Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mayan Mojo

Mayan Mojo is roasted breadnut, ground into a powder for making drinks.  The dark roast is coffee-like; the light roast is like tea.  The dark roast is easily the best-tasting coffee substitute I have experienced, far better than the chicory mixes. Moreover, it is high in protein, vitamin C, and other nutrients.  We saw Tommy Linton of Buchanan Dam, Texas, a few times at our neighborhood Whole Foods before stopping to sip a sample.  We bought a bag of the dark roast.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014


It is not the movie that I would have made; but it was not my movie to make. If I had directed the effort, then other people would be criticizing my work.  It is easy to find complaints from fans.  Mine are below.  They stem from the fact that we all have had the film in our heads for years, even decades.  We all imagined it.  However, none of us actually realized our imaginings.  John Aglialoro did.  With productive investment from Harmon Kaslow, Scott DeSapio. Ed Snider, David Kelley and a large body of fans (among them my daughter), Aglialoro finally brought Ayn Rand’s masterpiece to the screen.
I watched it twice, once with my wife, Laurel, and once alone.
They strayed from the book for reasons other than the translation across media.  Catering to conservatives not only violated the philosophical premises, it actually denied them in real time.  To make the message acceptable, the essence was removed.  As delivered, Galt’s Speech was an amorphous expression of emotional individualism already known from
Ahead of me in line,
another generation of fans.
Anthem.  Galt’s Speech could have been cut to the necessary length and still developed its political message from the requisite metaphysics and epistemology.  Instead, they missed their real audience, catering to old people and conservatives when Atlas Shrugged in particular, and the works of Ayn Rand in general always have and always will belong to the young. 

Ayn Rand taught that contradictory premises result in conflicting and unreconcilable conclusions. One example from AS3 was the mother in the Valley who said that she chose to homeschool her children, rather than hand them over to a school that did not teach them to think.  Was there an alternative?  Any kids in the Valley would be “homeschooled” one way or another. There was no  public school for them to attend.  

Even though the heroes of  AS3 had several reasons to escape an oppressive society, you do not need to go to Galt’s Gulch to homeschool your children. 

Would it not be a huge mistake for her to keep her kids "at home" when they could be learning arithmetic at the Mulligan Bank?  The very idea that children should not work but be in school was an interventionist political plan to keep them from competing for jobs against unskilled adults.  As the d'Anconia mine is delved by human labor, perhaps the children could put in 12 hours a day to benefit from the experience of learning first hand about the early industrial revolution.  Well, perhaps not...  

[September 19. On the "Galt's Gulch" discussion board contributor LetsShrug pointed out that in fact, the scene is from the book.  I found it on page 730 of the New American Library paperback.  The mother says: "They're profession I've chosen to practice, which in spite of all the guff about motherhood, one can't practice successfully in the outer world. I believe you've met my husband, he's the teacher of economics who works as a lineman for Dick McNamara. You know, of course, that there can be no collective commitments in this valley, and that families or relatives are not allowed to come here, unless each person takes the striker's oath by his own independent conviction. I cam here not merely for the sake of my husband's profession but for the sake of my own.  I came here to bring up my sons as human beings. I would not surrender them to the educational systems designed to stunt a child's brain, to convince him that reason is impotent, that existence is an irrational chaos with which he's unable to deal, and thus reduce him to a state of chronic terror.  You marvel at the difference between my children and those outside, Miss Taggart?  The reason is so simple.  The cause is that here in Galt's Gulch, there's no person who would not consider it monstrous ever to confront a child with the slightest suggestion of the irrational." ]

