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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.

Apple vs. the State

In an extraordinary act of defiance against the state, Cupertino, California-based Apple, Inc. refused to comply with the Obama administration after a judge ordered the company to breach its customers’ privacy and contracts, act against its own policies, terms and self-interest and “help” the government decode and destroy the company’s invention and property, the iPhone—all under compulsion in the name of national security.

Leave aside legal, ethical and philosophical consideration of national security implications inherent in the FBI’s public admission that it can’t hack a dead terrorist’s government-issued cell phone, contradicting the Obama administration’s claims that such authority is both successful and crucial to the nation’s defense. As Apple’s chief executive officer explains in his February 16 response, the Department of Justice’s demand that Apple create a means of decoding a single iPhone possessed by the state after an Islamic terrorist attack amounts to all of the above violations of Apple’s individual rights. And, as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision affirms, a company is properly regarded as an individual with absolute individual rights.

Democrat Ron Wyden, a U.S. senator from Oregon and staunch advocate for Americans against the surveillance state, agrees with Apple, declaring that the judge’s order is “unconstitutional”. Wyden, like Edward Snowden in a post on Twitter, correctly implies that the Obama administration’s demand is an inversion of government’s proper role. As Snowden (who is said to have been moved to his heroic whistleblowing by The Lives of Others) posted, “the FBI is creating a world where citizens rely on Apple to defend their rights, rather than the other way around.” I made a similar and related point in defense of Sony contra the U.S. government over the government’s abdication of national defense in the wake of an attack on one of the Culver City, California company’s movies (“The Undoing of Sony’s ‘The Interview‘”).

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Click to Read Letter

By posting the letter, Apple is fighting back. Exercising its right to absolute freedom of speech, asserting its property rights and the right to run its own business, the company co-founded by Steve Jobs issued the unprecedented public warning against the dangers of mass, unchecked government surveillance and made what amounts to a call to citizen action. In his letter to Apple customers, CEO Tim Cook refuses to accept the legitimacy of the judge’s order and instead insists upon recognition of Apple’s individual rights.

Apple’s letter is a declaration of independence against the oppressive state. The company leads in defending man’s rights against the surveillance state—to my knowledge, not a single technology company has publicly and unequivocally supported Apple’s letter and position—and, whatever its flaws and contradictions, such as referring to the United States as a “democracy” when, in fact, the U.S. is fundamentally a republic, Apple is, in today’s context, 100 percent right and should be supported by advocates of liberty and capitalism.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, whom I interviewed in 2011 when he ran for president in 2012 (read the interview), reduces Apple’s persecution to essentials with a good example: “[I]f the FBI comes across a safe in [a legally sanctioned search of a criminal’s] house, the warrant and permission do not mean it can force the company that manufactures the safe to create a special tool for opening its safes, especially a tool that would make other safes completely useless as secure storage. That’s the situation that Apple’s dealing with here.” Indeed, other than the Clinton administration’s proposed V-chip censorship mandate for all television sets, which failed, I can’t recall a more sweeping manufacturing mandate to violate the rights of individuals.

I’m also not aware of any support for Apple among the field of 2016 presidential candidates.

On the contrary, bombastic GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, appearing on Fox and Friends, denounced Apple’s position. “Who do they [Apple] think they are?” Trump asked. “They have to open it up.” Trump—who supports government-controlled medicine, the massive surveillance state and arbitrary government seizure of private property—said: “I agree 100 percent with the [judge]. In that case, we should open it up.” […] “We have to use common sense.”

In this context, “common sense” means faith in the statethe massive, unchecked surveillance state that can order any company or individual at its arbitrary discretion to create a means to absolutely violate the individual’s rights. Not surprisingly, a Fox News panel with Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, columnist A.B. Stoddard and conservative columnist Stephen Hayes concurs with Trump’s opposition to Apple. They are the embodiment of what Ayn Rand called “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World,” which was Rand’s first major campus talk, delivered 56 years ago today at Yale University.

