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The Theme of Atlas Shrugged
by Jeremy Browning
May. 11, 2011 01:35

I drove an hour to a nearby town to watch Atlas Shrugged tonight. On the way home I found myself struggling to wrap my mind around the theme of the story. It's been 10 years since I read Atlas Shrugged in its entirety, and tonight I was trying to piece together the kernel at the center of it.

As we cruised home, I was telling my travelmates about the idea that evil is impotent and that in a way it requires the participation of the good to gain power. I couldn't remember how Ayn Rand put it, but when I got home I looked up the passage below.

I believe it contains the Tootsie Roll at the center of Rand's masterpiece. And if it's that central to the novel, maybe it's the most important paragraph she ever wrote. I say that because she recognized Atlas Shrugged as her magnum opus and I don't believe she ever wrote fiction again once it was published.

The idea is called the "Sanction of the Victim," and it goes like this:

(Although it's one paragraph, I broke it up to make it easier to swallow. I think in the original novel they were trying to save paper because the book was so long.)

Then I saw what was wrong with the world, I saw what destroyed men and nations, and where the battle for life had to be fought. I saw that the enemy was an inverted morality—and that my sanction was its only power. I saw that evil was impotent—that evil was the irrational, the blind, the anti-real—and that the only weapon of its triumph was the willingness of the good to serve it.

Just as the parasites around me were proclaiming their helpless dependence on my mind and were expecting me voluntarily to accept a slavery they had no power to enforce, just as they were counting on my self-immolation to provide them with the means of their plan—so throughout the world and throughout men’s history, in every version and form, from the extortions of loafing relatives to the atrocities of collectivized countries, it is the good, the able, the men of reason, who act as their own destroyers, who transfuse to evil the blood of their virtue and let evil transmit to them the poison of destruction, thus gaining for evil the power of survival, and for their own values—the impotence of death.

I saw that there comes a point, in the defeat of any man of virtue, when his own consent is needed for evil to win—and that no manner of injury done to him by others can succeed if he chooses to withhold his consent.

I saw that I could put an end to your outrages by pronouncing a single word in my mind. I pronounced it. The word was "No."

In my early 20s, I spent several months trying to come to terms with the meaning of that idea. I wanted to know exactly what she meant and exactly how she arrived at that conclusion. That lead me to read almost every word of non-fiction Rand ever published. And it lead me to conclude that although her championing of capitalism was what had gotten me excited about her work in the first place, Rand was not just another capitalist. I came to realize that her understanding of and respect for the the philosophical underpinnings of capitalism deserved a closer look. I came to understand that Rand's viewpoint was qualitatively different from the other capitalist viewpoints I was familiar with.

Rand was digging deep, I found. And her ideas carried so much weight because they were so damn tenable. I'd read a new idea of hers and it would sound clever or interesting. Then I'd play the Devil's Advocate and try to come at it from another angle and see if it still held water. Sometimes her ideas would get stuck in my head for days and I'd sit there thinking, Wow, this woman has really done her homework.

Observe the power of her words: half a century after being published, her great work is still so relevant and so highly revered that it continues to be a sensation and is embraced by a large following of readers who would otherwise vehemently disagree with her on religious grounds. She makes so much sense that even readers who would fight her to the death over her atheism are happy to associate themselves with her political viewpoints.

The passage I quoted above should be read slowly. One sentence at a time. I find that I start to appreciate why she enclosed that paragraph within a half-million-word novel. It required 1,100 pages to illustrate what she was driving at.

Imagine me, a 20-something coming to terms with the power of her words and actually the power of words in general. Now imagine me combing through the philosophy textbooks at Colorado State University, searching the philosophy anthologies at the college library, scanning the indexes and excitedly racing my eyes down the "R" sections looking for reference to Ayn Rand, looking for further information.


She's not there.

You'll find her name mentioned from time-to-time. Rarely, she gets a paragraph or two.

What's going on? I wondered. She's secular enough that it can't be some religious bias. She's a best-selling author, so surely she's not too obscure to be mentioned.

It doesn't take long, walking around a modern college campus, where one can actually taste in the air the loathing that higher education harbors for capitalism, it doesn't take long to figure out why a great thinker is missing from the "R" sections in all those indexes.

Edited May. 11, 2011 08:27


Eat the Rich
by Jeremy Browning
Apr. 29, 2011 11:03

I keep hearing about this great idea to solve our money problems by taking it away from all of George Bush's rich friends.

This video does a pretty good job of showing how these kinds of Kindergarten solutions play out.

This Eat The Rich mentality *is* a Kindergarten solution to a Grown-up problem. It's like, "Seriously, that's your plan?"

Other Kindergarten solutions to Grown-up problems:
We can run our country off of wind power.
We can "Save the Earth."
We can indefinitely spend more than money than we have.

