Surly Brewing

Through frequent suggestions, a persuasive desperation, and a sympathetic audience, I was finally able to make it to Surly Brewing, probably the best brewery in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area – at least according to Beer Advocate.  And, on the strength of their IPAs I’ve had, I’m not going to contest the “objective” reference.

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Surly constructed a $30M “destination brewery” which opened over a year ago.  And, by car or bicycle (implied by the racks and their likely use by nearby University of Minnesota students), it’s a worthy one.

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Upon entering, you’re greeted with a clear view into a portion of the brewery, and the investment is readily apparent in the flooring and the mammoth concrete slab through which the tanks descend.

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Venturing further, you find a fairly spacious beer hall as well as a second floor with an upscale restaurant and an event/meeting space that overlooks another section of the plant.

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The beer list was considerable, including many offerings not bottled or readily available.

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From this I selected Furious Black, a roasted version of their trademark Furious IPA.  Here it is, after a couple of sips as taking a photograph is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when beer is placed in front of me.  It was tasty and another step along the path to see if I can find a black IPA that I like as much as the usual varieties.  I’m not there yet.

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Afterwards, I had the Hopshifter #3, which was sadly decent but not overwhelming.  Had I spent more time researching, I might have noted that Todd the Axe Man is Minnesota’s highest rated IPA.  Dangit.  That puts me in the unconventional position of seeking the axe man next time I’m in town. 

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As it sometimes happens, the best thing about the venue was actually the chopped brisket sandwich.  This has less to do with beer mediocrity as opposed to a really tasty sandwich.  It’s a bonus.

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With 55,000 sq.ft., Surly isn’t limited to a shelf in the corner for their souvenirs.  Sadly, their store does not include beer as they have apparently grown to a volume where the State does not permit it.  The entrenched alcohol distribution companies hold their sway over legislatures everywhere it seems. 

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The only other disappointment (#1 – no cans of beer to go, #2 – failure to select the Axe Man) was the kids.  There’s no discernible kids menu, and event the pub food offerings were not inexpensive.  I guess modern breweries are kid friendly, and those that fester in  ancient warehouse or manufacturing spaces are for adults only?  Well, more research is necessary.  Next up as trips to MN allow:  Bent Paddle (on a summer day),  Insight Brewing, Fulton Brewing and Summit Brewing.  I’ll have to pace myself.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival

I was in Saint Paul, MN for business, and a co-worker informed me of the two week Winter Carnival that would be ending shortly.  This is when residents go crazy and… go outside into the cold night to drink cold drinks, listen to music and to take in the ice sculptures.  To be fair, there are other events, including a film festival and three parades.

I didn’t have the time or timing for all of that, so I made a quick trek through Rice Park in the 15o heat.  Saint Paul is the childhood home of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, and statues are scattered in the area, unphased by the weather (in fact, looking much more charming than when I last saw them adorned with bird droppings).

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There’s a temporary ice skating area, and I admit that I was somewhat pleased to see that the natives flounder around the rink as much as southerners.

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Rice Park fronts the eyecatching Landmark Center which has a greater architectural presence than a historical one.   At night, it’s a colorful place – at least during the Carnival period.

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Closer in, there’s an ice restaurant, ice bar, a BBQ vendor, several other beverage outlets and a souvenir tent. 

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On to the ice statues.  Here’s a paddle wheel, I think.  The added lights are great for color, but they give off a hue that along with the limited viewing angle make some objects difficult to decipher. In any case, it’s very intricate and very much 3-D, standing perhaps 3’ high.

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Below is a fish horse rather than a seahorse. Some of the other smaller ones were not illuminated and proved difficult to photograph.

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The larger ones, though, were easier to make out.  Below is Kylo Ren from the latest Star Wars installment.

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If he’s not familiar yet to you, then this one should be.

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I had to tinker with the two photos above, taken with a decent Canon, to show them crisply (in fact, more clearly than they appeared in person).  To give the iPhone credit, it took a decent shot (below).

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Still, I can’t help myself from post-processing…

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There really were a couple of other larger structures that included a person and a fish standing in front of a shell and another that possibly includes a horse and a fish.  Here.  Click on it to make it bigger and you make sense of it.

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Meanwhile, good intentions of looking up for different perspectives sometime result in cool pictures. I’ll attribute the motion to ungloved freezing hands.

