Chapter III — Part VI

February 19, 2016

Getting, one supposes, to the bottom of things, Ms. Rand brings us back to Eddie Willers. Like Dagny, he prefers those places and things that feel like they are part of the railroad to any kind of executive trappings. As such, you can find him taking his dinner in the basement cafeteria; a place that shines in white light, glass and chromium…a poetic inverse to the dingy penthouse bar where Jim took his liquored lunch.

Eddie has a friend there, of sorts, though he knows neither his name nor what he actually does at the railroad other than ask questions about Dagny. Eddie likes his face and his interest in the company. This is enough for Eddie to make him his most trusted confidant.

Eddie talks about Dagny, her greatness, and how it’s impossible to get in earlier than she does even if Eddie does sometimes manage to stay later…how she’ll save the company by prioritizing repair of the Rio Norte line. Eddie, he’s a simply guy who reckons he’ll just go down with the rail…not that he can really fathom the company ever actually going under. They talk about the unreported number of accidents, including a head-on collision, as well as how they’ve been waiting more than two years for new locomotives.

Motive power – you can’t imagine how important that is. That’s the heart of everything…What are you smiling at?”

Eddie reveals to this man the name of the one competent contractor left, McNamara, who finished the San Sebastian and who will lay the Rio Norte tracks. He also shares that all Dagny does at night is listen to Richard Halley records; that they are the only thing she loves, other than the train…

Chapter III — Part V

February 16, 2016

As much as she resents physical limitations, Dagny is tired and must leave work. The author notes that one more employee remains – Eddie. She nods at him, and exits.

As in the train, Dagny is not the type for elevators or private ways…she prefers to take the main concourse of Taggart Transcontinental and pay homage to the illustrious founder of the railway, Nat Taggart. We learn that Dagny would prefer he wasn’t her ancestor, as blood seems to imply some unearned obligation that she disdains. He is, regardless, her one revered idol. The statue captures him as a young man ready to take on the world. It is a posture with which Dagny resonates and in which she finds her deepest joy.

Here, Nat’s rags to riches biography is offered. Like Hank, he is much maligned, though Rand asserts that “no penny of his wealth had been obtained by force or fraud.” We are to understand that Taggart spoke in no grand terms about “public good”. Rather, he offered a service for a price and let no one stand in his way. It is suggested that he did possibly murder a legislator for trying to revoke a covenant and short sell his stock. Indicted but not found guilty, the act apparently solved that kind of problem. He did also once throw a government man down three flights stairs for offering him a loan. Seems a bit much…are we to assume the entity was applying force in trying to make this deal? Given Rand’s trust in government, we might…

Clearly Nat suffered no handouts, nor governmental favors nor, she says, loans. One imagines, then, that the bankers whose doors he knocked on were offered more straight forward investment opportunities…but…what’s the difference beyond semantics and accounting nuances, really, assuming there’s a return either way? His confidence? Perhaps, or maybe he just didn’t like “evil” government opportunities. It’s certainly hard to imagine how a man who came from nothing could alone amass the fortune and more needed to build a transcontinental transportation network.

Nat did find himself in a tight spot where he needed a loan once. After throwing the government man down the stairs for the crime of offering assistance, he offered his wife up as collateral to his apparently more worthy arch enemy of a millionaire. With her consent. As an heiress who had already been disowned for marrying Nat when he was still a poor young upstart, apparently this kind of adventure turned her on.

An admiring Dagny grants herself the great, restful luxury of looking up briefly at the stature.

She then goes to buy a pack of smokes from a cultured man who used to produce cigarettes but went bankrupt and has since stood in his stand, no living family but his pride. A connoisseur of tobacco products, he collects them worldwide. When Dagny asks how his collections growing, however, we learn the market has dried considerably. Businesses are folding.

“People aren’t making anything new anymore.”

