Book Review: The Romantic Manifesto by Ayn Rand

In the introduction to the author’s collection of essays on art, The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand observed that “[i]t is impossible for the young people of today to grasp the reality of man’s higher potential and what scale of achievement it had reached in a rational (or semi-rational) culture. But I have seen it. I know that it was real, that it existed, that it is possible. It is that knowledge that I want to hold up to the sight of men — over the brief span of less than a century — before the barbarian curtain descends altogether (if it does) and the last memory of man’s greatness vanishes in another Dark Ages.”

Rand disclosed that:

As a child, I saw a glimpse of that pre-World War I world, the last afterglow of the most radiant cultural atmosphere in human history…”

The prospect of catching a glimpse of what Rand observed, thought and wrote about in the afterglow is reason enough to read this outstanding series of her writings. I first read this book as a young artist, when I was dancing and writing in Chicago. I was struck by its lucidity. As a child of modern, progressive, state-sponsored education, I instantly recognized in her assertions that I, too, had been deprived, demoralized and damaged as a student. Making a point about those who had given up on achieving the best in life, Rand referenced those she described as “drained, embittered hulks whimpering occasionally about the hopelessness of life.“

In a world dominated by movies and shows about goblins, dragons, gargoyles and other horror or fantasy figures, with the rare heroic figures reduced to sniveling misanthropes in disguise, it’s hard not to notice that most of what the author of Atlas Shrugged wrote about and forewarned against between 1962 and 1971 came true. But Rand primarily wrote about art she admired, loved and revered. For example, starting with Western philosophy in her introduction, she identified Thomas Aquinas as “the bridge between Aristotle and the Renaissance, spanning the infamous detour of the Dark and Middle Ages.”

Capping the commentary, which she wrote in New York City in the month of June of 1969, she noted that “[o]ur day has no art and no future. The future, in the context of progress, is a door open only to those who do not renounce their conceptual faculty; it is not open to mystics, hippies, drug addicts, tribal ritualists — or to anyone who reduces himself to a subanimal, subperceptual, sensory level of awareness.” [Emphasis Rand’s].

The rest of The Romantic Manifesto unfolds from there. Delving deeply into what she called the psycho-epistemology of art, the philosopher begins, of course, with the best premises for art, paving the way for an exploration of her school of art, which she calls romantic realism. Rand always defines and contextualizes her terms. For example, in “Philosophy and Sense of Life,” she explains that “the myth of a supernatural recorder from whom nothing can be hidden, who lists all of a man’s deeds…That myth is true, not existentially, but psychologically. The merciless recorder is the integrating mechanism of a man’s subconscious; the record is his sense of life.“ [Emphasis Rand’s].

What he does not know is that every day of his life is judgment day — the day of paying for the defaults, the lies, the contradictions, the blank outs recorded by his subconscious on the scrolls of his sense of life. And on that kind of psychological record, the blank entries are the blackest sins.“

Possibly anticipating future readership, she goes a bit further:

A sense of life, once acquired, is not a closed issue. It can be changed and corrected — easily, in youth, while it is still fluid, or by a longer, harder effort in later years. Since it is an emotional sum, it cannot be changed by a direct act of will. It changes automatically, but only after a long process of psychological retraining, when and if a man changes his conscious philosophical premises.”

I’ve gained immeasurable value from reading and re-reading The Romantic Manifesto, which I celebrated with scholars at an event for the 50th anniversary of its publication at Southern California’s Ayn Rand Institute last year. Whether discovering whether, why and how to judge works of art, which has been part of my own livelihood as an intellectual, or finding fascinating paintings, dancers, musical compositions, plays and other works of literature, this book challenges everything you think you know about the arts.

Examine art and cognition with Ayn Rand as she breaks down each of the arts. Consider her identification of how humans perceive art through the senses and can access its rewards with the mind. Rand accounts for every imaginable aspect, detail and nuance of the fine arts, whether music, architecture or motion pictures. For example, with regard to dance, she asserts: “Every strong emotion has a kinesthetic element, experienced as an impulse to leap or cringe or stamp one’s foot, etc…The dance stylizes it into a system of motion, expressing a metaphysical view of man.” [Emphasis Rand’s].

However, the woman who created Objectivism, a philosophy for living on earth, to help herself write fiction also addresses various arts-related fields of endeavor, questions and issues, from circus performances to photography. Each point she makes contains often masterful clarity and consistency.

Note Rand’s explanation of dance:

Dancers are performing artists; music is the primary work they perform — with the help of an important intermediary: the choreographer. His creative task is similar to that of a stage director, but carries a more demanding responsibility; a stage director translates a primary work, a play, into physical action — a choreographer has to translate a primary work, the composition of sounds, into another medium, into a composition of movements, and create a structured, integrated work: a dance.”

