Category Archives: The Mind

My Personal Happy Anniversary

Never mind the evildoers’ anniversary just commemorated on September 11. I have a personal, happy anniversary to commemorate on September 12. No, it’s not my wedding anniversary.

Exactly thirty years ago, on September 12, 1978, I met Ayn Rand for the first and only time.

I was about to start college at New York University as a seventeen-year-old freshman. My mother and I had to go to New York to do paperwork or pay tuition or something. But I had seen in my father’s copy of The Village Voice, which he rarely picked up, an advertisement that said “Ayn Rand in person!” in big black letters.

Only five years earlier, my brother had shown me the fresh copy of The Fountainhead he had purchased when it was a book he chose from a high school elective reading list. (Thank you, Mr. Lamdanski). He said, “Read the Introduction.” I was only 12. Still, I liked the Introduction. But I was not about to read such a long book.

When I was 13 and 14, I started looking for Ayn Rand books in the library. I mainly just wanted to know what her philosophy was, in her words rather than my brother’s, without having to read over 700 pages of fiction to get to it. I would get to the fiction later.

I read a library copy of For The New Intellectual. (Thank you, Asbury Park Public Library). This was the “Eureka!” moment. I knew she was saying the truth, and that I had observed much of it myself. I knew she was my kind of person.

So on September 12, 1978, I talked my mother into letting me see Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand was to assist Leonard Peikoff in a Q & A after his first lecture (of a series) on the philosophy of Objectivism. Visitors were permitted at the first lecture even if not planning to attend the rest of the lectures.

My mother did not intend to pay for a ticket for herself, so she waited outside the doors and I entered. I listened to Leonard Peikoff as he spoke, and watched him cover the bright light bulb over his notes (and under his face) when people complained that it was distracting. I paid close attention as it was my first time hearing such a systematic presentation of the philosophy.

When it was time for Q & A, Ayn Rand and Frank O’Connor entered from the rear doors and walked down the aisle to a standing ovation. I knew they had just walked past my mother, who had remained outside the room, listening.

Leonard and Ayn took turns answering questions, including my own, which people had handed in from the audience. Ayn Rand herself answered all of my questions, which was thrilling and I tried to take accurate notes to review later when I could think more clearly.

When Leonard answered, Ayn would sit and scan the audience with her enormous eyes. It was as if she wished to look into the deepest souls of each one of us, in a benevolent way. I saw her doing this as a sign of her wanting to know who her fans were, since they were her kind of people. She wanted to see and know the people who loved and understood her work. It gave her pleasure. This is, of course, just conjecture on my part.

No photography was permitted. But someone in the front row took photo after photo of Ayn Rand. She asked him (or her?) for the 35mm camera. She opened the back of it, and dramatically unrolled the entire roll of film, exposing it to the bright light in the room. She held onto the camera, saying he could have it after the event was over.

When it was over, I took my partially-read copy of Atlas Shrugged and stood on line to obtain Ayn Rand’s autograph. She asked me my name and how to spell it. Then she showed me the page where she had written, “To Greg Zeigerson.” I nervously said, “You didn’t sign it.” She said, “I know, but did I spell your name correctly?” I said yes. (I wanted to slap myself). She signed her name, exactly as her signature appeared on “The Ayn Rand Letter” to which I had subscribed.

I asked, “Are you happy with the movie version of The Fountainhead?” She said, “I wrote the screenplay, you know.” I said, “Yes, but are you satisfied with the final version?” She said, “They did the best they could.” Earlier she had announced that she was writing the teleplay of an Atlas Shrugged miniseries. I was a teenager about to start film school at NYU. I said to her, “I wanted to direct the movie of Atlas Shrugged!” (with the obvious meaning, I would be too late since the miniseries was already going to be made). She said, “Maybe you will. The remake.” This unexpectedly positive response was a moment I treasured. I nodded with seriousness, imagining with great hope that it actually was possible. She said, “You’ll get the rights from my children.” I pondered this, since I was unaware of any children, but I probably nodded again. She said, with humor, “But I have no children!”