She says it’s only temporary and he looks at her. He talks of how he relishes the idea of fire, captured and held between a man’s fingers, romanticizing the quality of thought fostered by meditating over curling smoke. He sees the spot of light as symbolizing the flame of ideas,

“Do they ever think?”…Dagny recoils at the horror of this involuntary utterance; her great fear. He catches her start, but doesn’t call her on it (apparently, for these things, it’s okay not to look one in the eye)…but shares a parallel thought about an unpleasant change in humanity:

“’I’ve watched them here for twenty years and I’ve seen the change. They used to rush through here and it was wonderful to watch, it was the hurry of men who knew where they were going and were eager to get there. Now they’re hurrying because they’re afraid. It’s not a purpose that drives them, it’s fear. They’re not going anywhere, they’re escaping. And I don’t think they know what it is they want to escape. They don’t look at one another. They jerk when brushed against. They smile too much, but it’s an ugly kind of smiling: it’s not joy, it’s pleading. I don’t know what it is that’s happening to the world.’ He shrugged, ‘Oh, well. who is John Galt?’”

Dagny recoils at the phrase, both for its lack of clear meaning, and for what people seem to mean when they say it.

Chapter III — Part IV

February 9, 2016

Not all of the Taggart Transcontinental Directors share Dagny’s stubborn loyalty. Two Directors and the Vice President of Operations immediately resign. The latter is replaced by a crony of Jim’s.

The juxtaposition comes to life: A beautiful rail line is laid through Mexican desert, while the Rio Norte line is left in increasingly dangerous and debilitating disrepair. After a fiery accident caused by a split rail that Jim labels an “Act of God” Ellis Wyatt, the man who somehow made oil spew where everyone thought things dry, abandons Taggart Transcontinental for the Phoenix Durango. This rival is a small, but apparently far more sensible rail line.

After three years of struggling in vain to keep things running under Jim’s indecisive, ineffective man, Dagny demands that they credit the work she’s done against all odds with a proper title and authority as head of Operations, or she’s gone. Jim protests — She is a woman! Dagny doesn’t understand why, but the Board of Directors votes unanimously to keep her.

At this point, the San Sebastian line is three years in and one third complete with the budget spent. Dagny fires the cronies, finds a decent contractor, and gets the job done in less than a year. Meanwhile, Francisco D’Anconia, claims his mines are still in development. There is nothing else to feed that rail.

Now we are in the novel’s present. The hemorrhage continues, but at least Dagny can now focus on the puzzle of saving the system. If she can save the Rio Norte, she can redeem the rest. Rather than focusing on the folly, she turns to innovation and makes a phone call:

“Hank, can you save us? Can you give us rail on the shortest notice and the longest credit possible?”

This man we were told is known as ruthless answers, “Sure.” Should we be fearing that he will take the greatest advantage to exploit the opportunity? Apparently, not. Rather, “There was one thing, at least, that could be counted upon not to crumble when needed.”

[Okay…so…here we are and I need to comment. I feel for our heroes deeply, and loath those who are sucking their souls. At the same time, I feel like I’m being led to believe one thing, when I’m actually seeing another.

On one hand, I agree with Rand that we should observe people carefully: Yes, this is what they say, but watch what they actually do. We’re supposed to recognize that Hank is not really ruthless. If he was, his familial deadbeats would be out on their ass, his wife would be replaced with a new trophy, and there would be a list of abuses suffered by his employees and the environment. At this vulnerable moment in the story, he would likely smell Dagny’s desperation and demand a little bit of her soul. I mean, yeah it’s his first sale, but this guy is clearly not written to be the cruel, opportunistic psychopath that we are told is his reputation. Neither does Dagny seem particularly selfish …well, yeah, maybe she’s a little bit conceited and doesn’t particularly care to know, help or understand anyone else. I’m already wishing she seemed to appreciate Eddie more. I suppose it also seems highly unlikely that anyone could build what Hank has all by his lonesome. He must be overlooking some credit where it’s due…So, perhaps these characters deserve more of what they’re getting than is made obvious. Still, I think Rand wants us to accept that they’re wrongfully maligned because they are noble, competent  and focused. At the very least, they clearly work their asses off to provide useful products and services to the world, with Dagny herself more or less happy to toil away in the unappreciated shadows until she just can’t take the futility of that anymore.