Have you ever noticed that liberals get so excited about "Sustainability" in the realms of energy and natural resources or Walmart's business practices, but when it comes to the country's finances, they behave exactly as the greediest logger clomping through the woods and felling every tree in sight without regard for future lumber needs or the health of the overall forest.

The bottom line is that we cannot continue to spend money at current levels without foreshadowing a very dire breakdown of society. The only question is how long we can stave off the disaster. Or we can start spending less right now... like at noon today, for instance.

Edited Apr. 29, 2011 11:32


Reality: A Steadfast Ally
by Jeremy Browning
Mar. 28, 2011 12:39

Lately, I feel bombarded by "End Times" themes.

It comes from overheard conversations among the true believers in my hometown. It comes from my customers: a new client just ordered a custom T-shirt print that reads, "We Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet," which is meant to remind folks that all the unrest in the world of late is nothing compared to what the End Times has in store for us.

And now I see it internationally, from believers in other faiths. This morning I read a story about the Iranian government's belief that current Mid-East strife is the signal of the coming of the arrival of the mythical tweflth Imam.

It feels a little claustrophobic to be an unbeliever in this local and global climate that seems to be so bizzare. I might go on to mention all the other times the true believers were so sure that the end is nigh.

But as in all things, reality will have the last say. Either the Christian god is real and the second-coming is right around the corner, or it isn't. Either the twelfth Imam, to quote the CBN story, "will lead the armies of Islam to victory over all non-Muslims in the last days," or he won't.

I find it comforting not to be pining for the confirmation of those fanciful, centuries-old predictions.

Of course, it may be that I'm standing here muttering, "Oh fuck," while the twelfth Imam and his hordes trample me and my Christian neighbors -- who are also muttering, "Oh fuck."

Or, it could be that the Muslims and I are mouthing the obscenities while the Christians get beamed up in the Rapture and all hell breaks loose on Earth.

Or perhaps, as today, I'll shake my head at all of that nonsense, while disembodied souls and supernatural father figures and the lustful conquest fantasies of the faithful continue to be as out-of-touch with reality as they were yesterday and in 1830 and 610.

Edited Mar. 28, 2011 12:50


2010: A Post Mortem
by Jeremy Browning
Jan. 06, 2011 20:37

"If you think about it, you only need three things," Bill said, leaning over the counter in the front office of my T-shirt shop. "A roof over your head. Food. And clothing. Everything else is a luxury."

Bill was explaining that he had just dropped the job as intramural soccer coach at the community college because they insisted he file some reports online. Bill doesn't do online. He's not going to waste any part of what he calls the "last quarter" of his life adding any more complications. The school insisted he log on to their network to file grades for his soccer students. So Bill quit.

On one hand, Bill is an anti-capitalist, anti-American, soccer-can-save-the-world Fruitloop. And I sparred with him briefly, wondering out loud if it would be simpler for the school write all 250 report cards by hand, or simply print them out after the teachers spent a few minutes logging the grades online.

But I let Bill off really easy because I'll be damned if he doesn't have a point. "I'm looking to simplify my life, Bill," I said. "What do you recommend?"

He explained that most people have three full-time jobs: their Nine-to-five plus the job of parent, which is more than full-time, plus the job of spouse, which is full-time if you do it right.

It's too much for any human, he reasoned. Especially since we work way harder than we need to trying to fill our lives with luxury items instead of being content with the Big Three.

He had me hooked. It was a busy Tuesday morning. I was already behind schedule and stressed. Two of my employees were waiting in the wings just behind the production room door (I have an annoying sixth sense for that now: I can feel when my employees have run out of all the decent work and come asking what's next before they tackle the "Fun Items" list that is pinned up in the shop and contains tasks such as "Clean lint on dryers and dryer belts").

But I left the crew hanging, kissed my morning deadlines goodbye and engaged Bill for 30 minutes. I permitted him the diatribes that normally have me flashing the secret hand signal for someone in the back to call my desk on their cell phone pretending to be an angry, urgent customer.

Bill told me how to simplify. He's not married. He has no kids. He survived for decades on the equivalent of $7,000/year catching odd jobs and doing dishes. I'm not kidding you. The dude's pushing 70 and I've seen him in the back of some of my favorite restaurants, elbow-deep in suds. His land, house and Subaru Outback are paid for. He works a few days a week for the hell of it. He's been a ski bum since the Sixties. He takes disabled kids skiing every other Saturday and trades the Mountain for a thousand dollars in free lift tickets. He rides his bike everywhere.

Bill had me hanging on his every word like a bunch of Doak Walker footballers listening to John Elway explain how to throw a spiral.

Here's why: Two Thousand Ten kicked my butt.

I just got rocked and don't quite know how I'm still trudging forth.

