Famous Visitors To The White House

Obama has opened the books, releasing the names of those who have visited the White House.

Norm Eisen, special counsel to the President, had a rather defensive statement about some of the visitors. This is the paragraph from the CNN article:

Given that up to 100,000 people visit the White House each month, the names published Friday included people with some very familiar names — including William Ayers, Michael Jordan, Michael Moore, Jeremiah Wright and R. Kelly — that did not belong to their more famous counterparts, he said.

What are the chances that the president has met two or more Jeremiah Wrights and William Ayers? I’ve never met anyone named “Jeremiah” or “Ayers” and yet Obama has had the strange opportunity to meet two people with the same names of people that have caused him trouble in the past. What are the chances?

NYT Book Review of Ayn Rand Reveals Bias

My heading is redundant. And not exactly accurate since a book review, by definition, is subjective. But this review of a new Ayn Rand biography is so completely wrong-headed and outrageous that I felt it slid off the foundation of “book review” into an indictment of both Rand and American Conservatives.

This isn’t exactly a newsflash. Ayn Rand sends liberals into paroxysms of horror. What I don’t get though is what is so wrong with her ideas. How can any person argue against the fundamental tenet of living for himself? What is controversial about that?

From the review:

“Atlas Shrugged” was published 52 years ago, but in the Obama era, Rand’s angry message is more resonant than ever before.

Angry? How is her message angry? I think it is joyful and calm.

Sales of the book have reportedly spiked.

Reportedly? You didn’t look into it? You didn’t bother to confirm or refute, leaving the question hanging in your article? Is that responsible?

At “tea parties” and other conservative protests, alongside the Obama-as-Joker signs, you will find placards reading “Atlas Shrugs” and “Ayn Rand Was Right.”

Scare quotes around tea parties? And what is wrong with the Obama-as-Joker sign? By the way, that’s sort of a misnomer because the artist who created Obama-as-Joker actually supports Obama.

Not long after the inauguration, as right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck were invoking Rand and issuing warnings of incipient socialism, Representative John Campbell, Republican of California, told a reporter that the prospect of rising taxes and government regulation meant “people are starting to feel like we’re living through the scenario that happened in ‘Atlas Shrugged.’ ”

Well, strictly speaking, that’s accurate. Government regulation and taxes were the central tenet of Atlas Shrugged, and it’s also true that high taxes and government regulation are elements of socialism.

Rand’s style of vehement individualism has never been universally popular among conservatives — back in 1957, Whittaker Chambers denounced the “wickedness” of “Atlas Shrugged” in National Review — and Rand still has her critics on the right today.

Actually this is untrue. One Communist-turned-Conservative denouncing Rand does not mean her ideas were expelled from Conservatism. And like there are critics of Rand on the right, there are also critics of Obama on the left, such as Joe Lieberman, Zell Miller, and John McCain. (Yes, the last name is meant to be ironic, but it totally works, right?)

But it can often seem, as Jonathan Chait, a senior editor at The New Republic recently observed, that “Rand is everywhere in this right-wing mood.” And while it’s not hard to understand Rand’s revenge-fantasy appeal to those on the right, would-be Galts ought to hear the story Anne C. Heller has to tell in her dramatic and very timely biography, “Ayn Rand and the World She Made.”

Revenge fantasy? Conservatives do not want revenge, nor do libertarians. We want to be left alone. We want to not be taxed to the heavens. We want our country to be strong, to lead the world in Freedom and democracy. And yes, we desperately want the individual to take precedent over the state. There is no room for revenge in those desires.

For one thing, it is far more interesting than anything in Rand’s novels.

Right. Because her novels are so terribly boring. Which is why they are increasing in popularity. Keep your rhetoric separate from the facts.

That is because Heller is dealing with a human being, and one with more than her share of human failings and contradictions — “gallant, driven, brilliant, brash, cruel . . . and ultimately self-destructive,” as Heller puts it. The characters Rand created, on the other hand — like Galt or Howard Roark, the architect hero of “The Fountainhead” — are abstract principles set to moving and talking.

