In Memorium

George Peter Wachtell

Photo by woostybrains

I just learned that G. Peter Wachtell passed away last month at age 91.

http://articles.philly.com/2015-01-03/news/57615195_1_daughter-physics-massachusetts-institute

Dr. Wachtell was an incredibly caring person with keen intellect, common sense and humor. He was a top physicist at the Franklin Institute back when I knew him in the 1980’s.

An inspiration to all who knew him, he encouraged me to go back to school after dropping out a dozen years earlier. On many Sunday afternoons, he would informally tutor me out of the kindness of his heart, showing me how mathematics was actually not so scary. A big part of what kept me persevering to earn my own PhD many years later was remembering his example.

I’ll never forget the sight of his old car arriving in a cloud of burnt oil smoke that continuously emanated from it. (No point in getting rid of a perfectly good car just because of a little smoke!) When I sold him my old Apple IIc computer (with extra CP/M processor that ran Turbo Pascal 1.0), he got very excited by it, finally being able to program complex physics problems in his spare time at home. Fun!

The thing that I’ll remember most about him is how much he loved his friends and family. All of the publications, awards and patents that he earned (and they were numerous) didn’t mean as much to him as those close to him. My heart goes out to them in their loss.

Rest in peace, friend.

Investing In My Telework

I realize that everyone who works remotely has a different style and preference with regard to communicating with his or her home office. Some rely on telephone. Some rely almost exclusively on e-mail. But I find that I really need to see and hear the people with whom I’m working as vividly as possible. I want to feel as if I’m actually in the meeting room. And I want the folks at the home office to experience the same feeling—as if I’m actually there with them.

Fortunately, this can be achieved nominally using inexpensive peripherals (e.g., web cams with built-in microphones) and web communications software (e.g., Skype). But, if one wants to go as “vividly” as possible, high quality peripherals, such as microphones, pre-amplifiers, analog-to-digital converters, audio PCIe cards and higher-end HD cameras are in order.

Computers and software tend to improve by leaps and bounds. You’ll generally have to buy a new product or upgrade every few years. But high quality peripherals like HD cameras, studio microphones and speakers take a much longer time to become obsolete.

Microphones are analog devices that haven’t changed much at all in fifty years. The most highly acclaimed studio microphone today, the Neumann U47, is a vacuum tube model released a half century ago. Some of the most highly acclaimed pre-amplifiers (the devices that mics directly plug into) haven’t changed much in fifty years either. Speaker technology hasn’t changed much during that time either–except to weigh less and have amplification self-contained.

I have a decent large-diaphragm condenser mic (Shure KSM27), plugged into a high quality pre-amp, the Focusrite ISA One. Before this week, I used to plug the analog output of the pre-amp into the line input of the computer, which causes the conversion from analog signal to digital to occur within the cheap PCI card where the line input port resides. Replacing this stock PCI card with a modern Creative Labs Sound Blaster Recon SB 3-D card (about $70) made a huge improvement to the sound quality. Additionally, connecting the pre-amp output to the Sound Blaster using digital TosLink optical cable wildly improved quality, too.

In my new setup, the analog-to-digital conversion happens within the Focusrite pre-amp itself—and it’s an exceptionally high-quality conversion. Watch this YouTube clip that someone who did the same thing posted: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nL9dhEcpw8k&list=HL1370299912

I can set my Focusrite to a sampling rate of 48kHz and Skype will honor it. The pre-amp can actually be set to a rate four times faster, but Skype will not honor it at the present time. So, this is what I mean about peripherals not becoming obsolete so quickly—it will be years before Skype will grow to having a faster sampling rate than this pre-amp can handle.

The same is true for high-quality webcams. The Microsoft Cinema HD webcam has a maximum HD resolution that only powerful gaming computers can handle. I bought it four or five years ago, when I had a much less powerful computer. At the time, the webcam automatically down-adjusted to the resolution that my computer could handle. Only now in 2013—using a Lenovo gaming tower—is it operating at maximum resolution.

I think the big change in webcam technology will not be higher resolution, but instead facility for using multiple webcams simultaneously. This might happen with the introduction of a USB peripheral that many webcams could plug into. The peripheral would automatically rotate between the several cameras during a call. Or this might also happen through software control. For example, Skype might one day honor more than one camera and perform the same automatic rotation without the need for a hardware device.

Another innovation in video teleconferencing will be the introduction some day of software like Skype that honors “green screen” technology. One day, I may be able to put green fabric behind me and Skype will replace the green color with—say—my company’s logo or a scenic picture.