On the one hand, I'm a complete pussy, because I didn't experience any of the potentially earth-shattering horribleness that no doubt was served up to many others.

On paper it was a fine, fine year. It was the highest-grossing year in my company's history, despite a deep downturn in the local economy. My children and wife are happy and healthy.

But throughout the year, my gut felt like it was stuck half-way down the first free fall on a roller coaster. And I remember thinking, "Dude, this stress isn't good for you." And I remember that I agonized over bids for big jobs, then rejoiced when I got them, then wondered how in the hell I'd fit them into my already packed schedule, then found a way, which usually entailed printing until 10, 11, 12, 1, 2 or 3. I even pulled an all-nighter. I literally printed T-shirts all night long.

I solved seemingly impossible technical feats, cranked out full-color reproductions of paintings, printed impossible fabrics in impossible locations, dealt with equipment failures, supplier failures, employee failures and plenty of my own failures. I arrived at the UPS depot numerous times to hand off my T-shirt boxes to the guys in brown literally minutes before the truck left the dock.

I told customers sorry. I told them thanks. I told them, you're welcome. I told a couple of them to screw off.

And I created a lot of artwork. I knocked out some crappy art that people really loved. I knocked out some amazing art that people insisted I change. And I knocked out tons and tons and tons of good, solid, workaday artwork that just plain did the job in various mediums, including screen-printed T-shirts and embroidered Hats, Business Cards, Brochures, Posters, Playbills, Web Ads, Newspaper Ads, Signs, Bumper Stickers, Menus etc.

I hunted for deals on supplies, I agonized over my advertising budget, and I answered the phone several thousand times, saying, "Chaos Ink, this is Jeremy."

I'd usually arrive home a little (OK, a lot) late and apologize to my wife. While gauging her response and thus, her day, I'd hug my boys, load one on my hip and try to listen to the other one who always wants to share a detailed Lego build or invite me to see how his Transformer gets into Robot Mode. Many times I made dinner and many times I did dishes. I gave a few baths and a few foot rubs. I cleaned the wood stove and stacked a couple tons of wood pellets. I shoveled the walk, the patio and the roof. I mowed the lawn and raked the leaves.

I tried so hard to be attentive to the boys and to my wife and I failed on both accounts. I was exhausted. I tuned them out. I got angry at their insistence for a piece of my time. Can't you see I'm taking care of you, I thought, while not making eye contact with them and not really hearing about their cool lego or her day with the children.

I scurried to Christmas and didn't even have time to take a decent stab at wrapping my wife's presents.

And I know, know, know that makes me an asshole. But tried so hard and there was just none of the fun, engaging, curious, interested me left for them.

And I cursed the paradox that I'm lame mainly because I'm stretched so thin from being successful and bringing home the bacon and the rest of the luxuries.

So you know I almost cried when Bill volunteered the most intimate details of his childhood. He explained how the three full time jobs (employee, father, spouse) take their toll on a person. He explained how his dad worked himself to the bone to provide a living, but was too stressed and overwhelmed to enjoy it. Bill said it kills a person's soul from the inside out. "See, my dad worked at GM," he said. "He had one day off, on Sunday. And if you had something to say to him on Sunday, you better be ready to duck."

And Bill flung his right arm back and away in a gesture so authentic and so violent that I jolted. His movement was completely "not Bill," and I immediately came to terms with the fact that it boiled up from his remembrance of a backhand delivered from the seat of his dad's living room recliner.

"On Sunday," Bill continued, "Dad wanted to read the newspaper and drink a six-pack and not be bothered. He was stressed and worn-thin from his week and he needed to unwind."

In that moment, Bill's casual and compassionate understanding of his father's plight just floored me.

My father has never been violent, but I saw the stress written on him as well. I remember one Sunday at grandma's house when I was a kid, my father was dozing while the rest of us were enjoying the afternoon. I was teasing my dad that he would win a Gold at the Olympics for sleeping. And he just got so angry at me that I never forgot it. He was just so mad. And now I know he was thinking, Can't you see I'm taking care of you.

Now naturally I have to intellectualize all of this and hunt for an answer. Philosophically, I think it's just silly to hate what we have to do and to be compelled to do what we hate. This isn't Auschwitz. So one of my ideas is to stipulate less stress, even if it means a smaller paycheck. I'm talking about turning the equation around so that it's not like, "OK, we gotta have all this stuff, now let's do whatever it takes to make sure we can keep up this lifestyle." Why not start with, "OK, here's how much stress one person can handle, now let's carve out the best life we can within that level of affluence."

I promise you that I've considered the possibility that this whole thing comes down to me imagining the grass is greener when in reality I'd be a whole lot worse off with less "stress" (read: money) since I'd also have less health insurance, less yummy beer, less convenient automobiles, less good clothes, etc.