I suspect she was thinking at that time about who would inherit the rights; perhaps it had not been settled yet. And her words may have just reflected that the topic was on her mind. This is pure conjecture, again.

Another fan told her he knew of a version of “Night of January 16th” being produced without her permission, with many changes in the plot and dialogue. She told him to call the producers the most obscene names he could think of, and “Tell them I said it.”

My mother met me outside the doors. I saw Leonard Peikoff there and asked if I could take his picture. He said, “You want my picture? Sure.” He seemed to think no one would want his picture. I still have that Polaroid photo.

(My mother decided that since Ayn Rand spoke against Ronald Reagan for opposing the right to an abortion, that Ayn Rand must be in favor of “free love.” It didn’t help that the cover of my copy of “We The Living” had a picture of two men and a woman, implying a love triangle, but which she interpreted as a “threesome” — “like in Cabaret, said my mother).

I will never forget meeting Ayn Rand, exactly thirty years ago tonight.

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Wall E is not Walt D

One of the most important qualities Walt Disney’s movies,television programs, and theme parks imparted to me as a child, and to children everywhere, was a feeling of reassurance. I’m referring to the works of Walt Disney himself when he was alive, and of his studio the first few years after his death.

Even if the story is about things going wrong in one character’s life, it is clear that there is a larger world out there of sensible people and a system and world that makes sense, that there is something called normalcy, and the goal of the characters is to get back to normalcy or better, to improve their lives and live happily ever after.

The Banks family in Mary Poppins is at first somewhat unhappy, but there is hope and magical delight in the world outside, and there is a policeman and there are friendly neighbors who bring runaway children home. The home of (1961’s)101 Dalmations’ owners is a happy, sane, home, and once the dalmations fight off the bad guys, they return to a state of eccentric yet happy normalcy. The world is expected to be filled with reasonable people who can get along and solve problems.

Even the satirical post-Walt movie The Barefoot Executive indicates that the larger world may be a little silly, but still okay at its core.

To a child, the sense of a system and society that is dependable and rational is extremely important to his feeling secure and optimistic, to his feeling free and motivated to learn and grow and become ambitious within that society.

The new Disney-Pixar movie Wall E is not at all in the spirit of Walt Disney’s movies. The characters of Wall E, Eve and The Captain are Disney-esque and very charming and funny. But the universe they inhabit is the opposite of Walt’s universe.

We are expected to believe and accept that in the future human beings (A) allowed a corporate monopoly to replace the U.S. Constitution (and all other governments) and become a dictator and (B) that no one noticed a problem with garbage disposal until it got so bad, the entire species had to leave the planet. In this dystopian vision of the future, the technology to build extraordinary robots and a spaceship that holds and takes care of the needs of the entire human population exists, but not the technology to get rid of garbage and plant trees or grass. Human beings are intelligent yet immensely moronic simultaneously.

Above all, the problem with this film — and the fact that busy parents, or their child care providers,will one day buy the DVD and play it over and over for their children without watching it —is the message that the universe makes no sense and the future is dark and adults are incapable of dealing with their problems until long past catastrophe. This is not a reassuring message to children who love life and can’t wait to grow up and flourish. It is harmful.

As my 5-year-old son said, “That’s a Garbage Planet. That’s not Earth. Why are they calling it Earth?” He understands that Earth makes sense. People are rational beings.

I explained it’s a make-believe silly story abou tEarth in the future where, as my wife said, “people become stupid” and can’t get rid of garbage. I reassured him and his sister that it’s ridiculous and that this is not going to happen in real life.

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Horton Hears A Who: Good for the Whole Family

We read the reviews that indicated that Horton Hears A Who was a good film and had nothing offensive for children, and so we took our five-year-old twins to see it. We all enjoyed it very much.

The story, as in the original Dr. Seuss book, is about aheroic dedication to justice, no matter the cost. Also, as Scott Holleran wrote at Box Office Mojo – click here –  it upholds careful thinking and learning about all the evidence rather than following pre-existing assumptions, tradition, or faith. It alsoupholds the value of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and of respecting every individual’s right to live regardless of non-essentials (“A person’s a person, no matter how small”). Obviously, in the story, any creatures that think, talk and act like human beings are considered persons.