This is at once the failure and the making of Rand’s fiction. The plotting and characterization in her books may be vulgar and unbelievable, just as one would expect from the middling Holly­wood screenwriter she once was; but her message, while not necessarily more sophisticated, is magnified by the power of its absolute sincerity.

Failure? Her books are incredibly popular, and I happen to think they are very crisply and elegantly written. VULGAR? How are her books vulgar? That’s just silly. And her message is terribly sophisticated. The leftist who wrote this probably understands that he was one being mocked in the book. Like Dagny Taggert’s brother, Jim, who married a sad little waif to earn the admiration of his friends for his egalitarian views, Adam Kirsch seems to believe the smallest among us desperately need him to explain big complicated ideas because we’re too stupid to understand them ourselves. It’s condescending and incorrect.

It is the message that turned her, from the publication of “Atlas Shrugged” in 1957 until her death in 1982, into the leader of a kind of sect. (This season, another Rand book, by the academic historian Jennifer Burns, is aptly titled “Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right.”) Even today, Rand’s books sell hundreds of thousands of copies a year. Heller reports that in a poll in the early ’90s, sponsored by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club, “Americans named ‘Atlas Shrugged’ the book that had most influenced their lives,” second only to the Bible.

Right. So surely this is an impressive feat for a piece of – basically – literary trash?

Rand’s particular intellectual contribution, the thing that makes her so popular and so American, is the way she managed to mass market elitism — to convince so many people, especially young people, that they could be geniuses without being in any concrete way distinguished.

That is exactly wrong. Her goal was not to make people believe they were geniuses but that they were individuals. That they did not owe anyone anything, nor did they deserve anything just because they existed. That they must work for their own benefit.

Or, rather, that they could distinguish themselves by the ardor of their commitment to Rand’s teaching. The very form of her novels makes the same point: they are as cartoonish and sexed-up as any best seller, yet they are constantly suggesting that the reader who appreciates them is one of the elect.

This is absurd. I wonder if Kirch ever read Rand.

Heller maintains an appropriately critical perspective on her subject

Just curious – is there an “appropriately critical” perspective of Obama, or is any criticism immediately wrong-headed?

— she writes that she is “a strong admirer, albeit one with many questions and reservations” — while allowing the reader to understand the power of Rand’s conviction and her odd charisma. Rand labored for more than two years on Galt’s radio address near the end of “Atlas Shrugged” — a long paean to capitalism, individualism and selfishness that makes Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good” sound like the Sermon on the Mount. “At one point, she stayed inside the apartment, working for 33 days in a row,” Heller writes. She kept going on amphetamines and willpower; the writing, she said, was a “drops-of-water-in-a-desert kind of torture.” Nor would Rand, sooner than any other desert prophet, allow her message to be trifled with. When Bennett Cerf, a head of Random House, begged her to cut Galt’s speech, Rand replied with what Heller calls “a comment that became publishing legend”: “Would you cut the Bible?” One can imagine what Cerf thought — he had already told Rand plainly, “I find your political philosophy abhorrent” — but the strange thing is that Rand’s grandiosity turned out to be perfectly justified.

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

That last line puzzles me. To me, it is not a contradiction at all. She believed strongly in her book. Of course she would give up seven cents per copy, she would more than make up for that in volume. (And has, I might add.)

Politically, Rand was committed to the idea that capitalism is the best form of social organization invented or conceivable. This was, perhaps, an understandable reaction against her childhood experience of Communism.

This old trope is dragged out by every person who wishes to discredit or at least water down her message. The saying goes: she was born in a Communist country (Russia), therefore when she came to America, she went “too far” in the other direction.

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

Bullshit. Has this reviewer any concept of economics? She was betting on herself. She was saying it was worth giving up the seven cents because it was a work of art, and the work of art would sell more copies if it was complete, thereby making her more money.

It is the act of an intellectual, of someone who believes that ideas matter more than lucre. In fact, as Heller shows, Rand had no more reverence for the actual businessmen she met than most intellectuals do. The problem was that, according to her own theories, the executives were supposed to be as creative and admirable as any artist or thinker. They were part of the fraternity of the gifted, whose strike, in “Atlas Shrugged,” brings the world to its knees.