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I’m mindful that I normally take pictures of things rather than people.  Other than landscapes, the human element adds character, emotion, scale and other impacts to a photograph, so I intentionally captured a few shots with people.  Hey, it’s difficult taking a picture of people’s backs!  This couple, I would like to think, enjoyed their evening and were headed to a warm hearth or the modern equivalent thereof.

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Drone Racing

I somehow came across Quartz, a news/magazine that has a somewhat higher incidence of interesting articles than other sources, and they touch on a wide variety of subjects.  One of those turned out to be drones, those meddlesome toys of inconsiderate people (and potentially terrorists) that are in the news.  As a result of reasoned aggravations, near-misses with commercial flights, and general recognition that there is a utility for drones for those seeking to cause others harCapturem, the FAA now requires that owners register their drones if they weigh more than 5.5 oz.  Other than a drone that tries to control in their house or backyard, that’s pretty much all of them.

They’re loud.  They can be intrusive or invasive even.  But they’re also a boon to photographers and videographers, insurance companies to inspect claims damages in difficult to access areas, farmers for remotely checking crops and fences, realtors for advertising properties, etc.  It’s the typical progression of “Here’s a new thing.  How do I monetize it?”

There are several groups internationally who are promoting drone racing as a sport.  I haven’t tried to fly one, but I enjoy reading Amazon reviews by people who review the product with a judgment reading “It just flew away.  I never found it.”   But technology advances, and for a price the good stuff can be had.   The best video so far was on Quartz, and as I can’t find a way to directly link it, please click HERE.   Besides, it looks great in full screen view.  It’s also a very informative article.  Go ahead, click it.  Otherwise, it’s pointless reading further.

Okay, watched it? I’m left wondering how many slow speed trial runs were allowed for practice, and how many scratch marks there are on the walls and elsewhere from crashes.  Here’s another video at the Drone Nationals – it gives a hint already at how the technology is improving. 

 

And, for a more real world view, here’s a couple playing with presumably expensive toys, visual signal disruptions and the joy of accidents.  

Finding Cousins (DNA)

Autosomal DNA testing is the “family finding” DNA method.  In my case, as an adoptee, it’s a search for close relatives.  However, for anyone who wants to flesh out their family tree, this testing will identify cousins near and far based on genetic matches.  Should those cousins either post their family tree or otherwise be willing to discuss their heredity, then blanks can be filled in.  Add on the research tools from Ancestry.com and a number of other genealogical web sites, and quite specific details can be added (births, deaths, marriages, census data for occupations, draft registrations, obituaries, etc.).

To understand the challenge, let us begin with the 22 pairs of chromosomes that are shared from parents to their children, 50% from each parent, who in turn had 50% from each of their parents.  Viewed another way, a child has roughly 25% of the DNA from each grandparent.  Or 12.5% of the DNA from each great grandparent.  And so on.  So, somewhere in the past is an ancestor whose genetic material has been gradually dissipated through the generations, but also mixed with others as each child marries.  All of this provides a mathematical model for predicting a relationship based on the percentage of DNA shared with another person.  That sounds easy, but the number of matching DNA segments, the length of those segments (called centimorgans - cM), and the longest shared segment all factor into the algorithms which try to predict the number of generations to a common ancestor from one cousin to another.  Still, the following chart shows the straightforward percentages of DNA shared by others to yourself.

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Numerically, we would share 25% of our DNA with an aunt (or uncle), and less than 1% with a third cousin.  That’s a tiny bit, so you have to account for laboratory margin of errors as well, not to mention by whose protocol is followed regarding minimal strand length to be worth counting.  That’s all done by the DNA company, and they do state their base criteria.   So, let’s see.  Ancestry.com has identified 6 persons who are estimated to be potential 3rd cousins, another 497 that are 4th cousins, and another 14,000 who are more distant.  Only, as you may suspect, none of that is exact.  A third cousin might be a second cousin or a fourth cousin, and any of those fourth cousins might be sixth cousins.  It’s a game of probabilities, hampered by genetic mutations and variations in how much DNA is passed on from prior ancestors – despite the simple explanatory math, the sharing is not all in even, predictable increments as the chart would indicate.

Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) hedges their bets more than Ancestry.com.  It seems some people do not understand the  uncertainties or get angry when the predicted relationship is demonstrably inaccurate.   FTDNA indicates 115 matches regarded as 2nd – 4th cousins (see how they avoid saying 3rd cousin?), and another 1900 3rd-5th or further related cousins. 

