Saturday, January 3, 2009


Let’s start out this post with the big news first:
It is ARMAGEDDON WEEK on The History Channel.
All the signs of this event are going to be presented and explained for your edification and preparation. Get ready. Get set. Kiss yourself good-bye if this research is accurate and these signs present themselves.

Maybe it is best to not watch and be taken by surprise. Armageddon would really preclude all bomb-shelters from the 50s, stashes of bottled water, MREs and the medications offsetting any of that nasty, germy white powder terrorists include in their mailings. I might take a peek though.

Remember the age-old philosophical question: How do you eat an elephant?

With the corresponding and annoying answer of one bite at a time.
It is easy recalling it every time there is a monumental challenge entering life requiring management skills analyzing and breaking it down into accomplishable tasks.
One recently accepted tossed gauntlet is reading ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand. Friend Aunt Jasmine mentioned it might be the largest fiction book in the English language. I’m prone to agree since it has a page count of over 1000. The fantastic Alexandria Library offers a service allowing members to download selected literature onto their MP3 players. Forty-five (yes, that is 45) CDs worth of downloading later, I started jamming in those earplugs and settling back for a long winter’s nap.

For this tale, the American train system is part of the fascinating backdrop. The author does her level best keeping the setting free of any actual timeline assignment. For the better part, you could set it during the 30s, 40s, 50s, or any other decade thereafter. Periodically she slips. There are a few words threaded through such as mimeograph. Scoop knows what that is and LOVED smelling freshly mimeographed papers in elementary school when tests or worksheets were distributed. Some of you may have never benefited from this process of copying during pre-Xerox days. Most of you would quickly pass by it if displayed by the Smithsonian Museum. However, in this story, it jumps out at you since it is one of the few time-based links in it.

ATLAS SHRUGGED, along with FOUNTAINHEAD provide platforms for Ayn Rand’s philosophy and it is incredible how timely this book is today. Writing it began in 1946, publishing began in 1957, and releasing of editions has been consistent since.

Through pitting fictional characters against each other in a world of competition, business, social interactions, and conventions, the author has managed to keep readers riveted with the exception of a repetitive speech a central character delivers. for further information.

The gist of the title is that the Greek mythological hero, Atlas, who is charged with toting the weight of the heavens on his shoulders, represents exploited industrialists. Hard working producers, like Atlas, are being burdened, but by a parasitic social structure. These are depicted by less than stellar people, mostly family members, who refuse to work or be responsible for themselves. They are living off the fruits of the industrialists’ outcomes while actively blocking these producers from being more efficient or functional. In her writing, Rand sets characters to join a movement where a central character, John Galt, will instruct them into sloughing off the parasites and stop believing that it is the industrialists’ burden to “keep” their non-productive and undeserving leaches, like those family members and corporate looters who want to benefit without working.

There is so much more than this simplistic explanation to this book as well as many ways to apply some of the philosophies. For one, today I would challenge that ALL industrialists are productive and able to be profit-driven for either the right reasons or exclusively their own. There are some, but not those involved with Enron, AIG, General Motors: need I go on? They only provided a termporary source of wealth for upper management before crashing against the rocky shoreline of reality's bottom line. Disgustingly, AIG holds my retirement funds from the school district. What did they do with the first wave of bailout money? Treat executive management to a vacation junket. What else would you do with it.

On one level I know these bailouts are needed; but, on another, they make me sick, especially when they misuse the funds from average income tax payers. On another level, I know the government is making gross amounts of money on student loans, without giving any bailouts to student borrowers. Wouldn’t a nominal, low interest loan of one or 2 percentage points be sufficient when student loans are there to insure better and higher educated citizens?

What is the point with making higher profits here while, in contrast, pitching shovel loads of cash to dilettantes and multimillion-dollar bonuses to corporations in the face of economic ruin? I can't even begin talking about the real estate market's greed illustrated by adjustable rate mortgages, interest only loans, and inflated values.

Although Rand’s book isn’t a one-for-one for today’s financial dilemmas, it does raise questions providing mental gymnastics for thought. Are you a looter or a producer? What are you contributing to the market and the world at large? Is capitalism the only morally acceptable economic system? Do you conscientiously think about the world, where we are heading, and your role in progress? What can you do when you have to deal with people? Who is John Galt?