Of course, the most in-depth and compelling parts of The Romantic Manifesto involve her insights on reading, writing and literature. These thoughts are remarkably relevant, timely and enlightening. By the time you’re done reading a particular section, you’re likely to have a better understanding of what you like about what you like to read and why you like it. “… At the end of the novel the reader must know why the characters did the things they did,” Rand wrote. “…The author has to be consistent in his view of a character’s psychology and permit him no inexplicable actions, no actions unprepared by or contradictory to the rest of his characterization.”

“The theme of a novel can be conveyed only through the events of the plot, the events of the plot depend on the characterization of the men who enact them — and the characterization cannot be achieved except through the events of the plot, and the plot cannot be constructed without a theme.“ She concludes: “… A good novel is an indivisible sum: every scene, sequence and passage of a good novel has to involve, contribute to and advance all three of its major attributes: theme, plot, characterization.“

Again and again, Rand provides examples, illustrating her points and affirming her convictions. About I, the Jury author Mickey Spillane, she wrote that he “… [p]resents nothing save visual facts; but he selects only those facts, only those eloquent details, which convey the visual reality of the scene and create a mood of desolate loneliness.”

Don’t read the book strictly for specific arts guidance, though. The principles of art are deep, rich and often ingenious. This is like reading a comprehensive true story of ideas about art in terms of interlocking essentials. After defining romanticism and identifying a key difference with a heinous distortion of romanticism, for instance, she claims: “Romanticism demands mastery of the primary element of fiction: the art of storytelling — which requires three cardinal qualities: ingenuity, imagination, a sense of drama.”

Yet the biting brilliance of Rand’s late 20th century non-fiction, evidenced in her periodicals, lectures and underappreciated collected works, such as The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, always comes through. Can you not think of Game of Thrones, The Sopranos and every middling Netflix or streaming film everyone’s raving about when you read this pointed cultural criticism, which turns out to have been a keen forecast?

… Today’s romanticists are escaping not into the past, but into the supernatural — explicitly giving up reality and this earth. The exciting, the dramatic, the unusual — their policy is declaring, in effect — do not exist; please don’t take us seriously, what we’re offering is only a spooky daydream.“

Consider social media and the constant droning by today’s leading “influencers” about statistics, metrics and analytics and the smallness of today’s prevailing stories when reading this part of her essay “The Esthetic Vacuum of Our Age”: “Naturalism … substitut[es] statistics for a standard of value. That which could be claimed to be typical of a large number of men, in any given geographical area or period of time, was regarded as metaphysically significant and worthy of being recorded.“

“What one reads today is not naturalism any longer: it is symbolism; it is a presentation of a metaphysical view of man, as opposed to a journalistic or statistical view. But it is the symbolism of primitive terror,” she wrote, making me think of Oscar’s recent Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. “According to this modern view, depravity represents man’s real, essential, metaphysical nature, while virtue does not; virtue was only an accident, an exception or an illusion; therefore, a monster is an appropriate projection of man’s essence, but hero is not.“

“[T]he romanticists presented heroes as “larger than life“; now, monsters are presented as “larger than life“ — or, rather, man is presented as “smaller than life.” [Emphasis Rand’s].

Other comparisons, such as the scads of mindless, mediocre Marvel Comics-themed films, come to mind as Rand writes about the bastardization of writer Ian Fleming’s James Bond depictions in movies. And, in Rand’s magnificent “Art and Moral Treason”, there is the scathing prediction of the postmodern “Millenial” generation, college-bred youths filled with chronic terror in the eyes while blindly submitting to indiscriminately wearing a mask:

When I saw Mr. X for the first time, I thought that he had the most tragic face I have ever seen: it was not the mark left by some specific tragedy, not the look of a great sorrow, but a look of desolate hopelessness, weariness and resignation that seemed left by the chronic pain of many lifetimes. He was 26 years old.

“He had a brilliant mind, and outstanding scholastic record in the field of engineering, a promising start in his career – and no energy to move farther. He was paralyzed by so extreme a state of indecision that any sort of choice filled him with anxiety – even the question of moving out of an inconvenient apartment. He was stagnating in a job which he had outgrown and which had become a dull, uninspiring routine. He was so lonely that he had lost the capacity to know it, he had no concept of friendship, and his few attempts at a romantic relationship had ended disastrously – he could not tell why.

