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Archive for August 14th, 2019

The Last of the Ayn Rand Acolytes

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Alexander Sammon writes in the New Republic:

Eight rules governed the original Ayn Rand clubs that proliferated across college campuses in the 1960s, as they sought to seed Objectivism—Rand’s philosophical glorification of laissez-faire capitalism and heroic individualism—in the minds of impressionable youth. And of these eight, only two rules could ever be mentioned publicly: 1) Ayn Rand is the greatest human being who has ever lived, and 2) her novel Atlas Shrugged is the greatest human achievement in the history of the world.

For the Randian faithful, this pair of diktats has withstood the test of time. At this year’s Objectivist Conference, the world’s largest annual gathering of Rand acolytes, everyone seemed to be in compliance. Take Emily Bujold, 26 years old. She was once an avowed environmentalist. She didn’t own a car or eat meat, and had even signed a pact to never have a child, so as not to help perpetuate a rapacious species. But a chance encounter with Rand’s wisdom rocked her world. “Now I know that the only solution is to celebrate and encourage development,” she told me.

Bujold was among the 500 pilgrims who made the trip this June to the conference, held this year in Cleveland, Ohio. The organizers at the Ayn Rand Institute stressed that the location was significant: Cleveland was the city Rand chose for the fictional Patrick Henry University in Atlas Shrugged, where a penniless but ideologically unimpeachable John Galt first made his mark before going on to lead the resistance against collectivism. It’s also, they pointed out, the first major American city to produce commercial-grade steel. But the choice of Cleveland was tinged with irony as well. The once-robust Rust Belt metropolis has been ravaged by a real-life version of Randian corporate overlordship—its factories closing, its people fleeing, its scraps fed to a subprime mortgage machine.

This was the grim setting for a nearly week-long celebration of Rand’s genius that coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of her clarion call for a capitalist-aligned cultural and aesthetic movement, The Romantic Manifesto. Thrumming in the background was a related, similarly unnerving trend for Objectivists: The romance of the movement has lost a good deal of its cachet in an unequal, austerity-battered America—particularly when it comes to pulling in the young recruits who were once the backbone of the Rand insurgency. All the kids these days are becoming socialists and communists. Only 45 percent of young Americans view capitalism positively, compared with 51 percent who profess a fondness for socialism. They want higher taxes, regulations, a Green New Deal. Their thousand-page tome of choice isn’t Atlas Shrugged; it’s Marx’s Capital (or perhaps Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century).

Objectivism has a serious youth problem, and the conference’s organizers were quite aware of it. They offered a discount rate for those under 30, a talent show, and extracurricular activities like “late night jams.” It made me wonder: Is Rand’s hyper-capitalist philosophy—which has influenced some of the most powerful political and economic giants of recent history, from Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan to Mark Cuban and Steve Jobs—running out of juice? There was only one way to find out. I would have to attend the conference’s various panels on the virtue of selfishness, the evils of regulation, and the greatness of capitalism’s dark patron saint, and try to fraternize with the next class of Paul Ryans in the making. So I went into the Objectivist sanctums of Cleveland, sporting an Ayn Rand tote bag outfitted with an “I ❤ fossil fuels” pin, to gauge the reach of Rand’s cult of unbridled capitalism on today’s political scene.

Ayn Rand might not have become the world-conquering figure we know today were it not for an eager teenager. In the late 1940s, Nathan Blumenthal sent Rand a series of fan letters, proving his dedication to her work by functionally memorizing the 750-page novel The Fountainhead, then her most popular title. In 1950, as a 19-year-old, he netted an invitation to Rand’s house. And once they were better acquainted, she anointed Blumenthal, who changed his last name to Branden, as her proselytizer-in-chief.

It was Branden who elevated Rand’s profile, hosting lectures and presentations on her writing across the country. When Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957, it was unsparingly savaged by critics on the right and left, not only for its soulless vision of a world whose highest aspiration was personal pocket-stuffing, but also for its melodramatic plot, wooden characters, and didactic and interminable philosophizing. “I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance is so implacably sustained,” wrote National Review critic Whittaker Chambers—certainly no pinko—at the time. “Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal.”

