Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Steve Jobs Interview for The Smithsonian

By Joseph Kellard
Did you know Steve Jobs thought our government-run public schools were terrible union-driven bureaucracies, not meritocracies (to use his words)? It’s one of the best slices of this interview he did for an Smithsonian Oral History project that was conduced by the Computerworld Information Technology Awards Program in 1995.

Jobs offers his thoughts on a host of issues —from the artistry he believed was integ...ral to making computers, how Apple was coasting and steadily declining while he was out of the company, to hiring A-class producers and firing lesser employees, to Pixar and digitally animated films such as Toy Story, to so-called “social responsibilities.”

In answer to a question about the latter (near the end of the interview), Job’s took issue with the faith that he had any such responsibilities. Instead, he said, “We’re all going to be dead soon. That’s my point of view. Someone once told me: ‘Live each day as if it will be your last, and one day you’ll certainly be right.’ And I do that … I think you have a responsibility to do really good stuff and get it out there for people to use and let them build on the shoulders of it and keep making better stuff.”

In hindsight, after experiencing all the great products that Jobs came to produced in the computer, film, communications and music industries, it’s safe to say he lived by his words that put his love of his work above all else.

While you can, as I did, take issue with some of his views, particularly on monopolies, the government’s roll to protect the Internet as a “public trust,” and Silicon Valley’s innovations as primarily the product of the so-called 1960’s counterculture, there’s a lot to enjoy in this interview. Most of all, he comes across as a thoughtful, articulate, impassioned innovator.

Photo by Joseph Kellard

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Photos: Rockefeller Center at Christmas

“The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying . . . stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decorations put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only ‘commercial greed’ could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.” ~ Ayn Rand

Photos by Joseph Kellard

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why I'm an Early Bird

By Joseph Kellard
People ask me how I do it. I get out of bed to start my day at 5 a.m. I've been doing this for many years, and the root of my answer lies in the Olympics.

Yes, my biorhythms are also to blame. Since my youth I've been a deep sleeper, and that certainly plays into why I’m an early riser. When I was younger I used to need, at most, about eight hours of sleep a night, and most of my adult life I've been able to get by on six hours, and sometimes less.

I set my alarm at 4:20 a.m., and occasionally I wake up before the alarm sounds. I have it set to sports talk radio, and I often hit snooze intermittently throughout. Otherwise, I'll either catch more z's or run what I call “word salads” — word association-like, stream-of-consciousness-type sentences — thorough my head, with the sole purpose of seeing what words and phrases I can summon from my vocabulary bank. Once I toss the covers off me, though, I routinely head to my work desk to write or read on my MacBook, after which I drive to the gym, three to four days a week.

I started my early morning activities back during my early 20-something years, when I worked out with weights in my garage in the dark of morning. I was drawn to do this because it made me feel productive while most of America was still sleeping.

My inspiration came years earlier, when I was a kid watching the Olympics on television, specifically the features on athletes — the cross-country skiers, skaters or gymnasts who awoke before dawn to trek to the hills, ice rink or gym to train before heading to school or work. I found this incredibly inspiring.

I knew some night owls, with friends and relatives among them. They were the kind who never appeared to get sleepy while most of us watched late-night television with our eyes half shut from our couches. But they typically slept late the next morning, and that’s why being a night owl never appealed to me. Getting up earl always seemed to me like an accomplishment, something that required a certain effort, whereas staying up late just didn’t.

When I used to live with others, including night owls who watched TV late, getting up early in the morning was always the only opportunity to take advantage of some quiet in the house, which was a tremendous value when I needed to think, write or read. Today I live alone in a studio apartment in a home that almost seems hermetically sealed to sound. It’s too good to be true.

I continue covet the serenity of early morning, especially its contrast to the hustle and bustle of where I live in the suburbs of New York City, the city that never sleeps. And I make sure to wake up early each morning to capture it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Conspiracy Theories and Freedom Don't Mix

By Joseph Kellard
A recent commentary piece in The New York Times taps into the corrupted mentality — the faith-based conspiracy mindset — that pervades Egypt and explains why that Muslim nation, as well as the wider Islam-dominated Middle East, will not establish freedom anytime soon.

When dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced from power earlier this year, a major development of the so-called Arab Spring, it was widely pronounced that Egyptians were now “free,” or had won their “freedom.” Actually, they were merely freed temporarily from the force imposed by their latest dictator. Political freedom, in fact, depends on each individual’s freedom from government coercion, or, to put it positively and more fundamentally, freedom depends on the establishment of a government that upholds individual rights, including the right to free thought and speech — that is, the freedom to adopt whatever philosophy or religion one chooses and to voice its teachings.

Such a government cannot and will not take root in Egypt when the interim government there indiscriminately guns down non-Muslims on the streets of Cairo, nor when the next elected government is likely to be dominated by Muslims that will force their religion on others.

In his Times’ commentary on Nov. 20, "After Egypt’s Revolution, Christians Are Living in Fear," Andre Aciman, an Egyptian-born Jew who is a literature professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, writes that Egypt's interim government failed to take responsibility for its massacre of Christians as they demonstrated in Cairo after their church was burned to the ground. Aciman writes that confusion and conflicting accounts ensued over who instigated the incident, and that the interim prime minister blamed the massacre on “hidden hands.” Aciman explains:

Sadly, the phrase “hidden hands” remains a part of Egypt’s political rhetoric more than 50 years later — an invitation for every Egyptian to write in the name of his or her favorite bugaboo. Rather than see things for what they are, Egyptians, from their leaders on down, have always preferred the blame game — and with good reason. Blaming some insidious clandestine villain for anything invariably works in a country where hearsay passes for truth and paranoia for knowledge.