Databases vary as well.  There are some people who have tested at both of these companies or who have shared results from Ancestry on the FTDNA website, as I did.  There are also other testing sites (23andme.com, dna.land) as well as one unaffiliated with a commercial interest (gedmatch.com) where data can be uploaded by the user for comparison against whomever else chooses to do likewise. Across all these databases, that’s a lot of cousins.    They’re all blood relatives; it’s just that the relationship is a mystery – even if one is not adopted.  But it does get confusing when you find ancestors of cousins – in about the era where you’re hoping to find a common match – and the people live in:  VA or NC (where I wish they all resided), TN, KY, IL, WI, WV, SC, GA, MS, TX, IN…  All that just means that the relationship goes even farther back to whatever sorry bloke undetermined ancestor gathered the family in the wagon and headed west.  Or south.  Or north. 

The third cousin cousin statistic of  0.781% equates to 53.13 centimorgans (cM).   I have zillions of matches who share about that amount.  However, the variance around that total shared length is not a narrow one.   For example, second cousins tend to share 212.5 cM, but in extreme cases can actually share as little as 47cM or as much as 760cM.  So, the math is only helpful to a point. 

Here’s a look at the exercise before me.  DNA suggests that my closest match is a second cousin, once removed.   The “removed” part of it means that the person’s relationship is either one generation fewer or greater than my own from a common ancestor.  I have determined that this cousin is older and therefore belons in the right hand column of the chart below, rather than the adjacent.  That would mean that her great grandparents are my great great grandparents (which I’ll denote as ggg).  

 

Easy!  Up the ladder and right back down. Only… each generation has two parents who each have two parents… so that’s actually 4 pairs of potential ggg’s.   This goes back to the 1800’s, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that they were farmers.  Based on census records, it seems they each averaged about 8 kids (because farms need farmhands), who each had 8 kids… and, it’s a nightmare of tracking people.  If eight were assumed per generation, that’s 2,048 possible parents.  Oh, and then there’s that statistical error of margin which may actually place the relationship at least one generation further back, so multiply by 8 again.   I would much prefer that a second cousin or closer just happen to take the DNA test and show up on my relative list. 

It’s helpful that so many people have publicly viewable family trees, and my closest match, although her tree is not public,  shared a good bit of information with me.   That helps.  It does not help, however, that my parents were most likely born in the 1940’s.  Census data is very helpful in showing members of households (as I’d like to pin down candidates based on my original birth surname and the county in which I was adopted), but the 1940 data is the most recent available, and these are not made public until 75 years later.  So, in 2025, I’ll get some more clues from the 1950 census,  perhaps.  The other difficulty is that the common convention in family trees is to remove the names of anyone still alive.  Privacy.  Makes sense.   But it leaves (living) dead ends in the search, unless an obituary of elder family members can be found or noted relationships on sites that catalogue cemetery tombstones.  Either of these can lead to the names of surviving family members.  Otherwise, there is a host of varied websites made for family research.  And, generally, Google.

Thus begins the process of triangulation, looking at family trees of related cousins hoping to find a common ancestor, usually done with a 3rd cousin or closer as records are fairly good through the last 200 years.  The DNA websites help as well.  Not only will they tell you who your cousins are, but which cousins share DNA themselves.  You don’t know whether they link to your maternal or paternal side, but it’s a starting point if they happen to have family trees available.  Given the masses from which to choose, this is at least a smarter approach to finding that ancestral starting point for the time consuming process of finding descendants.  This task isn’t hard, per se.  It just consumes a lot of time which ultimately ends up in either finding a person or not finding a person.  If not, there is not much else to do except note the dead ends and hope for better results elsewhere.

There is also the “just ask them” approach.  Some will respond, and of those, some will respond helpfully.  But no one has the time to sift their own tree in your interest, really, so you have to present them with a starting point, such as surnames you’ve frequently come across. 

So, if someone were to ask me, “Why aren’t you blogging more frequently?”  This is one of those amusements which consumes my time.  And movies. And games.  And TV shoes.  And music.  And work.  And sleep. And a brewery visit.  

whY-DNA

The genetic journey began some months ago, with a fairly reasonably priced test with Ancestry.com.  Genetic testing is useful for determining one’s ancestral origins, but it is also a backdoor method for adoptees to find their birth parents or vice-versa… if both parties get tested and share their results within the same database.  Ancestry is one of three domestic companies that perform DNA testing and house databases against which DNA results can be compared to find relatives.    Some users choose to make family trees available, some provide no contact information, and some provide information but otherwise do not participate for those looking to establish connections.  Each to his own.

