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Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand

Atlas ShruggedToday is Ayn Rand’s (1905-1982) birthday. So, I decided to check out the new movie version of the first part of her 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, in earnest (more on the film, which I have not seen, later). I spent some time with the picture’s screenwriter, co-producer Brian Patrick O’Toole, who is adapting the novel for the screen. Having seen a sneak preview of the trailer for the movie, scheduled to open in select theaters on April 15, I must say that this low-budget effort looks better than I had expected. Exciting enough for the uninitiated, substantial enough for Objectivists and Ayn Rand fans, the trailer opens with a man named Midas Mulligan, met by a shadowy figure who has something important to say. From there, we see skylines, speeding trains, and men of steel (including Ellis Wyatt, Hank Rearden, and, of course, Dagny Taggart), and the action and drama never let up. The trailer looks crisp, clean and polished and wraps with the question: Who is John Galt? A tag-on teases “…Ask the Question.” This is the world’s first movie about Ayn Rand’s epic theme, the mind on strike, and, though it is impossible to gauge a movie’s merits on the basis of a trailer, for what it’s worth, I’m impressed.

Another movie trailer, the two-minute trailer for the 1949 cinematic adaptation of Rand’s third novel, The Fountainhead, which she adapted for Warner Bros., wrongly refers to the story’s mediocre architect Peter Keating, as “selfish.” But a DVD feature, The Making of The Fountainhead, included with the erroneous trailer on the disc’s extras, gets Ayn Rand’s ideas right in an informative account that makes a solid companion to what is rightly called a unique and hugely entertaining movie.

Anthem stageRand’s second novel, Anthem, has been adapted for a comic book (or graphic novel) by Charles Santino with illustration by artist Joe Staton. Anthem: The Graphic Novel ($15), published this week in trade paperback, is the first ever illustrated novelization of any of Ayn Rand’s work. Anthem was also adapted by Jeff Britting for the stage in Austin, Texas, where it was apparently a resounding commercial and critical success. Rand’s unsung first novel, We the Living, was pirated in fascist Italy in 1942 for what became an outstanding screen version. I reviewed the movie for the Ayn Rand Institute’s newsletter, Impact, here.

Starbucks Story for a Monday

I want to share this story because it made my day and maybe it will make yours, too. Recently, I was waiting to meet someone and, while standing in line at Starbucks, this woman and I struck up a conversation with another gentleman in line about the long wait and an obvious lack of sufficient staffing at Starbucks (something like 40 customers served by two workers). We hit it off, trading lines about supply and demand, and the three of us were laughing and making the most of the wait. She was a cheerful, attractive woman, could have been an actress after an audition, and she would have left me smiling all day had we left it at that. But, later, at the cream and sugar stand, she came up to me and told me, in parting: “I usually say ‘groovy’ or ‘peace’, but, you know what? I’m tired of being a starving artist, so now I say ‘make a lot of money!’ So: Make a lot of money!” She was practically bubbling over when she said it, and seemed completely genuine in her good will. I smiled back, thanked her, wished her the same and that was that. But this is what I had hoped would happen after anti-business Barack Obama, who really detests the making of money, was elected president: signs of a backlash against the anti-capitalist crusades!

Movie Review: The Company Men

The Company Men

In the past, major movie studios used to make interesting films about men and women whose stories and lives mattered. Now they make a lot of garbage like The Dilemma and The Green Hornet, both opening this week and both utterly full of it. While the studios crank out trash, the story-driven and character-driven films are being made by businesses such as The Weinstein Company, which will soon release The Company Men (Jan. 21), the first feature by writer John Wells of NBC’s long-running ER hospital series. The movie is an ensemble character study about work and men, two of ER‘s dominant themes, featuring Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones and Craig T. Nelson. Affleck is as bland and disengaged as ever as an unemployed Bostonian, and he is the least sympathetic character in the movie, exploding during job interviews, evading reality, and basically being a schmuck to his colleagues, wife, and kids for much of the movie. When the worst economy in the United States since the Depression takes its toll on him and his fellow workers, played by Cooper, Lee Jones, and Nelson, they all start spewing profanities and falling apart.

Homes, self-esteem, marriages, children, and deeply held values suffer, evolve and are saved in a steady progression by writer and director Wells, who delivers the structure if not always the substance of what work means to man, the theme, intended or not, of The Company Men. Though certain plot points might have been made less abstract and more compelling, and the top businessman in the picture is partly and unjustly played as a villain, the story weaves in and out of the lives of relatively decent Americans who merely want to work and be happy. But the men find that the American Dream they thought they were fostering is increasingly unattainable. Some may rise, some may fall, and each will be played to varying degrees by how he sees himself in his work. Cooper is excellent as a pinched nerve, Lee Jones fits one of his best roles, Costner is amazing and so is Craig T. Nelson in the movie’s best and most layered performance.