“At the time I met him he was undergoing psychotherapy, struggling desperately to discover the causes of his state. There seemed to be no existential cause for it. His childhood had not been happy, but no worse and, in some respects, better than the average childhood. There were no traumatic events in his past, no major shocks, disappointments or frustrations. Yet his frozen impersonality suggested a man who neither felt nor wanted anything any longer. He was like a gray spread of ashes that had never been on fire.“

Buy ‘The Romantic Manifesto’

Ayn Rand wrote that in 1965. But the great radiance with which she begins the story of her romantic manifesto pre-dates the 55-year mark.

“It has been said and written by many commentators that the atmosphere of the western world before World War I is incommunicable to those who have not lived in that period,” she wrote in the introduction to The Romantic Manifesto. I think it’s probably true. But Ayn Rand, in presenting her philosophy of art, gives the reader something extraordinary: power tools and a battery recharge with which to find, regard, contemplate, revere and create works of art on your own.

Buy The Romantic Manifesto

Songs: ‘Authors of Forever’ by Alicia Keys

A song on Alicia Keys’ new album, Alicia, strikes me as a tonic for this dismal year.

“Authors of Forever”, with light, propulsive and percussive rhythm and her assertive, optimistic vocals, expresses a relaxed yet steadfast sense of unity.

The tune is upbeat. Lyrics, rhyming shadow with rainbowspeak of harmony.

We are born on our own

And we die on our own

And we’re here to make meaning

Of what happens in between

We could hate, we could love

We could doubt, we could trust

But we’re here to make meaning

For as long as we’re breathing

The song’s theme, honoring the individual creator, is in the title, really. It’s featherweight pop music to lift one’s mood, one of several songs on a new album which I’m thoroughly enjoying.

Chadwick Boseman

The recent death of Chadwick Boseman of colon cancer at the age of 43 is a sad reminder that reality is objective and that one must be at absolute liberty to live, create and trade.

Boseman first came to my attention as a leading actor in the motion picture 42 as baseball player Jackie Robinson. His performances in other movies, such as his leading title performance as a young lawyer in Marshall, were outstanding. Boseman rose above his title role in Black Panther, the mediocre comic book movie from Disney’s Marvel series.

However, as with Whitney Houston, who died at the age of 48, and similarly chose to conceal her personal life, including her struggles and illnesses, Chadwick Boseman is best remembered for the whole scope and range of his ability as an artist. He ought not to be reduced to being primarily known as the actor who appeared for several scenes in a forgettable movie. Other young actors, such as Paul Walker and Heath Ledger, have also died before they reached their fullest potential. Boseman, who portrayed at least three men of distinct ability, especially Jackie Robinson, deserves nothing less.

Movie Review: Made in Italy

Made in Italy is charming and unpretentious. Written and directed by an artist named James D’Arcy, who’s also an actor, the movie, which I watched on a TV screen at home, is somewhat, though not entirely, predictable. The film is lovely to look at.

The performances are good. It’s a lighter leading role for Liam Neeson (Batman Begins, Schindler’s List, Rob Roy, Star Wars: The Rise of SkywalkerKinsey), who, like his character, was widowed after a terrible tragedy.

Made in Italy is exactly as advertised. An artist in London, played by Mr. Neeson, who is a distant father to his London art gallery owner son (Micheál Richardson), agrees to return to the family’s Tuscany home in the Italian countryside. The goal is to sell the home and raise money for the son’s gallery, though there is more to the story. Add a local businesswoman and divorced mother (Valeria Bilello), the real estate agent (Lindsey Duncan, Gifted) and villagers as well as the son’s wife and the sum total is a thoughtful and moving motion picture about the smallest choices and intimacies and a family’s past, grief and recovery.

Made in Italy refreshes the spirit. Watching the film is like taking a miniature vacation. Besides being appealing to look at, contemplate and indulge, the movie affords a temporary escape from the madness of today’s anarchy and mass hysteria.

Four main characters strive to make food, money and art. They do so with a sense of decency, restraint and self-respect. If you could gain from a realistic, romantic respite from looting and anarchy and want to affirm that it’s possible to live among those who do not destroy lives, properties and reputations or induce panic, shakedowns or lynch mobs, see this film about damaged and honorable Westerners striving to be left alone to create and live in peace. Made in Italy offers 90 minutes of humor, mild conflict and clear resolution.

Book Review: Profiles in Corruption by Peter Schweizer

“Ultimately the problem lies with us,” writes Peter Schweizer in Profiles in Corruption, his new book about America’s top Democrats. “We get the government we choose, the leaders we elect, and the corruption we tolerate.”

Then, he quotes George Orwell, whom Mr. Schweizer notes warned about an elective system of government: “A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims, but accomplices.”