There are different types of tests one can take.  Autosomal DNA, which identifies the 22 pairs of chromosomes that are inherited from parents, is the most useful for people to find their ancestors and cousins via DNA matches of others who have tested.  Another is mitochondrial testing, which analyzes DNA within cells passed exclusively from mothers to all of their children, but sons do not pass it on.  This can be useful in identifying direct maternal descendants, but is more often used in identifying ancestral origins through movements of population through the centuries evidenced by commonalities in their genetic codes, referred to as haplogroups.  So, for my female haplogroup, you can see by clicking this copyrighted link and observing haplogroup T2 a general movement of my ancestors towards Europe about 20,000 years ago. I kind of like the arrows suggesting movement over time, because the static picture of information (yes, much determined from ancient remains), is more a story of “where not” rather than “where.”

As it stands, the details from those people who I matched point to Germany, England, Ireland and Scotland for their ancestors, but for any further clarification, I would need to spend another $159 to get the full sequence examined rather than just the basic branch.  This really is not helpful unless genealogy becomes a passion coupled with abundant spare time.  Currently, I and my 10 or so “matches” have a 50% chance of having a common ancestor in the last 28 generations (about 700 years).  The upgrade would boost that to a 95% confidence of being related within 22 generations – about 550 years (but a 50% chance within 125 years).  DNA testing is a business after all, but the science grows along with the combined database, a portion of which is supplied by enthusiasts who pay to have the finer details examined.

The last is Y DNA.  Aside from the autosomal “cousin” test, there’s an additional pair of chromosomes that determine gender, the mother contributing an X chromosome and the male contributing either an X or a Y .  If there is a Y, then the child is a male, and it is passed strictly from father to son.  A male, therefore, might learn a bit about surnames based on others who share the same Y DNA.  So I did that, and, at least in the one data set, there’s Needham, Fearn, Lowe (3), Blore, Oakley, Johnson, Marrison, Graves, Thompson and two Hills.  That’s interesting, but it’s not like 10 listings of a single “most likely surname.”   Why not? Well, two reasons.  One is that, like my own particular circumstance, the Y chromosome is somewhat frequently bequeathed in what genetic genealogists call a “non-paternity event.”  That’s where a son carries a different surname from that of his biological father, the kind of thing that happens when parents don’t wed or are not wed, and the child takes the mother’s surname or someone else as an adoptee.  Secondly, genetic mutations occur occasionally.  When this happens, it usually demarcates a genealogical time frame rather than a shift between each generation.  So, my closest Y-DNA match has a “genetic distance” of three.    One genealogical distance is a time frame of only 100-200 years, so… do the math.  Like the mtDNA, unless someone alive takes the test and it matches exactly across all markers (a match with a genetic distance of 0 across many, many markers), it’s not useful in identifying a living male ancestor. (And, testing all markers runs around $500).  There is the odd chance that someone is close enough to match within the last 200 years or so, with at least some chance of examining a family tree from autosomal testing to work backwards to the present.  More on that in a later post.

That doesn’t mean that it’s without interest.

So, like mtDNA, there are haplogroups assigned to the male data.  Due to population growth and those dang mutations, some of the once distinct haplogroups merged to look very similar over time.   Short tandem repeats (STR) represent part of the DNA code where a letter sequence is repeated.   For example, AGTAAGTAAGTA is three repeats of AGTA.  These have, in genealogical terms, a fast mutation rate as they increase or decrease the number of repetitions.  Additionally, they tend to back mutate periodically.  These are useful for determining how recently males are related.

But, there is also SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism), which, roughly describe a single, small change in the DNA code.  Relationship between matches is certain, but not the timeframe.  SNPs effectively form branches which themselves can be traced, which to my understanding are termed “subclades.”   And I haven’t chased that particular rabbit as far as it goes, because there is an evolving understanding of these “clades” and “subclades” as more people are tested repeated patterns identified.  

Reading professional or hobbyist groups are somewhat entertaining as numerous contentious enthusiasts debate migratory patterns of small groups of men long dead, citing theories, formulas, and tremendous amounts of conjecture.  R1b-U106 members have their own discussion group termed “The Haplogroup of Scientists and Kings.”  I might edit that to “Scientists, Kings, and Philanderers.”  But, in any case, subclade Z-156, where I belong, has an estimated origin of 2300 BC, which I assume to mean is when the mutation set now observed began to appear.  There are further subclades that exist beyond this which await only an “Upgrade” button on the company’s site.   The testing I’ve already done suggests I just missed out on the House of Wettin.  To see how geeky things get, here are the DNA credentials to join the “King’s Cluster.” 

