noted in his blog:
Now we have Jurata as one more loyalist vote on the PCAOB, and libertarian Peirce watching the whole board like a schoolmarm who reads too much Ayn Rand. That leaves Clayton in excellent position to weaken 404(b) audits like he wants, because he can also orchestrate the PCAOBs oversight of audit firms to go easy on SOX auditing.
Its a nifty power grab on Claytons part. Then again, as Ive said before, he undoubtedlyfeels the heat to get his agenda done before President Trump implodesin impeachment or gets tossed from office next year. Gotta make hay while the sun shines, even if you toss good PCAOB members over the side to do it.
Remember what happened shortly after the SEC cleaned house at the PCAOB in early January 2018 and appointed Duhnke as chairman and appointed Hamm, DesParte, and three others to replace all the incumbents on the board? Longtime high-ranking PCAOB officials started leaving en masse: Martin Baumann, chief auditor and director of professional standards; Helen Munter, director of registration and inspections; Claudius Modesti, director of the PCAOBs Division of Enforcement and Investigations; and Gordon Seymour, general counsel; among others, headed for the exits.
Today, the WSJ revealed that a one-page whistleblower complaintwritten by a group of current and former PCAOB employeeswas filed with the board in May and also sent to SEC commissioners in August. The WSJ reported:
Within months of arriving, Mr. Duhnke began pushing out longtime senior executives, according to the whistleblower letter and people familiar with the matter. The former executives, who included the boards general counsel and its director of inspections, agreed to sign nondisparagement agreements in exchange for six months of continued compensation, the people said.
The whistleblower letter said the regulator is permeated by a sense of fear, due to the numerous terminations [some] driven by retaliation.
And to top it all off, the PCAOB hasnt had a permanent general counsel or enforcement director for 16 months, which is probably why it has issued 27% fewer audit inspection reports this year, the WSJ reported. The boards website shows around 50 permanent roles need to be filled, out of about 850, and Duhnke has clashed with other board members over hiring choices, according to the WSJ.
What a freakin mess.
COMEDY BY NUMBERS: Matthew Broussard on loving calculus and looking like an ’80s villain ILM’s Alternative Weekly Voice – encore Online
Posted: at 5:02 pm
Matthew Broussard takes the stage at Dead Crow for two nights of heady, self-deprecating humor. Photo by Mindy Tucker
Lets just get this out of the way: Matthew Broussard knows he has a punchable face. The comedian, who headlines Dead Crow this Friday and Saturday, often opens his sets with the warning, I look like a douchebagI feel like before I even picked up the microphone, most of you already didnt like me.
He isnt wrong.
With his swimmers physique, square jaw and tousled blond hair, Broussard looks every bit the privileged frat boy audience members may assume him to be. Yet his whip-smart set proves he is more than just another pretty face.
The son of a chemist and a microbiologist, Broussard earned a degree in applied mathematics from Rice and worked as a financial analyst before pursuing comedy. That breadth of experience regularly makes it into his acthis 2016 half-hour special includes jokes about Ayn Rand, double-Y chromosomes and why college is basically a reality show. Broussards hard work has paid off in the form of regular TV appearances (Adam Devines House Party, The League, The Mindy Project, The Tonight Show) and a second-place finish on Comedy Centrals Roast Battle. Though he sometimes does crossfit and look[s] like [he] exclusively do[es] sports most people cant afford, he mostly spends his free time creating punny puzzles for his webcomic, mondaypunday, and sculpting action-hero figurines out of clay.
encore spoke with Broussard by phone last week.
encore (e): How soon after starting comedy did you decide to acknowledge your looks right away?
Matthew Broussard (MB): In the first year I figured it helped to address it, and in the third year, I kind of perfected it. It wasnt some genius thing. I would do that joke mid-set, and people would just come up to me drunk after shows and be like, I fucking hated you, and then you said you look like an 80s villain, and I was like, This guys alright. I thought, That guy just told me how everyone feels, so maybe if I say it earlier, theyll like me sooner.