But I'm talking about my fantasy that there is some sort of middle ground, where there are a few luxuries and definitely a hard day's work, but not unnecessary luxury nor an unendurable workload.

Part of the problem has been that I need to ruminate. I really require some time to mull things over and turn things about in my brain. It's how I compost all the odds and ends of my personal life and stay sane.

And it seems this year has been so incredibly packed that there's just no time to ruminate. I find myself standing in the shower in the morning strategizing how to put out yesterday's fires and the next thing I know it's midnight and I'm brushing my teeth realizing that the intervening 16 hours didn't permit me more than 5 minutes of uninterrupted time to mull things over. Actually, there was exactly five minutes in the shitter during which I read the Drudge Report on my iPod Touch. But I emerged from the restroom and one of my employees was handing me a phone message saying so-and-so is wondering about the status of their order.

But tonight I got some precious time to think things over. And you can see that we're far from a solution. But I'm still clawing at the answer, which means that I haven't given up. I don't mean any offense to Bill's dad when I say that I won't settle for a lifetime of Sundays in a barcalounger with a six-pack. I realize I stand on the shoulders of many like Bill's dad, who toiled their lives away for the prosperity we take for granted today. But I don't go in for the Myth of Straight Line Progress either. What I mean is that we've had wonderful progress at the expense of all those stressed-out folks. But we don't have to follow this trajectory forever. We decide where to draw the line in the give-and-take between the material and the spiritual. We can decide to measure our happiness in terms of touch-screen gadgets, walks by the lake or a reasonable mixture of the two. We can choose to have time instead of stuff. And that's not anti-capitalist. Capitalism is free trade. That's it. And if I choose not to trade with you today because I'm in the garden with my sons, hunting for ripe tomatoes, then maybe I miss out on the big score. And maybe my son will be in your son's shop 50 years from now and he'll be describing the taste of a sun-warmed Brandywine and how his father taught him to tell when they are ready to pick.

And your son's mouth will water and he will crave the warm, red flesh, the smell of moist garden soil and the glory of an idle afternoon on Earth.

Jeremy Browning's Garden 2010 - 1

Jeremy Browning's Garden 2010 - 2

Jeremy Browning's Garden 2010 - 3

Jeremy Browning's Garden 2010 - 4

Jeremy Browning's Garden 2010  - 5

Edited Jan. 06, 2011 23:13


Ron Paul Runs Circles Around Obama When it Comes to Understanding Mankind's Need for Freedom
by Jeremy Browning
Jul. 29, 2010 10:49

I've written before about Government Worship, which is probably the religion of your son or daughter if he or she attends a major university in this country. If he's hip, if she's Green.

In the same way that it takes courage to be an atheist when surrounded by true believers, it takes courage to be a young person today who is politically "atheist" and refrain from worshiping at the altar of Big Government whilst one's friends, one's favorite bands and one's professors exalt the notion that the Iron Fist of government, through green initiatives and wealth-spreading legislation, will save us from ourselves.

Clearly, Ron Paul gets it. This is from his column "America's Strength is Freedom, Not Government".
Big government has been tried and has failed miserably. What we need now is small government, and freedom. We need the freedom to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps again, as we traditionally do in this country.

But try to start a business or charity today, and you will understand how little economic freedom we really have left. Freedom, not government, made this the land of opportunity. Freedom laid the foundation that catapulted us to becoming the strongest economic power in the world. The American people are strong and capable. We can pull ourselves out of this mess. All we need is for the nanny-state to get out of the way and allow us to do it. Freedom is our strength, government is our weakness. Only by recognizing this and unleashing our strengths will we solve the problems we face today.

Edited Jul. 29, 2010 10:58


Surprise, Surprise
by Jeremy Browning
Jul. 13, 2010 22:53

Edward Luce writes today in the Financial Times article Obama faces growing credibility crisis
Astonishingly, 55 per cent of citizens think Mr Obama is a 'socialist' against only 39 per cent who do not share that diagnosis.

Don't act so surprised, Mr. Luce. Didn't you know that all the cool kids are socialist. The rest of us are just clod-hopping hillbillies or evil capitalists.

Edited Jul. 13, 2010 22:55


Thank-You Letter to Dan Fitzpatrick
by Jeremy Browning
May. 13, 2010 09:06

Dan Fitzpatrick runs an online service called "" The guy is super smart, and he doesn't mince words. When talking about risk management, he's fond of reminding people that if there wasn't risk involved in buying stocks, it would be called, "Money Harvesting."

Last night, he sent out a dispatch with a link to his article Who is Buying Gold...and Why. It frankly discusses the price of gold, government bonds, sovereign debt, socialism and the recession. It's great stuff.