In this spirit, let me post certain excerpts from Peter Schweizer‘s important, pre-2020 presidential election book, which I strongly recommend—especially on the eve of America’s currently, ominously most likely next president, Joe Biden, making an imminent announcement of a vice-presidential running mate. Biden is rumored to also be ready to name cabinet nominees.

I’m posting this days before the Democrats’ convention, the nation’s first presidential nominating convention to be held during a pandemic yielding the historic prohibition against rational living, including work, fitness and assembly.

I finished reading the exceptional Profiles in Corruption by Peter Schweizer earlier this year. The book is objective in examining major Democratic Party figures. My thoughts, margin notes and conclusions were generally reached before the United States was locked down in national hysteria over the spread of a new virus, prohibiting millions of Americans from working, dictating that people “stay at home”, indiscriminately wear masks and physically avoid other humans.

I read and was horrified by this timely book prior to the Black Lives Matter movement re-emerging as an anti-police — and, arguably, anarchistic — political movement which would radically reshape American business, society and culture within weeks. Profiles in Corruption was published before 2020’s mass American chaos, lockdown, rioting, looting and anarchy.

As the most likely next U.S. president, a 77-year-old who supports Black Lives Matter including legislation to force white Americans to pay slavery reparations, prepares to name his slate of government officials, I’ve rounded up some of Mr. Schweizer’s most pressing and relevant disclosures. 

About California’s Kamala Harris, Mr. Schweizer observes that:

“She somehow served as San Francisco district attorney from 2004 to 2011, and then as California attorney general from 2011 to 2017, and never brought a single documented case forward against an abusive priest. It’s an astonishing display of inaction, given the number of cases brought in other parts of the country. To put this lack of action in perspective, at least fifty other cities charged priests in sexual abuse cases during her tenure as San Francisco district attorney. San Francisco is conspicuous by its absence.”

About Vice-President Biden? The reader learns that “[t]he Biden family partners are often foreign governments, where the deals occur in the dark corners of international finance like Kazakhstan, China, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Ukraine, and Russia. Some deals have even involved U.S. taxpayer money. The cast of characters includes sketchy companies, violent convicted felons, foreign oligarchs, and other people who typically expect favors in return.”

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker “was quick to reward friends and donors with Newark taxpayer money. In his first few months in office, Booker gave his campaign manager’s son a sole-source contract to update a website for the city. However, the son’s company was new and had no background doing such work. The contract was sizable—more than $2 million—and after two years the project was still incomplete, so the city had to hire another firm to clean up the work. Booker also hired friends to join him in the mayor’s office amid complaints of cronyism. Alarm bells went off in some Newark circles almost immediately when Booker appointed a campaign aide named Pablo Fonseca as his first chief of staff.”

As mayor, Booker’s sprawling network of activities included speaking fees (for as high as $30,000 a pop), nonprofits, the Zuckerberg gift, and a commercial venture called Waywire. In June 2012, Booker launched the new video-sharing social media company that he promised would give “marginalized voices,” including “high school kids,” a hearing. Booker put a public service gloss over the venture: “What was exciting to me was that it was expanding entrepreneurial, economic, and educational opportunities for so many.” Booker got the project easily funded by tapping his wealthy friends Oprah Winfrey, Google’s then–executive chairman Eric Schmidt, and Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, among others to invest. Waywire amassed an advisory board that included CNN president Jeff Zucker’s then-fourteen-year-old son. The Waywire deal was highly unusual and controversial for several reasons. Booker was still mayor of a major American city, and yet he was launching a business with people who in numerous cases had been campaign donors. The terms of the deal were also unusual. Booker received the largest ownership stake in the company, even though he had likely invested comparatively little capital, and was not working on the project full-time[…]”

Remember the woman who lied about being an American Indian? Mr. Schweizer writes that “[t]he story of Elizabeth Warren’s academic success cannot be divorced from her claimed status as a Native American; they are deeply intertwined.

“Barely one year before her appointment to the University of Pennsylvania faculty, Warren began to list herself as a ‘minority’ Native American law professor in the directory of the Association of American Law Schools.”

Schweizer goes on: “A Harvard University spokesman described her as Harvard Law School’s ‘first woman of color.’ She was repeatedly identified as an example of minority hiring at Harvard Law. “Harvard Law School currently has only one tenured minority woman, Gottlieb Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren, who is Native American,” noted the Harvard Crimson…But something curious happened after Warren secured her new position at Harvard Law School. She stopped listing herself in the directory as a minority the same year Harvard hired her to a tenured position.”