Here’s another migratory map (click R) based on Y-DNA which pretty much says the moms and the dads flocked together.  No surprise there.  Sub note: It’s the most frequent haplogroup in Western Europe.  Information gets filtered different ways, depending on the tests, the database, and the algorithms.  Here’s a map from one site’s interpretation of my autosomal data:

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That’s 47% British Isles, 25% Scandinavian (Vikings!), 21% Southern Europe and 6% Eastern Europe.  And here’s an interpretation from another site. 

Their smudge factor implies less certainty…  In any case, that’s 34% Great Britain, 23% Scandinavia, 15% Ireland, 13% Western Europe, and 7% Italy/Greece.  Which means, at the end of the day, my ancestors lie in the same continent as most everyone I know who looks kind of like me. 

A Day at the Mart

My wife has been going to the AmericasMart Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market for a number of years now.  She doesn’t go to buy anything but rather to catch up on the latest colors and themes that may influence her glass art direction.  For me, that means a quiet day at home followed by the arrival of a variety of canvas bags filled with convention junk, such as various cups and an extendable back scratcher.  But not this year.  One of her Mart buddies is no longer available, and the other wasn’t available for this show.  I’ve always been a little curious, so… “Yes, I’ll go and play the role of ‘bag holder.’”

I don’t know the current statistics, but in 2014, this convention had an attendance of 91,000 with an economic impact of $133M, ranking it #1 in the local convention market.  That’s pretty significant for the local economy as well as a harbinger of the retail times, as the Mart primarily exists to introduce retailers to new products.  The second Mart of 2014 ranked 3rd, with 73,000 attending.  So… observations.

The three buildings are mammoth.  I’ve been in them for other business purposes, but this was the first time when there was a buying horde.  Usually, it’s a bunch of stores with a single employee looking hopeful for any kind of company, be it in person or on the phone. 

This is the central atrium of one building.  Elsewhere, it’s a figure 8, or similar, maze.

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As the diagram doesn’t quite suggest, the challenge of finding treasure involves finding the escalators, open stairwells, one of 24 pedestrian bridges to adjacent buildings, and/or an elevator that hasn’t yet motivated you to seek one of the other methods of migration.

Another observation is that aside from other rarely observed “bag holders,” the Mart is filled with women, ages 18-80, and they dress for the occasion, I would surmise, to represent the vibe of their own gift/furniture/whatever stores, wherever they may be.  This is to say that few dress down and some, more oddly, choose to wear high heeled shoes for their trek, if they were to walk it all, of 7,000,000 sq.ft.

Now, you might imagine mayhem, but actually, that’s ample room for people to spread out.  It’s the reality of the spacious freedom that DragonCon participants, who number an estimated 65,000 and rank #6 on Atlanta’s conventions, can only dream about.  Anyway, here’s what the wholesalers think the retailers think that you, the buying public, will want to buy this year.

A denim chair.  This kind of makes sense – you wear them, so why not sit on them?

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Well, every chick likes to pose on the hood of a car, so… why not make it possible within the comfort of your own home?

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What? Not buying yet?  Then you should help yourself to a free Mimosa!  (Bloody Mary and other mixed drinks observed elsewhere).  I should also note that a number of the shops also provide lunchtime buffets so that their customers don’t have to leave the sales area to get an overpriced bite.

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Wholesale sales are like retail sales.  You’ve got to decorate.  Curiosity revealed that this table included bric a brac even when opening a drawer.  Or, maybe this was a more subtle sales gimmick than the store that sells faux books for retailer bookshelf displays.  Yeah, there’s that much stuff for sale.

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Lamp variety is in, and it’s not your typical stuff.  I liked this one.  It would be handy for spotting neighbors as they walk their dogs along the edge of your yard, for example.  Actually, it was pretty cool.

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Perhaps you would like a 2.5’ ball made of wood carved to approximate oyster shells (my best guess).  I can’t imagine a purpose other than its utility for school kids wanting to create mischief with their chewing gum.

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This carved rhinoceros is more obviously a thing.  What you do with it…

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Mr. Money Suit was presumably giving something away in the machine behind him.  He seemed preoccupied in not giving anything away, though.