Sometimes those hidden hands are called Langley, or the West, or, all else failing, of course, the Mossad. Sometimes “hidden hands” stands for any number of foreign or local conspiracies carried out by corrupt or disgruntled apparatchiks of one stripe or another who are forever eager to tarnish and discredit the public trust.

The problem with Egypt is that there is no public trust. There is no trust, period. False rumor, which is the opiate of the Egyptian masses and the bread and butter of political discourse in the Arab world, trumps clarity, reason and the will to tolerate a different opinion, let alone a different religion or the spirit of open discourse.

In short, a nation cannot establish freedom when, by and large, its people fundamentally gather what they believe is knowledge and truth based on hearsay, paranoia, false rumor and conspiracy theories at the expense of reason. Reason is man's only means of knowledge, and it is the basis of the only free or semi-free nations in history, all of them Western products of the pro-reason Enlightenment. When reason is the first to go in dealing with other men, so goes freedom.

When freedom is at stake and people yearn to possess it, conspiracy theories, particularly those based on faith, won't cut it. Yet they are a product of the Islamic world's basic mental modus operandi: religious faith. As Elan Jurno, author of Winning the Unwinnable War, explains in his essay “Exposing Anti-Mulsim ‘Conspiracies,” published in the Spring 2006 issue of The Objective Standard:

“...[T]hough it is unsupported by facts or logic, the conspirator steadfastly clings to his belief. The source of his belief is faith — the blind acceptance of some idea sustained by feeling in the absence or defiance of evidence. This epistemology, or philosophy of knowledge, is a fundamental tenant of Islam, as it is of all religions. And this is the key to understanding the conspiracy mentality.”

It also is the key to understanding why freedom will continue to elude Egypt and the Middle East.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

America Attacked For Its Values

By Joseph Kellard

One day as I drove down Lexington Avenue, I understood the reverence author-philosopher Ayn Rand had for New York City.

From an incline along that avenue, a vantage point from which I'd never seen Manhattan, I was awed by the many tall, stately buildings that lined the perfectly straight street for miles. Finally I had grasped how this view that resembled a canyon, along with the entire metropolis, sprang not from nature, but from the human mind.

I was reminded of a passage from Miss Rand's novel The Fountainhead: "I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York's skyline. Particularly when one can't see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need?"

On Sept. 11, 2001, after I'd watched Islamic terrorists destroy the Twin Towers and the innocents within them, I was reminded of what Miss Rand wrote about evil:

"They do not want to own your fortune, they want you to lose it; they do not want to succeed; they want you to fail; they do not want to live, they want you to die; they desire nothing, they hate existence ... You who've never grasped the nature of evil, you who describe them as 'misguided idealists,’ they are the essence of evil."

This passage from Atlas Shrugged serves to answer people who are bewildered over how human beings can act so savagely. At root, terrorists are motivated by nihilism, the desire to destroy values and existence.

These terrorists understood that the skyscraper is uniquely American.

Because of our nation's unprecedented liberty, Americans were free to form independent judgments and act on them. This atmosphere spawned the Industrial Revolution, which saw great technological advances and laborsaving devices, such as the steel girders and elevators that made skyscrapers possible. The Twin Towers specifically embodied capitalism and its foundation: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which spawned America's unsurpassed prosperity.

Those gleaming, soaring, stately towers were a proud boast of all these sublime human achievements and values. And this is why the nihilists twice targeted them. They hated them because of their source: the liberated human mind. They don't want America's freedom, its industriousness, its technological advances, its high standard of living — or its skyscrapers.

They only want us to lose them through their destructive acts.

This upcoming war is between America and religious fundamentalism (of any kind). In essence, Americans use reason to choose their values and actions; the fundamentalists have blind faith in God's dogma. We value freedom; they value theocratic totalitarianism. We value the individual; they sacrifice the individual to supernatural entities (e.g., God and heaven). We pursue and achieve happiness here on earth; they damn this earth and martyr themselves for an afterworld.

At root, we want life and they want death. The United States should give the murderous Islamic fundamentalists what they want, in part, as an act of justice for we Americans who want to live.

* This column was mildly edited from its original version that was published in the Oceanside/Island Park Herald in September 2001.

* The painting, The Sun Also Rises, by Frank O’Conner (Ayn Rand’s husband), appeared on the 25th anniversary editon of The Fountainhead.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

9/11 Vignette: Joseph Kellard

Every patriotic American suffered when Islamic terrorists killed nearly 3,000 innocent people on Sept. 11, 2001. I was a reporter then for the Oceanside/Island Park Herald. Although I was deeply outraged and dispirited by this atrocity, the aftermath provided me with invaluable experiences.

While I didn’t lose a loved one that day, through my many talks with 9/11 families I came to empathize more intensely with those who did.

I can still hear the chilling, soulful cries of Amy Haviland, an Oceanside mother of two young children who on 9/11 lost both her husband, Timothy, a vice president at Marsh & McLennan, and her brother, FDNY firefighter Robert Spear.

I remember visiting the Freeport home of Lauraine Marchese after her daughter Laura’s remains at Ground Zero were identified months later, and how this news shattered her mother’s last, desperate hope that somehow, some way she was still alive somewhere.

I learned that it’s horrible enough for a loved one to, say, be murdered by a common street criminal, but to have him perish in a mass slaughter splashed across television screens and newspapers worldwide magnifies the horror dramatically.