“Financial disclosures by the time [Warren] ran for the Senate in 2012 showed that her net worth was as much as $14.5 million. Her house alone was worth $5 million. The couples’ investment stock portfolio was worth as much as $8 million, according to her own disclosures. Yet she steadfastly insisted that she was not “wealthy.” “I realize there are some wealthy individuals—I’m not one of them, but some wealthy individuals who have a lot of stock portfolios,” she told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.”

“In her new role, Warren was publicly blunt and aggressive when describing corporate America and the failures of corporate executives. “Wall Street CEOs, the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs, still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them,” she said during her speech at the Democratic National Convention in August 2012. Does anyone here have a problem with that?” However, privately she offered a softer, more friendly tone in her communications with the large Wall Street firms. Indeed, she seemed eager to work with the same titans that she was lambasting in public. “You all gave us a great deal to think about, and we are all appreciative,” she wrote to Richard Davis, the president and CEO of U.S. Bancorp, in a March 2011 email obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. “I value your help—and your friendship—more than you know.” Communication with the CEOs of major Wall Street firms was in “stark contrast to the battle that [was] waged in public.” Warren has met in private with Wall Street moguls that she publicly criticizes.”

Mr. Schweizer also provides a seriously, sufficiently and persuasively disturbing degree of detail about the Massachusetts senator’s family connections to the Islamic dictatorship of Iran.

Mr. Schweizer notes that one of Ohio’s U.S. senators, Sherrod Brown “was born in Mansfield, Ohio, a town midway between Columbus and Cleveland,” the author of Profiles in Corruption reports. The rest of his expose reads like something out of an Ayn Rand essay on Woodstock, the New Left and the hippies.

“The son of a doctor, his mother was a staunch Lutheran and progressive social activist; Sherrod inherited both from her. While in high school, young Sherrod organized a march in his hometown to celebrate the first Earth Day in 1970. “We did this really cool march and we had a really big crowd,” he recounted later. “But we get down to the square and none of us had thought about what you do when you get down there. We didn’t have any speakers, and it was like, ‘Oh, shit.’ So we just disbanded.”

What accounts for his rise to power in one of the Midwest’s most dynamic states?

“Sherrod Brown’s friend John Eichinger jokingly explained at a Democratic Party roast back in 1982 that Brown’s approach is to ‘get money from the rich and votes from the poor by promising to protect them from each other.’ Brown’s laughable status  didn’t stop him from doing real damage — to pets and people who own them.

“Dogs, for some reason, did not fare well in [Sen. Brown’s] early bills, perhaps because he claims to have been bitten eight times by dogs while campaigning during his first four years in the state legislature. Whatever the reason, Brown supported legislation to allow animal shelters to put down dogs with sodium pentobarbital. He also voted for a bill imposing fines and jail time for dog barking.”

Over and over, the author delivers evidence of corruption and moral abomination against the man most likely to blackmail a President Biden into enacting severe, total socialism: Bernie Sanders. One American worker shared what he remembers about an encounter with the socialist who would be ominously powerful in Biden’s administration.

“Sanders ordered the bar’s special, ‘Fat Man Bud.’ Bob Conlon recalls that night he was tending bar. Bernie dropped a dollar on the bar to pay for his ninety-five-cent drink. Conlon remembered that the mayor stood there “waiting four [people] deep to get his nickel change back.” The incident made an impression on Conlon, who made part of his money on tips. “I’d vote for O. J. Simpson before I’d vote for Bernie,” he later said.”

“As Professor Michael Kazin describes him, ‘Sanders resembles his hero, Eugene V. Debs—the Socialist who ran five quixotic races for president, the last time, in 1920, from a prison cell—far more than he does a standard-issue career politician. Other pols identify with ‘revolution’ and claim their campaign is a ‘movement.’ But Bernie really means it.’ Sanders deeply identifies with Debs and even has a plaque of him on his Senate office wall.”

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, intrepid journalists discovered that he spent his time at a settlement connected to an Israeli political party called Mapam. This was a particularly political settlement, Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim, connected to a ‘Soviet-affiliated political faction.’ Kibbutz members admired Joseph Stalin until his death, calling him “Sun of the Nations.” They would celebrate May Day with red flags.”

“Sanders and his wife moved to Vermont, but he spent very little of his time in the decade and a half following college with gainful employment. He worked briefly as a researcher with the Vermont Tax Department, before trying his hand as a carpenter. (One acquaintance admitted, ‘He was a shitty carpenter.’) Mostly he was a political activist and agitator, who occasionally wrote essays, one displaying his ‘affinity for Sigmund Freud.’

“Throughout the 1970s, Sanders continued to avoid consistent employment and was endlessly running for political office. (He derided basic working-class jobs as ‘moron work, monotonous work.’)”