My friend said to me one time drunk after a show, Dude, I could listen to you make fun of yourself for an hour. First I laughed, and then I took him at face value and started testing it, and it was pretty close to accurate. I can make fun of myself, and there is not a point of diminishing returns for a long, long time.
e: Theres a belief comedy is really only funny if you dont punch down. Is that something you understood right from the start?
MB: I disagree with that statement. I will say this: people say punching down isnt funny. Yes, it is. Its almost always funny. Thats why you shouldnt do itbecause its just a very easy way to get a laugh.
I think in comedy we kind of want to be surprised; we want to see things work the opposite of how they normally would. To see a person like me succeed is something we are used to seeing in society. Im an educated white man. So to see me fail is more interesting to people, and it makes them feel better about themselves. If theres a victim in the joke, I prefer it to be me.
e: Several prominent, older comics have complained about PC culture, especially on college campuses. Where do you stand on that?
MB: I push the boundaries a little bit, but I want it to be smart. If theres a boundary Im trying to push, its not that one. Everyone thinks theres only one forefront of edgy. My challenge has been always to inject as much knowledge as I can into a set. People say its really hard to talk about abortion onstage. Like, its harder to talk about calculus! Calculus is a much harder subject to make funny.
e: Whats it like to do stand-up in the age of Trump?
MB: I think its wonderful, because all people want to hear is nothing about him. I see so many comics diving in. Im like, Dude, its a great time to have a joke about Tic Tacs.
e: What makes for a good roast?
MB: Brevity. In a small number of words, really twist and deliver a pop. I dont even think it has to be that mean. I think it just needs to be sharp and unexpected.
e: Is there impostor syndrome in comedy?
MB: Oh, yeah, especially for someone like me. I had no comedy background. I was never the funny guy among friends, so I still find it strange Im doing this. When I said I was doing comedy, nobody was like, Yeah, I always thought youd be good at that. Not a single person said that. Also, coming from a scientist family, theres just nothing less funny than science. My parents were humorless people.
I do feel comfortable on a stage doing stand-up, but that took a long time to get to. Science is knowing everything definitively. Comedy ison the best nights, you still have no control over the audience.
e: Do you have a favorite thing to eat or drink on the road?
MB: I love bourgie coffee shops. I can always tell a small town is on the way up if they have an explicitly gay-friendly coffee shop. That sounds very specific, but I can name like a couple where maybe theres just a rainbow flag somewhere, or maybe its the whole motif of the place. Im like, This is going to be a good place to get coffee and sit for a couple hours.
e: How do you feel after a show?
MB: If a new joke works, Im in a good mood for two hours afterward. The other night, I was walking around like, I must have had a new joke work. I cant remember it, but the way my body physically feels right now, it felt like I drank a really good cup of coffee.
e: Is there anything you do to unwind?
MB: Is marijuana legal in North Carolina? [laughs] Not much. Sometimes Ill read, sometimes I write a little bit.
Im not a party guy. I have a girlfriend, I dont really drink, so after a show when people are like, Come out with us, Im like, I just want to go watch childrens cartoons until 1 a.m.
e: Will you dress up for Halloween?
MB: Yeah, I want to. I need to make sure my costume comes together on time. I have always wanted to be Captain Planet. Hes my favorite superhero. Thats my dream is to play a live-action Captain Planet in a movie. Thats all I want to do.
e: Do you have an all-time favorite costume?
MB: I dressed as Zack Morris in 2010. I had one of those giant cell phones, but made of cardboard, and inside of it was a Four Loko, so I could just sneak it into bars. And you know back then it was a real Four Loko, so thats a whole night of drinking.