Are you offended by government take-overs; but yet don’t give a second thought to using the government supported functions? Highways, libraries, hospitals, ambulances, police and fire protection were all elements placed before citizens through private ownership before coming under the government's umbrella. It is something to ponder. There is a balance required with all of this that is as sensitive as the natural system supporting our environment too.

At over one thousand pages in length, she considered Atlas Shrugged to be her
magnum opus.[1] The book explores a number of philosophical themes that Rand would subsequently develop into the philosophy of Objectivism.[2] [3] it centers on the decline of Western civilization and Rand described it as demonstrating the theme "the role of man's mind in existence." In doing so, it expresses many facets of Rand's philosophy, such as the advocacy of reason, individualism, and the market economy.
Excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on Ayn Rand’s ATLAS SHRUGGED

The fun of all this is that I listened to my downloaded copy while riding Amtrak’s Cresent train service between Alexandria and New Orleans. It couldn’t be a better setting in which to enjoy this tome. Guess what? I am still “reading” it. Yes, it is THAT long. I did take breaks while on the rail. There was time in the dining car. New Years was met in the bar car watching the younger crowd and some even more youthful military members dancing and raising hell in their digitally printed camo and boots. Great fun.

Oh, and there was also the small matter of a dead body I spotted along side of the rail line between Bessemer and Birmingham, Alabama. Now that was a moving experience. Phoning it in actually resulted in the train being held until Birmingham Police were finished interviewing me only to hear a repeated chorus of “I have already told you everything I know on the phone.” It is amazing they wasted their time with me when they should have been tracking down the actual location, given the benchmarks I reported. Plus, they already had my cell phone and train number.

They were concerned with details, which seems normal. I could only describe the location; some of his clothing; didn't see his face; and, that he was white. They couldn't understand how I knew his race without seeing his face. It was offered that his butt was on display and it appeared white. The policeman wanted to know HOW I KNEW IT WAS HIS BUTT! Those of you who know me can appreciate the discipline I displayed not being a smart ass, well, okay, a big time smart ass. I reported that there weren't any eyes and only a crack down the middle. The train conductor had to turn around when that response was offered so he would remain on good terms with the police. I nearly laughed myself, but then I knew I didn't want to be held for further questioning, so I remained in strictly "Yes, Sir" and "No, Sir" mode until the train pulled out. Morgan, my dad, would have been proud that I did the right thing calling it in AND maintained the proper responses.

Meanwhile, Mr. John Doe, please know I am praying for you and that things are being handled in your name.

A few noteworthy points:

  • Bessemer is a steel process invented within a few city blocks of where I was raised in Pittsburgh.

  • Birmingham is the section of Pittsburgh where some of the first steel mills were built. It is now called the South Side; but is connected to the center city by the Birmingham Bridge (once called "Brady Street" Bridge) in honor of its former name.

  • It was weird that I came across this upsetting scene between these two locations.

  • I can take comfort knowing that my year, financial worries and bad economic situations aside, is starting much better than that poor “John Doe” in Birmingham. May he rest in peace.

    See you soon. If you have read this far, feel free to post your bragging!

1 comment:

  1. Ruth,

    You are an amazing writer and I read each and every word on both subjects with such interest and allot of understanding. I don't know how you do it but it is, to say the least, fantastic!

    I, too, want to congratulate, Mr. Leo, for his achievement and wish him much success in the Fire Department. And, truly , they are brave and do risk life and limb to help and protect others from not only firers but from accidents as well.

    I was shocked and amazed when I read the part about the body. It must have been terrible for you to see it and then to be questioned by the police about it was unbelievable. I am with you! They should have been out looking for the body and the evidence to help find the person or persons who did such a terrible crime! Have they, the police, ever contacted you since that day or do you know if they catch the person or not?? And, you are right, I do feel sorry for the people who lost this man or woman and am so glad you were able to recognize that it was a body and call it into the police. Allot of people would have just let it pass and figure someone else who do it but not you! Thank God, you really cared enough to help and then the police question you.! How strange is that!!

    I hope you have a wonderful New Year! One that is filled with only good things, good friends, good health and please keep the warm and wonderful heart of yours open to the sometimes lost souls like me.

    Thanks for these stories and for letting me be apart of your blog family.

    Happy 2009 and may our friendship continue to grow and may you continue to send those fantastic emails that lift me up when I am drowning and raise me up when I am down.

    God bless!