The campaigns were bare-bones and during his 1974 campaign for the U.S. Senate, he actually collected unemployment while a candidate. His campaign rhetoric could be downright apocalyptic and conspiratorial. ‘I have the very frightened feeling that if fundamental and radical change does not come about in the very near future that our nation, and, in fact, our entire civilization could soon be entering an economic dark age,’ he thundered as he announced his 1974 Senate run. Later that same year, he sent a public letter to President Gerald Ford, declaring that America would face a “‘virtual Rockefeller family dictatorship over the nation’ if Nelson Rockefeller was named vice president.”

Rockefeller did become vice president. The dictatorship, of course, never emerged.”

Fellow progressives who had helped elect Sanders mayor were surprised at how he was consolidating power. He even put local charities on notice that he was in charge. Jon Svitavsky, who ran a local homeless shelter, said the new mayor rejected the charity’s well-established shelter rules. The homeless shelter, for example, had a policy of refusing entry to anyone who was drunk or high on drugs. Sanders did not like that rule, so he had the city set up its own competing shelter.”

Being mayor and creating a city post for his girlfriend, and then later his wife, meant a good income. They would supplement these salaries through tens of thousands of dollars in teaching and speaking fees. In 1989, the Sanderses actually sold two houses and claimed capital gains. Their primary Vermont residence included upscale amenities, which as one observer noted, “incongruously [made Sanders] perhaps one of the few socialists in the country with a built-in swimming pool.”

Once elected, Sanders moved to Washington and his wife, Jane, became a top aide, serving at various times as his chief of staff, press secretary, and political analyst. After a decade in Congress, Jane and family went about setting up a company that operated under three different names to provide income tied to Bernie’s political career. On September 27, 2000, the family formed Sanders & Driscoll LLC, a for-profit consulting company run by Jane, her daughter Carina, and son David. The business also operated under two trade names: Leadership Strategies and Progressive Media Strategies. The fact that this entity and its aliases were formed just weeks before the 2000 election is significant. The Sanderses ran these out of their home on Killarney Drive in Burlington. These entities served as financial conduits to run cash to the Sanders family.”

In Profiles in Corruption, Peter Schweizer drills into the socialist couple’s history with precision and, always with each profiled Democrat, in footnoted, indexed detail. 

Jane went about trying to develop international ties. In 2007, Jane traveled to Cuba and the college started a program to bring students to the communist country to attend classes at the University of Havana. Burlington College officials visiting Cuba enjoyed access to the highest levels of the Cuban government.”

The Sanderses had long-standing ties in [Communist] Cuba. In 1989, Bernie and Jane visited Havana and met with a leader of the city’s ‘social brigades’ and the mayor. (They attempted a meeting with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, but the bearded one did not make himself available.) Burlington College’s relationship with Cuba included workshops for teachers, including one attended by Armando Vilaseca, the Cuban-born Vermont secretary of education. With no sense of irony, Burlington College touted the study abroad program as a “singular opportunity to question, debate, and discuss” numerous issues. This, including “politics,” even though the university was located smack in the middle of a country that allows no free press. There was no mention of the suppression of free speech, the arresting of political dissidents, or the imprisonment of human rights activists. Instead, Jane touted the program as something that would be beneficial to humanity.”

Minnesota’s Sen. Amy Klobuchar comes off like a bully. And there’s this about LA’s authoritarian lockdown-driven, pro-mask mayor, Eric Garcetti: “Eric received an elite education, attending first the Harvard School, the elite prep school in Studio City, California. He then went off to Columbia University. As an undergraduate at Columbia University, Garcetti organized a protest against a nearby market that had forbidden the homeless from redeeming cans and bottles for the five- and ten-cent deposits. ‘We hope to resolve this without it getting messy,’ he declared, ‘but the managers seem to be assholes who have to be hit hard.’

This thuggishness is rampant in Profiles in Corruption. It’s a modern political book that won’t help you sleep any easier. But it will help you to know more about what’s in store if the Democrats stay on the current U.S. political track and take over the entire American government.

TV Series & DVD Review: Parenthood (NBC)

This NBC series stimulates thought. Yet it moves the audience to experience powerful emotions. Parenthood (2010 to 2015) accomplishes this through intricate and intelligent characterization playing to an overarching theme that parenting can and ought to be both rational and rewarding.

Buy the series on DVD

Family is not an end in itself, according to Parenthood. It’s a unit of unique individuals that exists primarily to serve as a rocket launch and refueling center. This is why a family can be integral to creating, making and forging the meaningful, purposeful, selfish life.