As a journalist, I feel honored and privileged that these families willingly shared their raw thoughts, anger and anguish with me. Sometimes their pain brought me to tears. Their suffering further grounded the horror and evil of the terrorist attacks — and thereby solidified my intense conviction that the jihadists and their supporters must be brought to justice.

Unfortunately, over the past decade this sense of justice has faded in many Americans. But thankfully it endured with me, in part because of the vivid memories I have covering the families most directly impacted by that horrific day. They will never forget the wrongs done them. Neither must we.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Moon Goddess with a Sun-like Presence

An analysis of Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

By Joseph Kellard

She is the center of attention in a room at one of the world’s largest museums.

Diana, a reduction of a weathervane that Augustus Saint-Gaudens created for the top of an early Madison Square Garden, is poised atop a pedestal in the middle of the ground floor at the American Wing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What stands out about this sculpture, other than her brilliant gilt, are her subtly contrasting yet complimentary halves that lend her a certain harmony.

First, Diana, the Roman goddess of the moon and the hunt, holds the archer’s standard upright posture — of pointing an arrow and stretching a bow, all the while keeping a steady hand and focus — that denotes tension and intensity. But, unlike archers who also plant their legs evenly apart on the flat earth, Diana assumes a different position that distinguishes her. In contrast to her upper half, she stands decidedly off balance, not only on one foot, but also on her tiptoes while balanced on an orb. This position, combined with her right foot that kicks out slightly behind her, dangling off the pedestal, makes Diana appear, at once and overall, both imbalanced yet stable.

Remember, Diana was created as a weathervane, placed high above on a building, so Saint-Gaudens probably created her right leg to stick outward to provide the wind some mass to help turn her, as is the purpose of her bow and her left arm that holds it. But artistically her leg jutting out adds to her lightness of being and harmony, an airy quality also evoked by her streamlined body and nudity.

The Met recreates this sense of Diana’s purpose by placing her on a high pedestal, above all the grounded sculptures and art-lovers that gaze up at her, just as her original stood atop a tower at Madison Square Garden. In the American Wing, with its windows-framed roof that allows natural light to flood in, Diana’s height and gold cast effectively give this moon goddess a sun-like presence there.

Description of Diana at the base of her pedestal:
1892-93; this cast, 1928
By Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Aware of Saint-Gauden’s desire to model a female nude, the architect Stanford White (1853 - 1906) gave him the commission for a weathervane for the tower of Madison Square Garden (demolished 1925). The first, eighteen-foot-tall sculpture proved too large and was replaced in 1894 by a streamlined version, five feet shorter. It became one of New York’s most popular landmarks, and the sculptor capitalized on its success by issuing numerous reductions. This cast is a half-sized model of the second version, produced from a cement cast once owned by White. Saint-Gaudens eschewed the traditional full-bodied interpretation of Diana, the Roman goddess of the moon and the hunt, focusing instead on simple, elegant lines and a strong silhouette.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What a Russian Immigrant Taught Me About American Patriotism

"America is the land of the uncommon man. It is the land where man is free to develop his genius – and to get its just rewards.” ~ Ayn Rand

By Joseph Kellard

As Independence Day nears and as debates over immigration rage on, I’m reminded of how an atheist émigré from communist Russia taught me what it means to be an American patriot.

Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, once wrote: “The United States of America is the greatest, the noblest and, in its original founding principles, the only moral country in the history of the world.”

Rand’s books all evoke this glorification of America. When I first encountered them, though, I was a left-wing ideologue who questioned whether she knew that ours was a racist society that had stolen its land from the Indians, enslaved blacks and exploited the poor. Yet, despite that I believed those claims, a prideful lump always swelled in my throat whenever I heard our national anthem.

Looking back, I realize that I at least suspected there was much more to America than these charges of theft, racism and exploitation. For this reason, Rand’s uncompromising praise of our nation struck a chord with me, and I felt compelled to consider and investigate her justification for it.

Unlike conservatives who attributed America’s greatness to its being “God’s chosen country,” Rand showed that the United States was the result and crowning achievement of the Enlightenment, the 18th century intellectual movement that championed reason and challenged religion’s dogma and pervasive influence. Our Founding Father’s explicit respect for reason, Rand noted, lead them to create an unprecedented nation, founded on the philosophical principle that each individual has an inalienable right to his own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. And this moral and political foundation of individual rights, Rand recognized, was what distinguished America from all nations, past and present.

America’s Founders intended our nation to be one in which each individual has a right to think for himself and pursue his independent values as he sees fit, while simultaneously respecting that right in others. In America, as our Founders intended, no authority, whether a god, tribal chief, king, pope or bureaucrat, would dictate the course of any individual’s life; he would live for himself, “neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself,” Rand wrote.

This new nation would prove to be vastly different from the monarchies, oligarchies and theocracies of the past. Indeed, as Rand demonstrated, its foundation in individual rights (and the corresponding politico-economic system, capitalism) caused America to emerge as a nation of free-thinking, productive individuals, a land of scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs and businessmen who made possible an array of labor- and time-saving advances that dramatically increased prosperity and quality of life.

In short, Rand showed that at the root of America’s founding and prosperity is the principle of individual rights.

Related to this, she taught me that one should evaluate our Founders (and historical figures in general), not on the basis of how they were like their predecessors and contemporaries, but on the basis of how they fundamentally distinguished themselves. I came to see that our Founders represented a unique bridge between the irrationalities and injustices of the old world and the much greater heights still open to this nation.

Although some founders owned slaves, it is crucial to note that some form of slavery existed in virtually all pre-American societies. What’s most significant about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington is not that they too owned slaves, but that they were the first in history to uphold individual rights that are universal to all men, and thereby laid the moral and political foundation for slavery’s eventual abolition.

