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An Objectivist in Pittsburgh

Blake Scholl addresses Objectivists in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Scott Holleran)

Watching Boom Supersonic founder and CEO Blake Scholl address this summer’s Objectivist Conference in Pittsburgh, I was struck by the newness, youth and growth of the movement to advance Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism. Blake is a friend whom I’ve known since he was a student at Pittsburgh’s distinguished university named for two great American capitalists — Andrew Mellon and Andrew Carnegie — at the end of the 20th century. Today, Blake’s a leading new voice for capitalism, seeking to reclaim and restore supersonic air travel.

As the only philosophy to advocate capitalism on the ethics of egoism, which Ayn Rand (1905-1982) reduced to what she boldly and, I think, rightly called the virtue of selfishness, Objectivism is perfect for attracting, inspiring and guiding productive achievers such as Blake Scholl, who departed after his talk in Pittsburgh to Paris, where he tripled orders for Boom Supersonic’s new jet (its XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator is scheduled to fly at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California in 2019). The system of ideas created by the author of Atlas Shrugged is bound to foster businessmen such as Blake Scholl, who presented his vision for aviation based on speed, convenience and quality before what the Ayn Rand Institute claims is its largest annual Objectivist Conference.

Pittsburgh

The city of steel, bridges and exemplary education, Pittsburgh, too, is the perfect place to exhibit an enticing preview of the manmade. Pittsburgh was at the crux of creating the world’s single, greatest period of productive achievement, the Industrial Revolution. This magnificent city, where pioneering soldiers, frontiersmen, industrialists, doctors and artists protected and forged the nation’s most enduring new enterprises — in medicine, engineering, energy, movies, television and the arts — continues to be underestimated. Just like America, Ayn Rand and the best minds.

Certainly, Boom’s Blake Scholl is not infallible; he may make mistakes in executing his vision. However, with Blake’s presentation, the Objectivist movement reaches a higher point — fittingly, in a tower located next to railroad tracks at the south bank of the Monongahela River in a proudly industrialized metropolis which climaxes at a golden triangle pointing West, stretching into lush, green hills. This year’s OCON included lectures on intellectual property, stoicism and the gold standard. Ayn Rand biographer Shoshana Milgram delivered insightful talks on Rand’s interviews with industrialists and an examination of Rand’s favorite novel, which is about building a grain elevator. There was a screening and discussion of the Oscar-nominated documentary Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, trivia and talent events and a panel discussion on free speech with Flemming Rose, a journalist who once published a Mohammed cartoon and still needs police protection. Pittsburgh doctor Amesh Adalja spoke on the history of infectious disease in the city where his heroes, Drs. Thomas Starzl and Jonas Salk, made medical history. OCON Pittsburgh — during which the Pittsburgh Penguins won hockey’s Stanley Cup and I visited family and friends and saw the Pittsburgh Pirates defeat the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park — included tours of the Homestead blast furnace once owned by Andrew Carnegie‘s U.S. Steel, Henry Clay Frick’s (1849-1919) home and owned works of art and Fallingwater, the home Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar Kaufmann in 1936. I was writing TV scripts on deadline during the conference and missed some talks, events and mixers. And, while certain conference services, staff and events failed, fell flat or need improvement, others were good, new or interesting.

Blake Scholl’s talk stands out as an Objectivist hallmark. That this Carnegie Mellon University graduate stood as a businessman against the cynicism and anti-intellectualism of our times to demonstrate that the good is possible and that air transportation can and ought to be grand, fast and glorious realizes Ayn Rand’s depiction of man as a heroic being. That he did it in Pittsburgh is perfectly rational. So, here comes evidence that the potential for the gleaming, industrialized future Ayn Rand’s idealistic novels envision, promise and dramatize can be made real. Whatever happens on the day after tomorrow, to paraphrase a condensed description of Atlas Shrugged — a novel, it must be recognized, which also depicts a dramatic episode of aviation adventure — this is true, which is cause for all thinkers to want more of what Objectivism explains and offers for living here on earth.

Movie Review: The Founder

An interesting if unsatisfying character drama contains an original if unfulfilled theme in The Founder with Michael Keaton (Birdman) as McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc.

What makes Kroc the founder, a debatable assertion by this account, is the movie’s focus. What leaves the meaning unclear is the way director John Lee Hancock (The Alamo) dodges and hedges. This is utimately why The Founder, which could have been a powerhouse 2016 movie, peters out. Yet what a promising start, with sunny skies and nothing but an ambitiously idealistic adult driven to make money—and a movie about an ‘overnight’ success who’s over the age of 50 (like Col. Sanders or Judi Dench) is long overdue. This is the blank canvas of The Founder, sketching an open market in which demand for fast, simple and delicious food meets the grit of a seasoned salesman from suburban Chicago. The insights in the first two-thirds of the film—about the exhaustive work of thinking about, finding, studying, funding and cultivating a good idea with steely, feisty enthusiasm—are penetrating. The Founder in these stretches is a near-complete depiction of the money-making man in action, from enduring the vacancy and sameness of a carhop joint in Chesterfield, Missouri, to tapping the vitality and excitement of an enterprise out West.