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Here’s a peak into one of the showrooms.  Note the “decoration” on the back of the chair.   Perfect for that cousin who is a chiropractor right?  X-ray technician?

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There was, in fact, a wide variety of skeletal remains to be seen, some carved, some painted, but mostly on chairs.  I don’t get it.  Maybe it’s because it’s an election year.

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Well, if you’re going to decorate your living space with a theme of the deathly hallows, then you probably would favor this LED lit wreath to welcome your guests.  Yup.  Shotgun shells.

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This photo has nothing to do with the Mart.  But, it’s time to shift the mood to the substance of life.  It’s a Sublime Burger from Cypress Street Pint & Plate, located near Tech Square.  The “buns” are Sublime Donuts, moderately grilled so that it’s not a complete sticky mess to handle.  It comes with bacon, cheese, pickles, and caramelized onions, the last overpowering the flavor and requiring a moderate subtraction.  It’s not healthy, but it’s far better than the indulgence would suggest.

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Who is John Galt?

That is the question, one I observed on a bumper sticker on the way to work.  After a Google search, I begin on a reading journey of over 1,000 pages, namely Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.  My regret is that it diverted me from the Top 100 Sci Fi & Fantasy books list…

“Who is John Galt?” is introduced rhetorically, but answers later emerge within Rand’s dialogue:  ‘'He means,” said the fireman, “don’t ask questions no one can answer.”  Later, “Why ask useless questions?  How deep is the ocean?  How high is the sky?  Who is John Galt?”   Before the book eventually arrives at a fuller revelation, there are abundant “philosophical”  nuggets, which are often part of unwieldy “conversations” that would never occur in the history of human verbal discourse.  These are set amid a narrative primarily involving Dagny Taggart, a railroad Vice President, and Hank Reardon, a steel entrepeneur, who struggle against both a redistribution of wealth by the government and a diminishing supply of industrialists (inventors, leaders, people of ability to get things done) to 1) create that wealth and 2) provide  quality goods and services reliably.

The deevolution of society takes time, beginning with the dumbing down of society so that they may be led by the powers that be more efficiently. The first quote stands as humor, but in context it’s is an argument to remove the availability of competing ideas to the current social narrative:

“There should be a law limiting the sale of any book to ten thousand copies.  This would throw the literary market open to new talent, fresh ideas and non-commercial writing.  If people were forbidden to buy a million copies of the same piece of trash, they would be forced to buy better books.”

“It remained for our century to redefine the purpose of philosophy.  The purpose of philosophy is not to help men find the meaning of life, but to prove to them that there isn’t any.”

Those ideas, carried forward, set the stage to reduce citizen dependency on their basic needs.  Combined with the unfairness of those with abilities and wealth (we’ll say “the 1%” in today’s vernacular), she sets class warfare about long before it was politically popular to do so (the book was written beginning in 1946 and released in 1957).  While clearly developing an overwhelming population dependent on others (in Rand’s terminology, “Moochers”), she comments often on those persons, companies, institutions and governmental leaders who would take from those who produce to be given to those who are in need:

“'Public welfare' is the welfare of those who do not earn it; those who do, are entitled to no welfare.”

“They proclaim that every man born is entitled to exist without labor and […] is entitled to to receive his ‘minimum sustenance’ – his food, his clothes, his shelter – with no effort on his part, as his due and his birthright.  To receive it from whom? Every man, they announce, owns an equal share of the technological benefits created in the world.”

“Let me give you a clue to men’s characters: the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.”

“I do not see why industrialists should be considered at all.  When the masses are destitute and yet there are goods available, it’s idiotic to expect people to be stopped by some scrap of paper called a property deed.  Property rights are a superstition.  One holds property only by the courtesy of those who do not seize it.  The people can seize it at any moment.  If they can, why shouldn’t they?”  […] “They should… they need it.  Need is the only consideration.  If people are in need, we’ve got to seize things first and talk about it afterwards.” (words of a Moocher)

In tension with the populist culture of unfairness is Rand’s promotion of her philosophy of rational self-interest (see Objectivism):

“There’s nothing of any importance in life – except how well you do your work.  Nothing. Only that.  Whatever else you are, will come from that.  It’s the only measure of human value.  All the codes of ethics they’ll try to ram down your throat are just so much paper money put out by swindlers to fleece people of their virtues.  The code of competence is the only system of morality that’s on a gold standard.”

