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FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Moratorium on Brains
A Publius Essay | 9 May 2009 | Publius

Posted on 05/09/2009 7:41:37 AM PDT by Publius

Part II: Either-Or

Chapter VII: The Moratorium on Brains


Eddie Willers sits down with the Anonymous Rail Worker in the Taggart corporate cafeteria and updates him.

The Anonymous Rail Worker says he’ll be gone for a month; he has taken a month off every summer for the past twelve years.

Hank Rearden walks from his mill down a dark road to Philadelphia where his new apartment is located. He is intercepted by a man of proud bearing who asks to speak with him. He is not there to rob Hank but to give him money that was taken from him by force – and it’s a bar of gold! If robbery is done in open daylight, then restitution must be done at night. The money has been held in trust for Hank for years, and the man took an oath to wait. But after seeing what had been done to Hank, he felt he needed to violate that oath and approach him now. It’s Ragnar Danneskjøld!

He tells Hank one can be a looter or a victim, but he chooses neither. He is merely complying with the system the looters have established. He’s a pirate working for the day when Hank can make a profit from Rearden Metal. Hank doesn’t see that day ever coming; he sees Ragnar as a criminal and prefers that Ragnar had chosen to disappear like the Colorado industrialists and Ken Danagger. Ragnar smiles, lighting up the night, and tells Hank he has a special mission of his own: to destroy Robin Hood. Robin stole from the rich to give to the poor; Ragnar is stealing from the thieving poor and giving back to the productive rich. Robin Hood is the symbol of need, not achievement. Ragnar is the cop who retrieves stolen property and returns it to its rightful owner; he deals in gold, deposited in a gold standard bank, held in the names of victims like Hank. Ragnar’s goal is to return the last twelve years of income taxes to Hank; he has sources in high places and knows just how much the government has taken. The gold is deposited in the Mulligan Bank, which is not in Chicago; Ragnar thinks that Hank will soon know its true location. The gold is intended to start the rebuilding of the world out of the ruins after the final collapse.

Ragnar confirms that the story about the destruction of Orren Boyle’s steel mill in Maine is true. No looter will be permitted to make Rearden Metal – ever.

Hank decides not to take the gold and threatens to call the police if Ragnar ever appears again. Hank says he will live by his own standards, but he is interrupted by the arrival of the police who are making sure Hank is safe; Ragnar backs into the woods. The police say they are looking for a man who is driving a beat up old car with a million dollar engine; Hank says he hasn’t seen him. The cop spots Ragnar, and Hank passes him off as his bodyguard; the police leave. Ragnar smiles, says he hopes to meet Hank again soon, and vanishes. Hank picks up the gold bar and walks on.

Kip Chalmers, a government bureaucrat running for the California legislature, sits with his campaign manager, mistress and a British novelist in a private car attached to the Comet as it goes through Colorado. Chalmers is unhappy with the condition of the track and decides it’s time to campaign for the nationalization of the railroads. He is due in San Francisco the next day for a rally, and his train is now six hours late. Everything comes to a screeching halt as a split rail causes a derailment; the engine is flat on its side. Chalmers approaches hysteria as he encounters a train crew that is doing its job but not fast enough to get him to San Francisco on time.

At the Winston station, the station superintendent, who had been a drifter only a few days before, gets word of the problem and passes the buck to the night supervisor at Silver Springs, who passes the buck to his boss. Division manager Dave Mitchum is the brother-in-law of Claude Slagenhop and owes his job to a bit of blackmail between Jim Taggart and Wesley Mouch involving Mouch’s sister. Clifton Locey had moved Mitchum into his present position at Silver Springs when the former division head quit over the issue of Chick Morrison’s train getting the reserve locomotive. Mitchum is an old railroad hand who blames a conspiracy of the Big Boys for his many career failures, and once again he is at a loss as to what actions to take in this emergency.