On a deeper level, how does one person teach another to think?  You can transmit techniques and tricks and methods and tools and aids.  But the thinking must be discovered from the inside. The homeschooling scene was not an element from the work of Ayn Rand.  It was just another sop thrown to the conservatives. 
  • The coins obviously were not gold.  The props were brass.  Alongside Night had a real gold coin.
  •  We already met Jim Taggart before the marquee card identified him.
  • The names on the ceiling of producers who spent the first night in Galt’s home included many who were not in the book.  Among them was Ashish Gulhati, an open source hacker from India.  I am happy for him; and pleased that he was included. However, it was not canonical.  That being so, this was in fact a reward to contributors to the financing of the movie.
  •  Where did the Wyatt workers come from?
  •  Where did the d’Anconia workers come from?
  •  Cool as was his airplane – a Lockheed Electra? – Galt’s plane was not powered by his own motor.
  •  Dr. Robert Stadler was soft-pedaled, not identified as the government-funded researcher whose intelligence serves brutality, whose own contradictions made that not just possible but necessary.
  • When meeting Mr. Thompson, how did Galt have a cell phone in his pocket?  Why was he not searched? 
Also, contrary to the book, Eddie Willers was saved by the heroes.  In the book his fate was purposely left undetermined. Ayn Rand specifically intended that and explained it.
Every work is a matrix of trade-offs.
From Spaceflight Technology,  Howard Seifert, ed.,
New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1959.
The movie offered many more positives.  Kristoffer Polaha’s performance was masterful.  His facial expressions spoke volumes.  He “got” the part: he understood the context.  He carried Dagny into the bedroom and laid her down. “I can walk,” she said.  “I know,” replied.  In shot after shot, he is aware, intelligent, focused, and  yet envisioning a wider horizon.  In the scene where he is captured, he was amused by the mental simplicity of Mr. Thompson.  When Galt is being tortured and Dr. Ferris asks, “How are we doing?”  Galt’s facial reply is miles deep. 

Jeff Yagher as Jeff Allen was the capable, competent worker who is not an innovator.  When the switching system breaks down, he does not know what do to, and neither is it expected that he should.  But he understands what Dagny Taggart intends as soon as she speaks her first words of command.  Yagher was also the narrator.  That was a segue was from the story of the Twentieth Century Motor Company from Part II.  That, too, was a deviation from the book, but one acceptable as the translation across media.

The door scene was good.  When Dagny pleads with John not to return to the City, they are still symbolically separated by a gulf of misunderstanding. 

The scene in Galt's apartment when the Feds force the door to the motor was perfect, right out of the book.

The best choice was to present this as a love story.   Atlas Shrugged works on many levels.  The girl-finds-boy thread was a dependable trope for Ayn Rand.  Similarly, most readers easily see The Fountainhead as Howard Roark’s biography (which it is) but miss the counterpoint of Dominique Francon’s narrative.  Here, the female lead is front and center. 

Overall, this was a finesse.  The producers, director, actors, and cinematography team all achieved as much (if not more) on $5 million as the first installment (also a grand achievement) did on fifteen.  "Third time is the charm."    


Saturday, September 13, 2014

There is no John Galt - and that's worse

There is a destroyer loose who is shutting off the motor of the world, slowing the engine of creation, tapping out the extra power of invention.  But it is not one person whose name is a question.  What you tax you get less of; and what you subsidize you get more of.  The brightest people in the world are making video games; and no one is on the Moon.  It did not take a genius to figure this out: it is a universal law of human action.

No law, no regulation or ruling says what a computer is or who is qualified to program one.  In a lifetime, we have gone from no computers to over a billion of them.  The poorest people in the world have cellular telephones; and they trade online minutes as an ad hoc monetary medium.  It is truly wonderful, a perfect demonstration of the power of open markets.  When criminal hackers seek to violate your financial security, they do not need supercomputers chilled with liquid nitrogen: they use gaming computers whose powerful processors outstrip anything planned by university consortiums. 

However, to be an civil engineer or a mechanical engineer, you need to attend a government approved college, take a government licensing examination, serve an industry mandated apprenticeship, and, as a professional, buy a ton of liability insurance.  Since 1945, on the advice of MIT's Vannevar Bush, the government has actively subsidized as many research projects as we, the people, (and our grandchildren) could afford.  So, we have the same roads, the same railroads, the same internal combustion engines and steam turbines as we did 100 years ago.  They are, indeed, better, but not different.  The jet engine is 70 years old.  So is nuclear power.  We have nothing better.  