Rand also understood that racism could not be the cause of America’s unprecedented power and prosperity, noting that insofar as debilitating racism existed in America, it was not so much in the freer, capitalist, industrial North as it was in the agrarian, almost feudal South. Nor was America’s alleged exploitation of the Indians the cause of her power and prosperity.

Whereas others have painted America as a backward, tribalist society, Rand showed that these characteristics better described the societies of the original Indians, and contested the claim that they had a “right” to this land: “If a ‘country’ does not protect rights, if a group of tribesmen are the slaves of the tribal chief, why should you respect the ‘rights’ that they don’t have or respect?” she once asked rhetorically.

That which America enjoys today, Rand showed, was not taken from the slaves or Indians, but was created here by her free inhabitants.

On some level, America’s immigrants have always recognized these facts about America. They have not arrived on our shores expecting to be enslaved and exploited: They have come here expecting to live freely and prosperously.

Perhaps this was why Rand was in a position to identify what’s great about America. She defected from the Soviet slave state, where millions of innocents were slaughtered based on such communist ideals as self-sacrifice, equality of results and an all-powerful state that dictated how individuals must think and live. Rand knew that in America she would be free to think independently and to write and profit from books that offered trailblazing, challenging ideas, perhaps best exemplified by the provocatively titled The Virtue of Selfishness.

In fact, although it is beyond the scope of this piece to demonstrate it, Rand’s books provide the philosophical foundation on which America can properly complete and ground its revolutionary principles and reach infinitely greater, unimagined heights.

So what does it mean to mean to be an American patriot? As I learned from both the examples and writings of a Russian immigrant, it means that one acknowledges, cherishes and advocates that which is truly unique about this nation, its foundation in each individual’s moral and political right to live his life free of coercion in the pursuit of his own selfish values and happiness.

* I would like thank Alan Germani for providing valuable comments to improve an earlier version of this op-ed.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book Review: Gulag by Anne Applebaum

By Joseph Kellard
When published in 2003, Anne Applebaum’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag: A History was touted as the most authoritative, comprehensive book on the Soviet labor camps.

Applebaum, a Washington Post columnist, recounts the many facets of this decades-long slave system. Among her topics are the gulag's origin and expansion, the living conditions and distinctive work at the various camps, and how prisoners survived, rebelled, escaped and died.

While Gulag presents what were, to me, some surprising details, including that numerous prisoners were actually released, Applebaum routinely returns, whether implicitly or explicitly, to the evil purpose of the camps.

One example comes in her comparison of Nazi and Soviet camps. She notes that the Soviet camps focused more on exploiting labor than on deliberately killing "enemies of the people," whereas in Nazi concentration camps, where a Jew's death was virtually assured, the reverse was true. Gulag prisoners usually died not by being deliberately killed, but by the system's "gross inefficiency and neglect,” Applebaum writes. Yet she demonstrates that certain labor camp projects, such as useless grand canals, reflected the communists' desire to kill for killing's sake:

"A propaganda slogan declared that the ‘Danube-Black Sea Canal is the tomb of the Romanian bourgeoisie!' Given that up to 200,000 people may have died building it, that may have indeed been the canal's real purpose."

In the epilogue to her primarily fact-finding, journalist book, Applebaum properly touches on the realities of the post-Soviet population's widespread evasion of this important part of Russia’s history, and points to its harmful consequences, such as Putin's authoritarian rule. Yet, for a book on this subject and its scope, she draws virtually no cause-and-effect relationship between communist ideology and the gulag. Worse, her deeper, conclusive commentary on her subject is actually anti-philosophical:

"Only our ability to debase and destroy and dehumanize our fellow man has been — and will be — repeated again and again”; and: "The more we know of the specific circumstances which led to each episode of mass torture and mass murder, the better we will understand the darker side of our own human nature."

In other words, Applebaum believes not in fundamental philosophic ideas — chief among them being communism’s glorification of self-sacrifice to the state — as the underlying cause of the gulag, but rather man’s “ability,” that is, his (alleged) innate evil, to destroy his fellow man, and certain unspecified “circumstances.”

One of Gulag’s merits, however, is that it offers many concretizations of communism’s inevitable results: mass privations, disease, starvation and death. As I read the various injustices that Soviet citizens suffered under this slave system (within a slave state), I was reminded of accusations that communists and their apologists had leveled against capitalism and the United States. Recall that they claimed that capitalists “exploit” their workers, and asserted that Soviet Russia held the most promise for the “common man,” the promise of unprecedented prosperity and equality of results. All of this came to mind as I read this passage:

"Ivan Nikishov, who became the boss of Dalstroi in 1939, in the wake of the purges, and held the post until 1948, became infamous for accumulating riches in the middle of desperate poverty. [Prison bosses] even began to compete with one another, in a fantastic version of keeping up with the Jonses."

While Applebaum fails to provide a deeper, philosophic understanding of how communism led to the gulag, her book nevertheless provides many examples that help ground the stark reality of that false, evil ideology.

* This is a revision of a previously posted review.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Jesus vs. Howard Roark

By Joseph Kellard
While talk continues in Objectivist circles about a Christian organization's comparison of Ayn Rand to Jesus, I'd like to remind or enlighten HBLers [subscribers to the Harry Binswanger List], as I did when Mel Gibson's “The Passion of the Christ” was all the rage, about an excellent letter Miss Rand wrote that contrasts Jesus and Howard Roark. You'll find it in “Letters of Any Rand” (p. 287, hardcover), under the title: “To Sylvia Austin, a fan.”