But Branden’s propaganda campaign helped turn Rand’s novel, against all odds, into a word-of-mouth best seller. Thanks to his efforts—which included the establishment of an Objectivist newsletter, an Objectivist magazine, a nationwide lecture series, book clubs, movie nights, and an annual gala—the Rand student movement ten years later numbered 3,500 card-carrying members across 50 U.S. cities.

After Branden and Rand parted ways in 1968—the two Objectivists were having an extramarital affair that blew up over Branden’s relationship with another woman—Rand named Leonard Peikoff, a onetime student, her true heir. When Rand died in 1982, Peikoff inherited her estate and set about rehabilitating a legacy that had grown stagnant since Rand’s 1960s heyday. In 1983, the first Objectivist Conference was held in San Diego. Two years later, the Ayn Rand Institute was formally founded. Its mission was to turn a new generation into apostles of no-holds-barred laissez-faire capitalism—a savvy marketing move at the height of the Reagan revolution.

“The first program of the Ayn Rand Institute was focused on young people,” said former director Yaron Brook. “From the beginning we understood we’re going to have to appeal to young people at the point in their life when they’re making big choices.” True to that aim, the ARI began donating 400,000 copies of Rand’s novels to advanced-placement high school programs each year. It also awarded big cash prizes for Rand-themed essay contests (in 2018 alone, ardent young Objectivists raked in a cool $130,000 for such broadsides).

Over the decades, the Objectivists’ full-court offensive bore fruit in the culture at large. Everyone from Peter Thiel to Jeff Bezos to the members of the Canadian power trio Rush got a taste of Rand’s philosophy. Even Hillary Clinton claimed to have had a Rand phase.

To this day, Objectivism continues to appeal to a certain kind of precocious youngster: contrarian, brash, frustrated with the status quo but uncertain of where to direct that frustration. At the opening ceremony of this year’s conference, the ballroom at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown was buzzing with fresh-faced capitalist devotees sipping wine and beer and declaiming their love of Rand’s work. I struck up a conversation with two young Objectivists, Jonathan Brajdic and Michael Beardsley, both recent graduates of nearby Ohio State. They hadn’t known each other previously; each had assumed he was the only Objectivist on campus, and their meeting had the feel of a reunion of spiritual twins separated at birth. “I was introduced to Rand by a roommate,” boasted Jonathan. “It changed my life forever.” “It either changes your life or puts into words everything you’ve always felt,” replied Michael.

My first conversation with the Objectivist youth was a challenge. Like other ideological movements, Randism brims with a jargon of authenticity, tailored to reinforce the sense of belonging for young initiates. Jonathan had studied architecture, which made him, according to Michael, “our own Howard Roark” (the strident, world-hating hero of The Fountainhead who blows up a public housing complex because it was compromised by government regulation). Aspiring venture capitalist Michael was more of a Hank Rearden (a 20-hour-workday-pushing inventor-investor hero of Atlas Shrugged). When I told them I was writing about this conference for a magazine, their enthusiasm faltered. It went without saying: I had just outed myself as an Ellsworth Toohey, The Fountainhead’s villainous newspaper journalist. I assured them I was open to their ideas, but I was already in a hole.

That wasn’t my only mistake. When I asked Michael how long he’d been into conservative politics, he clarified that . . .

Continue reading.There’s much more—and it’s one weird movement.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2019 at 2:11 pm

Even with Trump in Office, the Climate Denial Movement Is Quietly Falling Apart

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Geoff Dembicki reports in Vice:

It might seem like the climate denial movement is getting everything it wants.

The loose network of far-right think tanks and the reclusive billionaires who fund them helped convince Donald Trump to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate treaty. The administration is passing a wish list of policies boosting the fossil fuel industry and escalating its rollback of climate research. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency this June killed one of America’s most far-reaching and effective climate laws, the Clean Power Plan, and replaced it with something much weaker.

But those who track and investigate climate deniers told VICE the movement itself appears to be in flux. Veteran deniers are being pushed out, fossil fuel funding is harder to come by and longtime policy goals are for now out of reach. They’re suing each other for hundreds of thousands of dollars and attacking companies like Exxon as “alarmist” sell-outs.

Is the movement that for over two decades spread doubt and uncertainty about climate science finally receding? Or is it merely updating its approach and tactics for an era when public concern about the climate emergency is rising? Either way, experts argued, deniers are not projecting confidence or cohesion.