Here's a chunk of that letter for you to gnaw on for a minute:
But think about this for a sec. This is really a domino effect that starts with government debt. When a government starts borrowing excessive amounts of money, the ultimate impact on the price of money effectively "crowds out" private enterprise. Private industry can't grow as fast. And since private industry generates all the tax revenues that governments feed on, tax revenues drop...which means that governments raise taxes. Higher taxes further impede business growth because more of their profits must be paid in taxes.

And on...and on.

Well, we now finally have a situation where an actual nation might default on its obligations. I.e., those evil rich people who loaned money to Greece by buying its bonds want their money back when it comes due, and it is well known that Greece is bankrupt. They won't get their money back.

Now, most people with less than robust logic don't understand this stuff. They just figure "Oh well, things will work out because they always have." Rich people don't see things that way. Again, they respect money and have a lot of it at stake. They arent the type of people who will just say, "Oh, Greece. I see you're having a problem paying all of your public retirees who are 48 years old and you might not be able to pay me back. That's OK. I'd hate to see those folks not get what you promised them, even though what you really did was promise them benefits that you were counting on me to pay for. No sweat! I have a lot of money and can afford it. Just give me a jingle on the telephone when you have the dough."

Instead, they take action. They'll pull their money and sell their bonds at a cheap price...which raises the yield on those bonds even more...further hurting the debtor nation.

I told you. Good stuff.

So I wrote Dan a little thank-you letter.


I just read your article on gold and government bonds: "Who is Buying Gold...and Why".

It was a complete breath of fresh air to me. I've been waiting years for someone to state the obvious -- unapologetically. You did. And your piece is one of the most truthful documents currently circulating anywhere in the media -- online or otherwise -- that discusses the world's current financial situation. That's not hyperbole.

I was a member for about 6 months last year, and I found I just couldn't dedicate the necessary amount of time to my stock market ambitions. I have a wife and 3 kids, and I run a busy screen printing shop (somebody's got to fill those government coffers).

Thanks for reminding people like me that we're not alone, and we're not insane, when we watch the major media outlets and see an enormous disconnect from reality.

Edited May. 13, 2010 09:15


My Letter to the Editor
by Jeremy Browning
Feb. 12, 2010 09:11

[This was published in my local newspaper on Feb. 13, 2010. I presented it as a Valentines Day gift to my wife, and she accepted it with a hug and a kiss.]

To the editor:

In his continued letters, pastor Dale Potter regales us with his and the Bible's opinions on homosexuality. And he makes a case that the United States was founded strictly upon Biblical principles.

I think Potter misses the point of the American Revolution, which was a special moment in history not because it was a religious one. It was momentous because it enshrined individual liberty, which is the right to have sex with men or women or both. It's the right to criticize one's government without fear of retribution. It's the right to go to church or to the synagogue or to the mosque, or just to stay home in your sweatpants watching reruns of Dirty Jobs.

Observe that Potter is a Christian who claims to have a relationship with the eternal being that created the heavens and the Earth and breathed life into humanity. And further note that Potter spends his time writing to a local newspaper on behalf of his God to bellyache about men having sex together.

Surely there are more pressing activities in the pastor's day planner. Somewhere, a woman has lost her husband and needs consoling. Somewhere, a man has a problem with alcohol that is destroying his family. Across the world, children are being sold into slavery; political dissidents are being tortured and killed, while pastor Potter is betraying an astonishing lack of context.

Jeremy Browning

Edited Apr. 06, 2010 17:44


Climategate and My Email to Steven Novella
by Jeremy Browning
Nov. 30, 2009 10:28

I'm a regular listener to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe (SGU) podcast. Host Steven Novella and his crew put out an enlightening and entertaining product every week, and they come to reason's defense often enough to be called heroes.

I disagreed last week with SGU when Novella defended the climate researchers who've been accused of colluding to distort the science of climate research. The "climategate" storm began after many of the researchers emails were made public.

I briefly wrote about the issue in my post "Reality Always Wins: Climate Science Edition".

Novella contended that there are benign explanations for the emails and that they've been taken out of context, etc.

I wrote to Novella today to let him know my thoughts:


I'm a loyal listener and love the show. We don't have cable at our house, so we spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, and SGU is definitely our favorite.

I have learned so much from the show and I really respect your defense of reason -- especially with regard to evidence-based medicine.

Your response to the CRU climate research emails caught me by surprise. You seem to be letting the researchers off rather easy. At one point in the show, you admitted that "they certainly weren't being true to the spirit of open and transparent science publishing, but..."

Come on, Steven, the spirit of open science publishing is the whole point! We who are on the side of reason need to be above reproach and we needn't fake reality, even if it suits our ends in the short-term.