This film contrasts dramatically with the offensive movie destruction of How The Grinch Stole Christmas of a few years ago(surprisingly directed by the usually talented Ron Howard). That film was full of vulgarity and it stretched out and undercutthe climax so that anyimpact was dissipated. I heard similar atrocities were committed against The Cat in The Hat ina recent version.

I understand the animators of Horton had previously created the film Ice Age, which I did not likebecause of too much vulgarity and scenes of torturous pain, inappropriate for children and unpleasant for me. Here with Horton Hears A Who, they clearly made an effort to be classier, and sensitive and respectful to the original material. However, there is a short preview of an Ice Age sequel before the Horton movie starts, and it is slightly disturbing for small children, but to a relatively minimal extent.

Incidentally, the same story is the major plotline in the musical Seussical. We took our children to see the shortened-for-children 90 minute version (or was it 60 minutes?) of Seussical when it played New York for free last summer and they loved it too. And the Seussical Broadway Cast Album became a great favorite.

In fact, our children have seen and loved every version of Horton Hears A Who, including the original book, and the superb Chuck Jones animated TV special.

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Yaron Brook’s OpEd on Forbes.com

I posted a comment after Yaron Brook’s OpEd on Forbes.com, regarding campaign finance restrictions limiting freedom of speech. I welcome any answers, here oron the Forbes page, tothe question I poseat the end of my comment.

The OpEd is HERE

Here is the comment I posted:

Yaron Brook explains well why this is not a small issue. Once we begin to lose freedom of speech, in small increments like this, the slippery slope becomes real. What will be left of the Founders’ Land of the Free? If America doesn’t protect its freedoms, where else can one go? One big question is raised by Brook’s comment, “A true crusader against political corruption… would seek to put an end to the government’s power to grant special favors to any group”: How do we put an end to the ever-growing powers that FDR, TR, Woodrow Wilson and others initiated in the early 20th century? Will it take new Constitutional Amendments restricting government power?

I would add now,  that a Constitutional Amendment won’t pass, and if it passes, won’t hold, until the American people more fully understand and embrace the idea of individual rights anda philosophy of self-interest and reason rather thanaltruism andpragmatism and majority-rule. So what is needed first is the full-scale education of the American peopleabout the only philosophy that corresponds to the nature of man and reality: Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. Fortunately the Ayn Rand Institute is making enormous strides in getting these ideas taught in high schools and universities and known to many more people via the internet and other media. Please support them.

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Atlas Shrugged’s Film Director

Congratulations to the late Ayn Rand on the 50th Anniversary of the publication of her masterpiece, “Atlas Shrugged.” It is still selling well and influencing the thinking of more people than ever.

I finally saw the movie, “House of Sand and Fog,” directed by Vadim Perelman. He has been selected to rewrite the screenplay by Randall Wallace (who was hired torewritethe screenplay by Jim V. Hart),and to direct the movie version of “Atlas Shrugged” starring Angelina Jolie as Dagny Taggart.

SinceI learned that instead ofthetrilogy that the producers initially planned, themovie is just going to be a singlestandard-length feature, I gave up all hope of it being even remotely representative of the 1,084-page novel. Remember, a screenplay for a two hour movie is about 100 pages long, with wide margins on both sides of the page whenever there is any dialogue.

I believe that Angelina Jolie is a talented actress who is capable of, and likely dedicated to, doing justice to the role of Dagny, despite any political differences she may have from Ayn Rand, soher casting did not have anyimpact on my pessimism.

But now that I’ve seen the director’s previous movie, I have even less hope for “Atlas Shrugged” to convey even the sense of life or essence of the novel.

This is the central conflict in “House of Sand and Fog”:

The government evicts a womanfrom her home unjustly, causing her tobecoming homeless anddetermined to reclaimher house,when an immigrantpurchases it at a government auction as a major step in his effort to use real estate to begin to raise his family’sstandardof living in the United States. Both are flawed but good people, and the film details the choices each one makes that result in a downward spiral.