Among the ideas Ayn Rand addresses are the contradiction between individualism (in regard to Christianity's reverence for the sanctity of the individual soul) and Jesus' morality of altruism, the demeaning implication that what is noble in man is strictly divine and not human, “bearing each other's burdens,” and “loving one another.”

About the latter she wrote: “Since all men are not virtuous, to love them for their vices would be a monstrous conception and a vicious injustice. One can not love such men as Stalin or Hitler. One can not love both a man like Roark and a man like Toohey. If one says one does, it merely means that one does not love at all.”

Stick that in your pipe, American Values Network!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Color Breathes Life Into an Ordinary Painting

By Joseph Kellard
Why did I take a photo of this painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you ask?

It should be obvious: the colors are brilliant and complimentary. They are used to make the central subjects stand out boldly in an otherwise nondescript scene that is as simple as its title suggests: Arabs Crossing the Desert (early 1870s).

The rich reds, yellows and green in the horsemen’s robes are set against and complimented by the expanse of cloudless blue sky, and the varieties of color used also comes across in the three different-colored horses: chestnut brown, gray and white.

The artist, Jean-Léon Gérôme, a French painter and sculpture (1824-1904), could have painted all the horses the same color, just as he could have given all the horsemen uniform clothes (perhaps their different-colored robes denote something about their status?). But then the painting would not stand out in anyway, since the action it depicts is slow and subdued, and the subjects are mostly hidden under their clothes.

Arabs Crossing the Desert is a great example of how color can carry a painting, making a rather routines scene “pop” and come alive.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Vine

By Joseph Kellard
Whenever I trek to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I always try to pass through the American Wing to catch even just a glimpse of The Vine, by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (1880-1980). During my most recent visit there, with my new Nikon D90 in hand, I took several snapshots of this beautiful sculpture from a variety of angles.

The Vine is one of my two favorite sculptures, competing only with Joy by Sam Axton.

As I did with Joy, I eventually want to break down and analyze why exactly I find The Vine so special, why it strikes a particularly powerful chord with me, and perhaps put to rest which of the two sculptures I can definitively call my top favorite — that is, if I decided this is really necessary or even possible.

Today, I simply want to show a few shots of this beautiful sculpture that evokes a similarly elative spirit as Joy. Which of the two works of art more effectively evokes that spirit — and why? These are questions to be answered perhaps another day.

The following is a description of The Vine that accompanies the sculpture at the Met:

In the early twentieth century, sculptures of dancing women were produced in great numbers, inspired in part by the popularity of Isadora Duncan, Loie Fuller, and Anna Pavlova. Frishmuth often turned to dancers for her sculptural themes and employed them to pose for her with musical accompaniment. Show stretching upward and outward in imitation of a living vine, this lyrical nude balances on tiptoe in the ecstasy of performance, a grapevine suspended in her hands. The first version of the work, a statuette eleven and a quarter inches high, was enormously popular, cast in an edition of 396. In 1923, Frishmuth enlarged the sculpture to monumental scale, using Desha Delteil of the Fokine Ballet as her model.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Positive Voice for 100 Voices

My informal review of a compelling book

By Joseph Kellard

I recently finished reading 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand. I’m about to embark on writing a book review for a publication, so I’m not going to write nearly as much as I would like to about this great book. But I do have a few things to say about it that I think you'll find interesting, if not compelling.

First and foremost, I learned about Ayn Rand more in depth, not only about matters I already knew about her, but many new factors I never knew, both minor and major. When you admire a person as much as I do Ayn Rand, this is the type of book you devour. I, at least, like to learn as much as I can about my heroes.

What’s interesting about this book is that Ayn Rand’s life, character and personality are told through interviews with various people who knew Ayn Rand, from acquaintances to relatives to fans to the most ardent studiers and adherents of her philosophy. The opinions and perspectives are wide ranging, from those who found her and her philosophy unfavorable to those who were in complete awe of her intelligence, honesty and original ideas.

From John Ridpath: “She had available at her mental fingertips a hug integrated body of knowledge. Once she understood any question put to her clearly, she would have no difficulty in answering it completely, including brining her questioner to see other implications of the question, and even to answering, in advance, ramifications of the discussion she knew the questioner would arrive at later.”

Scott McConnell, the interviewer and creator of this book, established the media department and oral history program at the Ayn Rand Institute. And when reading his various interviews, it’s important to keep in mind that you must, of course, judge the accuracy of what people say — what you should take with a grain (or much more) of salt, and what is probably true since so many of those who were interviewed mentioned it.

With this in mind, the reader must recognize that what some people say about Ayn Rand may reflect more on them than it does her. For example, the book starts with an interview with Rand’s sister, Nora, translated from Russian, and she shows contempt for her sister and her philosophy. Here, I recognized that Nora left the Soviet Union and visited her sister in America, and even though Ayn Rand offered her the opportunity to remain in freedom, Nora chose to return to the communist slave pen. That’s certainly something to keep in mind when considering Nora’s comments about her sister.

One observation that was often mentioned among the people interviewed was that Ayn Rand and her husband, Frank O’Connor, were deeply in love with one another and cared greatly for one another through their 50-plus year marriage.

Another reoccurring observation was that Ayn Rand had a commanding, forceful personality when it came to intellectual matters and was always especially intense when discussing philosophical ideas and their life and death implications, and yet her more casual side (if that’s even a proper way to describe her in repose) revealed a woman of extraordinary patience, graciousness, warmth and benevolence.