Rand’s inclusion of businessmen in the ranks of the Übermenschen helps to explain her appeal to free-marketeers — including Alan Greenspan — but it is not convincing. At bottom, her individualism owed much more to Nietzsche than to Adam Smith (though Rand, typically, denied any influence, saying only that Nie­tzsche “beat me to all my ideas.” But “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” never sold a quarter of a million copies a year.

Rand’s potent message could lead to intoxication and even to madness, as the second half of her life showed.

Madness. Right. You’re crazy if you’re conservative, believe in the individual, low taxes, freedom, a strong America, and free markets. Cray-cray, koo-koo bananas.

In 1949, Rand was living with her husband, a mild-mannered former actor named Frank O’Connor, in Southern California, in a Richard Neutra house. Then she got a fan letter from a 19-year-old college freshman named Nathan Blumenthal and invited him to visit. Rand, whose books are full of masterful, sexually dominating heroes, quickly fell in love with this confused boy, whom she decided was the “intellectual heir” she had been waiting for.

The decades of psychodrama that followed read, in Heller’s excellent account, like “Phèdre” rewritten by Edward Albee. When Blumenthal, who changed his name to Nathaniel Branden, moved to New York, Rand followed him; she inserted herself into her protégé’s love life, urging him to marry his girlfriend; then Rand began to sleep with Branden, insisting that both their spouses be kept fully apprised of what was going on. Heller shows how the Brandens formed the nucleus of a growing group of young Rand followers, a herd of individualists who nicknamed themselves “the Collective” — ironically, but not ironically enough, for they began to display the frightening group-think of a true cult. One journalist Heller refers to wondered how Rand “charmed so many young people into quoting John Galt as religiously as ‘clergymen quote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.’ ”

The sordid details of her private life are always dragged out – but why? What does it prove? Sex has nothing to do with money (ideally, but you might want to check with Barney Frank to see if that still holds true) and by the way, Martin Luther King was unfaithful too. Does that make his ideas any less valuable? No. Nor are Rand’s ideas cheapened because of her sexual proclivities.

Inevitably, it all ended in tears, when Branden fell in love with a young actress and was expelled from Rand’s circle forever. That he went on to write several best-­selling books of popular psychology “and earned the appellation ‘father of the self-esteem movement’ ” is the kind of finishing touch that makes truth stranger than fiction. For if there is one thing Rand’s life shows, it is the power, and peril, of unjustified self-esteem.

That ends on a cutting note, but again, why say something so obviously untrue? Rand was very worthy of her own self-esteem. She was a successful author and philosopher. The fact that books are being written about her today leads me to smirk at the reviewer’s hint that she was not all that. The fact that she’s being referenced, revered, and even maligned some thirty years after her death speaks volumes.

UPDATED

I just found this Newsweek review by Mark Sanford (yes, that Mark Sanford) about the same book. Fascinating.

Happy Birthday, Internet

I can not imagine life without the internet.

As a writer, I use the net to research every day – everything from Pripyat to Mozart. Last night, for instance, I was awake at 2AM, reading about the Salem Witch Trials. Did you know that the actual search warrants and death warrants for some of the accused are online, along with transcripts and exhibits? Yes! From the 1670s! Without this easy, off-hand access, I think I’d be much less informed than I am.

I get my news almost exclusively from the internet. I can watch movies or tv shows on the net too, but I usually don’t.

I have made good friends on the net. That hasn’t happened with Twitter or Facebook for some reason, but emails sent in relation to my blog have created very dear relationships that have lasted years.

I’ve bought all my airline tickets online since 1996. I’ve bought music, groceries, televisions, books, clothes, computers, and jewelry online.

It’s so pervasive that I do not remember life without it. I use it every single day, for hours at a time. I use it on my computer, and I am never without it on my phone. Even when I jog, lately, I’ve got my BlackBerry, my iPod, my heart rate monitor. And when I’m finished with my workout, my watch will upload my stats to a website, so I can track my progress over time. Incidentally I do check email when I’m jogging. When I’m stopped at a light or whatever, I find myself scrolling through the emails.

