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THE COLLECTION: The Sanctuary; The Woods Be Dark; The Phonebook Man; Estoppel; The Washingtonians; Life with Father; Bob; Bumblebee; Lethe Dreams; Paperwork; The Idol; Skin; The Man in the Passenger Seat; Comes the Bad Time; Against the Pale Sand

The Collection - Bentley Little I already posted an Atlas Shrugged review, but I just saw the Atlas Shrugged movie, and decided that my first review didn’t cover everything I wanted to say. This is not a DBR, since I’m not drunk, but I will admit this is my second glass of wine, so there is that. In case you missed it in theaters, here’s the trailer for the new movie. I saw it yesterday (at home, on DVD). Did I like it? As with the book, the answer to that is complicated. Before I go further, I should clarify that the movie’s full title is Atlas Shrugged- Part I. It was inevitable that Rand’s 1100 page tome would either need to be split into several parts, or severely condensed to fit into a single three hour film. As the director explains in one of the “extra” features of the DVD, he wanted to stay as true to the book as possible, so the full telling of Atlas Shrugged will occur over the course of three movies. Anyhow, back to my review. I thought the movie did a good job of translating Rand’s novel to the big screen. Unfortunately, because the script was so true to the novel, it had the same ham-fisted dialogue that made the book painful to read. Here it was delivered by actors who probably deserved better material. Even when I wax towards defending the book, I must admit these characters are very wooden. That would be unforgivable if Atlas Shrugged‘s first priority was to tell an interesting and engaging story. Actually its main purpose is expounding on Rand’s philosophy of “Objectivism”. As a result, there isn’t a single sympathetic character in the entire book. From opening scene to close, every last character the reader encounters is a complete dick with no redeeming qualities. This massive aggregation of jackholes can be roughly divided into two camps: the Producers and the Parasites. I won’t break down Rand’s whole worldview here, but the Producers are folk who make decisions and live with the consequences. They earn their fortunes by inventing things, and ably managing companies. They take risks and either suffer the losses or reap the rewards. A more balanced writer would have no difficulty making such characters at least identifiable, if not heroes. But not Ayn Rand. Take this little exchange between industrialist Hank Reardon and railways executive Dagney Taggart:Dagney: I need to get those rails shipped two months early. I’m willing to pay you a $20,000 per ton premium for early delivery.Reardon: I could charge you double, and you’d pay it.Dagney: You’re right, I would. Because I need the Rio-Norte line restored before the first snow.Reardon: …And my metal is the best metal on the market.I think this self-congratulatory trash talking is exactly what conservative assholes love about Rand. This is how they would like to picture themselves, and it's how they’d like you to picture them: confident, swaggering icons of excellence who don’t take bullshit from anybody, because they’re that damn good, and they know it; and they know you know it! This is the sort of arrogance that makes Wall Street executives call common people on the streets “monkey” (see video 0:43 to 2:25)*. * Warning: this video may make you illOf course the Wall Street executives in that video are probably living off taxpayer-funded bailouts, and the person who was called “monkey” most likely does or makes something for a living, which is more than can be said for the execs. And listen to the second executive in that video... he gives a kind of heroic description of what Wall Street does... takes a guy in a garage with a great idea, and funds him, helping him turn his idea into a profitable business. That's what venture capitalists do, but is that really what he is? On Wall Street? How many guys in garages with great ideas has that executive visited? Statistically speaking, it's much more likely that he is involved with creating financial instruments that nobody understands, like the credit default swap instruments bundled into improperly-rated bonds, which helped caused the market crash in October 2008. The fact is that most of these Wall Street high rollers are just part of an insular casino-economy of high-finance, which is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the actual creation of wealth and fostering of "great ideas in garages". Why should I respect jerks like this? It is the differential in material wealth between these Wall Street monkeys and the rest of us which allows these executives to perpetuate the illusion (to themselves and others) that they are Rand’s anointed ones: the sacred movers and shakers who keep the world turning. They have fancy watches and cars, private planes and beach houses in the Hamptons… these are the proofs of excellence in capitalism. The market rewards superior performance with success, and punishes the inferior with failure. It is a vast, perfect, unthinking yet omniscient brain. It considers every angle, accounts for every possible factor, adds the innumerable vectors together and then makes the final pronouncement of how well each player should be compensated. If you believe the narrative, the market is a crucible of economic evolution, where the strong survive and the weak perish. Oh, but if that were true; at least we'd have competition! Sure, price and product competition exist in some sectors of the economy (electronics, most services, airline travel) but are notably lacking in many