Parenthood, created and written by Jason Katims and based on the Nineties movie by Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon, Solo: A Star Wars StoryApollo 13), essentially tells the tale of four children who choose to have children. Two sons and two daughters and their parents sputter, propel and revolve in multiple relationships, professional, romantic and otherwise. They do so with humor and poignancy in each of its six seasons.

These are the characters in the Braverman family, led by Bonnie Bedelia (Sordid Lives, Presumed Innocent) and Craig T. Nelson (Coach, Poltergeist) as the parents. Favorite son Adam (Peter Krause) is a buttoned-down establishmentarian; he lives to lead. Younger brother Crosby (Dax Shepard) is the free-spirited comic relief; he strives to achieve. Julia (Erika Christensen) is the perfectionist; she thrives on striking the ideal balance. Black sheep Sarah (Lauren Graham) is the single mother mess; she seeks to create and cash in. 

Through her lens, the audience first sets sights upon this warm, intelligent and inviting family. 

Bravermans are sharp, unpretentious and intellectual. They think about what they do before they “just do it”. They use words. They talk. They also listen. But these are depictions of humans that know how to communicate through verbal means. But they not only like communicating with each other—they thrive on it. They draw strength from it. They get powered by it. They refuel. This feeds the interplay that makes Parenthood go.

Bravermans think about how to love and raise a child, as well as how to tend to themselves. They are biting, flawed and competitive—in unhealthy and healthy ways—and they can be bitches and brats behind one another’s backs. Like your family.

This is what makes Bravermans go and do. They go for the gold in life, even when there’s less and less time left to live, too much that’s been said in anger, or too much alcohol involved, or too few moments together in plain, honest talk. Mother and daughter, father and son, sibling rivalry—the pretty one, the smart one, the responsible one, the overindulged one—it’s all here wrapped inside a series of gilded parenting fables. 

With a neat timeline tie-in which pre-dates its thematically similar cousin, NBC’s excellent This Is Us, Parenthood depicts the child in the family and the inner child within each parent. It shows how each among us must guide and parent the self and it shows how parenting is properly done.

No problem goes unaddressed. No deficiency goes unnoticed.

The whole series is an enveloping, unfolding story of these Northern Californians (without the superiority complex) arcing toward a bittersweet resolution which reminds the viewer that life is finite, rich and breathtaking. But only if you choose to think first, put yourself first and go after what you want.

With baseball as a leitmotif, Parenthood’s is a distinctly American family orientation. Each Braverman works to play, plays to compete, competes as a whole person—playing more than one position—and each player aims for the grand slam. The show often hits and scores. But they are united.

This is family as it can and ought to be. Perhaps the one you’ve never had, always wanted, desperately miss, read about and long to have and hold.

Watch Parenthood for its fresh surprises. You’re likely to find yourself questioning and challenging your own ideas about parenting. The series depicts certain dilemmas, some that may be familiar and some that may not, that prompt you to think twice about your own upbringing, family and child rearing. 

Whether it’s raising a kid with Asperger’s, starting over, fielding calls from police, making time for sex or parenting the child neglected for her ability, Parenthood covers it all. There’s a memorable call for help from a truck stop in Gilroy, marital strife and a son named Jabbar (Tyree Brown as the most honest and appealing child character). 

There’s the kid that dyes her hair black, the dance audition, the hobbies, practices, rehearsals and nights climbing into windows and stumbling into sofas. There’s Craig T. Nelson hilariously memorizing and trying to remember why it’s important to invoke the line “I hear you and I see you”, the importance of getting credit and giving gratitude and saying ‘thank you’.

One of my favorite episodes occurs on Crosby’s houseboat. I like it because it dramatizes the character’s progression toward his choice to commit to being a parent. It is rare that any show tackles the abstraction of what Ayn Rand describes as man as a being of volitional consciousness.

Parenthood, filled with meaning, pathos and insight, does—from its theme that Crosby has the power to put what he loves up for sale by owner to how deftly it displays and honors the value of owning material possessions, whether a home or a piano. Other second season highlights include a character played by Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther) as an alcoholic, which dovetails into an ex-husband’s alcoholism and a daughter’s drug use. 

But, whether it’s camping with Grandpa for the purpose of studying bugs at dawn, cancer, being fired, adoption or enduring Parenthood’s most irritating characters — Max, Adam and Kristina and controlling Jasmine — there’s always an organic reason for each plot point, each character arc and every plot twist. Even when Adam dresses like a rapper to get new business.

The cast is excellent. Look for all-around good casting — recurring guest stars turns include Richard Dreyfuss, Ray Romano and Jason Ritter — forethought, screenwriting and carefully crafted arcs such as Sam Jaeger as a businessman, husband and father. 