The most enterprising man in the movie is a small character, an unemployed engineer friend of Affleck’s status-seeker, who possesses the true money-making, can-do personality that America used to represent. But this movie is not The Pursuit of Happyness, and it does not come close to dramatizing, let alone honoring, capitalism as that marvelous picture does. Instead, this band of melancholy men struggle to get their bearings after awakening from decades of submission to trophy wives and faith in bureaucracy without any thought to nurturing their creativity.

Yes, The Company Men suggests, whether it means to or not, these sad sacks are causing their own problems and the company founder’s last line about how much money one of them made rings true. In watching each man try to reconnect to his ability to produce, while the newsradio drones about failed government program after failed government program, we are reminded that the company (which is after all in business to profit) is made of men and a man must be productive to be of any decent company to himself. The Company Men tries to show us how it’s done. It doesn’t always succeed, and it isn’t as deep as I’m making it sound, but it’s a good throwback to movies about those we care about in our daily lives and, in these ominous times, you should see it with your family, friends, and neighbors.

Tucson and the Tea Party

Throughout social media, the left is really blowing the dog whistle on the Tea Party movement, from blaming opportunist Sarah Palin, whose Tea Party credentials are dubious, to status updates, comments, and this San Francisco Chronicle editorial posted by the newspaper’s editorial page editor John Diaz (with whom I have worked) insinuating that anyone on America’s right and everyone in the Tea Party movement may somehow be responsible for the heinous crimes, which appear to have been the act of a lone nihilist who mixes literacy, We the Living, and the gold standard into his puny little mind and comes up with mass murder. I called the jumping to conclusions on Facebook immediately after the news broke and liberals started their arbitrary onslaught of smear and prejudice.

Here’s my response to Mr. Diaz at the Chronicle: “Oh, spare me the sanctimonious notion that this alleged shooter is moved by a “wave of vitriol” that “should” make everyone in the country introspect about “boundaries of responsible debate” when every shred of evidence points to the fact that a lone murderer who hated Bush and assassinated a Bush judicial appointee and refers to mind control, Mein Kampf, and The Communist Manifesto is beyond reason, debate and civil discourse. He has more in common with the left wing People’s Temple of San Francisco that assassinated Rep. Leo Ryan: both are moved by the cult of death and nihilism, a pattern you missed, entirely.”

I might have added that the apparent shooter’s lawyer, it has been reported, infamously represented the Unabomber and that San Francisco’s mayor, George Moscone, and Supervisor Harvey Milk, were also murdered by a lone gunman, an orthodox Catholic Democrat named Dan White. But watch the intellectuals attempt to hijack this crime to smear anyone who does not submit to total government control. Given that the spineless Republican Party, which had initiated the 112th Congress with an historic reading of the godless United States Constitution, asking Rep. John Lewis (D, Georgia) to read the amendment to abolish slavery (the first time the brilliant document was read on the floor of the House of Representatives), has announced that it has postponed a scheduled vote to repeal ObamaCare, expect more grandstanding about the mass murder in Tucson (with censorship as the “cure”) and derailment of the Tea Party agenda.

Tea Party types should ignore the smears, fight back with facts and do so on principle, and keep the GOP on track to repeal ObamaCare, which is an affront to America’s founding ideals. All Americans should note that the lone mass murderer’s targeted victim, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D, Arizona), an ObamaCare supporter who barely won re-election, agreed to read the Constitution with the Republicans last week. Her portion: freedom of speech in the First Amendment. That she was apparently shot in the head by someone who was educated in government-controlled schools is an indictment of the rotten, bankrupt ideas of the past, a government-run education that may have aided in the destruction of his mind, and the crime is a reminder that what America needs is individual rights, capitalism, and an urgent end to government control of our lives.

Happy New Year

As I look back on 2010, I see discouraging signs of cultural and political decline leading America toward dictatorship. We now have socialized medicine, government control of banking, automotive and insurance industries, and widespread acceptance of other forms of government control of our lives, such as the Bush administration-created Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), and what I would describe as a public drift toward resignation, cynicism, and nihilism. The nation is in despair. People are suffering. Economics are getting worse, not better. Freedom, individual rights and capitalism are under internal and external siege by jihadist Moslems and those who seek total government power. We are mired in wars about nothing in Iraq and Afghanistan, where thousands of our soldiers have died for nothing. On the upside, the Tea Party led a resurgence for the opposition Republican Party, which is a repudiation of the Obama administration’s nihilistic New Left agenda, and not an endorsement of those who advocate mixing religion and government. 2010 was a year that began with Scott Brown‘s victory in Massachusetts, climaxed with government-controlled medical and health insurance professions, bid farewell to actress Patricia Neal, and ended with the death of Marine Martin Russ, who warned during my 2000 interview marking the 50th year since the Korean War that communist North Korea would again invade South Korea, and the announced retirements of men of reason such as Drs. Dean Edell and Leonard Peikoff, who forecast the rise of dictatorship and jihadist Islam, the death of the medical profession and the possible end of America. Goodbye, 2010, and good riddance. Let there be passion for reason and activism and a re-enlightenment in the United States of America. That would make a very Happy New Year.