Bill Brent, the chief dispatcher, says they aren’t going to send a coal burning steam locomotive into a tunnel built for diesels. They don’t dare delay the Army munitions train to use its diesel to haul the Comet. Nobody wants to take responsibility and make a decision with Locey and the Unification Board watching. Brent says they need to take the diesel from an eastbound freight, which is on its way, after it exits the tunnel, and use that diesel to move the Comet through the tunnel. Then they can use a coal burner to get the Comet to the West Coast; it will be eighteen hours late. Everyone knows that blame is going to be delegated from New York; Brent asks rhetorically, “Who is John Galt?”

When the Comet reaches Winston, hauled by a switching engine, and Chalmers gets the bad news, he goes ballistic. The conductor takes Chalmers to the station, where the bureaucrat orders the station supervisor and call boy to get his train through the tunnel – or else. They explain that Mitchum has told them to hold the train until morning, and Chalmers orders them to send a telegram to Jim Taggart himself. In New York, Jim passes the buck to Clifton Locey, who orders Mitchum to send the Comet through the tunnel “safely” with whatever motive power is available. Mitchum knows he is being framed for the Unification Board. He contacts Omaha to find that the regional boss has disappeared. The Iowa-Minnesota regional boss doesn’t want to hear about it, lest he become involved in the rapidly expanding debacle, and the chief engineer of the Central Region tells him to follow orders. Mitchum types up the train orders, and every employee down the line who executes them knows that the orders are wrong, but if the Unification Board rules against them, they and their families will starve to death.

Mitchum tells Brent he is taking a track motor up the line to Fairmount, where he thinks there may be a diesel engine available. It is clear to Brent that Mitchum is trying to make himself scarce. Mitchum tells Brent to wait thirty minutes and then send the Comet through the tunnel with a coal burning steam locomotive. Brent refuses, demanding a written order, which Mitchum won’t provide. Brent realizes Mitchum is framing him for the Unification Board, so he quits. Mitchum screams that he will bring the law down on him. Brent demands that Mitchum repeat his train order in front of witnesses, and Mitchum assaults him. Brent leaves, and Mitchum gives his orders to the call boy, who executes them after major misgivings.

At Winston, the engineer of the coal burner refuses to drive the train and vanishes into the night. The station agent hands the job to a drunk employee who is a friend of Fred Kinnan and who has already survived a bout with the Unification Board. As the train departs with Chalmers’ car in the consist, the conductor slips off the train and disappears. By amazing coincidence, the passengers in the first class section of the Comet include a professor of sociology who teaches collectivism, a journalist supporting the use of compulsion because his feelings dictate, a schoolteacher who has corrupted the minds of innocents, a newspaper publisher who believes in fascism, and a businessman who received his big break from the Equalization of Opportunity Bill. This is just a short sample of the long list of miscreants Rand lists as passengers on this Train of Fools. As the train enters the tunnel, the last living vision of its passengers is of Wyatt’s Torch.

Railroad Technology

Taggart Transcontinental’s tunnel is based on the real life Moffat Tunnel, opened in 1926, and built by the Denver and Rio Grande. Thanks to multiple mergers, it is owned today by the Union Pacific.

A track motor is a powered handcar, now replaced by the ubiquitous high railer, which is a truck or SUV fitted with railroad wheels. Today, even large trucks, such as vacuum trucks that clean rights-of-way and culverts, carry high railer technology, and railroads designate them as trains on their dispatching systems.

Telegraphers, local dispatchers and call boys disappeared with the addition of radio to the railroads’ arsenal in the Fifties. Today, data telemetry and the Internet permit railroads to have up-to-the-minute information, which is why railroads utilize single location dispatching.

Discussion Topics

Next Saturday: By Our Love

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Free Republic; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: freeperbookclub
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To: whodathunkit
The political vs. nature battle will always be won by nature.

I'm stealing that. ;-)

21 posted on 05/09/2009 12:30:55 PM PDT by Billthedrill
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To: Publius
In Stephen King’s epic novel The Stand, there is a long passage enumerating the less significant people who died of the Captain Trips virus, and each is kissed off with the sentiment that his death was no great loss. Rand does the same thing here, but with a tone of malevolence. These people had it coming, and they got it; it was their long delayed comeuppance. Is Rand pushing the envelope?