As left and right commune in faith—belief without evidence—in the omnipotent state (the NSA, ObamaCare, TSA), one voice of reason opposes in principle and action the initiation of force against the individual; Apple, which refuses to go silently to its—and America’s—doom. As usual, a private, for-profit enterprise, in keeping with the nation’s history of singularly great acts of rebellion against tyranny such as the Boston Tea Party, sets an example in achieving the moral, i.e., egoistic, ideal in action. What happens next will be interesting, potentially decisive and either encouraging or horrifying, and possibly crucial to whether the nation remains in any sense a republic based on individual rights.

Capitalism on Chicagoland’s North Shore

Spending my youth in the suburbs north of Chicago often made me curious about its origins. There were exotic American Indian names, mysterious trails, woods and tales of corruption, scandal and murder amid the lush, green bluffs and flat, fertile soil, not to mention the lakefront, the railroad and the industry. I know I’m scratching the surface, but I’m enjoying writing about the towns, villages and enclaves north of Chicago in a newspaper history series I conceived and developed with my editor, David Sweet, earlier this year.

The theme is capitalism—the entrepreneurial spirit—on Chicagoland’s North Shore.

Glencoe, Illinois waiting station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

Talking with local and regional historians, curators and scholars, my research yields new takes on local myths and legends, facts about iconic names, dates and places and, above all, clarity about the men who forged new paths, pioneered Northern Illinois, fought for the Union during the Civil War and settled some of the nation’s most creative, productive and wealthiest towns. These men were largely men of vision and reason and they were farmers, frontiersmen, traders, industrialists and, mostly, individualists. Telling their stories, including notorious facts in the history of these towns, is more rewarding than I had thought possible when I first offered to write the articles.

These front page and cover story articles, which include bits on America’s first recorded serial killer, the only bridge ever designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright and the invention of Christmas bubble lights, Girl Scout cookies and Frenchmens’, Indians’ and religionists’ plans for the area near and along Lake Michigan north of Chicago, are currently available online for free. Read about Glenview, Wilmette and Glencoe. Know that there are more stories to come.


Related

Murder in Kenilworth

Feature: Teen Depression and Suicide on Chicago’s North Shore

Sheridan Road: My First Intellectual Activism

Sheridan Road: Former State Senator Roger Keats

Sheridan Road: Interview with Kathryn Cameron Porter

Movie Review: Steve Jobs

SteveJobsPoster

Buy the Movie

Another contender for best movie in this year of fine movies is Universal’s version of Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs. As a dramatic portrait of the creator who radically changed the world, it is magnificent. At last, writer Aaron Sorkin’s (Moneyball, The West Wing, The Social Network) breathless dialogue style is filtered and tethered by director Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire), or by Sorkin. The outcome is a poetic depiction of a true American fountainhead. (Read my thoughts on Steve Jobs and my thoughts on Apple).

With an electronic score to match the time frame, which runs from the mid-1980s to the final months of the 20th century, Steve Jobs moves in talking pictures, marking the creative life of a genius in three acts of grand halls filled with crowds, featuring singularly distinctive machines made possible by Apple, the Silicon Valley, California company Steve Jobs founded with Steve Wozniak—arguably the world’s greatest, richest company—and the people in Jobs’s life.

A brilliantly visionary producer talking with people about making products starts the movie. The opening scene displays his insistence upon perfection in a new product, the Mac, at Apple’s Flint Center introduction of the Macintosh personal computer following the revolutionary Super Bowl advertisement based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. The film’s conflict pits Steve Jobs against the world. But it also purports to put Steve Jobs against the audience because it is apparent that the audience is supposed to detest, rather than try to understand, what Jobs says and does. In fact, modern society pushes the audience away from what Jobs wanted, sought and achieved: perfection in integrating form and function in each aspect of life through fostering man’s autonomy. Apple’s ethos is individualism.

Steve Jobs is the individualist.

However, Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs wants, gets and trades more, as Apple does, with a measured achievement in addition to perfection in one’s work—a meaningful, happy life as one’s proper purpose. The ethics of egoism is embedded here if you know how to look for it, though I don’t know if today’s audiences will expend the effort. The tale this simple and magical movie shows and tells, and it’s extremely verbal though not in that irritatingly smug Sorkin tone, is an elegantly rendered tale of a life lived large yet always in the moment. Michael Fassbender’s Steve Jobs is sharp and arrogant, not flip and smug, and he strives to be balanced and whole.

“Artists lead,” Jobs tells a colleague with whom he’s at odds, and one of the things I like about this movie is how skillfully it dramatizes that the greatest minds are usually in conflict with the whole world, “hacks ask for a show of hands.”

Jobs is not a martyr, as depicted here, and it’s worth noting that this is based on a book by the author chosen by Jobs after he read the writer’s biography of Albert Einstein. Jobs is not portrayed as tortured or monstrous. In dealings with people in his company and life—Apple CEO and mentor John Sculley (Jeff Daniels, The Martian), confidante Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, Little Children), an ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston)—he is, like Walt Disney, driven, difficult and daring. Steve Jobs covers the essentials, in thinly drawn, clean and meaningful lines, winks, nods and links to the logo, the machines, the designs, and how Jobs lived; how he ate, listened, relaxed, celebrated, controlled and conducted—mostly, how he thought.

This is not a documentary of Jobs’s business history. There’s no Cube, eWorld or Pixar. Instead, it portrays life in certain, selective products and those moments which align with the launch of those products. So, the impending failure of NeXT at an opera house is placed in its proper context in the second act as lead-in to the iMac in the third and final act at Symphony Hall. Mac fans, Apple employees and evangelists and the press are never far from view, as is Lisa, his daughter, who represents the evidence of progression for a rebel who was adopted, defied laws and rules and dropped out of college. “It would be criminal not to enjoy this moment,” says a character who becomes a friend.

This is the theme of Steve Jobs.

His technology, accounted for and credited to proper sources, including the Apple II, exists merely to serve the moment, not the other way around. Think different, a screen with Apple’s motto says, in one of at least two crucial, dissolving transitions. Steve Jobs does, honoring truth even when it’s inappropriate, improper or hurtful. Among those affected include Wozniak (Seth Rogen, The Guilt Trip), who is as right as Jobs in a climactic encounter, Sculley and a longtime Apple principal (Michael Stuhlbarg) who demonstrates that those who most deserve to get close to the man of the mind are often driven the farthest away.

As Jobs, Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), who looks more like Sting from The Police than Steve Jobs, is as intense and engaging as ever. The actresses playing Lisa also shine and so do others in the cast, with Winslet getting the laugh lines. The audience is likely to be split, not between Mac faithful and those with contempt for Apple, but between those who revere both the perfect union of controlling one’s own life and work and the requisite for achieving it—absolute freedom—and those who seek to manage life and work or have it managed and controlled by others.

Steve Jobs is a passionate movie and not in a Hollywood way. The passion here comes from the art of thinking, the contemplation, the stretching, the using and the experimenting. Technology is not depicted as an end in itself to Steve Jobs—it is not his religion—it is a means of activating his best within and doing it here on earth. With inspiration from singer-songwriters, taking the audience and Jobs from imagination to full awareness of reality, the two-hour Steve Jobs—a rare Hollywood hymn to one Ayn Rand called the most persecuted minority, the individual, specifically the individual who creates to make money—zips by like childhood.

Like the life of Steve Jobs, it ends too soon and with genuine wonder at the world. (Go here to buy the DVD and here to buy the Blu-Ray edition).