Then there are the jerks these guys are surrounded by…Yes, people are often not what they seem. Many get what they selfishly want by giving reasons they know folks want to hear. They make excuses and shirk responsibility. People can be hypocritical, deceitful, sometimes plain old foolish. Politics can be petty and corrupt. Some people are adept at climbing ladders without merit, and others reward people for their own selfish reasons while ignoring entirely the actual responsibility that is their job. Power gets abused. All of this often comes at great cost to others. We should take care to avoid rewarding poor behavior, and look to notice those who deserve merit. Yes. I agree.

Are we to believe, however, that all captains of industry who are criticized are wrongfully maligned? That all those who claim to be thinking about more than themselves are actually selfish and irresponsible? Really? I feel like that’s the conclusion I’m being asked to jump to…It’s quite a leap! Anyway, let’s keep reading…]

So, now James comes, swaggering up after the bar, only to lose his mojo when he reaches Dagny’s desk. He asks about how she expects the Mexicans to develop with the relics she’s got running on the San Sebastian line. She says she doesn’t expect them to do anything, much less support what she’s got on there, warning that they will just take the line over for themselves whenever they think they can steal the most from it. She further explains that if he’d read any of her reports he wouldn’t have had to find out about how she equips the San Sebastian line from Boyle. Jim demands she change it. Dagny demands that he tell her what line she should take the requested resources from. He says she’s turning things around on him. She calmly explains that she’s awaiting orders. Jim, in what promises to be characteristic instant hypocrisy, then threatens to bring her before the board for overstepping her authority. We can imagine her rolling her eyes. Go for it, she offers. “I’ll answer for it”

We learn something, too…Dagny didn’t always think Francisco was a bum…Not at all…

Chapter III — Part III

February 8, 2016

Jim’s first act as President of Taggart Transcontinental was to gain approval of that San Sebastian line that is sucking the lifeblood out of the entire railroad. Many hands went into that, but one man rises above in Dagny’s eyes: Francisco D’Anconia, who inherited a great fortune at 23, as well as a Midas touch of the financial genius that likely made his family among the most noble in Argentina. He’s also apparently a lazy playboy whom Dagny sees as a horrid waste of life – both hers and his.

Jim and his buddies apparently don’t like him either, for different reasons. We are to smirk at the hypocrisy that they were so quick to beg to become the biggest shareholders of the vast swaths of mountains in Mexico that D’Anconia bought and named the San Sebastian Mines. There’s no evidence that there’s anything in those depths, by the way, only speculation based on the mogul’s reputation.

Some objected when Jim proposed running the San Sebastian line down from Texas. The Rio Norte line was already in need of major investment. Dagny fought, but at the time was only an assistant in Operating. Jim got approval and then obtained a contract promising property rights for two hundred years in the People’s State of Mexico, a land that in this story has no such rights. This is the same promise that was extended to D’Anconio.

Supporting Board Members talk of benefiting from the wealth of copper that no one’s seen proof of, and a moral obligation to put people above profits and assist the underprivileged Mexican nation in achieving industrialization. They say that, “the old theory of economic self-sufficiency has been exploded long ago. It is impossible for one country to prosper in the midst of a starving world”

However, this “moral” obligation is not something the system can afford. The railroad is not prospering. Those statements are juxtaposed with Dagny’s reflections on abandoned lines, dangerous maintenance deficiencies – including an abandoned engine wreck — and their failure to adequately serve the paying customer, Wyatt, whom she sees as a source of lifeblood to the economy. Not being selfish here apparently means choosing the Mexican’s interests over a desperate need to invest everything into healing Taggart Transcontinental’s own starving system…which we understand would sensibly include investing in Ellis Wyatt’s much more clearly demonstrable movements to breathe life into the US Midwest.