“House of Sand and Fog” is the poster child for the “malevolent universe premise,” which Ayn Randcalled the viewthatman cannot achieve his values; it is theidea that successes are the exception, and that the rule of human life is failure and misery. This premise is antithetical to her philosophy, which holds that the universe is auspicious to human life if a man adheres to reality.

The movieshows human beings’ ordinary self-interested actionsto cause conflicts that result in tragedy due to tragic flaws in the characters, or on a more simple level,because of miscommunication and a government property-tax error.

“House of Sand and Fog”also suggests a mystical “determinism” philosophy. As Ben Kingsley stated in an interview with Charlie Rose, the film represents the Ancient Greek or Roman view that the Gods enjoy placing mortalstogether with precisely those others who would cause the maximum conflict and harm, just for thesport of watching the events play out.

I can find some good things to say about this movie and its director, however. First, the movie can be viewed as a critique of property taxes and of government auctions ofunpaid-tax-based foreclosed real estate. In this way the film supports the idea of an individual’s right to his own property. Certainly the bureaucrats in government are essential to causing the central problem in the movie.

But this message would have been clearer if the eviction was not the result of a mistake, but rather the result of standard state policy.

Another positive value in the movie is the way Ben Kingsley’s immigrant character is portrayed. His is one of the most dignified, self-respecting, noblecharacterizations I have seen in any movie.

Additionally, Vadim Perelman has an excellent ability to give proper weight to the emotional value of a scene by staying with it, rather than cutting away quickly. His unhurried pacing of the film gives the audience time to think and feel, unlike so many films today.

Another quality I appreciated is that there is no sarcastic or ironic humor in the dialogue.Perelman doesn’trandomly throw inmodern slang or cynical attitudes the way so many other filmmakers do these days. The characters say what they mean, eloquently, at times with beautiful language, and without irony. (That is not to say that the film has no “swear” words.)

Artistically, the film is sound. It is an almost perfect representation of the malevolent universe premise. The seriousness of thestory is given its proper weight.It is emotionally harrowing.You grow to care about the characters and see them as real people. (That is, as long as you believe they have volition and are not the playthings of the Gods). Vadim Perelman is a good director, based on this film.

Can Perelman switch his sense of life from dark to light? If so, and if the “Atlas Shrugged” script grows to 4 hours or more, perhaps there is hope.

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Free Speech Restrained in California

The California Supreme Court has recently ruled that certain prior restraints on free speech are permissible.

The case involves a woman who lives near a restaurant. She would publiclyrant against it,shouting falsehoods to potential customers, such as that the restaurant is involved with prostitution, drug dealing and the Mafia,and not only that, but it serves tainted food, too. She wasfound to have committedslander. However, there was an added injunction against her.

The majority opinion in the case captioned Balboa Island Village v. Lemenstated:

“Defendant [Lemen]…objects to …an injunction prohibiting her from repeating [in the future] statements the trial court determined were slanderous, asserting the injunction constitutes an impermissible prior restraint. We disagree.”

According to Howard Bashman in his blog “How Appealing”:

“Two justices dissented, and they reasoned that the injunction constituted an impermissible prior restraint on speech and that the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate that damages were insufficient to compensate the plaintiff for any harm that resulted from further repetition of the defamation.”

http://howappealing.law.com/042607.html#024669

I am alarmed at this decision and precedent. Ms. Lemen, the defendant, argued that “a statement that was once false may become true later in time.” I agree, and I believe one cannot morally or constitutionally prohibit speech before the fact. The Court rejected that argument concluding that further legal motions could be made by either party if things change. I disagree, and believe if she is punished for slander, that is motivation enough for her to cease. If she slanders again, then anothersuit or motioncould be made for that new event, and eventually she will cease. But taking prohibition of speech as the status quo and then requiring motions to modify or dissolve the injunction if things change strikes me as backwards-thinking, a presumption of future guilt,and a violation of rights. I’m not an expert and I would welcome any informed opinions.