All work is an act of philosophy.  
They subsidized education, but never bothered to measure learning.  Torrents of federal money only bloated the administrations of universities without rewarding the faculties or incentivizing the students.  They subsidized healthcare, but never investigated life extension.  The medical monopoly pursues a cure for cancer like 19th century doctors fighting consumption caused by miasmas. 

We all get along somehow...  

And that allows the lawmakers, the regulators, and taxers, and tax-eaters to believe that their actions have no effect, no deleterious consequences. They believe that human action - and human inaction - is impervious to reality, that the physical laws of the universe do not apply to their decisions.  They see the tax-revenues coming in. They spend the money going out.  They never discover the unbroken window.

Frederic Bastiat's famous analogy of the broken window is a law of the universe. As best as we can imagine from science fiction, any sentient, self-aware, rational being must of necessity act and respond just as we have. There is no escape.  Every decision of the government must be an economic loss because the basis of that decision is for power not for profit.  Economic losses are not impersonal: they take the food off your table.  You do still have food, for the moment, but you do not know what you do not have because it was not invented or discovered.  

Not everyone wants to be a video game designer.
What do you do if you cannot do what you love? 

But if obeyed, nature can be commanded.  New sources of energy will power the extension of humanity into new frontiers. We know from historical evidence that new arts can be invented and new artists will flourish.  We could  live longer and smarter, and more prosperously. To achieve that in every endeavor, we must only do what we have done to create the video game industry: nothing.  Laissez nous faire.  Leave us alone.  

Previously on Necessary Facts
Atlas Shrugged Opening Show (2011)
Love, Loss, and Redemption in Atlas Shrugged
The Influence of Ayn Rand's Objectivism
Atlas Shrugged Part 3

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Epic Meat Bars

These high protein paleo-diet meat bars were our salvation when flying as passengers.  Yes, I know the 20-gram soy protein "energy" bars. They have their limitations. If you can eat meat, these are an order of magnitude better.  The Native Americans called it "pemmican." You start with meat: turkey, buffalo, whatever.  You beat it with fruit and maybe something else and make it into a dried paste.  Yum. 

Merchandizer Robert from EPIC BAR.
Website here.
Austin, Texas, is home to technology, music, art, government, and food.  Once, I was working for the German firm Carl Zeiss, and one of our engineers had to go to Chicago to meet a customer.  "Does anyone know anyplace good to eat in Chicago?" he asked the room. We broke up laughing!  "Dude, if you cannot find someplace good to eat, you let us know!"  But, Austin has Chicago beat.  Period.  

Epic Bars come in bison, turkey, lamb, and beef.  We ran into their merchandisers at Whole Foods and bought a dozen assorted bars for our trip.  After we returned, I met their merchandiser, Robert, at the Wheatsville Co-op where we are members.


Drippin' Sauce

Bill Hallett and I attended
rival high schools,
validating the small universe.
Dripping Springs is about 20 miles west of Austin. This is where Bill Hallett makes his four flavors of gourmet Drippin' Sauce ketchup.  He was demoing his products at Whole Foods on William Cannon (Arbor Trails) when we stopped in to buy dinner on our way home from work.  We started with the sweet onion and then had the special reserve. We bought a bottle of that.
Sweet Onion, Mild Chipotle,
Hot Chipotle, and Special Reserve
Bill said that he starts with yellow onions. They are sauteed in just enough oil to turn them white and remove the moisture.  Then he adds the herbs and spices. For the ketchup, he uses only canned whole peeled tomatoes.  "You can get them year around," he said. "And they are cooked, not salted, so there's only 1% of the RDA of sodium in our ketchup."  Whole ground dried peppers, apple cider vinegar, some molasses, and a bit of brown sugar complete the ingredients.  The proportions are secret, of course.  Typically, his batches are ten gallons.  "Then you cook it for a l-o-n-g time, " said.  This is obviously a labor of love.  Bill spent some time in information systems after completing a degree in mathematics.  