“I would say that man’s only moral commandment is: Thou shall think.  But a ‘moral commandment’ is a contradiction in terms.  The moral is the chosen, not the forced; the understood, not the obeyed.  The moral is the rational, and reason accepts no commandments.”

“...man's mind is the root of all the goods produced and of all the wealth that has ever existed on earth.”

“...man exists for the achievement of his desires...”

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” ~postscript by Ayn Rand

 

Galt is later revealed to be an inventor of a motor that may as well be the equivalent of aAtlasShrugged perpetual motion machine, one that he abandons in the face of a compulsory “to each as they have needs” socialist workplace structure.  He not only withdraws, but persuades other key industrialists and managers that the only reason Moochers can mooch is because people of ability allow it.  The solution is to withdraw from the system in a very literal sense. Gradually, each abandons his business and they relocate to a secretive area where they establish their own microeconomy.  The tenet is that taxation may be legal, but it remains “theft” in that it takes the wealth of one person (the tangible result of their time, work and energy – a finite resource) and gives it to others for their own free and unearned use.  Following are some quotes that speak to that fulcrum of decision between rational self interest vs. permissively being mooched.

“In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.”

“…the price is to start from scratch, to stand naked in the face of reality and, reversing a costly historical error, to declare: I am, therefore I’ll think.”

“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

The latter is the price of admission to Galt’s society and the lynchpin motto of followers of Rand’s philosphy.  As a worthy add-on, following is a quote that appeals because it occurred to me long ago when considering the growing National Debt.

“The only proper purpose of a government is to protect mans’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence… The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to… settle disputes by rational rules according to objective law.”

While I find much with which to agree, I do have some issues with the book and her philosophy overall.  For one, that a man would cede his romantic interest to another man because he recognizes that the other is a superior match ignores the reality of emotion.  She makes Vulcans out of men and seems to equate wives as defacto Moochers.  Secondly, or maybe firstly, 1,000+ pages could be whittled to 350 for an efficient and effective platform to, oh, maintain reader interest and more concisely score her points.  I’ll say I read it all, but… once you get the gist, you loosely skim the 20 page dissertations.  Also, Rand forces her contempt for religious thought into the narrative, essentially casting it as a vehicle for the dim-witted to distract themselves from pursuing their own happiness in the real world.  Whether you agree or not is besides the point – the case was never made effectively, despite the voluminous opportunity.   Another is that she never regards charity as a plausible action for a person of reason, though it would be if they find happiness in that pursuit.  It’s that Vulcan thing again.

The treatment of those in need is particularly dangerous.  While the factors leading to dependency are fair targets, she turns her back on those in need.  As the “doers” of capitalism withdraw, the systems of the world fall apart for lack of leadership and direction – and then financing.  She leaves the remainder of humanity to their own pitifil end.  She touches on organized looting as an expected outcome, but, at the end, there is nothing left to loot.  She’s willing to let the moochers literally starve while those who are capable resettle to begin society anew.  Conceptually, interesting or revolting, depending on your viewpoint.  To me, it’s only a shade different from the philosophy of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger who sought to eradicate inherited traits likely to cause mooching by segregating and effectively sterilizing that population:

“The first step would thus be to control the intake and output on morons, mental defectives, epileptics.  The second step would be to take an inventory of the secondary group such as illiterates, paupers, unemployables, criminals, prostitutes, dope-fiends; classify them in special departments under government medical protection and segregate on farms and open spaces as long as necessary for the strengthening and development of moral conduct.

Still, earning one’s keep stands as the overarching theme, coupled with recognition of the personal harms of governmental/societal claims on a person.  Both are timely messages that have relevance today, given that up to half of U.S. citizens receive some form of government assistance and the promoted view, particularly by our President, that citizenship is not a right but an obligation which demands “spreading the wealth” and volunteerism as a societal oughtness.  That last may be a valid expression for those who seek to find happiness in that form of their time and energy, but as a societal expectation, it’s dangerous as it can quickly lead to mandatory requirements given the current latitude given to the well spoken and the well meaning who have no reservations in deepening the well of debt.

Overall, reading this book was a worthwhile pursuit despite its length.  The main characters were interesting and in may respects sympathetic when weighed against the enormity of the societal structures set against them.  And, as Rand would likely applaud, it offered many ideas worthy of thoughtful exploration, or,  “I am, therefore I’ll think.”