The Taggart Transcontinental board would rather focus on lauding the Mexican Government for “discipline” and “efficiency” in its complete control of everything, and on its potential as a sharp competitor in the future. Jim speaks in “unfinished sentences” about how his ominously unnamed government friends are encouraging this line as a matter of international diplomacy. We are to understand there’s more that Dagny senses but doesn’t understand, left unsaid.

The company lays out $30 million for the project. All Dagny can think is “Get out…get out…get out”…words she can’t believe she is thinking…”She felt terror, not at the thought but at the question of what had made her think it.”

Again, she stubbornly refuses. Clearly, they now need her more than ever.

Chapter III — Part II

February 2, 2016

“It was not a sudden decision, but only the final seal of words upon something she had known long ago. In unspoken understanding, as if bound by a vow it had never been necessary to take, she and Eddie Willers had given themselves to the railroad from the first conscious days of childhood”                                                                                                                

And so Ms. Rand steps us back to see how we got here, returning to a Dagny who is nine years old. Her young heart resonates with the proud tracks cutting through the old woods, gleaming in the sunlight as some alien triumph of will, skill and achievement. We learn of how alone Dagny felt among people to whom she did not feel she could even try to explain her passions and ambitions; her longing and expectation that she would someday be among those who build great things. We are told that the only subject she liked in school was math; of her admiration for those who were sharp enough to create the discipline, and her arrogant joy in effortlessly advancing through increasingly difficult levels of problem solving.

We are further told that from a very young age Dagny was labeled as conceited and selfish, and that clear explanation for these accusations was never given. Are we to assume that’s because she doesn’t share the interests of those around her? That those who accuse are equally guilty of having no interest in hers? That, perhaps, because they are the “dull” majority, her needs as a human being are discounted entirely? Or does she actually treat others poorly, with a disdain that is not as “patiently borne” as we are told? We only know for sure that she seems to be Hank Rearden’s kindred spirit.

Dagny is 12 when she states matter of factly to Eddie Willers that she would run the railroad. Now, this was published in 1957 so we should remember that the proverbial ceiling here is made of tougher stuff than glass. At 15 she realizes that her dream is not acceptable women’s work. She ends that thought with a prompt dismissal of such nonsense. At 16 she goes to work in a small country station, working nights while going to engineering college during the day.

“Her father permitted it: He was amused and a little curious.”

Thirteen years later, her father dies. All we are told about his final days is that his last words, given to her with a look that “had the quality of a salute and of compassion,” are that “there has always been a Taggart to run the railroad.

He says this to her and then effectively leaves the interest to her older brother Jim, who started working at the same time she did, when he was 21. His starting place was the PR department. Dagny moves swiftly through the operational ranks, uncontested if not actually supported. Jim, who is apparently good at building relationships and getting favors in Washington, if nothing else, is elected President of the organization with a standing ovation.

Dagny doesn’t understand and, for that matter, can’t be bothered to care. In an odd combination of humility and hubris she believes Jim can take the vaunted position and that she can prevent him from ruining things through her control of Operations. The old railroad men, whom it is said revile Jim, seem to recognize her as their true leader, offering the same helpless moral support that her father did.

Boy, I know that feeling. God, it sucks.

She longs for ability, for spark, for drive. A worthy rival, even. Given what we are reading, perhaps she could use some courageous support. We hear no mention of any gratitude for or recognition of Eddie’s dogged loyalty, but we don’t know if that’s because he’s taken fully for granted or if we’re to understand that he’s simply insufficient…What we do learn is that good men are hard to find and that the adversary that thwarts her is incompetence, indecision, and a general dearth of backbone, “a gray spread of cotton that seemed soft and shapeless, that could offer no resistance to anything or anybody, yet managed to be a barrier in her way.”

Early on, when first realizing that adulthood is not going to offer her expected Camelot of brilliant lights, Dagny has fits of tortured longing. Initially baffled at the situation, she then stubbornly refuses to let it get to her. There’s work to be done. If she’s to do it alone, so be it.