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Posted: October 15, 2019 at 7:48 am
Wonder why were at the age of trying to discern among truth, lies and uncertainty? Consider continuous false claims; some see reality differently; our perceptions arent always the direct representations of the external world; technological developments abet warping of truth and normalization of lies; social media amplifies toxic misinformation on an unprecedented scale; cyberattacks on election machinery and voter-registration systems threaten not only election outcomes but our democracy itself. Why?
The most important political philosopher of our time is the novelist Ayn Rand. Her books Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead markedly influenced some of the best-known neoliberals in America, like Alan Greenspan, architect of the worlds economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Charles and David Koch, Paul Ryan, Clarence Thomas, Ronald Reagan, even President Trump, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo are acolytes of the Rand way of looking at our nation and acting according to Rands principles.
What Rand teachings drive current opinion-makers?
Too many people are parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason; they ought to perish. Humans have no inherent positive value other than how much money they make. If someone is on welfare, he has negative value.
Selfishness is good. Watch out only for yourself. You have no responsibility for the fate of others outside your immediate family.
As Reagan summarized, The government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.
Solidarity is a trap. Taxes are theft. Government is a swindler out to fleece people.
Rands acolytes hate weak, unproductive people and socialist policies and admire strong, can-do profit-makers.
Altruisms the poison of death in the blood of western civilization.
Climate change is inconceivable; it gets in the way of profits.
Truths not profitable. Lies are OK if they drive taxes on the rich toward zero. Making the world uncertain forces people who are worthless and on welfare toward self-elimination. Now you no longer have to wonder why Trump and his appointees act the way they do.
Posted: at 7:48 am
This column is the fourth in a five-part series on creating purposeful lives using the same business principles that guide decisions in corporate boardrooms. The target audience is you, the CEO of My Enterprise (ME) Inc.
Serving as a PhD supervisor is one of my favorite aspects of working in higher education. But when new students come to my office seeking a mentorship, I never say yes until they agree to one ground rule: They must think of themselves as my equal.
This does not mean they need the same level of education or experience as a tenured faculty member. Equality of status or rank is not required for two people to work together in a mutually beneficial way.
Instead, when a student and I commit to collaborate on knowledge creation, we are both on equal ground about the unknown. We must agree up front to exchange effort for effort and value for value, so both sides come out ahead.
Similar principles apply in all types of personal and professional exchanges, from long-term relationships to one-time interactions. Thats how the Trader Principle works.
A trader does not treat men as masters or slaves, but as independent equals, author Ayn Rand says. He deals with men by means of a free, voluntary, unforced, uncoerced exchange an exchange which benefits both parties by their own independent judgment.
As CEO of ME Inc., you must consider carefully: With whom should I trade?
The question flows naturally from your work in the first three installments of this series. When put together, a new framework emerges for measuring the power of trade in a 2x2 grid.
The vertical axis represents the degree of benefit to others, an outgrowth of the value proposition you developed in the third installment.
The horizontal axis represents the degree of benefit to yourself when you exchange your time, talents and resources with others. It represents the alignment of your aspirations and abilities, as discussed in the second installment of the series.
Together, the two axes represent the twin elements of your purpose, bringing you back to this important touchstone, as discussed in the first installment.
Win-lose scenarios in the upper-left quadrant happen when someone else benefits more than you from an exchange.
The reverse scenario in the lower-right quadrant happens when you get what you want, but at the expense of your trading counterparts.
Relationships tend to break down in either case, pushing you toward lose-lose scenarios in the lower-left quadrant.
Productive, rewarding, sustainable relationships happen in the upper-right quadrant, where the miracle of trade occurs.
Both sides amplify the value proposition of the other, producing win-win results that cannot be achieved when individuals act alone. As Aristotle says, The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Many people reject the possibility of win-win outcomes. They think of trade as something adversarial, pitting one person against another.
They view markets as places of competition, rather than collaboration first and foremost.
Cynics who buy into this fallacy believe they must be selfish or selfless in their interactions with others.
If they want to make the world a better place, they assume they must sacrifice their own interests to help others. But if the one constant in your world is you, and you are not better off, how is your world a better place?