They didn't get what they deserved. They got what they wanted. They had all spent their lives bringing about the circumstances that got them killed. They wanted people of need in charge of their safety rather than people of ability.

22 posted on 05/09/2009 12:34:37 PM PDT by Redcloak ("Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as he chambered his last round.)
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To: Billthedrill
the government has started to arrest “deserters” and then stopped when it became obvious that there were too many to be kept. A temporary situation, one suspects, before the prison camps are constructed.

We know how the USSR solved the problem of too many prisoners to feed and house.

23 posted on 05/09/2009 12:37:16 PM PDT by gracie1 (visualize whirled peas)
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To: Styria
Robin Hood is about stealing from the tax collector what was taken from serfs

Ahhh... but...

Stealing is stealing.

Thus the reference to the unsustainable financial strategy.

Let's substitute the word 'torture' for stealing. Is it ok to torture a person because he tortured others? (well maybe not the best example, but you get my drift.)

24 posted on 05/09/2009 12:39:46 PM PDT by whodathunkit (Shrugging as I leave for the Gulch)
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To: Publius

“These people had it coming, and they got it; it was their long delayed comeuppance. Is Rand pushing the envelope?”

It’s hard on the sentiments when people die in needless accidents...however when people die due to their own actions or the logical consequence of the policy they employ it is rough justice.

25 posted on 05/09/2009 12:59:51 PM PDT by TASMANIANRED (TAZ:Untamed, Unpredictable, Uninhibited.)
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To: Publius
It's available at

From the Netflix site:

Director Michael Paxton profiles writer and thinker Ayn Rand, a Russian-born author who championed the ideals of capitalism, individualism and reason, and gained notoriety for "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." Through a mix of interviews and movie clips, Paxton chronicles the popular writer's life, not her controversial philosophies. Actress Sharon Gless narrates the film, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.

26 posted on 05/09/2009 1:02:31 PM PDT by xsysmgr
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To: Redcloak
They wanted people of need in charge of their safety rather than people of ability.

Oh, that was good! Right between the eyes.

27 posted on 05/09/2009 1:12:54 PM PDT by Publius (Sex is the manifestation of God's wicked sense of humor.)
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To: whodathunkit
Torture? Pffft. Let's substitute 'vampirism' for stealing. Is it okay to stomach pump a vampire and return that blood to the victim via IV?

Robin Hood was about serfs who had every last thing taken from them. It's like a 100% tax rate. That's not sustainable.

28 posted on 05/09/2009 1:37:27 PM PDT by Styria
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To: Styria
...and return that blood to the victim...

Again, this is redistribution. With my apologies to all the vampires out there (it was his analogy, not mine:) why is there a need for vampires?

It's like a 100% tax rate. That's not sustainable.

Robin Hoods' motive may be laudable but he really is only redistributing wealth. Certainly he can not be considered a producer.
Ragnar has this same conflict within his group but has decided that, as a temporary measure, it is acceptable to himself (with restrictions).

29 posted on 05/09/2009 2:19:08 PM PDT by whodathunkit (Shrugging as I leave for the Gulch)
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To: DManA
Gold’s only objective value is it’s usefulness in industrial processes.

Spoken like a liberal who has never held a Krugerrand!

Before there were industrial processes, gold had a value not dissimilar to what it has today. No one forces you to recognize this, but it would be nice if you would let those of us who do cling to our "fantasies."


30 posted on 05/09/2009 2:27:53 PM PDT by ml/nj
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To: Billthedrill
...those that thrive on the first model build up enough surplus for the disastrous consequences of transitioning to the second to be masked for a time...

Two points worthy of bringing to attention. The pie needs to exist and it needs to be accessible to the looters. Lacking either, the beast starves.

as nonsensically as if a waterwheel were ordered to continue turning while the river is stopped

But, but, but....

the waterwheel NEEDS to turn:)

“He’d be either on foot or in a battered wreck of a car that’s got a million-dollar motor.” No, no, no, this won’t do at all.