So, I’m willing to invest in my teleworking future, starting with my peripherals. Eventually I hope to achieve the goal of having a Cisco Telepresence-quality meeting experience with my home office. Until that day, I’ll upgrade a component here and a component there until I eventually get there.

Beatle Optics 1964

I don’t usually write about the Beatles, even though I’ve been a huge fan of theirs from day one. There’s really no point in my writing about them, since there are a ton of websites and books, detailing every aspect of their lives. I don’t have much to add, being just a regular fan. But, with this blog piece, I just want to point out a few quirky observations about why I think the Beatles made such an impact on our American lives that day back in February 1964—in this case, visual impact.

Of course it was primarily their enormous talent that accounted for the impact that day on the Ed Sullivan Show. I don’t mean to detract from that. I’d never before seen a rock’n’roll group playing instruments and simultaneously singing live on television. Elvis and others before 1964 sang live, but with a backup group or orchestra. Also, the musicianship of the Beatles was so excellent that they sounded very close to the records that we’d been listening to night and day on AM radio for the prior two months.

But there was something about their visual impact on the television screen.

The “Big White Set” (BWS)

Top Hat Fred Astairbioedsullivan

Thirty years earlier, Hollywood film-makers coined the term “Big White Set” or “BWS,” in reference to the intentional black-and-white contrast created when Fred Astaire danced in his dark tuxedo against a blindingly white background set of ramps and staircases in his RKO movies with Ginger Rogers1. It made for a stark contrast where his every move stood out on the screen. I believe that the producers of the Sullivan show and possibly Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, intentionally recreated this effect for the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and other 1964 appearances.

We know that Brian Epstein required the Beatles to start wearing well-tailored suits. The band at around this same time started converting its equipment to all black. Their fawn-colored Vox amplifiers were re-covered in black Tolex material. John’s natural wood-colored guitar was repainted black2. George bought a black Rickenbacker guitar. Ringo bought a Ludwig “Black Oyster Pearl” drum kit. We also know that Brian Epstein required that the band be telecast in black-and-white for their 1965 Sullivan appearance, even though the show was already using color cameras at the time.

As both a Beatles and Fred-and-Ginger fan, I have to vote this no coincidence. There were plenty of camera men and directors in 1964 who honed their chops during the 1930’s and they certainly knew what a BWS was and how to effectively use it.

Big Men with Tiny Instruments

This is something that I’ve never seen discussed, but seems fairly obvious to me. I own copies of the Beatle instruments and I can attest that many of them are extra small-sized instruments. Lennon’s Rickenbacker 325 is a ¾ size guitar3 and McCartney’s Hofner 500/1 bass is also ¾ size in scale4. Even Ringo’s Ludwig drum kit was an odd, small size at the time (he later upgraded to a normal-sized one)5. (Just look at how the bass drum barely reaches roadie Mal Evan’s knee in the photo in hyperlink #5 below!) Only George had a regular-sized guitar, the Gretsch Country Gentleman, which looked bizarrely large to me at the time–most likely relative to all of the other small instruments on the stage.

Doesn’t anyone think that this image of large men playing small instruments added visual support to the impression that these men dominated and totally mastered their instruments? They were larger than life.

But I vote this one pure coincidence. All of these short-scale instruments were purchased in different years. In each case, the instrument was likely the only one remaining in the store where it was purchased. The Beatles probably just liked the look and sound of the instruments so much that they coped with the small sizes.

They Reminded Americans of the Late President Kennedy

The Beatles weren’t the first ones to have mop-tops back in the 1960’s. President Kennedy had one, probably owing to the influence of Mrs. Kennedy being a Francophile. The Beatles probably nicked the style from the French, too, on a visit there. Kennedy’s hair was unusual for the times that he lived in. I recall the Vaughn Meader comedy record, The First Family, repeatedly referring to the President as the man “with all the hair.”

kennedy

It seems reasonable to me, looking back in hindsight, that a nation who had lost its most beloved leader just a couple of months earlier saw something familiar and comforting in the young men from Liverpool in the suits with the mop-tops. The youth and energy that was cut down so senselessly in November was resurgent in February. We were moving on.

So, I just wanted to make these few observations, as a long-time fan. Let me know your opinion of about these visual quirks were real and, if so, intentional.