An easy-to-read and thoughtful commentary on this case by Vikram David Amar is at this site: http://writ.news.findlaw.com/amar/20070511.html

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Racism, Freedom of Speech and Mikko Ellila

Prodos has posted on his blog the English translation of Mikko Ellila’s essay. See http://prodos.thinkertothinker.com/?p=325.

Mikko’s essay has some racist notions. While I totally disagree with those notions, I still uphold his right to freedom of speech. Speech isn’t force. If individual rights are to be respected, everyone must be permitted to express any ideas, no matter how false or unpleasant. Ina freemarketplace of ideas, the best and truest ideas win out in the culture eventually. Once some types of speech are prohibited, any other type of speech can be next. I uphold the right to freedom of speech for Mikko, as well as Don Imus and Howard Stern, as well as Nazis and Klansmen and even Al Gore and John Kerry, despite the degree to which they all offend me. Every dictatorship controls speech because the dictator knows it is in trouble once the people learn the truth.

For a vision of a world without freedom of speech, see Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451”. (Incidentally, Ray Bradbury has expressed anger at Michael Moore for stealing and distorting his title without permission,for Moore’s so-calleddocumentary film with a similar title).

Having defended Mikko’s right to write anything he wants, I will now comment on why I disagree with his essay. Mikko’s essay suggests that members of a race share the same traits. Even if some members of the same race share certain traits,it isvirtually never true that all members do,unless it is a meaningless and irrelevant physical trait that defines the race such as skin color.

In life, one deals with one person at a time, not all members of a race. (Even when addressing a group, you are addressing each individual in the group.)Each person creates his own personality, and achieves what he is able to or wishes to, based on the choices he makes and actions he takes within the context of his level of freedom, knowledge and ability, and the limitations imposed on him by his circumstances. Each person is an individual and his race is irrelevant. What he shares or doesn’t share with other members of his race has no bearing on howyou interact with him.

If you recognize reality, you treateach person as an original, unique,irreplaceable self-created individual. There is no collective mind, only individual minds. (There is a Collective Soul, but that’s just a rock group, who has admitted to taking its name from a line in Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.”)

Individualism is the only way to fight and end racism. Taking each person as unique and respecting each person’s rights equallyleaves no room for considering other members of his group. Capitalism is the only system that rewards individual effort and allows anyone to achieve what he can on his own initiative,regardless of any facts about any other members of his race or group. Individualism and Capitalism are the means to end racism.

For a more eloquent discussion of these issues, please see Ayn Rand’s essay “Racism” in her book “The Virtue of Selfishness” excerpted at http://freedomkeys.com/ar-racism.htm..

See alsoGeorge Reisman’s Essay “Capitalism: The Cure for Racism” excerpted at http://www.capitalism.net/excerpts/1-931089-07-8.pdf and available at http://www.capitalism.net/gr_pamph.htm.

See also Peter Schwartz’s essay “The Racism of Diversity” at http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=3399

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Free Speech Threatened; Blogger Persecuted

One of our http://ThinkertoThinker.com bloggers, named Mikko Ellila, is having his right to freedom of speech threatened by Finnish authorities. Although I cannot read Finnish, I completely support Mikko’s right to express any opinions and present any facts.

His blog is at http://mikkoellila.thinkertothinker.com/

Prodos’ May 3, 2007 blog post details the issue: http://prodos.thinkertothinker.com/

Mikkos wrote to Prodos the following:

“I am writing to you because I received a letter from the municipal
police department saying they want to interrogate me because of the
anti-Muslim, pro-Israeli, pro-European, pro-American posts in my
blog. According to the letter, I am suspected of hate speech merely
because I have pointed out that Islam is a fascist ideology that
advocates killing Jews, atheists, homosexuals etc. …

This is a very important symbolic case, the first of its kind in
Finland. Noone has ever been interrogated before in this country for
blog posts criticising Islam. Probably thousands of people will befollowingthis case already before I will visit the police station for the interrogation next Monday, because I have told about the
ongoing police investigation to several other bloggers whose pages
get thousands of visitors per day.”