I love the internet. I love email and websites, blogs and services. I love the fact that I can send a post to my blog from my phone’s email. I love getting email, I love getting texts. I think I would be very lonely and very sad without the internet.

So Happy Birthday, Internet. Thank you for all you do. I plan to use you like a $5 whore for the rest of my life.

Gems From The House Health Care Bill

How did this get into a health care bill?


Page 1255 of the bill makes veterinary students eligible for federal grant funding, including scholarships and loan forgiveness. There is $283 million in spending authorized under these sections – meaning we could be spending hundreds of millions to pay for veterinarians while we have a deficit of over $1 trillion.

Is this really our responsibility? This is the federal government we’re talking about – the agency Constitutionally responsible for our national defense, and that’s basically it.

This makes me sad.

The Case of The Killer Vending Machine

Some scoffed when Republicans warned that a government run health-care plan would be the camel’s nose under the tent of what would be your whole fucking life. Today, with Nancy Pelosi’s craptacular health care bill finally available to peruse by us plebes, we find that the bill calls for the federal government to regulate vending machines, to ensure everyone can see the nutrition labels on items in same before purchasing their food. Here’s the language:

(viii) VENDING MACHINES.—In the case of an article of food sold from a vending machine that ‘(I) does not permit a prospective purchaser to examine the Nutrition Facts Panel before purchasing the article or does not otherwise provide visible nutrition information at the point of purchase; and
‘‘(II) is operated by a person who is engaged in the business of owning or operating 2 or more vending machines, the vending machine operator shall provide a sign in close proximity to each article of food or the selection button that includes a clear and conspicuous statement disclosing the number of calories contained in the article.

So this is where we are as a society? Really? Is this really what Americans are like now? Soft little doughboys who can’t for the life of them figure out that a Snickers bar is not a fresh, wholesome carrot?

What I snack on is none of your business, government.

Unless you pass this bill, in which case, I will suddenly be beholden to my wise DC overlords. Fuckers.

Obama’s Defense Bill: Idealistic Defense

Today I watched Obama sign the 2010 Defense Budget bill into law. Included in the law was hate crimes legislation, enhancing the punishment for crimes committed against homosexual persons.

I do not support this legislation for the same reasons I support gay marriage: because we’re all equal. The murder of a homosexual person is no more egregious to me than the murder of a hetrosexual person. Gender, color, orientation is simply irrelevant, and by classifying a crime against homosexuals as “worse” than an “ordinary” crime, it makes a mockery of the concept of blind justice.

By the way, how did hate crime legislation end up in the defense bill?

Also notable was President Obama’s speech before he signed the bill. I have never heard such language from him – he was a cost-cutting fool, as frugal as a post-war wife. He talked about eliminating billions in waste, eliminating programs the Army “doesn’t want”, and improving efficiencies through scrutinizing contracts to private companies.

I don’t know why he can’t take that point of view with everything else. I sent an IM to a friend, marveling at his tone, and my friend pointed out that Democrats always cut the defense budget.

But during two wars? During a recession? When unemployment is at a staggering high? When the dollar is being devalued? When he is spending trillions on bailouts and health care and expanded benefits?

It makes no financial sense to me, but what’s more, it spikes concern for our men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for all Americans who still live with the very real threat of terror attacks.

President Obama’s argument seemed to be: the weaker we are, the stronger we are. It makes no sense.

As a conservative, my sensibilities are offended by this bill.

Phillies V. Yanks

What the fuck is this shit? Why can’t I watch So You Think You Can Dance and Glee? Why the fuck is this basedball crap on? No. I refuse to let you do this, Mr. Baseball Executive. Who the hell are you to put this crap on tv? Nobody cares. Okay, NOBODY IS FUCKING INTERESTED IN THIS BASEDBALL. Those fucking morons run up and down the court with their tiny white tennis balls, what is the fucking point? THERE IS NO POINT! THAT’S THE POINT OF BASEDBALL! TO BORE US TO DEATH. So you know, you Philadelphia Eagles or whoever the fuck you are, just hurry up and LOSE so I can watch So You Think You Can Dance.

Fucking World Series. World Series of WHAT? Nobody even cares about basedball, this is the world’s dumbest game. Wasn’t Madonna dating some asshole who played basedball?