Related posts

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011 (2011)

Why I Like Apple’s Logo (2011)

Taylor Swift’s Activism for Apple (2015)

Prophet of Doom

The Pope’s visit to the United States of America, the first by Pope Francis, expressed explicit hatred for individualism, capitalism and the ideals that make America great. The assault was enveloped in platitudes. But, as I wrote when the South American Jesuit priest rose to power in 2013 (read the post here), he speaks of reform in order only to enforce dark, ancient and primitive beliefs.

In itself, this is not surprising. Neither is it shocking that obedient crowds lined American city boulevards, roaring and chanting in praise of the pope’s anti-Americanism. In Washington, DC, New York City and the nation’s first capital, Philadelphia, the pope’s message unleashed an equally obedient media unifying leftists and conservatives alike.

Indeed, the press largely disdained the idea of protest and praised the Catholic Church’s vicar of Christ without even the pretense of objectivity. Brian Williams, returning to the airwaves, did the best job of explaining the event as a news event, breaking logistics down as the visit paralyzed America’s largest eastern cities, though he, too, reported without doubt, question or scrutiny. At least Williams, in his first NBC News appearance since being suspended for an admission of deception, examined whether the New York Times had in its papal analysis been biased toward the left. But most in the media simply bowed to the pope.

That’s putting it lightly. I had to search for the smallest sign of an independent voice of dissent or reason to the massive, crippling, state-sponsored mobilization of police and paramilitary units to patrol, control and lock down major U.S. cities on behalf of a religious figure. One article reported “[a] chaotic scene outside Madison Square Garden, where travellers with suitcases struggled past security to get in and out of Penn station [as]…Unholy cries of “holy Mary” and “Jesus Christ” filled the air. Apparently, one frustrated woman cried: “Why is everything blocked off if he isn’t even outside?” The Washington Post reported on the Philadelphia leg of the tour that “[t]he birthplace of American liberty was on virtual lockdown to greet [Pope] Francis.” But all of that came within the wider context of unfiltered endorsement of everything the Pope said, did and sought.

Those abused by Catholic leaders heard little or nothing from the pope who otherwise railed against abuse of power in speech after speech. “It’s a tough week to be a victim,” Barbara Dorris, spokeswoman for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, told one newspaper. “They feel like once again they’ve been forgotten.”

Instead, in homilies at mass and various speeches, including the first papal address to a joint meeting of Congress, Pope Francis stressed the collective over the individual, self-abnegation over self-interest and, above all, mysticism over reason.

Almost every speech emphasized what he calls “the common good”. In his historic speech to the United Nations General Assembly, he denounced “unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness”, unequivocally stating that the ultimate goal is to grant all countries, without exception, a share in—and a genuine and equitable influence on—other sovereign nations’ decision-making. Pope Francis demanded of the world body new rights for “the vast ranks of the excluded.” He openly declared opposition to capitalism, which he has derided as having the stench of “the dung of the devil”, and he asserted a new, mystical “right of the environment”.

Pope Francis told the United Nations:

We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good.

The fundamental bad, according to this new pope, is “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity”, which, properly speaking, describes every decent and honest human quest for productive achievement. What artist, producer or entrepreneur has in mind a specific boundary for his creative pursuit and prosperity? Do Brad Pitt and Taylor Swift seek only so much power over their own works and no more? Only so much money for a song or movie and not more than that? Do they exist for the sake of others at the expense of themselves? More to the point, should they? The Pope says Yes, but the civilized answer is No. Not for the egoist who seeks the pursuit of happiness, which means: one’s own, personal happiness. Did Steve Jobs live for the sake of others and put bounds on the power of Apple and what he sought to conceive, design and produce—with a cap on Apple’s profit?

What is the likelihood that you would know who he was if he had?

What the pope who says that he has not watched television in 25 years derides as a “culture of waste” is a culture of creation; America and the West are, at their best, a marvelous, new, industrial means, based on capitalism and individual rights, of production, distribution and profit for the individual, whether as a new song, movie or technology. Thanks to Steve Jobs, for example, when today’s consumer speaks of an ecosystem, he speaks of a new way of creating, consuming and leveraging for his own sake a photograph, document, communication, note, feature, calculation or audiovisual show across multiple platforms.