The film’s regionalism and realism are its finest attributes.

Buy the Movie

As with La La Land, Hancock and screenwriter Robert Siegel, powered by Keaton’s performance, let this business-themed movie capture the Southern California (and, broadly, Western) ethos of self-made Americanism matched by Midwestern work ethic. You’ll never think of San Bernardino, a poor area of metropolitan LA recently known for an Islamic terrorist attack by jihadists known to the FBI, the same way again. Depending on which competing version you believe in this back and forth dramatization of a business partnership gone bad, the story of McDonald’s and its rise to fast food success is at once sobering and invigorating. Saddled with a wife (Laura Dern, pointed as always) whose support is tepid, important and strictly secondhand, Keaton’s Kroc contemplates and extrapolates the McDonald brothers’ trial and error tale of tennis court choreography, which took them from New Hampshire through Columbia Pictures, the crash of 1929 and the San Gabriel Valley to a perfect process. The brothers see the San Bernardino hamburger stand as the end of the road.

Through the burgeoning positive thinking self-improvement movement stressing persistence and endless shots of Canadian Club whisky, milkshake machine vendor Kroc sees dollar signs in McDonald’s. Kroc pushes and pushes the homespun brothers McDonald all the way to Des Plaines, Illinois (incidentally, where I first tasted and occasionally ate at Kroc’s first McDonald’s). Kroc investigates, shapes and defines a business partnership they can’t refuse. When the contract goes to signatures, like the hustler in this week’s other take on capitalism, Gold, no one but Kroc thinks the fast food process can be properly balanced and scaled. And it’s important to note that they have legitimate gripes, concerns and grievances. Later, one person does see potential with equal vigor (Linda Cardellini as Joan) but Kroc’s own country club wife in Arlington Heights asks: “When’s enough going to be enough?”

Rather than respond with religious verses, slogans and bromides about charity and humility, Kroc thinks, pauses and replies: “Probably never.” Up go the golden arches and wide go Kroc’s tired, hardworking eyes when he sets his sights upon his sacred temple for the first time, looking upward through a windshield in the movie’s best scene—it is his vision by any honest account of what that means—and, with symbols such as covered wagons and Kroc drawing spiritual strength from Kazan’s On the Waterfront, big business McDonald’s is finally born. How it’s done, how it’s earned, how it’s built on whisky and ruthlessness, from Kroc’s cheerful “Let’s get to work, boys” to inclusive recruitment of blacks, Jews and women, is inspiring. The brothers may denounce what they call Kroc’s “crass commercialism”, and The Founder goes limp on Kroc’s character, portraying him as dishonest in spite of contradictions. Whatever his flaws, if name and title can be earned, and they can, Ray Kroc deserves the movie’s title. To a certain extent, The Founder, thanks to Michael Keaton, driving the movie with a spot-on portrayal of an unpretentiously self-made man, shows the businessman who made McDonald’s. Decide for yourself whether Kroc stole, seized or started this amazing enterprise, which revolutionized the business of food, up from scratch.

Product Review: Verismo V by Starbucks

Competing with Mr. Coffee, Keurig and other home coffee machines, Starbucks launched its Verismo (pronounced vurr-izmo like ‘gizmo’ preceded by the ‘ver’ as ‘vurr’) a few years ago. Read my positive review here. This fall, the food, beverage and lifestyle company, whose innovative CEO Howard Schultz stepped down this week, introduced a new version of the machine.

Verismo V, as the new name goes, is improved.

VerismoV1

Starbucks’ Verismo V

Better yet from the consumer’s perspective, they keep a similar price range ($129-$179), though it’s currently on sale for $99, which comes with a variety pack or your choice of a box of a dozen coffee pods (a limited line compared to Keurig, which also carries Starbucks coffees, including milk-based, espresso and brewed beverages). It’s available with a milk frother, but I already own one of those.

First, the negatives, and there are a couple. The new detachable water tank, unlike the original machine’s tank, drips upon detachment, so, when you refill it with water, expect leakage on the way back to the machine (I haven’t figured out if it’s possible to stop that yet). I’m filling it without removing the container. Also, and it’s not that big of a problem, Verismo V is larger and takes up more space.