Some action that you can take on behalf of freedom of speech and Mikkos Ellila, action that blogger Baron Bodisseyrecommends, includes:

Contact the Finnish authorities. The Finnish embassy has a handy US map with state-by-state contact information here: http://www.finland.org/en/

Here’s the main contact info for their embassy in Washington:

Embassy of Finland
3301 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
Washington D.C. 20008
U.S.A

Tel. +1-202-298 5800
Fax: +1-202-298 6030
E-mail: sanomat.was@formin.fi
Homepage: www.finland.org

Per Baron Bodissey: “Don’t be shy: remind the Finnish authorities how highly-regarded free speech is in their country. It seems that they may have forgotten that.”

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I’m Still Here

I haven’t been blogging for awhile but I will be doing so again.

I am taking a TV writing classtaught by aprofessional TV writer, and I will end up with a pilot script by the end of it. It’s loosely based on my first screenplay which I had put aside as needing more thought and improvement. I suddenlyrealized thata TV series format could be perfect for the content of the first half of my feature. Stay tuned for more on that. So far I’m thrilled with the response to my work in the class. Of course it’s “impossible” to sell a pilot but one has to try.

Some of the many topics I have thoughtof blogging about are the Presidential candidates for USA Election 2008 (So far I don’t see any better candidates running or likely to run than Rudy Giuliani, despite hisshortcomings–he understands and knows the facts of history, and I believe hewouldimplement a foreign policy of self-defense; he firmly stood up against Arafat anda Saudi royal in his mayoral career–and I think it’s important that he gets early and consistent support so he has a chance to win), the Broadway show Mary Poppins (I would give it a mixed review; the storyline makes less sense compared to the movie, Mary leaves thehousehold in the middle–that’s not what I came to see–yet Mr. Banks blames her anyway for causing all the trouble, some of the songs have lost their oomph and rhythmicpacing,the orchestra is too small, the wife has become a victim instead of a confident suffragette,and there’san overallpsychotherapy-session feeling,but it has lovely and thrilling moments nonetheless and is very entertaining), and the movie Breach (I liked it–how strange that a man can compartmentalize his knowledge to such an extent, evading the results of his misdeeds, disconnecting his religious beliefs from his actions, etc. Great acting by Chris Cooper, and adequate acting by Ryan Phillippe. The book on Robert Hanssen surveyed his entire career but the film justportrays its last days, an effective choice).

Well, I guess I don’t have to blog on those topics any more. But feel free to reply with comments and I’ll clarify anything too sketchy above.

Meanwhile, I have to get my taxmaterials to my accountant before he gets overburdened by last-minute submissions, and I am trying to get a lot of computer-related technical stuff done (I always procrastinate on that, I’m just not a computer-oriented person although I am glad they were invented).

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Emmy-Winner Hugh Fink on The Zigory Show

In another Zigory Show about the art and business of entertainment, Irecently interviewed Hugh Fink, a stand-up comedian, television writer and producer who has won an Emmy for NBC’s Saturday Night Live. He has also taught comedy at UCLA. This new episode of The Zigory Show will soon be available for listening and downloading on http://zigory.solidvox.com/.

He was the subject of an article in the New York Times on October 17, 2006about his plan to perform at his alma mater that went awry due to an attempt by authorities to alter his routine.We discuss this incidentinthe Zigory Show interview.

An articleabout David Spade’s Showbiz Show, with quotes from Hugh,its creator and producer, appeared in the New York Times on September 15, 2005(reprinted in itsentiretyelsewhere on September 28, 2005)and Hugh is also quoted in a Times article about Saturday Night Live on January 2, 2005.

I have known Hugh since our college years at New York University. It was great fun catching up with him and fascinating to hear his views on what makes something funny, what is the most important element in writing goodcomedy, the different types of humor, what one motivationhe believes all comedians have in common, and the steps of his career so far fromclass clownto stand-up comicto writer-producer. We discuss today’s edgy humor and what value it can have, what areits disvalues when mishandled, and compare it to softer, lightercomedy such asThe Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Whether you agree with his opinions or not, he is a knowledgeable,experienced professional in comedy whose comments are of interest to anyone with a curiosity about entertainment and humor.

(To contact Zigory please email me at zigory@comcast.net.)

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