Shel Silverstein shows the long-term risks of the false dichotomy in his book, The Giving Tree, a cautionary tale of trade imbalances that persist over time.
The tree in the story plays the role of the martyr and enabler. It willingly sacrifices itself to aid another, until it eventually dies.
Unfortunately, the intended beneficiary is not better off in the long run. Taking what is offered, the boy grows into a man weakened by years of dependency.
The alternative does not work either. People who take more than they give through fraud or exploitation have a short-sighted notion of self-interest. As the above framework illustrates, such an approach rarely lasts in voluntary relationships.
A second fallacy is the notion that trade is about economics alone. Such a transactional perspective discounts the power of voluntary trade to promote human dignity, as I write about in a previous column.
People who collaborate without coercion have the satisfaction of knowing that others appreciate their contributions. They are neither beggars nor thieves. They are independent equals.
Underlying each win-win transaction is the assurance that individuals can fulfill their aspirations through a matching of complementary abilities offering value in return for value.
This enables each to thrive, not just economically, but psychologically and intellectually.
A third fallacy is the idea that trade partners must receive equal rewards or give in equal measure.
Win-win outcomes are not measured by equality in every aspect. The key is whether each party independently believes the other offers something of worth.
I learned this lesson early in my career. When working with my PhD adviser on joint projects, I probably put in 90% of the time invested. But his 10% created far more value in terms of insights and impact, resulting in a balanced exchange.
When building trade alliances as CEO of ME Inc., the first step is to identify people who share your purpose, values and vision. These are your mirrors.
Then look for people who complement your aspirations and abilities. They love what you hate and have skills that you lack. These are your duals, providing you a value proposition by enabling you to focus on optimizing your abilities and aspirations.
The best trade partners fit both descriptions. Once you identify them, the next step is to recruit them.
When somebody else has something you want, you have three options. You can beg for it, take it by force or earn it.
Traders have little appetite for the first approach. They neither seek nor want a handout.
They have an even stronger aversion for the second option. Only cronies and criminals resort to coercion. They either use the law as a weapon to impose their terms on unwilling partners or they step outside the law.
Only the third option produces win-win solutions that preserve the dignity of all involved. Each side trades something they want for something they want even more.
I see the payoffs with my PhD students. They push me to improve as an academic, the same as I push them. When questions emerge about study methods or conclusions, neither side stays silent.
We will focus on what is right, not who is right, I tell them. When we disagree, we will let facts be the final arbiter.
Anything less would cheat me, the students and the research, which is why we trade as independent equals in the marketplace for ideas.
Posted: October 14, 2019 at 5:44 pm
When she was young, author Ayn Rand had a schoolgirl crush on a man who murdered, dismembered and disemboweled 12-year-old Marion Parker, before dumping her body on the street, after promising to return her alive to her parents. That 1927 murder was big news, especially in Los Angeles, where the crime had occurred, and it certainly got the attention of Rand, who had just moved to the city after emigrating from the Soviet Union. She immediately began work on a novel, which she called "Little Street,"with a hero based on the murderer, William Hickman.
While Rand's modern-day fans are quick to argue that Rand didn't endorse the murder,it's safe to say she thought highly of Hickman himself and sneered at the people who denounced him, writing that they exhibited "the mobs murderous desire to revenge its hurt vanity against a man who dared to be alone." This champion of individualism said that Hickman's "degeneracy" showed "how society can wreck an exceptional being." She got to work sketching a protagonist based on Hickman, one with a "wonderful, free, light consciousness" resulting from "the absolute lack of social instinct or herd feeling" and having "no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people."
Rand eventually scrapped the idea for "Little Street," but most historians argue that she reworked her idea of the individualistic, contemptuous hero into her later novels, "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged." These two books, and Rand's writings on her selfishness-oriented philosophy she deemed "Objectivism," have become the backbone of modern conservatism, a pseudo-intellectual rationalization beloved by Republicans such as former House Speaker Paul Ryan or Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky for a reactionary movement that rose up to reject the feminist and antiracist movements of the 20th century.