Product design enhancements outweigh the negatives, however, and make up for inconvenience. For example, the water tank, previously located in the back of the machine, goes on the side. It’s measurably larger, too, so a couple drinking a cup or two in the morning won’t have to refill the tank as often and can probably go a few days without refilling. It’s more accessible than before, too, with a simple lid, which easily fits into place. The other version’s water container was tucked into the back of the machine, which was a minor hassle.

The cup/drip tray is also removable, only it’s made of sturdier materials—especially the black metal cup holder, which is separable—and now it’s made to magnetically lock into one of two places to accommodate different cup sizes (and it’s easy to detach the parts completely to make room for a travel mug or tall glass). Rather than an indented spot for the cup as in the previous version, the new Verismo coffeemaker curves the opposite way (outwardly, not inwardly), which takes getting used to. The lever feels thicker, there are more buttons allowing more brewing choices—but not too many—on top and Verismo V is observably quieter when brewing coffee. Beverages (you can use the machine as a hot water dispenser for tea and hot chocolate, of course) are as hot as or hotter than before.

Other improvements include the ability to stop any brewing with the touch of any button and an ability—this is new—to program up to four custom dispensing settings, which Verismo V retains, so two people can have their own separate preferences pre-programmed like car seat positions. In the short time I’ve been using Verismo V, a used pod didn’t drop into the detachable container just once, so that’s still a factor, but at least the space for spent pods is larger. There’s still a small discharge of water after the rinse cycle but splatter has been reduced, so the protruding brew spout is more precise.

Verismo V by Starbucks

Verismo V by Starbucks

After set-up, here’s how Verismo works: fill the water container, power up the machine and place a cup on the tray. Wait for go signal (steady not blinking lights), pull the black metal lever down in one swift motion without a pod inserted, run a short rinse, empty the dispensed water and repeat with a cup after inserting a brewed, espresso and/or latte pod this time. Note that, unless you’re using the programmed settings, you’ll have to manually press any button to stop the brewing process or else the brewing does not stop and the cup will overfill. Verismo V still lasts a few minutes. Verismo V is a bit faster and commands are more responsive.

Starbucks offers fewer pod choices than Keurig’s line of K-cups, but limited edition blends, such as Christmas, Anniversary and others, are usually available in Verismo pods through Starbucks’ Target and in-grocery-store operations, online and Starbucks retail stores. Buying at Starbucks’ website in higher volume saves money, as pods come in boxes of 12 at about a dollar a pod (they’re not reusable).

Verismo V is for people who want to drink premium coffee at home without making a mess or spending more time, effort and energy than old-fashioned grinding, pressing and brewing. The coffeemaker comes with a good manual, which features set-up, programming, troubleshooting and cleaning and maintenance instructions, and the machine still automatically powers down after five minutes of idle time. For good, fast, convenient premium coffee at home, Verismo V remains an excellent option.


Go here to learn more about (or register your) Verismo V

Review: Starbucks App (2014)

Product Review: Verismo by Starbucks (2014)

Commentary: Starbucks’ Race Together Campaign

Starbucks Story for a Monday

Social Media and Writing Boot Camp

This week’s job skills workshop, covering writing the perfect resume and cover letter and mastering the job interview, will be held in the auditorium at Burbank Unified’s adult school campus near Bob Hope Airport at 10:00 am this Friday, August 26. I’m excited to teach this new class, which the director asked me to create to help people find rewarding work.

The theme of this 90-minute class is that looking for work in today’s market requires explicit assessment, awareness and positive assertion of one’s record, experience and philosophy of work.

MSOSM BPL anchored 8:22:2016

Social media workshop 8/16 | Burbank Public Library | Photo by Jeffrey Falk

Feedback from Monday’s workshop in social media, which I delivered in downtown Burbank, was constructive. One of my students suggested adding thematic detail to title slides, a good suggestion which I plan to incorporate, and I’m told that the LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter screenshots were helpful. Attendance at the Burbank Public Library-sponsored event exceeded my expectations and audience questions were sharp, serious and insightful.

This area north of Los Angeles is a diverse economic mix of artists, entrepreneurs, professionals and crew that represents the Southern California industrial blend of media, movies, technology, retail and manufacturing. I covered a wide scope of functions and editorial best practices in major social media and I was impressed by how attentive and knowledgeable today’s readers and communicators are about the nuances, details and complications of branding one’s presence on social media.