For readability I imagined this as a phrase that meant they had given chase earlier but couldn't catch up. Perhaps because it was well tuned by a competent mechanic. I'm sure, however, that Rand was implying it was more than that.

I posed the question of whether there are, in the act of Atlas shrugging, no innocent victims. Rand here implies that there are not

I believe that this applies to Rands take on the Robin Hood reference as well. The serfs are not able or willing to stand up to the injustices they are subjected to.

Thanks for the post Billthedrill.

31 posted on 05/09/2009 3:12:55 PM PDT by whodathunkit (Shrugging as I leave for the Gulch)
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To: Publius
“Ayn Rand, A Sense of Life”, a 1997 documentary (just looked it up, I saw it a couple of years ago and didn’t know it was older).

Netflix has it.

And I was intrigued by your use of the term "consist", and wondered why AR didn't use it. Perhaps she thought it too arcane? I know that she researched the railroad industry thoroughly for the novel, and steel-making as well.


32 posted on 05/09/2009 5:26:09 PM PDT by woodnboats (Help stimulate the economy: Buy guns NOW, while you still can!)
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To: Billthedrill
How absurd to imagine that someone could simply move into a state and become a senior elected official merely because political operators found it convenient, especially a state as large and important as California…or New York, where one Hillary Clinton did precisely that. Maybe not so absurd.

Or Bobby Kennedy before her, whose presence in the Senate was deemed so important to the Nation that silly rules of residency had to be waived by New York State in order that he might serve. Unfortunately, the short-sightedness of the Founding Fathers precluded just adding a new seat in Massachusetts. Ahh, the Vision of the Anointed! At least Hillary is a Jewish Yankee fan, thus more of a New Yorker than the Irish Red Sox fan Kennedy.


33 posted on 05/09/2009 5:41:10 PM PDT by woodnboats (Help stimulate the economy: Buy guns NOW, while you still can!)
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To: sionnsar

Yeah-h-h-h-h, I guess you’re right. The Army munitions train is a literary device placed there to destroy the tunnel. I was reading too much into it.

34 posted on 05/09/2009 6:38:57 PM PDT by Publius (Sex is the manifestation of God's wicked sense of humor.)
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To: woodnboats
You're probably right about her desire to avoid industry buzzwords.

She doesn't refer to a "heat" of steel as a unit of measurement either.

35 posted on 05/09/2009 6:48:52 PM PDT by Publius (Sex is the manifestation of God's wicked sense of humor.)
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To: Billthedrill
Can't a tragedy still be a tragedy if it is bad people that get killed instead of innocents? Not to mention the economic costs of losing the tunnel and train.

Perhaps Rand was simply being ironic in the two pages describing the victims and how they participated in causing the situation that resulted in their deaths. After all, two pages is nothing for her.

36 posted on 05/10/2009 6:07:46 AM PDT by DownwardSpiral (Downward Spiral is where the (socialist) liberals are taking us!)
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To: Publius

If there were a total breakdown of society I think guns. ammunition, food and commodities like gasoline and heaating oil will be more valuable than gold.

37 posted on 05/10/2009 9:45:14 AM PDT by MtnClimber (Bernard Madoff's ponzi scheme looks remarkably similar to the way Social Security works)
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To: MtnClimber
During a crunch, perhaps.

But when the crunch ends, how does one restart an economy? A new fiat currency like the Amero or Globo? Food, ammunition and gasoline? Or gold and silver?

38 posted on 05/10/2009 10:52:57 AM PDT by Publius (Sex is the manifestation of God's wicked sense of humor.)
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To: Publius

I know two people who escaped from Cuba and came to the USA due to the hardships of Castro’s utopia. They said that goods were rationed by the government, but people would trade among themselves to get items they really wanted more. They had to avoid getting caught by the block captain, of course. I had not thought about how you would restart an economy.

39 posted on 05/10/2009 12:10:20 PM PDT by MtnClimber (Bernard Madoff's ponzi scheme looks remarkably similar to the way Social Security works)
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To: ml/nj

No, I was speaking as an objectivist.

40 posted on 05/10/2009 2:49:54 PM PDT by DManA
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