In her purple prose, Rand romanticized the capitalist predator as a handsome, virile man whose towering intellect justifies his massive ego and disregard for the common masses. It's why conservatives, angry about the election of Barack Obama, started publicly identifying with John Galt, who is the great-man-among-parasites hero of "Atlas Shrugged."
The question that haunts that novel is, "Who is John Galt?" Now we finally have the answer: Donald Trump.
It turns out a philosophy of radical selfishness is not sexy or heroic, but comes in the form of a half-literate narcissist, cheered on by a bunch of sweatpants-clad fascists as he commits crimes in service of conspiracy theories he hopes will trick the ignorant masses into electing him again.
"In the abstract, Rand would have said that her ideal man upholds reason and capitalism. Based on how this plays out in her books, her ideal man is rich, sexually aggressive, sociopathically unconcerned with what others think of him," author Adam Lee, who spent years blogging his close reading of "Atlas Shrugged,"told Salon.
"The real message Rand's works convey is that her protagonists are exempt from the puny standards of law and morality that the common people try to tie them down with," Lee added, noting that the heroes of Rand's bookscommit rape, mock the people who will die in their shoddily built housing and threaten violence to punish wives who disapprove of their adultery.
Trump's time in politics has been a true test of Rand's theory, which has been embraced by modern Republicans, that this kind of sociopathic selfishness is what compels men to greatness of the sorts that we ordinary people, with our plebeian concerns about moral duty to others and the common good, cannot understand. After all, one thing that is certain about Trump is that, like a true Randian hero, he acts only for himself and to satisfy his own ego, and has no concern for others outside of how they serve his interests.
The results, it's safe to say, are underwhelming. Trump's Randian philosophy of pure self-interest is, of course, why he felt it wise to abandon the traditional point of international diplomacy, which is to advance national interests, in favor of viewing other nations merely as resources to be exploited for his own personal and political gain. That's how he ended up on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, extorting the man to pony up manufactured conspiracy theories about a Democratic presidential candidate in exchange for military aid.
The fallout has, needless to say, been a little less John Galt and a little more Richard Nixon ranting pathetically about his enemies. Trump's blatant lies and grasping excuses for his behavior don't cause the heart to soar so much as the eyes to avert in embarrassment. As the outlines of Trump's conspiracy, with the clownish Rudy Giuliani at its center, come into view, the picture is less that of triumphant individualists sticking it to the small-brained masses than of a bunch of idiots who have vastly overrated their own abilities to pull off pointless crimes.
Nor has Trump's Randian attitude towards his henchmen, in which he shows them no weak-minded loyalty or gratitude for their service, worked out quite as well for him as it's supposed to. Trump's firing national security adviser John Bolton, himself no paragon of social virtue, was the move of a classic Randian hero. Bolton, after all, had the temerity to question the great man's judgment regarding matters like the Ukraine extortion, and had to be dispatched with contempt. But now reports that paint Bolton favorably (in itself a remarkable accomplishment) and make Trump look like a blithering idiot are worming their way into the news, suggesting that Trump's unwillingness to keep the good opinion of his henchmen is coming back around to bite him.
Conservatives like Paul Ryan may wrinkle their noses at Trump's uncouth demeanor and petty behavior, but this is what they signed up for in exalting Ayn Rand as some great philosopher. Despite the high-minded rhetoric, the lived reality of selfishness as a philosophy is less like the fictional figures of Howard Roark and John Galt, and more like the incoherent, small-minded sociopathy of Donald Trump. The great man of the Objectivist imagination has always been a silly fantasy. But it's particularly rich and satisfying that now that the Ayn Rand fanboys finally have a leader who lives out their supposed ideals, the result is the comic, pathetic and catastrophic figure now disgracing the White House.
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