You wouldn't go this easy on anti-vaccers or someone studying the merits of homeopathy. You'd demand that they be true to the spirit of open and transparent science publishing and you'd regard a failure to do so as a major blemish on their records.

Keep in mind that the folks at CRU aren't researching something benign, such as distant quasars. Their research will have far-reaching political and social ramifications and I don't think we should allow sloppy science a mulligan here. The scientific community should be the best ambassador for the spirit of open science.

Keep up the great work at SGU.

Jeremy Browning

Edited Nov. 30, 2009 10:35


Reality Always Wins: Climate Science Edition
by Jeremy Browning
Nov. 24, 2009 11:30

You know my mantra that, try as you might, you can't fake reality.

And you know I've been suspicious of the conclusions and policy recommendations of anthropogenic global warming cheerleaders because of they way they've found it to be a much too convenient tool to denounce capitalism and industry.

I've suggested that the (politically motivated) conclusions preceded the research.

Today may be the beginning of reality's revenge if this Washington Times editorial can be trusted.

Here's a snip:

It was announced Thursday afternoon that computer hackers had obtained 160 megabytes of e-mails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in England. Those e-mails involved communication among many scientific researchers and policy advocates with similar ideological positions all across the world. Those purported authorities were brazenly discussing the destruction and hiding of data that did not support global-warming claims.

Further interesting reading can be found on the James Delingpole Climategate post at the blog.

Edited Nov. 24, 2009 11:34


Winning and Losing
by Jeremy Browning
Nov. 24, 2009 00:11

The fall rec volleyball league ended last week. My team lost in the semifinals and it was brutal. It reminded me of the anguish of competition and the accompanying adrenalin high. It reminded me why I spent so many nights of my youth restless in bed with a knot in my stomach.

Athletic competition is fiercely emotional. Observe how it affects the fans who aren't even physically involved, can be viewing from screens thousands of miles away and (usually) have much less to lose.

Last week, volleyball reminded me what it feels like to have so much to lose. It wasn't a whole lot in the bigger picture, but it felt like everything in the world was at stake during moments of the tie-breaker third match against our rivals in the semis.

Although it might be construed as "stressful," it's clearly something different. I live with a lot of stress. Tight deadlines are routine in my line of work and I frequently have thousands of dollars on the line in projects wherein it's not perfectly clear how we'll produce the prints we've been hired to produce. To quote Philip Henslowe from Shakespeare in Love, "Strangely enough, it all turns out well." How? "I don't know. It's a mystery."

My job is a lot like that -- only I do know how it all turns out, but looking back, it does seem like a mystery.

So stress is a given, but it's not the same as competition.

Now, when you have deadlines to meet and you're busy with details and pulling your hair out, that's one thing. But when you lose a bid to a competitor, when you find out a good customer went somewhere else because of a few dollars on a large order and somehow forgot all the freebies you gave out in the past -- when a competitor takes food off my family's table, now that is a gut-ache. It's a painful, throat-knotting experience that feels very much like the volleyball semifinals. And there's a moment when you ask why in the world do you do this to yourself?

It's a good question. Ultimately, I answer it with respect to my business by reminding myself that being in a competitive business climate, facing down the very real alternatives of profit and loss, is a proxy for the most basic competition, which is life vs. death. Most of us in America are fortunate enough to be quite removed by several layers of proxies from that basic question. That goes for the related absolutes like to eat or to starve, etc.

I don't mean to imply the universe is out to get us in a malevolent sense, only that one can't escape the fact of competition at the most basic level. There are plenty of other times, however, when we might feel those pangs brought about by Us vs. Them and rightly wonder whether a particular conflict is necessary.

That moment came in the third game of the semifinal match somewhere around the score of 17-13 in a game to 25 and we were losing. I remember looking back at my brother, who was serving, and then looking down at the floor and for a second, I wished only to be in my woodshop on a nice autumn day watching the router carve a perfect dado and smelling the fresh-cut wood.

My very next thought was something close to nausea when I thought that's how politics makes me feel. And right after that, I said to myself, in a way that sounded like a voice-over in a slick documentary about my life perhaps posthumously produced:

Politics is a sport, it's no way to run a country.

I've been toying around with it in my head for a bit now, wondering whether it may be true or just sounded good at the time.

Aspects of that notion seem enlightening, especially when I remember that running a country is only for the benefit of the citizens and politics, while it raises lots of money and kicks up lots of dust, certainly doesn't benefit Joe Citizen most of the time.

The other profound connection I see is a kinship with the Founding Fathers who were (I've heard) quite distrustful of power and those who would seek it. And so I come back (as always) to the notion of a country governed mostly by laws that are fair to all, and less by the transient whimsy of the political elite.

I do know that if I could articulate the grim view of politics that washed over me at that moment, you and I would have such a laugh at the vanity of those on the political world stage and the ugly contrast between their polished appearance and their vapid ideas.