We are set in a sky-high basement lounge, a penthouse bar that is dark, dank, shallow and fitting for powerful men of base intentions, where eye contact is avoided by design. Here we find Orren Boyle, James Taggart, Wesley Mouch and Philip Larkin.

The description of Boyle evokes images of well-fed swine. We are told he is a recent tycoon due to a massive government grant and small personal investment. This silver spoon enabled him to devour smaller companies, earning the public acclaim he gives as proof of his value. He complains about a natural exhaustion of the mines, worn down equipment, and other material and logistical shortages that hamper any actual achievement.

Phil Larkin – our clinging friend of Rearden’s from the last chapter – clarifies that a crumbling of the ore industry is having a domino effect on other business. We are to take Boyle’s complaints about the successful few as petulant whines and Larkin’s statement as partial logic that fails to seek an obvious remedy: Competence.  The idea that ore might actually be a limited natural resource is given no consideration.

The passage is littered with phrases intended to articulate these men’s philosophy, and to associate them as the “true” motivators of, not only socialism, but any proposed regulation of the market:

“Disunity,” drawled James Taggart, “seems to be the basic cause of all social problems”

“It’s my absolute opinion that in our complex industrial society, no business enterprise can succeed without sharing the burden of the problems of other enterprises”

“It’s generally conceded that the free economy is now on trial: Unless is proves its social value and assumes its social responsibilities, the people won’t stand for it. ”

“The only justification of private property,” said Orren Boyle, “is public service.”

It is hard to imagine that, for all their talk of the public, these men care for anyone but themselves.  We are offered classic Orwellian twists with an extra oomph that is intended to subsume the center as well as the extremes in communist fallacy. Boyle says he’s for the preservation of free enterprise, so long as free enterprise is slowed to his pace. Taggart, our patriarchal nepotite instists, “Since I hold purse strings, I expect to get my money’s worth and at my pleasure.”

The toxic cocktail offered is a partnership in slime. They complain about both monopolies and unbridled competition. Moderation is what they claim to advocate. However, it seems that any act of moderation is done to open a loophole either in their interest or as a favor.

They speak on the general rejection of Rearden Metal, claiming it a shame that one man be allowed to make irresponsible experiments on precious ore. They offer dogmatic refusal to believe that his composite could be so light and yet so strong. We read that there is a council devised to explore its danger.  We are to assume this council is purely political; that such demonizations of untested materials are never based in fact but only ever the self-interested propaganda of a small-minded status quo.

We are shown relationships being given value at the expense of reality. Taggart will lean on legislators for “progressive social policy”. Boyle will lean on the National Alliance of Railroads to hamper the Phoenix Durango that is competing with Taggart.  Larkin is asked to lean on his friends – presumably to betray Rearden via the previously mentioned, apparently pseudoscientific council. Larkin balks, weakly, and then submits.

Wesley Mouch is a man whom it is said no one listens to, but Larkin clearly fears. Is he alone? He seems to be the ominous part of Larkin’s patently weak threat to Rearden in the previous chapter. We are told, in the end, that Mouch is Rearden’s man in Washington. Clearly Hank has no sense when it comes to choosing relationships. These man do not share his interests or have his back as anything but a target.

They speak of the San Sebastian Mines in the People’s State of Mexico.  Their hypocrisy is evident, as is their stupidity. They are thrilled that the mines are a last bastion of private property in communist Mexico. Like the salesman who falls for every huckster he meets, Boyle assures them it will remain so with reports on dining with Mexican Ministers whom, the reader can clearly see, have every interest in swindling them .

Boyle notes that in addition to the sickening food meant as a literary clue to the reality in Mexico, the only other problem is that there aren’t many trains running there. Those that are, Boyle describes as archaic. Taggart is surprised. Concerned. Plying their primary trade, he sells them an excuse about an unavoidable lack of motive power, and hurries away.

Out of his sky-high dive and back into the sharp sunlight Jim goes, probably with a headache. He needs to return to the office.

 

bourbon