Pope Francis insists that Apple—and every person or company—”must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family…” In practical terms, Pope Francis says that everyone on earth must sacrifice to provide others with “lodging, labor, and land…”

After reasserting this Catholic dogma, i.e., that the good is to suffer while sacrificing for the sake of others and die, rather than to enjoy yourself for your own sake and live, Pope Francis addressed what he calls “the destruction of all mankind”. He endorsed Obama’s Iran deal as “proof of the potential of political good will” citing what he—who has faith in a supernatural being and in himself as a substitute for God—calls “hard evidence”.

Both the Pope’s zeal for an Islamic dictatorship’s achievement of nuclear power and his anti-capitalism are rooted in his belief that the meaning of one’s life “is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good.” In short, the good, even the less linear “common” good, is whatever is good for others, even if the others chant “Death to America!” as they rush to get weapons of mass death and destruction.

Finally, faced with real, hard evidence of mass death and destruction at the site where the World Trade Center once stood, the pope refused to name and identify those who attacked, Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia, let alone name and identify the religion that motivates them, Islam. In fact, he never mentioned that the initiation of force came from those moved by religion. The fallen, he implied, are merely symbols “of the inability to find solutions which respect the common good.” Pope Francis did not denounce the act of war itself during his remarks at the place where the Twin Towers collapsed. He pointedly offered no praise for the innocent who were mass murdered on September 11, 2001. Instead, he made reference to those who helped others, the so-called “first responders”. The first murdered, he implied, by not singling them out for recognition and not naming their murderers, may have deserved it. After all, they worked in the World Trade Center, a place to trade for one’s self-interest.

Of the only nation specifically founded on the right to pursue one’s happiness being explicitly founded as a secular republic based on individual rights, not upon Judeo-Christianity, dogma or dictatorship, the pope in his many speeches, prayers and homilies said nothing positive. As Time magazine reports, Pope Francis removed from his prepared speech to Congress the single reference to the philosophy that makes America the greatest nation on earth:

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind [sic] of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776).”

Jettisoning recognition of America’s independence did not diminish the pope’s appeal, as leftists such as Fox News analyst Juan Williams and New York City Mayor De Blasio and conservatives such as those on Fox News and in the Heritage Foundation raved about the religious visit. There were a few exceptions, besides Objectivists, including talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who noted the pope’s anti-capitalism, and columnist George Will, who warned against any religious leader moralizing about domestic policy in America.

But most Americans appear to agree with Geraldine Quinones, a woman who said she won a lottery ticket to see the Pope, adding that she regards the win as “the luck of the Lord”. “We’re lucky to have him here,” she told a newspaper. “I think he’s going to change everything.” By making explicit many Americans’ steadfast dedication to selfless ethics and faith, the anti-American Pope Francis arguably is changing everything already, moving the nation faster toward—and serving as the prophet for—doom, spreading faster, wider acceptance of the same ideas taking us there.

The cost of the papal visit, according to a financial analysis which concludes that the multimillion dollar “national security event” ultimately will be paid largely by U.S. taxpayers, without their consent, is in line to be overdue from “everybody but the Vatican.”

What did Americans get in return? Besides another anti-American assault from the head of the Vatican complete with endorsements of a Kentucky mystic and monk who sought to mix religions in faith and a socialist who praised Marx, Lenin and Mao, Pope Francis delivered an explicitly anti-human line in one of his sermons when he said: “As far as goodness and purity of heart are concerned, we human beings don’t have much to show.” So it is that Americans fell for the faithfully, hatefully, hypocritically anti-capitalist pope who rode in the back of a small car when he was wasn’t riding on helicopters and jet planes while denouncing technology and selfishness as he pleaded to the newly obedient American minions to: “Pray for me.”

The antidote to the past six days of faith-based, anti-Americanism is to think for yourself and for yourself.