others (petroleum, banking in general and consumer credit especially, healthcare, and most forms of insurance). So how is it that the epicenter of the capitalist system- Wall Street- has taken the biggest handouts in history over the past few years? And how can these same finance high-rollers now decry social security, welfare, and workman’s compensation as extravagant gravy trains for weak-willed freeloaders? The supposed Wall Street "Producers" have parasitized the system to the tune of $24 trillion! One of the things which makes Rand’s Objectivists so annoying is that most of them are Parasites who think (and want you to think) they are Producers.Aside from this profound identity crisis, many Rand enthusiasts seem to have embraced the “fittest survive and thrive” idea of Capitalism for its logical conclusion: if you're thriving, you must be the fittest! If the purpose of the market is to ferret out the most efficient pathway to profits, then whatever one does to gain profit must be permissible and good in the eyes of the market. In theory, better products and services are supposed be the byproduct of this system, and sometimes they are, but sometimes not. Getting the government to mandate one’s product is another road to profits. In 2007, pharmaceutical giant Merck managed to get their HPV vaccine “Gardasil” made mandatory in Texas to all girls attending public schools. All it took was an executive order by Governor Rick Perry, whose ties to Merck are detailed here. That’s a lot of business locked-in for Merck, without having to prove the worth, value, or safety of their product, or it’s superiority to any competing products which might come to market. “Hooray for Capitalism!”, huh? Halliburton’s no-bid war contracts are another clause in Dick Cheney’s contract with Satan example of Randian Objectivism falling far short of the consumer-friendly narrative of Capitalism her supporters would sell us. Hey, what’s another way to increase profits? How about sabotaging one‘s competitors? In Washington State, liquor sales used to be limited to sale at state-owned stores… very anti-capitalistic indeed! The free market hates stuff like that. Fortunately, that’s all been changed by a new bill which is being praised by conservative champions of capitalism. Under the new law, liquor sales have been opened to the healthy competition of all private stores qualifying for a liquor license… provided they are 10,000 square feet or more~! Hmmmm... what does square footage of the store have to do with anything? Doesn’t that sound weird? Not to Cosco and WalMart it doesn’t. Cosco only spent $22million convincing Washington voters that the only thing worse than having the state sell liquor was having mom and pop stores selling it. That $22 million investment will no doubt pay off handsomely to big box megastores in the years to come. Obviously this competition-limiting ploy is completely antithetical to the spirit of capitalism, but it is also completely attuned to the realities of how capitalism is practiced. The executives at Cosco did exactly what capitalism asked of them: maximize profits. The fact that we, as consumers, shouldn’t expect any price benefit from the new law (and in fact may suffer price increases) is irrelevant. The market is perfectly happy leaving consumers SOL. It’s countenanced monopolies, cartels, political favors, sabotage, and every other dirty trick in the name of profits. Ayn Rand seems to overlook this, which makes her glorification of industrialists look a bit juvenile and naïve. I said it in my other review, and I’ll say it here: capitalism is a pretty good system, when it isn’t too corrupt, but it’s nothing to build a religion around. When competition centers around prices and products, consumers do indeed benefit, but frequently competition focuses on hamstringing or outright destroying competitors, or removing consumers’ ability to choose against inferior, unsafe or otherwise undesirable products. So, maybe I should wrap this up… the movie was good, in that was faithful to the book, and kept me entertained. The movie has a good look to it, and I like that all the actors were all people I didn't recognize. This seems like the sort of film that would have been distracting to have a too-famous actor play in. Angelina Jolie was originally cast as Dagney Taggart, but left the project years ago. I think the actress who eventually got the part is more convincing than Jolie ever could have been. I must also admit that the movie did remind me about some of Rand's points which do appeal to me. I like to see people rewarded for hard work, ingenuity, and risk-taking. I like to see a system where freeloaders and parasites aren't rewarded. I like the idea that through a market structure of free choice and unlimited merit-based rewards, mankind might collectively find its way towards an ever-improving standard of living. What I don’t like are Wall Street assholes telling me that our current system is that perfect market, and that they are the Randian innovator-heroes who so richly deserve their outrageous wealth, and that they have somehow earned the “right” to look down on the rest of us as subhuman monkeys.Post Script: Sparrow was recently pointing out how antequated Atlas Shrugged appears, because of the importance it places on American railways, which have long-since been supplanted as the major means of travel and freight in this country. The movie deals with this by explaining that a second oil shock, in conjuction with a protracted nationwide truckers' strike, has forced the USA to turn back to trains. I don't know how satisfying that sounds, but at least the movie recognized that some explanation was needed.