References

1 http://jetsetmodern.com/polglase.htm

2 http://www.thebeatlesgear.com/03ric325.htm

3 http://www.guitarcenter.com/In-Store-Vintage-VINTAGE-1964-RICKENBACKER-325-FIREGLOW-3-4-SCALE-108628502-i2951319.gc

4 http://www.voxshowroom.com/northcoast/hofner/hofner_guitar/62.html

5 http://ringosbeatlekits.com/home/

The Marconi Experiment

What Baby Boomer from Philly doesn’t have fond memories of WMMR radio’s “The Marconi Experiment?” It appeared like a blessing one evening in 1968, right after the Sinatra hour. Arise my heart, and fill your voice with music. For he who shares not dawn with his song, is one of the sons of ever darkness!” This spoken by guru Herman over the music of The Beatles song “Flying” in glorious STER-E-O!

Up until that time, young peoples’ music was strictly for playing on mono AM transistor radios or on mono portable record players. Old peoples’ music was for playing on FM stereos, which were the size of TV consoles and only owned by dads. The consoles played stereo radio and the stereo record collections of dads (show tunes, calypso and at least one stereo effects demonstration record for playing when other dads visited).

By accident, I got to hear the Beatles on my dad’s stereo console in 1967. My folks bought me the  new Beatles album “Magical Mystery Tour” for Christmas that year. But they didn’t notice that it said on the cover to play it only on stereo equipment (playing on a mono needle would actually damage the record!). My dad agreed to let me play it on his stereo console, since I already had it unwrapped before we noticed the warning.

So I plopped down two fluffy pillows on the floor between the awesome speakers (English-made woofers and tweeters with crossover wiring) and went to heaven listening to “I Am the Walrus” for the first time. I had to pretend in front my parents that I knew what I was listening to. But even I didn’t know—it was really weird stuff—yet delightfully weird.

Besides using his big stereo console for playing my one stereo album, my dad let me fiddle with the radio tuner on occasion. Nothing other than Mantovani, 101 Strings, Ferrante & Teicher or other lush elevator music ever emanated from it the full length of the tuner.

But I did genuinely like Frank Sinatra and enjoyed plopping down the pillows to listen to his hour of music. The debut of “The Marconi Experiment” caught me totally by surprise immediately following the Sinatra hour one evening. The poetic (“incantation”) opening with “Flying” in the background was a religious experience. To this day, it sends chills down my hippie spine it does!

Now I see that a “New Marconi Experiment” is appearing on the Internet! Check this out: http://iradiophilly.com/conversation.php?idConversation=2082

Heavy, man!

Mans’ Best Friend

A show on the History Channel last night said that dogs became mans’ best friend when wolves started hanging around cave people and eating their cooked food. This seems like a reasonable hypothesis about the origin of mans’ special relationship with dogs, since most dogs are so food-obsessed.

However, I can’t see how the show could say this with any authority. Wolves might have befriended man through playfulness instead. I could picture cave men and women being amused by throwing sticks and watching the wolves return them. That would have created a bond, too, especially if they refrained from eating the humans when returning the stick.

But if early dogs were anything like my dogs, they would have simply started following people around for no good reason. No food or play is necessarily involved. My dogs follow me into whatever room I go and just hang out with me as a rule. They don’t know why they follow me—they just do.

Maybe, too, it was simply love at first sight: one day we looked soulfully into the wolf’s eyes and they looked soulfully into ours, yielding the first “aw, such a good boy!” in history—this followed by the first belly-rubbing and face licking embrace between the species.

Whatever the reason, dogs and people are a perfect match for each other. We protect them; they protect us. We love them; they love us. My German Shepherd looks a helluva lot like a wolf; and I’m certainly not the most evolved human. I suspect that neither of us—the wolf nor the human—required much evolving to fall into this delectable, symbiotic relationship.

So We Meet Again, Henry James

The other day, I was browsing the Kindle store when I came across a biography of Henry James. My appreciation for James grew out of a course that I took at the University of Pennsylvania back in 1969 called “Major American Writers Since 1865.” The professor who taught the course was particularly fond of James, lecturing for hours on the beauty of James’ long sentences and the complex characters in The Bostonians and The Portrait of a Lady. I had never known anyone before with such a passion for literature.

An odd coincidence was that one of the customer reviews for the Kindle book was actually from my old professor. I clicked the thumbs-up “like” icon adjacent to his review and left a note in reply, saying that I was buying the biography on his recommendation; and that I considered it supplemental reading to the course—only 43 years delayed!