"Making Sense of Social Media" 8/22/2016 | Burbank Public Library

Social media workshop 8/16 | Burbank Public Library | Photo by Jeffrey Falk

I plan to add aspects of this class to this fall’s 10-week course on social media, which starts on September 12 (follow this fall’s All About Social Media on Facebook here). Space is limited, so if you’re in Southern California, sign up because the course is filling up. The new fall course includes live demonstrations and tutorials in social media. Computer laboratory instruction for each student’s social media profile(s) is an optional part of the fall program this semester, too, so expect to get individual attention with emphasis on how to improve what you’ve made or want to make. Look for updated lessons based on the newest trends, tools and failures, including experience from my projects, campaigns and branding. From Joss Whedon quitting Twitter after negative reviews for Tomorrowland to Brian Williams losing his stature and Robin Williams‘ daughter Zelda Williams reclaiming social media as her own domain, my course covers today’s terrain.

To register for All About Social Media go here.

This course is an editorial orientation. In other words, this is not a course on every detail or feature of Instagram, Twitter or YouTube. My approach instructs the student in how to engage social media based on one’s goals, values and self-interest while exploring certain uses, tools and functions.

WritingBootcamp

Touch/Click to Register

The same premise goes for my fall 2016 Writing Boot Camp, which breaks writing into progressive steps, from before writing begins to after completion of the first draft. Writing Boot Camp includes spot and assigned writing and notes. Course subjects include habits, resources and immersion in writing as an art and as a science.

Selecting the format, designating the topic and formulating a theme are studied and both writing and editing are practiced, both one on one as well as in collaboration with other students in class. Students are asked to read aloud. The 10-week series is based on what I have learned and fundamentally grounded in my professional writing background. I am enthusiastic about Writing Boot Camp. I plan to introduce the course’s first guest speaker, a published author of dozens of books, this coming fall, too.

Register for Writing Boot Camp here and follow the course on Facebook.

Who enrolls in an adult writing course? Poets, screenwriters, published authors and anyone seeking to achieve clarity in writing. Students are entertainment industry executives, songwriters, police officers, lawyers, teachers and entrepreneurs. Certain students attend for general knowledge and practice in a disciplined approach. Others seek to refuel the creative supply through my encouraging immersion in the art and business of storytelling.

Writing Boot Camp starts on September 15. Both courses are held at Burbank Adult School near Bob Hope Airport. However, if you’re unable to attend and you want help, I am available by appointment, video or telephone. Contact me for details.

Report: Apple’s Atlases May Shrug

Today’s edition of the New York Times reports that if Apple is forced by the Obama administration to make a government-dictated operating system, its key employees and software engineers may quit the company (read the article here). Apple refused comment for the article in the Times, which often sides with the Obama administration and rarely risks incurring the government’s wrath.

Will Atlas shrug? That’s what Lavabit, a company cited in the Times piece which was also ordered by the Obama administration to act against Lavabit’s rights and self-interest, did when its founder chose to exterminate his company rather than submit to statist oppression. Apple, led by heroic CEO Tim Cook, is challenging the United States government in a court battle which may end up in the Supreme Court (read about Apple’s case here).

Whatever Apple workers choose to do if and when faced with the threat of force by the FBI, this report should be seen as part of the epic contest between Apple and the U.S. government. The Democratic Party’s leading candidate for president and presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton, presumably would mimic the unconstitutional policy of Barack Obama, who went before SXSW last week to impose unearned guilt and shame on Apple and its customers, whom he complained “fetishize their cell phones” at the expense of national defense. Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, running as a Republican, supports the Obama administration and opposes the rights of Apple, which Trump said he would “boycott”. Unfortunately, Texas Senator Ted Cruz also rejects Apple’s argument, though not as unequivocally as Clinton and Trump.

81px-Apple_logo_black.svgApple, however, is unyielding in the commitment to its products, customers and rights and is winning the argument, gaining support from Silicon Valley businesses such as Google, Twitter and Microsoft, key policy groups such as the Cato Institute and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Rep. Justin Amash, a leading opponent of Obama’s surveillance statism. In a recent judicial filing, Apple rightly argued that America’s founders “would be appalled” by Obama’s dictate.  Tim Cook told ABC News in an interview that Apple’s defiance against the order is a “matter of principle”.

That may also be true for Apple’s men of the mind, according to the report. Will Obama force Apple employees to work under executive order in their current positions and effectively seize operational control and nationalize the Cupertino, California-based company? Do not be surprised if he does—and count on the fact that Trump, whose candidacy is predicated on the promise to use physical force against the individual at his whim, will not hesitate to do the same or worse. The same goes for Hillary Clinton, who once proposed outlawing divorce for couples with children. The notion that Americans may again be physically forced by the government to work—slavery—is a distinct possibility. As the terrible Obama presidency comes to a climactic end, and the reality of a more diabolical presidency looms, the thinking man knows that tyranny not only can happen here—it is, in fact, happening here and now.

Whether Apple in whatever form goes on strike may prove crucial in this major battle between America’s worst big government and America’s best big business. In this sense, what the state does to Apple—and what Apple does in its self-defense—foretells America’s immediate future.