Edited Nov. 24, 2009 01:13


by Jeremy Browning
Oct. 07, 2009 21:04

Despite brief bouts of cynical humor, I'm a romantic optimist at heart. I can name at least three periods in my life I wouldn't have survived without a daily will to look on the bright side and focus my mind on the realm of The Possible.

My wife sent me a piece by Lance Armstrong about his personal battles and it made me smile. Here's one of my favorite quotes:

I didn't fully see, until the cancer, how we fight every day gainst the creeping negatives of the world, how we struggle daily against the slow lapping of cynicism. Dispiritedness and disappointment, these were the real perils of life, not some sudden illness or cataclysmic millennium doomsday.

Happy Anniversary to my Wife
by Jeremy Browning
Sep. 21, 2009 18:06

I've been so excited for the last couple weeks, with terms like "bokeh" and "prime" swimming in my head at night while I imagined you with your anniversary present.

I racked my brain for weeks about what to get you. Lingerie seemed the obvious "Homer" gift, and I know you need a new printer, but you'll get that anyway.

As I thought, I was drawn back to your art -- specifically your eye for art. It is frustrating to watch someone who is so artistic struggle with her camera because it's not being the tool you need it to be, and you're not always able to get the shots you want. I've watched you master quite a bit of it, finding the groove, trying to reign-in the flash and also get that nice blurry background behind your subject. But I keep thinking that this tool could be more...

That's when I remembered the noble, old, forgotten 50mm lens. It's the lens you had if you were a photographer on assignment in Vietnam, if you were a 30-something taking a photography class at your local college in the 80s, the lens that was the standby on 35mm SLR Film Camera's for decades. Untold famous photos were undoubtedly shot with a 50mm lens. I fondly remembered my own first lens. A 50mm Vivitar, the lens I learned photography on.

What happened to the noble 50mm? I wondered. Nowadays, everyone's camera comes with a zoom lens that goes from fish-eye to telescope, but you never see the 50mm anymore.

So I typed in a google search for "the forgotten lens". Voilà! There it was. The very first paragraph on the very first link read:

So there you are, the proud parents of a beautiful new baby, and you can hardly contain your excitement as you unwrap that new 35mm camera kit you bought to document your child's early years. Although you've had a point-and-shoot camera for a while, you wanted to step up to a 'real' camera for the kind of quality pictures you see in the popular media and in the camera maker's brochures. You fumble a little as you mount the 28-80 zoom lens and load the film, but pretty soon everything is ready to go.

As your spouse proudly holds the baby up you raise the camera to your eye. The viewfinder seems a little dim in the room light, but hoping for the best, you gently squeeze the shutter release and...

Wait... while the auto focus system hunts, the built-in flash pops up and charges, the "red eye reduction" feature fires a series of strobe bursts into your subject's face, until—finally—the camera takes the picture. Of course by then your spouse's' smile has faded, the baby has gotten fussy, and the resulting pictures have that deer-in-the-headlights (flash on camera) look you so wanted to avoid...

What's wrong with this picture? Well, in part it's the lens you were using.

Damn. I was on the right track. I read on and found whole communities of people dedicated to the 50mm lens. And I read about how the popularity of zoom has made zoom lenses standard as a substandard "kit" lens on almost all new cameras. Meanwhile, for most of the masses, the 50mm has been forgotten.

What's so great about 50mm. Let me count the ways. First of all, it's the same focal length as your eye, meaning that the perspective you see through a 50mm lens is very close to what you see through your own eyeball -- it's the same zoom ratio. That's why the 50mm is sometimes called the "normal" lens. It's also often called the "prime" lens, which stands for "primary." It got it's name from the way photographers would leave it on their cameras most of the time, as their primary lens.

Next, 50mm lenses usually have HUGE apertures. That means that when the lens is "wide open" the amount of light going through it is enormous...almost always bigger than even the best zoom lens. This allows photographers to take pictures using available light, without annoying flashes always bleaching things out.


The huge aperture has a nice side effect that creates a very narrow depth-of-field, meaning that only a very small area of the photo is in focus and then the background blends into oblivion. This happens because the lens is curved and almost the entire photo is coming through the whole surface of the lens and only part of it can be in perfect focus. On a zoom lens, the aperture cranks way down almost to a pinhole, so the whole photo is coming through the very center of the lens, where it's not curved very much, so the whole photo is in perfect focus.

However, we all know the very hallmark of creative photography, especially photography of people, is created using a narrow depth-of-field. And the part where the photo goes out of focus is called the "bokeh." In photography, especially the kind of photography you do, bokeh is king.


Another great thing about 50mm lenses is that they make you *think* about composition. Since you can't just zoom in and out and compose lazily, you have to decide how to take a photo, put some thought and art into it. Photographers call this, "zooming with your feet."