I look back fondly on those days now; but I have to admit that the Penn course really terrified me. I was just a senior in high school, attending on weekday evenings. The School District of Philadelphia was paying for me to take the course as part of its Motivation Program.

It terrified me because I really wasn’t prepared academically for college, yet alone an Ivy League school. This unpreparedness was evident even though I was near the top of my class in high school. I wasn’t actually a reader of books; and there weren’t any readers in my family. My dad simply read the newspaper each night before dinner and my mom only ever read Look magazine. In sixth grade, I tried to individuate and transform myself into a reader of books by getting my own library card. Even though I would check out interesting library books, I can’t say that I finished very many, having little patience for long stories on the printed page. Anyway, our house was always too noisy to read a serious book, what with the television playing all day and night long.

Although I didn’t get much out of the Penn course academically, it was highly motivating. (The Motivation Program sure got its money’s worth!) Just as it was for the character Jude in Jude the Obscure, the big university as a construct became something to which I aspired. I loved the old stone building of College Hall, where the course was taught. I loved my professor’s command of the lectern and—if my memory is correct—I even loved his tweedy wardrobe. There may even have been elbow patches on that tweed.

But the professor was also intimidating. I remember his saying that he would give an “F” to any paper that misspelled his name on the cover. (So I learned never to put his name on the cover.) Also, he required all reports to be typewritten on “20 lb. weight” paper. Well, it never before occurred to me that paper even had weight, yet alone 20 pounds of it! My dad never heard of “20-lb. weight paper” in his experience as a maintenance man. My mom never heard of it before either. So, the best I could do to meet the requirement was buy the finest paper that Woolworth’s offered and hope for the best. Looking back, I’m sure that the professor must have thought I was being a real smartass by handing in a report on tissue-like onionskin paper instead of the heavy, plain kind that he required. I got a “D” on the paper and I got a “D” in the course, which I deserved.

I never got past the first year of college in the year following that one, spending the next fourteen years delivering mail instead. But I always idealized academia. I wanted to prepare myself to get back to the big university by reading, reading, reading. Robin the Obscure. Robin the autodidact. And I did get back, eventually graduating from Penn and going on to earn a PhD after that at another university.

My appreciation for American writers transferred to love of European literature in my later years. I read all of Dickens and Hardy, my favorites. For a long while, I participated in a book discussion club, hosted by former Penn professor Peg Wettlin every Sunday at her home near the campus. Having been a professor in the Soviet Union for almost fifty years, she shared my respect for the classics.

In another James-related coincidence a dozen or so years ago, I met a Henry James on an airplane from Calgary to Philadelphia. We were seated next to each other and began an hours-long conversation on literature. He said that he used to be a professor of literature at Stanford University. I couldn’t tell if his name was Henry James because he was descendant of the writer; whether it was just a coincidence; or whether he was exhibiting the confusion of old age, thinking that he was the great man himself. What made the situation even stranger was his telling me that he also used to be John Kennedy’s classmate at Princeton and Stanford; and I was pretty sure that Kennedy went only to Harvard. But it was one of the most delightful experiences of my life chatting with him about books and authors—and hearing personal stories of the Kennedys, whether he was crazy or not. I will always cherish that conversation.

It turned out that he wasn’t crazy. His mentioning being interviewed for the A&E Biography of John Kennedy was something that I checked out by buying the video as soon as I got home. He was indeed named Henry James. And John Kennedy did attend Princeton and Stanford, where he was the President’s classmate and friend. (see for example http://www.insidesurgery.com/dailyjfk_wstest/page/11/ )

I can’t explain it, but Henry James has crossed my path several times in my life, even though he isn’t even my favorite writer. My take on these coincidences is that James must have been such an interesting person that, even after his death, interesting people like my professor and my airplane companion somehow surround his legend.

Baseball and Pocket Watches

It requires patience to watch a baseball game. There is no guarantee that the audience will see action. As critics point out, the rules of baseball have historically fostered a slow pace. It’s possible to win a baseball game without ever hitting the ball with a bat. When action does occur, it never involves the entire team. Half of the players on the field during any play stand still, just gawking at the action along with the fans in the stands.

But I like watching baseball, for all its lack of pizzazz; and the average American back in baseball’s heyday (one hundred to seventy-five years ago) watched it without whining about lack of action, too. Players weren’t any more exciting then than they are today. We fans have simply gotten more impatient. That is all.