Awesome Austin Foods
Jaime's Salsa
Central Texas Bee Rescue
Around Austin
Austin at Night
High Brew Cold Coffee

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Celebrates Productivity

“Productiveness is your acceptance of morality, your recognition of the fact that you choose to live—that productive work is the process by which man controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit man’s purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth into the image of one’s values—that all work is creative work if done by a thinking mind…--that your work is yours to choose, that your choice is as wide as your mind…” – Ayn Rand, “Galt’s Speech”

Before the industrial era of capitalism, social celebrations were an escape from labor.  In the 19th century, workers in Europe took the traditional first day of summer, May 1, for themselves.  But in America everything is new and labor unions in New York City took the first Monday in September for their celebration in 1883. President Grover Cleveland declared the first national Labor Day holiday in 1887.  Apparently, he acted in reaction to the Europeans and communists, and in fear of May Day, but the impetus came from the labor unions of New York City.  Furthermore in those four years, 30 states, starting with Oregon, already recognized the day.  Labor Day was a spontaneous American celebration in honor of productive labor, not class war. After all, in America, workers could become capitalists.

Jeff Yagher as Jeff Allen in Atlas Shrugged Part II

Typically the American Labor Day is a family event, the last weekend of the summer for swimming, picnicking, or vacationing.  Just as Thanksgiving is for celebrating our productivity with a bountiful family meal, Labor Day is our enjoyment of the leisure we bought with our purposeful, marketable efforts.  And it is a day, not of sloth and idleness, a surcease from drudgery, but a day of activities, of plans carried out.  It is a bit ironic that after the busy holiday we find actual paid employment a welcome relief.

In 1972, Edwin Newman interviewed Ayn Rand for his show “Speaking Freely” on NBC-TV. Among other statements, Ayn Rand said: “I am not an enemy of labor unions. Quite the contrary. I think that they are the only decent group today, ideologically. I think they are the ones who will save this country, and save capitalism, if anybody can.”  She went on to say: “But the one flaw is that labor unions are government-enforced and become a monopoly and can demand higher wages than the market can offer. This union power creates the unemployable. It creates this vast group of people, the unskilled laborers who have no place to go for work. The artificial boosting of the skilled laborer’s income causes unemployment on the lower rungs of society. Every welfare measure works that way. It doesn’t affect the so-called rich, if that the humanitarians are worried about it, always affects the poor.”

A few minutes earlier, on the same show, speaking of the proper role of government, she said
“But on the matter of protecting people from physical danger, if certain conditions of employment, let us say, are unsafe and it can be proved that there is a physical risk – I don’t say that we have to wait until somebody dies – then the employer who is creating this risk can be sued, and can be severely punished financially. In other words, there can be a law protecting a man from physical injury by another man. In this case, the employer who puts men into conditions of danger – not accidentally, but intentionally or carelessly – can be penalized because he is infringing the right of his workers not to be injured physically.”  
The entire interview and many others are collected in the anthology Objectively Speaking: Ayn Rand Interviewed, edited by Marlene Podritske and Peter Schwartz (Lexington Books, 2009). Necessary Facts September 2, 2013.
Usually, she rode free: her pins for the Commercial Telegraphers Union of American and the Order of Railroad Telegraphers were her pass.  They were different lines of work.  Railroads were 20 years slow in figuring out that they could manage and control trains with the only thing that traveled faster.  In addition, commodities brokers, hotels, banks, and many other enterprises also needed telegraphers.  Mattie Kuhn worked for both.  So, she belonged to both unions. Ma Kiley: Railroad Telegrapher by Thomas C. Jepsen, reviewed on Necessary Facts 

Previously on NecessaryFacts

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Colin Gullberg’s book, Chopmarked Coins: A History; the silver coins used in China 1600-1935, provides an overview of interesting artifacts often seen but little understood in numismatics.  In China, trust was low; the solution was chopmarks.  Specially trained clerks, called shroffs, tested and counter-struck coins to validate them. 
Chopmarks, Gullberg, page 87
Similar counter-stamps are known on ancient Greek and Roman coins; we call them banker’s marks. Generally, they are rare.  In American history, they are unknown, even as the same Spanish and Mexican coins supported trade commerce here as in East Asia. In China, chopmarks were profuse. 

