Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Karl Marx's "Erupting Skin Boils" Gave Birth to Communism

What inspired Karl Marx to found Communism? Not humanism, as his defenders say.

Rather, a dermatologist suggests that Karl Marx suffered from "self-loathing and alienation" due to a repulsive and embarrassing skin disease.

Ugh, what a creep!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand

Libertarian satires of Ayn Rand extend at least as far back as Jerome Tuccille's nonfiction It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand (1971). Such works appeal to libertarians' conflicted admiration for Rand; her books inspired many readers to trek down the intellectual path to libertarianism, yet Rand's authoritarian personal life was a Stalinist parody of her individualist philosophy (e.g., her living room "show trials" of acolytes who'd violated the Objectivist "party line").

Rand herself was in no way conflicted over libertarians, whom she called "a random collection of hippies of the right." In 1976, she enthusiastically supported Gerald Ford for president over both Reagan and Carter, never mind the LP's Roger MacBride. Nor did she share many a libertarians' self-deprecating humor, which she regarded as a form of "sanction of the victim." She'd reputedly said that "laughing at yourself is like spitting in your own face." Who would John Galt laugh at? Not himself, certainly.

But all this history is mostly unknown to "outsiders," who often confuse Rand's Objectivism with libertarianism. Thus it may surprise Gene H. Bell-Villada (a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and, one presumes, a good "progressive") to learn that many libertarians will delight in his "The Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand," a 63-page novella that also lends its title to his 13-piece collection.

The novella will resonate with libertarians. Many of us have seen, or read of, or heard of real-life versions of Bell-Villada's characters. (I had a high school classmate who turned "Randroid" for a few years.) In "The Pianist," a university music student studies Rand to impress an Objectivist coed. But despite mastering an ability to spout boilerplate Objectivism, his amorous advances fall short of the Roarkian aggression needed to impress the coed.

Most of Bell-Villada's protagonists are nerdy Latinos; bookish beta males with a love of classical music. In "The Prize" a Puerto Rican boy is obsessed with a classical music radio station. But when he finally finds the courage to call the station and win a classical recording, it turns out to be an LP -- and his family's record player only accepts 78s. In "The Customer" a lonely engineer spends every Saturday savoring The New Yorker--articles, advertising, and all. His admiration for an unseen model's legs inspires him to drive to the liquor store and see if he can find a display ad featuring that same model.

In Randian terms, Bell-Villada's stories are naturalistic rather than romantic. Brief sketches of ordinary people pursuing minor dreams, defeated by petty, random events. His stories are satirical, minimalist, and literary. The sort of "slices of life" favored by university presses. Heavy on character rather than plot.

The Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand remains in print, and inexpensive used copies are available on Some of the stories are better than others, but libertarians shouldn't care. "The Pianist Who Liked Ayn Rand" alone is worth the price.