For another example of modern American impatience, consider political history. When our grade school teacher told us that the Lincoln-Douglas debates lasted three hours each night for seven nights, didn’t our little jaws drop imagining Average Joes sitting still in the audience for three hours straight listening to two politicians speak for over an hour at a time without interruption? Had they nothing better to do with their time?! Short answer: no.

I think Americans back in those days accepted the notion that one had to cope with a lot of inaction to get to the moments of excitement. Whether it was a sport or a debate, action sporadically unfolded as permitted by the sport’s or debate’s rules and structure. There was a beginning, a middle and an end to the sport or debate. Folks weren’t even thinking about skipping over dull moments to get to the action the way that Americans do today when watching on a flat panel TV with a Tivo control.

Now if there are any Americans out there still reading this after my four, long paragraphs, I’d ask them to consider ways to reduce impatience in their lives. I’m not asking them to curb impatience because I know for a fact that it is bad. It just feels bad. Perhaps impatient people live longer than patient people, or they may have better sex lives. I don’t know—I’m neither a doctor nor a therapist. But it certainly feels unhealthy to be impatient, doesn’t it?

So grow your own fruits and vegetables; dry your clothes on a real clothes line instead of using an electric dryer; make your own furniture and bookshelves; restore something instead of replacing it; play real board games instead of computer games. Ride a bicycle with big, fat tires and a single speed—you’ll get there just the same! Take a train to Chicago from Philadelphia and back instead of an airplane; prepare a homemade version of your favorite frozen entree or pizzeria pizza. Hey, even write a blog entry instead of doing a short Tweet or Facebook comment!

One thing that I recently did was to stop using a wrist watch and stop reading the time of day from my cell phone. Instead, I bought an old railroad watch to keep in my pocket, except for the few times a day when I need to pull it out to read it. Except for a few major appointments during the day, I rarely obsess with time. Even if the pocket watch should run slow or fast (which it doesn’t—railroad watches are damn good timepieces, by the way), who cares really? Reasonable people are forgiving of being a couple minutes early or late for an appointment, as long as it is not habitual.

So, I’m going to think of all those packed bleachers in the glory days of baseball, which I saw in the Ken Burns series. And I’m going to think of those large crowds listening to three-hour Lincoln-Douglas debates, which I think I also saw in a Ken Burns series. And I’m going to stay boring and proud and happy not to be making sense of this world by means of short action clips and sound bites. It requires patience to watch life unfold.

My “Curse You, Bill Gates!” Weekend

It seems that at least once each year I spend an entire weekend resuscitating one of my Windows computers. This year, I revived an inexpensive HP tower that I bought a little over a year ago to use for videoconferencing. It came with a cheapo hard disk that failed several times during the year, which was a cry for help that it needed replacement. Each time, I was too busy to deal with it. Finally, I paid the price with the appearance of the iconic “Blue Screen of Death” during booting.

The “Blue Screen of Death” is Bill Gate’s version of the Twitter “Fail Whale.” No cute animation or even intelligible English messages for Bill—just “contact your system administrator” on an old MS-DOS style screen, followed by a stream of hexadecimal numbers. Whenever I see this message, I know that all hope is lost, because a home computer doesn’t really have a system administrator; and Bill obviously couldn’t care less.

But I did repair the damn thing by putting in a new (1.5TB!) system disk. It’s working like new now. Here are some tips that I’d like to share:

  • Buy Norton Ghost and use it for weekly and daily backups. Norton bought Ghost from a smaller company, who called it Drive Image 7. They renamed it Ghost without messing with the internals at all. I’ve been using Drive Image 7 since 2002, when I had a scare, almost losing all copies of a half-finished dissertation. After that scare, I researched the best backup products, which led me to Drive Image 7. I’ve used it to restore many crashed systems in the past decade, whether in the Drive Image 7 or the Ghost incarnations. It has never let me down.
  • Use the free product HD Clone 4.1 to make a clone of your boot disk, either to upgrade the disk or to save a backup. You can put the new disk in an external drive enclosure, like the Dynex SATA enclosure that Best Buy sells. Then use HD Clone to copy the C: drive onto the external drive. Then physically swap the drives. Keep the old, original drive as an emergency backup.
  • Don’t store your documents, pictures, movies or other data on your C: drive. If Windows 7 gets confused, you may have to reformat the C: drive. Install a second hard disk D: drive and direct all of your applications to read and write to this location. You can also instruct Norton to automatically back your C: drive “Documents and Settings” folder daily to the D: drive.
  • Modern computers typically don’t come with restoration CDs or DVDs anymore. Buy a cheap 16GB USB memory stick and follow the Help system instructions to make a bootable emergency copy of the Windows system to the USB stick. Put this in a safe place for when you get your own “Blue Screen of Death.” The stick can restore the C: drive to the way it was when you bought the computer.