Before he was chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Alan Greenspan wrote an essay on trust for Ayn Rand’s anthology, Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal.   “The Assault on Integrity” was a response to those who claim that capitalism is a rapacious system serving swindlers at the expense of the public.  In fact, said Greenspan, capitalism depends on trust.  Writing in 1966, Greenspan reminded us that millions of dollars of value in fiduciary instruments could be transferred with a telephone call.  Twenty-five years later, speaking to a Republican Party dinner, Newt Gingrich made the same point: you call an 800-number to make an airline reservation, give your credit card information, and the next morning show up at the airport actually expecting a ticket to be waiting. 

Frontier America 1600-1935 and China of the same period shared much: the same global commerce carried by the same forms of money; a rough-and-tumble laissez faire business environment; benign neglect by the central authorities; even periodic booms and busts that could have been linked to each other. Yet, we never chopmarked our coins.

Bob Schreiner’s “Spanish Coins on American Notes”   provides ample evidence that U.S. federal coinage was a secondary medium.  Banks promised cents and dollars; but they showed reales as their guarantees.   Until 1857, many foreign gold and silver coins were recognized as legal tender. The U.S. Mint periodically published tables showing exchange rates for the issues of Spain, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Brazil, German states and Italian states. 

Of all the US coins, the Capped Bust Half dollar 1807-1836 was most commonly counterfeited.  Varieties of counterfeit “busties” are popular among some collectors who call them “bogos.”  Fifty cents represented about a day’s wages for the average industrial or crafts worker, about like $100 today.  (The modern $100 bill is the most frequently counterfeited both at home and abroad.)  Through the nineteenth century, we had privately struck “pioneer” gold coins from the Bechtlers (1831-1850), to the California gold rush mints, to the Mormons, and beyond. Yet, America never developed an institution similar to the shroffs. 

Causes may be hard to find.

Religion is an easy guess.  In the punishment triangle of "swift, certain, and severe", all that really matters is certainty.  Prove to a criminal that he will 100% surely be punished lightly 20 years from now and you deter the crime.  It is better to take a chance on not getting caught, no matter how severe the threat.  God is omniscient, knowing not just your actions but your thoughts. For Christians and Muslims, punishment is certain.  Nothing equivalent exists in Buddhism or Confucianism, even as both do teach the importance of right action.  But neither do the Jews have any strong fear of punishment (or much reward) in the afterlife.  Despite being the bankers of the West, and having little reason to trust their Christian customers, Jews never established factories to manually counter-strike millions of coins.

Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism opens with an extended quote from Benjamin Franklin’s Way to Wealth (1758)Franklin’s advice is to rely on yourself: “But with our industry we must likewise be steady, settled, and careful, and oversee our own affairs with our own eyes, and not trust too much to others; . . . Trusting too much to others' care is the ruin of many; for In the affairs of this world men are saved, not by faith, but by the want of it”. 

The religious basis for trust may be only sublimated.  We do have social structures for establishing reputation.  In numismatics, we have third-party grading.  Electrical apparatuses come with the UL from Underwriters Laboratories and other stamps of approval.  Standard & Poor and Moody’s rate fiduciary instruments.  Our memberships in social organizations also validate us. 

Perhaps the most curious fact about Chinese chopmarks is that they did not actually identify anyone. According to Gullberg, only the British tea trading firm, Tait & Co., used an identified mark, two characters giving its name.  While the myriad others must have been recognized in their times and places, no table was ever constructed, even though Canton (Guangdong), Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, and other centers all had schools for training shroffs.
Chopmarked Coins: A History; the silver coins used in China 1600-1935 
by Colin James Gullberg (iAsure Group JEAN Publications, June 2014, 
187 pages, 8-1/2 x 11, color ill., $40 + S&H).
The book is for sale directly from the author.  
Send an email to Colin Gullberg

Also on Necessary Facts