There are some real gems in the book. One of my favorites is an interview with Marcella Rabwin. She was a former coworker of Ayn Rand’s, and Rand based her conformist character, Peter Keating in The Fountainhead, on her. Rabwin tells McConnell that she enjoyed reading the The Fountainhead, and that she had met Rand again after she had read it. Rand asked her about the philosophy in the book, to which Rabwin said: “I said that I didn’t know there was any philosophy in it.” And later in the interview, McConnell asks Rabwin what she thought of Peter Keating. Her reply: “Who?”

This is priceless!

I wish I could give a more thoughtful and formal review of this book. I have other priorities at this time. For now, all I can say is that if you want to learn more, much more, about Ayn Rand and the integrity she had toward her philosophy in many areas of her life, in work, romance, friendships, daily living, etc., then you absolutely must read this book.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

My Long Road to Objectivism

A looked back at my years-long introduction to Ayn Rand and her books that changed my life.

By Joseph Kellard

It all began unceremoniously enough, on a routine summer afternoon when I was about 12. I noticed a book in the grass next to my teenage sister, Maureen, as she sunbathed in our yard. It was a white paperback, a novel that, certainly unbeknownst to me then, would come to dramatically change my life — unfortunately, not for many years.

I picked it up and liked the interesting painting on the cover, with its spotlight-like bars of sunrays that pierced dark clouds onto a city of skyscrapers. The novel’s title, The Fountainhead, in black, bold letters, piqued my curiosity, and I thought it was cool how the author, Ayn Rand, spelled her first name, which I (mistakenly) thought was pronounced “Ann.”

I don’t recall asking my sister anything about the book, perhaps because I had no interest in reading much beyond my next issue of Sports Illustrated. And although that moment was fleeting, it made an impression, bared out in years to come, as I would recall that moment when I periodically came across that author's name and her book throughout my youth.

My second encounter came a few years later, when I switched to reading Muscle & Fitness and Muscle Mag, two magazines that fed my teenage hopes of building a Mr. America-type physique. They featured articles by Mike Mentzer, a top bodybuilder who occasionally quoted passages from a character in The Fountainhead that evoked the virtues of individualism and independent thought. Mentzer used Rand’s words to buttress his unorthodoxed philosophy of high-intensity training, a system that challenged the sport’s conventional views on how to build eye-popping muscles.

Thanks to Mentzer, I got a tantalizing taste of the ideas from that novel my sister once read. Around this time, I too was starting to pick up novels on my own, reading mostly 19th century classics, especially by Dickens and Tolstoy. But for some unknown reason, I was not yet inspired enough to pick up The Fountainhead. Instead, I put it with others on my imaginary “must read” list.

A few more years would pass before I came across the unusual name of its author. I was likely in my late teens or early 20s when I opened 2112, an album by Rush, a progressive rock band, and read this dedication inside: “Lyrics by Neil Peart, with acknowledgement to the genius of Ayn Rand.”

Meanwhile, a college philosophy class had inspired me to read the works of different thinkers and I found I was partial to Nietzsche’s Anti-Christ, as well as Dostoyevsky’s novels, especially Notes from Underground, a book with a protagonist who believes that 2+2 can equal 5.

Still, I was not reaching for Ayn Rand’s novels or non-fiction at bookstores, but my next encounter with her words would prove decisive. On the dusty, overstocked shelves at a used bookstore, I came across a newly published compilation of Playboy interviews, entitled The Playboy Interview: The Best of Three Decades 1962-1992. It featured interviews with everyone from Muhammad Ali to Yassir Arafat to Bob Dylan, as well as that novelist that my sister had read, Mike Mentzer quoted and a lyricist-drummer considered a genius.

By then I was in mid-20s and writing shorts stories with aspirations to become the next Joyce Carol Oates or the young Truman Capote. Philosophically, I was a subjectivist; politically a liberal. I recall that the issues I was grappling with most then were my agnosticism and growing distaste for the teachings of Christianity and Catholicism.

I skimmed through Rand’s interview, first published in 1964, probably glossed over some passages, like her high praise of capitalism and ultra-limited government, and likely bought the book based on other parts that I found provocative, particularly her ideas on religion.

On original sin:
“If man is guilty by nature, he has no choice about it. If he has no choice, the issue does not belong in the field of morality. Morality pertains only to the sphere of man’s free will — only to those actions which are open to his choice. To consider man guilty by nature is a contradiction in terms.”

On the symbol of the Cross:
“[A]ccording to the Christian mythology, [Jesus] died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the nonideal, or virtue to vice.”

On faith:
“Faith as such is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason. … [A]s philosophies, some religions have very valuable moral points. They may have a good influence or proper principles to inculcate, but in a very contradictory context and, on a very – how should I say it – dangerous or malevolent base: on the grounds of faith.”

Let’s just say I went home and eagerly read the entire interview. It served as my entrée to Rand's ideas on a variety of sublime subjects – on reason and faith, selfishness and self-sacrifice, the proper foundation for love, the importance of sex in man’s life, the proper role of government, the individual versus the collective – and it had me savoring much more. And what better book of hers for me to start with than The Fountainhead? Actually, when I finally sat down to read it, I think I picked up the copy that my sister read more than a decade prior.

Two distinct impressions endure from my initial reading of The Fountainhead. First, I underlined, in agreement with, the words of Ellsworth Toohey, who I would later learn is the novel’s villain. I had faith in his professed ideals about self-sacrifice and what some now call “social justice.” But – and this is a big, life-changing “but” – there was also the novel’s main character and hero, Howard Roark, the individualist, innovative architect whose quotes I remembered from Mentzer’s articles. Roark was, hands down, unlike any character I had come across in any work of literature I had read, from Othello to A Tale of Two Cities to The Brothers Karamazov to East of Eden to In Cold Blood.