Shredding

Woodstock marked the time when rock music started to suck. A key ingredient in rock, prior to 1969, had been the melodic hook of the song, very much as it had been in Tin Pan Alley. But Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix pulled the listeners toward Blues; and made long, wailing guitar solos the entire song. At around the same time, the record business transitioned from selling singles to albums, forcing consumers to tolerate roughly ten weak filler songs just to hear the one or two hit songs on each album.

 

Stadium concerts with fewer acts than the earlier theater revues popped up around that time, too. Just as albums did, these shows started off with a hit song, then offered a ton of filler schlock—often long, wailing guitar solos—and then ended on a hit song or two. The same formula for decades to come: lasers, smoke, colored lights and the obligatory fake standing ovation encore, launched by a sea of Bic lighters in the dark.

 

As it had prior to the British Invasion, the American music business began to manufacture acts instead of discovering them. After Woodstock, the corporatization of rock was in full bloom. Any act featuring buzzsaw electric guitars was a sure sell to teenage boys. And so, Ozzie begat Alice, who begat Kiss, who begat Slade, who begat Ted Nugent, who begat … after many more begats, Metallica and Megadeath.

 

Don’t get me wrong: Clapton and Hendrix are my favorite rock guitarists. It’s just that they enabled generations of unexceptional copycats to follow them. All of these copycats wiggle their fingers with blazing speed, all over the fretboard, coaxing squeals from their amplifiers and mastering foot action that controls an array of signal effects stomp boxes.

 

But it’s not my cup of tea. I love a melody, a beat, some harmonization and an interesting hook, all wrapped up in three minutes of joy! Virtuosos may wiggle and tap their fingers all over the guitar fretboard. I appreciate their talent—it’s very real; but it interests me personally about as much as the talent of a track-and-field star. Give me the three minutes of audio joy any day. Okay, now let me get back to my stack of 45s.

Objectivism

For someone who can’t stand Ayn Rand, I sure have read a lot of her books! I read them back-to-back when I was in my early forties, after a neighbor tried to turn me on to Objectivism. After each book, I found myself intrigued that I hadn’t yet figured this author out. The mystery of what motivated her to be so damn steely propelled me into reading the next one, even though I was accumulating a general revulsion to her with each book.

 

I hadn’t even heard of Rand until this neighbor, Linda, who rode the bus with me to work each day, revealed to me how Objectivism had changed her life. She’d gone to Harvard, where they had some sort of Objectivist club that she belonged to. She’d even met Rand once or twice, and spoke of her with reverence.

 

People from the blue collar world just don’t talk about such ideas as triumphant individualism; and are, for the most part, blissfully unaware of the Social Darwinist network that surrounds them. Objectivism lives in places like Harvard and in dining rooms of country clubs, not at the community college or in basement apartments that have been my experience.

 

Rand’s heroes are real titans—beautiful, strong, self-confident and excellent in every way. What’s not to like about them?! But I think it was the voluntary rape scene in The Fountainhead that first made me realize this author was perverse. I just couldn’t believe that any woman would write something like that.

 

Then came my realization that The Virtue of Selfishness wasn’t a serious book on modern philosophy with simply an unfortunate title, intended to shock. She genuinely believed that selfishness was a virtue. Take that, Jesus!

 

The thin book We the Living finally gave insight into what made this woman so mean. She was pretty clearly scarred by the experience of having lived through the Russian revolution on the losing side of the social order. I had a Russian language tutor at the time who experienced the same thing. As a young woman she had to flee with her family. Even as an ancient in America, a day never passed when she didn’t rant about the coarse and ill-bred Russian revolutionaries who stole from her family, all spoken in a magnificent pre-revolutionary Russian accent.

 

I have to admit that I never finished Atlas Shrugged. It said on the cover that it was one of the greatest books of all time, but it just seemed like an extended version of The Fountainhead, only with more political bitterness and less romance. Not one of the greatest books of all time. Just a paean to beautiful people with ugly souls.

 

We are all schmucks put in this world for reasons unknown. There are no superior beings and there is no class of moochers put on this earth to suck the life out of the superior beings. This is all a European fantasy.