Flaws include that Sarah’s always apologizing, scenes don’t play out and overacting. Characters constantly talk over each other.

As the Bravermans’ family tale comes to a close, season five’s “Promises” episode is among Parenthood’s most profound. I’ll leave it at that. But know that this show presses every subplot into marvelous tales of redemption, letting go, dying, grieving, moving on and finding the goodness in each new day.

Ice skating with the kids—playing hooky to surf in the ocean—starting a school—opening a recording studio—running a political campaign—dating an Afghan war veteran—releasing the scream—coming out as gay—embracing moving day—leaving California—the meaning, memory and mining of road-tripping with Grandpa in a Pontiac GTO—meeting the other mother in Wyoming—accepting the marriage proposal—and, beautifully, leaving the 1972 Reggie Jackson baseball card in the rafters as a benevolent legacy for strangers, stressing the importance of chosen values over the importance of going merely by blood.

Enjoy Parenthood as a fully circular voyage of the child’s and parent’s—and grandparent’s—life. You will probably cry and laugh, often during the same episode. I did. But you almost assuredly will be provoked, if deftly and down to your core, to think. 

The DVD’s deleted scenes often fill in gaps as important action sometimes happens offscreen; the extras’ flaws include a lack for original air date stamps and music that’s too folksy.

TV Review: Schitt’s Creek (CBC, Pop TV)

This light comedy series deserves its reputation as enjoyable. The six-season show, which aired from 2015 through this spring, costars Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy, who both also co-produce the program.

The premise of an extremely wealthy family losing their wealth and going to live in a small rural town, is silly. Schitt’s Creek essentially reverses the premise of the popular CBS comedy The Beverly Hillbillies, by replacing that show’s iconic grandmother character with O’Hara’s eccentric wife and mother and two adult kids as unlikely to launch as Elly Mae and Jethro. You can get a sense of Schitt’s Creek from the name of one of its main characters, who also happens to be the town’s mayor, Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott). I think I laughed out loud during almost every episode of the entire series.

With an affected, gay son (Dan Levy) and a dim, shallow daughter (Annie Murphy), the married couple played by Levy and O’Hara anchor the series. O’Hara steals every scene as a vain actress. Eugene Levy plays it straight. These comedians, whose enduring careers trace back together to films and Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe and television program, provide hilarious material, bits and performances. Levy’s real life son and daughter have a hand in both production and regularly starring roles.

Standout episodes encompass later season story arcs involving O’Hara‘s character appearing in a direct-to-video horror sequel and the Levy character trying to launch a new business venture. Emily Hampshire as aimless Stevie, Jenn Robertson as perky Jocelyn, Karen Robinson as hardened Ronnie, Dustin Milligan as wholesome Ted and Noah Reid as entrepreneurial Patrick round out the cast of townies.

Capitalism is Schitt’s Creek’s central plot springboard. It’s what powers the series, which has the sign of the dollar in the title. Each character requires capitalism to mine humor and make progress. For example, the husband and father makes a long, slow and steady comeback from being a former video store businessman thrust into impoverishment to mentoring an associate who studies, learns from and mirrors his money-making skills.

Schitt’s Creek’s climax comes, too, with a capitalistic venture. An apothecary, born of the son’s desire to break free from the pack, sets forth a new vision of his own making, rejuvenating the whole town and becoming a catalyst for his romantic breakthrough. In fact, the romantic subplot involving the son, poignantly and memorably rendered with a recurring cover of Tina Turner‘s “Simply the Best”, yields the upward arc toward the finale.

The actress playing the daughter, Annie Murphy, is very good. She provides Schitt’s Creek’s best dramatic acting. Each of the performances is excellent. As the completely ridiculous mother, O’Hara caps everything with dry wit and a touch of madness. From her pronunciations and incongruous vocabulary to her blinding, glittering wardrobe of feathers and glitz, O’Hara’s neurotic wife and mother character elicits the most laughs.

Each character strives to make money doing work she or he loves. This is the heart and soul of Schitt’s Creek. It’s what distinguishes and differentiates the show from today’s chronic contempt for capitalism and pervasive, predominant comedies infused with absurdism, anti-heroism and cynical vulgarity.

In this sense, Schitt’s Creek — silly as it is — is one of a small number of television comedies during the past 70 years that makes audiences laugh without sniveling at the universe, civilization and the best of humanity.

Schitt’s Creek belongs in the same general category as Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show,, Leave it to Beaver, the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Jeffersons, My Three Sons, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Golden Girls, Frasier, and Modern Family in depicting the American family as a joyful and enterprising source for fostering the happy, romantic and idealistic — and distinctly American — life.