In my travels, I read some great things photographers had said about the 50mm:

  • I think prime lenses should be the purchasing focus of every serious beginning photographer.

  • Because becoming competent with the 50mm point-of-view was also the single best exercise in my photography education.

  • Before falling to its current level of disfavor, the 50mm lens had a long and distinguished pedigree. For many years the defining documentary instrument of the 20th century was the small format rangefinder camera (Leica, Contax, Nikon, Canon) with 50mm lens. Some of the world's best-known photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ralph Gibson made virtually their entire careers with this combination.

I've even heard photographers advise one another, when their photos are getting stale: go grab your 50mm prime and rediscover your craft.

And so, I present to you, the noble 50mm in all it's glory. (It's actually the widest aperture 50mm lens you can buy for less than $2,000, and even the 2K versions are only barely wider.) This lens is said to "gobble up light". It opens to a full f/1.4 -- compare that to your current zoom lens' meager f/3.5 And the bokeh is orgasmically described by photographers as simply "creamy."

I hope you have fun with this little guy. I hope you can shoot with less flash, creamy bokeh and your natural, artistic eye. Happy 7 Years. I Love you.

Here are some photos taken with the 50mm:







Now I know you're saying, "I hear all this talk about the 50mm, but you got me a 30mm lens." Well, things have changed in the digital world. And digital camera chips are smaller than the piece of film that cameras originally used. And that little square piece of film was the benchmark that cameras have been designed around for decades. But digital camera chips are smaller.

The result is that some of the light that enters the lens misses the chip, falling all around it. This causes a "crop factor," which means that your digital camera is "zooming" into the photography that is coming through the lens. This zoom factor is 1.5 on a Nikon and 1.6 on a Canon. So to get the *true* focal length of your lens on a digital camera, you have to multiply the number printed on your lens by your camera's "crop factor."

digital camera crop factor

So if I had bought you a 50mm lens, it really would have been equivalent to an 80mm lens in old school camera lingo. So I got you a 30mm lens because 30 x 1.6 = 48 -- damn close to 50mm and damn close to "normal," the focal length of the human eye.

Edited Sep. 21, 2009 19:02


Obama's Weak Case for More Bureaucracy
by Jeremy Browning
Jul. 23, 2009 10:24

David Freddoso writes today in the Washington Examiner about President Obama's oversimplification of the problems with health care in America as well as the solutions.

Here is a well-meaning government official who so fails to grasp the problem in health care that he can present such absurd oversimplifications and suggest that this sort of thing is the real problem -- doctors simply lack the common sense to make obvious medical decisions. President Obama wants us to solve this problem by putting himself and other government officials in charge of rescuing medicine from the medical profession. If medical doctors with a decade of schooling cannot distinguish between good cures and ineffective ones that must be discontinued, then by gosh, we're lucky that the good folks from the government can.


The one thing President Obama did not do last night was address directly any of the concerns that Americans have about his pending reform proposals. With this sort of rhetorical detachment from reality, it is not surprising that public support for his vision of health care reform is gradually eroding.

Maybe it's just a genetic deficiency I have for being uncool, but I've never been even the least bit seduced by Obama's various siren songs -- his idealism for the sake of idealism, his subtext that if we only wish it, it will come to pass.

In that sense, I understand his meteoric rise. It's a great irony that Obama's popularity seems to float on the same myopic disregard for reality that the "alternative" and "progressive" movements in America openly abhor.

Those progressive and alternative movements holler, "Who thought we could plunder the earth for decades and get away with it? Who thought we could embrace ever richer and more refined foods without paying the price of a public health crisis? Who thought we could impose our will across the globe without the world eventually turning against us?"

"Naive, short-sighted, stimulation-hungry, indelicate, simplistic America," comes the answer.

And who thinks the answers to all of America's problems will be swept away by government bureaucracies built one on top of another? Who thinks punishing the rich will elevate the poor? Who thinks inefficiency is a key ingredient for the country's energy supply? Who laps up feelgood nonsense that virtually worships myopia, such as, "If you are hungry, you're not that interested in freedom of the press"? It's the same gyrating throng of groupies who are enabling the leftist Barack Obama to crowd surf across the once fruited plain.

Edited Jul. 23, 2009 11:12


Economics 101
by Jeremy Browning
Jul. 10, 2009 09:59

Here's a headline I just read on yahoo! news

IRS "Turning Over Every Rock" to Raise Revenue: Obama Targeting Overseas Assets

I have another tip: cut taxes.

If you don't believe me, check out the Heritage Foundation's list of Ten Myths about the Bush Tax Cuts.


log (lôg) n. a record of details of a voyage made by a ship's captain or crew