“They’re not in great shape right now. They’re cranky, they feel like they’re being ignored and overlooked—they are—and they’re as discredited as they’ve ever been,” said Connor Gibson, a researcher for Greenpeace’s investigation team. “The only thing is, we’re currently living in the upside down… They’ve never had a more receptive president.”

Trump earlier this year tweeted a quote from a Fox & Friends guest claiming that “the whole climate crisis is not only Fake News, it’s Fake Science.” The president also said in June that “climate change goes both ways.” However, even with a vocal climate change denier in the White House, the movement is in the midst of fundamental changes.

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank co-founded by fossil fuel billionaire Charles Koch, this May shut down a science program that for years has questioned the consensus that humans are responsible for warming the Earth’s atmosphere.

“They informed me that they didn’t think their vision of a think tank was in the science business, and so I said, ‘OK, bye,'” Pat Michaels, the climate skeptic and frequent Fox News guest who oversaw the program, told E&E News. Other well-known figures in the movement, including Richard Lindzen and Ryan Maue, have also departed the Cato Institute.

People who track the denial movement were caught off guard by the departures. “It was a bit of a shock to a lot of us,” said Kert Davies, director of the Climate Investigations Center. “When that came through, we were like, ‘Woah, that’s different, that’s new.'”

Still, he cautions against reading too much into it. He and other denier trackers don’t know if the Kochs cut off funding to the program, or whether it was merely a clash of personalities. Scientists like Michaels may simply resume their work at another organization. “We’re still trying to suss it out,” he said.

This isn’t a one-off setback for the movement, though. In July, the White House said it would shelve plans for an “adversarial” review of climate science. That frustrated Myron Ebell, a prominent denier who had led Trump’s EPA transition team. He complained to E&E news that the long-held goal of forcing mainstream scientists to publicly defend their basic findings against a government-sponsored team of deniers has “been totally stymied by the forces of darkness within the administration, but also by the looming election campaign.”

Penn State atmospheric scientist Michael Mann speculated the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel companies have little interest in the blowback that could come from a “full-frontal attack on the science” hosted by the White House. “I think their decision is they don’t need to do that, they’re getting everything they want, why stir up a hornet’s nest,” said Mann, who has been a frequent target of deniers and recently won a lawsuit against a Canadian group that had accused him of fraud.

A high-profile forum on whether climate change is real could rally the hardcore denier base—which represents about 9 percent of the U.S. population—but would unlikely be well-received by the growing numbers of Americans worrying about climate change. Polling from Yale suggests that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2019 at 12:28 pm

How to distract an Egyptian god

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2019 at 10:19 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Religion

Not CK-6 but damn good: Organism 46-B and the iKon open-comb

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I can see how my memory tricked me: the regular Phoenix Artisan formula is quite good, so after using it a while (in the various fragrances I have), you start to feel that it couldn’t be better. But then a side-by-side switch to the CK-6 formula is eye-opening.

I have no complaints at all about the lather from my Organism 46-B regular formula (though probably if I were to buy it now I would opt for the CK-6), and the lather was indeed extremely good, thanks in part to my RazoRock 400 brush (whose handle comes in various colors). I do like its fragrance: “Scent Notes: burnt sugar – bitter orange – brandy – Hedione – tobacco absolute – benzoin resin – ambergris.”

Organism 46-B (the creature) is a hoax created for imaginative pleasure and thrills, but the shaving soap and aftershave are actual and are here. Now. In my bathroom. (Cue “Jaws” theme…)

Three passes with the wonderful little iKon open-comb (not the short-comb of iKon’s Shavecraft line, which I don’t much like) left my face smooth, and a good splash of Organism 46-B aftershave finished the job and got the day off to a pleasurable start.

The pleasure continued with my blood glucose reading. The trend is good:

Last October my fasting blood glucose was 6.6 mmol/L, and in talking with my doctor when he discontinued my prescriptions, I mentioned that, and he said that level was nothing to worry about: it’s pre-diabetic, but it’s not all that bad. That makes me feel even better about my current readings. The Mayo Clinic says:

Fasting blood sugar test. A blood sample will be taken after an overnight fast. A fasting blood sugar level less than 5.6 mmol/L is normal. A fasting blood sugar level from 5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L is considered prediabetes. If it’s 7 mmol/L or higher on two separate tests, you have diabetes.

I credit my diet for the improvement.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2019 at 10:17 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Shaving

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