This early passage in the novel, as Roark is still being introduced to the reader, struck me: “People turned to look at Howard Roark as he passed. Some remained staring at him with sudden resentment. They could give no reason for it: it was an instinct his presence awakened in most people. Howard Roark saw no one. For him, the streets were empty. He could have walked there naked without concern.”

Howard Roark captivated me. And what I found most fascinating, from the start of the novel to its end, was his supreme confidence and his unconcern for what others thought of him, a characteristic captured best by his clipped, self-assured manner of speaking:

Toohey: “Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.”

Roark: “But I don’t think of you.”

To put it simply, Roark was cool. As I read the novel, which made scant mention of his childhood, and certainly after I completed it, there was one question that lingered: How did he get that way?

I absolutely needed to know. And I knew at least this much: the answer was to be found in learning more about the philosophy of the author who created him. After I had put off reading The Fountainhead for many years, I then took all the time I could to read Ayn Rand’s many novels and non-fiction books, to learn and put into action the ideas that shaped Roark’s character.

My quest started with The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand’s provocatively titled non-fiction book that lays out her radical ethics of rational selfishness. After that, I turned to her most important work, Atlas Shrugged, an epic novel with a lengthy speech near the end that broadly summarizes her fundamental philosophy. I still didn't want to admit it then, stuck as I still was to my subjectivist-liberal sensibilites then, but I was hooked.

I soon read all of Ayn Rand’s books, putting off until last Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, because I didn’t want to believe that that exploitive economic system could be good. But I knew I was discovering a radically different but logical way of viewing the world. On a personal scale, her philosophy was one that, slowly but surely, with some early faltering and many pains along the way, helped me to develop my self-esteem, heighten my happiness and strengthen my pride.

I sometimes ask where I might be today if that painting (by Ayn Rand’s husband, Frank O’Connor) on the 25th anniversary edition of The Fountainhead hadn’t caught my preteen eye on that summer day? I don’t know, and sometimes I’m afraid to entertain such thoughts. But I undoubtedly discovered the philosophy just in the nick of time, just before it probably became too late for me to expect to make any real, fundamental changes to my troubled character and life.

And for that, I will forever be indebted to Ayn Rand, and this commentary is one of my many payments to her good name.

Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged

By Joseph Kellard

The Atlas Shrugged movie is a shell of the novel.

The scripted dialogue was too off-base to allow me to excuse it as the best we can expect, given the state of our corrupt (moving-making) culture. It should have and could have been better, especially since this was as an independent film. Moreover, there was virtually no explicitly stated philosophy, except for a passing comment here or there (I think Dagny uttered the words: “stupid altruists,” which sums up perfectly my two points here).

And except for an opening montage about the terrible state of the nation/world, the movie throughout failed miserably to project that a national collapse is looming.

Of all the miscast characters, Francisco was the worst — my sister summed it up best when she commented that he looked like a Mexican drug dealer (think Al Pacino as Scarface — not the character you want his appearance to project). The acting was too often flat; the actors failed to capture the spirit of their characters. But given their script, you can half excuse them. The actor who played Rearden was probably the best. He did a good but not a great job.

Yes, the movie had some good moments, such as when Rearden is offered to sell his innovative metal to the government and he rejects the bribe, insisting, when asked why not, “Because it’s mine," and when earlier he shows no care about the "public perception" of him and admits that his only goal is "to make money." All good. But those moments seemed too few and far between, including the love scene between Rearden and Dagny, which came and went in a flash. (I hated that he prefaced their sex with: “I want to kiss you.” I can’t believe that line, in that moment, is in the novel.) Also, the visuals were sometimes spectacular, especially the trains riding through the Colorado landscape. But that’s the most excited I can get about this movie. 

It was a not terrible, and I would recommend that you see it if you are a fan of the book. And to those who have not yet read it, I think it will give you just enough to pique your curiosity to finally pick it up to find out what it's really all about. The shell of a great novel is there, and that’s a much better shell than most novels can provide. But I’ll chalk this one up as another example of a movie that falls far short of living up to the novel, and just hope that the filmmakers do a much better work with parts 2 and 3. In the meantime, go read the novel!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bridge Renaming Ceremony Attracts Hundreds

They honored Michael Valente, Long Beach's only Medal of Honor recipient, at City Hall on March 25.


Ralph Madalena wrote one letter last spring and that was all it took.

Madalena requested the renaming of the Nassau County-owned Long Beach Bridge in honor of his grandfather, World War I veteran Michael Valente, and mailed the letter to County Executive Ed Mangano and County Legislator Denise Ford, as well as other government officials and local veterans groups.

On Friday, less than a year later, Long Beach City Hall played host to the official bridge re-naming ceremony, with hundreds of people packed into the sixth-floor chambers, after the County Legislature last July voted unanimously to rename the bridge to Michael Valente Memorial Bridge.

“Many cultures believe that you never die, so long as you are remembered, and people like my grandfather live on,” said Madalena with his wife, Francesca Capitano, a former Long Beach City Council member, and his daughter, Katherine Madalena, by his side.

Private Valente, an infantryman, rescued his regiment from disaster in France on Sept. 29, 1918, and for his heroic acts he became Long Beach's lone recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor — the highest award for valor given to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces for actions against an enemy force. More than 3,440 medals have been awarded since its inception in 1861.

Friday’s ceremony featured several speakers, including former U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato, Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg and Long Beach City Manager Charles Theofan, as well as Joe Sciame, chairman of Conference of Presidents, David Laskin, author of the book The Long Way Home, which features a passage on Valente, and Stella Grillo from the New York State Order Sons of Italy in America. Everyone from local to national veterans groups to Long Beach students to Valente’s family, who travelled from as far as Florida to California, attended the morning event.

The formal ceremony for the renaming was originally planned for Sept. 29, a date the city council designated Michael Valente Day in Long Beach in 2008. It was postponed to March 25, which is designated Medal of Honor Day nationwide. Ford was instrumental in spearheading and organizing the event.

“He put himself in great danger to save so many,” Ford said about Valente in her opening remarks.

The legislator and other speakers, some of who were friends with Valente, remembered and honored a man whose courageous acts came when his regiment, Company D of the 107th Infantry, was suffering heavy casualties during operations against German forces at the Hindenburg line near Ronssoy, France. Alongside a fellow soldier, Valente rushed forward through intense machine gun fire directly on an enemy nest, killing two gunners and capturing five enemy soldiers.

Discovering another machine gun nest nearby that rained heavy fire on American forces, Valente and his companion charged it, killed the gunner, jumped into the enemy trench, killed two more soldiers and captured 21 others. Valente's actions represent the first penetration of the Hindenburg line, Madalena said.

Nearly 11 years later to the day, on Sept. 27, 1929, President Herbert Hoover decorated Valente, then a retired sergeant, with the medal in Washington. "It's the proudest moment of my life," Valente said, according to a New York Times account dated the day after.

On Friday, Sciame, who chairs an Italian organization, said it was not just a proud day for his fellow Americans of Italian heritage, but also for the children of Long Beach.

“Every time they go over that bridge, they’re going to see the name of a man who … came to this country, worked hard, fought in a war, as many of us have done, but he was a hero. And so, I say Michael Valente was a positive role model who we should emulate, refer to and study him, and let’s get his name in the history books.”

From Italy to France to the Long Beach Boardwalk

Valente emigrated from his native Italy to Ogdensburg, N.Y., in 1915, and three years later he entered Company D of the New York National Guard, which was later incorporated into the 27th Division. In May of 1918, he was deployed to France to fight on the front lines.

After the war, Valente married Margareta Marchello and moved to her hometown, Newark, N.J., before the couple settled in Long Beach around 1919, eventually buying a home on West Walnut Street where they raised three children. Valente was a contractor and real estate agent who built houses in Long Beach, but he eventually gave up the business to work as the city marshal at City Hall.

“When I look back at Michael Valente, I remember this giant of a man,” Weisenberg said about the veteran who stood 6 feet tall with blond hair, blue eyes and a barrel chest. “… He was like a John Wayne, only quiet. He was giving. He was loving. He was a model.”

After Valente retired in 1965, he greeted people at La Serenata, a restaurant at the original Long Beach Library, now the site of Sutton Place on West Park Avenue. Among the local veterans groups, Valente was most active in the VFW Post. He was always active, particularly in his garden, and he rode his bike on the boardwalk regularly right up until his final years. Valente died in 1976 at age 80.

The city named one of its senior apartments, on National Boulevard near City Hall, after Valente, as did the Sons of Italy lodge he attended.

City Manager Charles Theofan asked the audience not to lose sight of the symbolism of a bridge.

“A bridge takes us to another place,” he said. “Let us hope that one day mankind will take us to a better place, where peace between nations will rule the day.”

Monday, February 28, 2011

There's No Denying, State and Science Don't Mix

In "Fact-Free Science," Judith Warner of the New York Times praises President Obama’s request for budgetary increases for scientific research, particularly of “alternative energy,” but she then goes on to decry the so-called “politicization of science” of those pesky global warming “deniers.”

But what is government financing of scientific research if not the marriage of science and state, that is, the politicization of science? Government dollars are political dollars, and their injection into science, ultimately, is the injection of those whose political ideology rules the day. This is the corruption of science.

There’s much more not to like about this Time’s piece, particularly in that Warner tries to paint so-called global warming “deniers” (who are akin to Holocaust deniers) as taking a page from leftists of decades past, who explicitly denied reality’s existence as a way to undercut the very idea of scientific truth. But the reality Warner denies is that leftists still do this, that is, their global warming/climate change scaremongering entirely rest on those corrupt underlying premises that deny reality and thus (scientific) truths.

For now, let’s just stick to the idea that there should and must be a wall of separation between science and state. To deny that truth is to invite the corruption that makes up the state of climate science.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Russia's Slide Back into Statism Rolls On

By Joseph Kellard

Surprisingly, the New York Times reports, as objectively as it can, on a successful oil businessman whose life, property and riches an authoritarian government — i.e., Putin’s Russia, has destroyed. The article, “Guilty Verdict for a Tycoon, and Russia,” is a great snapshot of how this outcome for Mikhail Khodorkovsky — “who had built and presided over Yukos, the biggest and best-run company in the country” —is the result of a government run primarily by arbitrary laws/regulations, political favors and pull and, of course, a complete disregard for the rights of man.

“Even since the Yukos affair, corrupt Russian politicians and businessmen have routinely used arbitrary laws and regulations to grab assets that didn’t belong to them. Royal Dutch Shell was the majority partner in a group that included the state-owned monopoly Gazprom to develop a giant oil and natural gas field. Suddenly, in 2006, it ran into severe environmental and regulatory problems — problems that disappeared as soon as Shell ceded majority ownership to Gazprom.”