No wonder she broke up with his sorry ass, HE’S A FUCKING BORE.

Please, GIVE ME BACK THE FOX CHANNEL SO I CAN WATCH SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE.

Geraldo’s Error

It was sometime in the mid-1990s, I was about 18 or 19 years old. I was at Chuy’s on the corner of Kirby and Westheimer, in Houston, Texas, with a few friends.

Our table was near the center of the restaurant, where we had a good view of pretty much everything. I do not recall there being any kind of commotion before I got up to wash my hands before our meal arrived. I went to the lady’s room where I washed my hands, dried them, and stepped back out into the restaurant. And there, just outside the bathrooms, was Geraldo Rivera.

I remember thinking his mustache was just unbelievable – very big and bushy. He looked hairy and tan. His dark, wavy hair looked great though. A few people had crowded around him, and as I stepped out, he must have thought that I was somebody who was wildly interested in shaking his hand, when in fact I just wanted to get to the table and have my chile relleno, because he stepped over to me, said, “How are ya?” and said, “Smile.”

“What?”

He put his arm around me, and a camera flashed.

I had no idea what was going on. Clueless. Utterly confused. “All right,” said Geraldo, “Nice to see ya.”

I began walking as fast as I could to the table where my friends were laughing at me.

“What the hell was that?” I asked. “Geraldo Rivera?”

“Just think,” my friend said, “somebody has a picture of you with Geraldo Rivera.”

I still think of that sometimes. Geraldo Rivera with a big cheesy smile, his arm around my shoulder, and me, looking completely confused.

But what amuses me the most is that Geraldo Rivera must go around thinking everyone is interested in him. I was not. There are very few celebrities (can we even call Geraldo Rivera a celebrity?) I actually would be impressed to meet. (And I’ve met plenty – Madonna, Cindy Crawford, Barack Obama, George Bush, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Oliver North, Tom Clancy, etc etc. Not even they seemed to have the sense of “I’m a celebrity” as Geraldo Rivera had.)

I think it’s fascinating having that worldview, though. Imagine living in a world where you just assumed everyone wanted to shake your hand, hear from you, have their picture snapped with you. Imagine how strange to one day wake up and realize you’re really not all that, you’re just standing in between a girl and her chille relleno.

7 Cosmo Sex Tips That Will Put You In The Hospital

Cracked routinely cracks me up, but this time, I’m both horrified and confused. Shaking his balls like dice in a cup? MAKING HIM SNEEZE to make his experience more intense?

I admit, I am far out of my league here, and if you like that stuff, keep it to yourself.

But read the article because it’s funny. And then come back here to agree with me that shit is insane.

Cuteness Is Sick

Move over, LOLCATS of I Can Haz Cheeseburger, and the adorable beaks and ‘tocks at Cuteoverload. I present FU Penguin which makes you all its bitches. But instead of oogling all the adorable animals, FU Penguin gives them a good dressing down. Hilarious.

The Antarctica Police Department and the Bat with paci was enough to grow my my cold, cold heart three sizes. Prosh and oh so funny.

UPDATE

I couldn’t help but totally rip off this post to show you what was going down over there at Fuck You, Penguin:

Dassie

You want a piece of me, Hyrax? I will fucking destroy you. Oh, your closest living relative is the elephant? An animal that is afraid of a mouse? Well guess what, pussy, I share a bunch of DNA with the chimpanzee. They don’t even get mad, they store that shit in their heads and make a plan, Hyrax. And then they fucking play for keeps. Just like me, Hyrax. Just like me.

So you think I’m afraid of your vampire teeth and poorly developed internal temperature regulation? No fucking way, Hyrax. So get a couple of your buddies, a makeshift knife, and some pillowcases and meet me in fifteen minutes. Because it’s fucking on, Hyrax. Oghadisthatababyonyou? And another one? How come they look so creepy and yet so disgustingly cute? WHAT DO THEY KNOW THAT I DON’T KNOW. Oh, no. THEY ARE MULTIPLYING.

You win this round, Hyrax. You can have my apple. Just don’t let them bring western civilization to its knees.

%d bloggers like this: