Sunday, June 30, 2013

US Doesn't Understand the Concept "Ally"

What do the Mongol Empire, the objectivists, and the US government have in common?

They have no concept of "ally."

The Mongols knew only three conditions of foreign relations: "enemies", "conquered," or "in rebellion." The concept of "ally" was foreign to them.

In 1245, Pope Innocent IV wrote a letter to the Mongols, expressing a desire for "peace." But in the Mongol language, "peace" is a synonym for "subjection."

Khan Güyük understood it the only way he could and replied with a demand for submission:

You must say with a sincere heart: "We will be your subjects; we will give you our strength." You must in person come with your kings, all together, without exception, to render us service and pay us homage. Only then will we acknowledge your submission.

As for the objectivists:

As advocates of laissez-faire capitalism, avowedly committed to the supremacy of reason, it seemed as if the Randians would be valuable allies.

But the Randians did not understand the concept of "allies": in their universe, you either agreed with all of their positions, or else you were consigned to the Outer Darkness.

As the Edward Snowden affair has shown, the imperial federal government is no different. It expects to get everything in return for nothing. It expects unconditional and absolute submission to the evil empire.

The US government believes it can spy on the citizens of its allies, without bothering to obey its allies' privacy laws or applying for search warrants from its allies' courts. But then it expects those same courts it contemned to extradite its fugitives.

It's either or. Either Hong Kong and Russia are the United States' allies, or they are not.

If they are allies, how can the US government dare to bypass their laws and their courts and to violate the rights or their citizens? If they are not allies, why should they comply with US requests?

It appears that for the US government, too, there are no allies, but only conquered provinces, which have a duty to pay tribute to the US, no matter what outrage the US has perpetrated against their citizens the day before.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Open Letter to Bill Nelson re Ed Snowden

In reply to "NSA Surveillance Efforts Are Effective, Limited, and Legal" by one Senator Bill Nelson:

General warrants for all the phone numbers there are are highly unconstitutional, no matter if they're "only" for the metadata.

If you believe it makes any difference if you're spying "only" on foreigners, you should not be surprised if your allies thus spied on stop being your allies and stop caring whether or not you get hit by another terrorist attack — and stop extraditing "criminals" to you, as well.

As for the alleged terrorist attacks your spying stopped: Pics, or it didn't happen.

Ed Snowden is an American hero. Your actions and thoughts, sir, are un-American.

It is you that betrayed the principles of your founding fathers, and it is you that is to blame that liberty is once more homeless on earth, as Lafayette would have put it. Shame on you.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Case of the Kidnapped O'Connors, Chapter One, Part Two

Begin with the beginning.

To save himself from exploding with laughter and from his girlfriend's ensuing ire, Traynor sauntered over to the column wall, where his best friend, Nick Parker, stood staring at Diminishing Returns, going, "For some reason, I like that mannequin…"

Short but muscular, with dark eyes and wavy black hair, Parker looked like a bull ready to charge a red rag. Apparently, he was giving the redhead he had been flirting with some time to miss him before he reeled her in. Traynor followed his friend's stare. The painting featured a painter's wooden mannequin sitting on a turquoise drum in turn sitting on a reddish cliff. Below, a blue ocean, or at least a reservoir, like Lake Powell on the Colorado River, stretched beyond a reddish headland. Above, a cloud in several shades of blue with a silver lining covered most of a blue sky. The mannequin was juggling what looked like colorful Christmas balls, with a red one already shattered on the ground.

To Traynor, it looked like surrealism, and not very good surrealism at that. The most he could make of it was a caricature of Howard Roark gone crazy on his cliff. According to Jennifer, the official Objectivist line was that the playful lay figure represented gaiety. If it made her happy…

As far as Traynor was concerned, the exact opposite might be just as true. The inescapably surreal nature of the painting might symbolize statism. The wooden, faceless, soulless stick figure might be a government bureaucrat playing with and casually breaking the baubles produced by capitalism.

Others said that the mannequin, having hooters, the drummer on her turquoise drum, was Ayn Rand, and that the balls she was juggling bore self-portraits of her husband Frank O'Connor. You take it from there. To Traynor, any interpretation was as good as any other in this case, as any the other flavor of intellectuals offered for the nonobjective art in the other galleries.

Parker stirred. "Gotta go now, look after another lay figure."

Traynor looked languidly on as his friend left the gallery. As languidly, the muddy river of the mayor's speech emptied into an ocean of applause. Now the crowd grew restless, some milling to the paintings, some out of the gallery to one of the impromptu bars. Traynor headed back to his girlfriend.


Suddenly, clouds of smoke billowed from the air conditioning vents. The fire alarm sounded.

"Fire!" Panicky cries rang out, interspersed with coughs.

People rushed to the exits, but that moment something or somebody triggered the burglar alarm, and the massive steel doors clanked shut, locking everybody in. Traynor ducked under the thickening smoke screen. Where was Jennifer?

He dashed toward the place he had seen her last, rooted through a forest of legs, homed in on a fair pair under a black miniskirt, ran into her, and grabbed her by the wrist. "Gotcha!"

"You play with Nick for five seconds, and bang, there's a fire."

"I try to do my best. But I'm not sure that there's fire where there's smoke."

However, the gallery kept filling with dark-gray smoke. Some people tried to filter the smoke by breathing through tissues or handkerchiefs. It did not seem to help much. Others dropped to the floor for clearer air. Panicky people cursed, screamed, raged, ranted, and banged their fists against the steel doors.









"The end of the world!"


"I knew we shouldn't have come here!"


"Give me that tissue!"

"Get your own tissue, bitch!"


"Call 911!"

"Where's my phone?"

Cough! Gasp!

"Where are the firefighters?"

"Where are the police if you need them?"

"Stand back!" ordered one of the mayor's bodyguards.

"Freeze!" ordered another.

"Stand back!"



"Stand back and freeze!"

Cough! Wheeze!

"Everybody, stay clear of his honor, or we'll fire!"

"The building has already been fired!"

Wheeze! Cough!

"I'm not even close to his honor!"

"Where does he have any honor?"

Gasp! Cough!

"Shut up! I bought his honor last week! A clean million into his Swiss bank account! Now it's strictly for the birds! What an irony, to die like this, together, like two rats!"

"Birds? Rats? Keep your imaginary zoo to yourself, or his honor will sue you! His honor doesn't have any bank account in Switzerland. He can't even find Switzerland on a map. He doesn't even know how to spell it."

"Who cares? He can't sue, 'cause we're all gonna die in here!"


"I never voted for that rat anyway."

"Who cares what you voted for? We're gonna die!"

Cough! Wheeze! Gasp!

"There ought to be a law against this shoddy construction!"

"There ought to be a law against these steel doors!"

"There ought to be a law against fires!"

Cough! Cough! Cough!

"Jesus, we're all gonna die!"

"Oh my god, the end is nigh!"

"Oh my god oh my god oh my god…"

"Yea, though I walk in death's dark vale, yet will I fear no ill. For thou art with me, and thy rod and staff me comfort still…"

Cough! Cough! Wheeze! Wheeze! Gasp! Gasp!

"Sam, I have a confession to make. I've been lying about my age for years. I'm not going to turn thirty next week. I'm turning forty."

"I know. I know. The divorce papers are in the mail."

Cough out loud!

"My poor hair! Oh, that damn smoke. It's going to ruin my hair!"

Rolling on the floor wheezing!

"Take the phone, Ferris, and say goodbye to the children!"

"Oh, come on. I know they're not my kids."


"Oh, those fucking terrorists!"

Cough! Cough! Wheeze! Wheeze! Gasp! Gasp!

In people's minds, the smoke grew into everybody's personal nightmare, be it fire, bombs, or poison gas. It became impossible to see anyone or anything more than a couple feet away.

Jennifer shook off her boyfriend's hand. "Where are the fire extinguishers?"

"There are some over there, but where's the fire? Maybe not such a great idea, blindly emptying the fire extinguishers into the ventilation ducts."

That moment, a busty brunette standing and coughing nearby, lacking a handkerchief, ripped off her blouse, sending buttons flying every which way, one hitting Traynor in the chest, and used it as a makeshift gas mask.

Through the smoke, Traynor watched her hooters strain against her bra and wobble with every cough. "Maybe coming here was not such a bad idea, after all. Too bad Nick isn't in here. He'd love that."

Coughing herself, Jennifer shot her boyfriend an icy glance. "You want me to compete on these terms?"

Traynor grinned. "Well, you'd be one step ahead of her, oh my braless wonder. Besides, she can't compete with you anyway."

"Thank you."

" 'Cause she isn't even blond."

"Thanks. I think."

Traynor drew his .45 Colt M1911 pistol and chambered a round. "Better 1911 than 911."

"Doesn't help much against the fire, though," cautioned his girlfriend.

Traynor coughed. "What fire? What about the burglar alarm and the steel doors? Looks more like a heist to me."

With the doors shut and the smoke, there seemed to be nothing they could do, except to be ready to defend themselves and to wait for the smoke exhaust system to cope and firefighters to fight the alleged fire and to open the doors. Through the smoke and the noises of the alarms and the charging mob, Jennifer and Traynor thought they heard a swishing sound from the center of the gallery. A shadowy figure clad all in black brushed past them. Jennifer gasped involuntarily. He or she — or it — had no face! There was nothing there but a dark blob of slime!

Buy the full story.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Case of the Kidnapped O'Connors, Chapter One, Part One

Chapter One

The Phantom of the Met

Kevin Traynor yawned.

Jennifer Jordan rolled her blue eyes, then looked up at the ceiling of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's new south wing. Not that she expected any help from anywhere up there. Yes, it was boring — but did her boyfriend always have to put on a show on what he thought about others?

"Serves you right," she hissed. "You kept me waiting for half an hour."

Traynor brushed his hand through his dark-blond hair before he put his arm around her, flashed a roguish grin across his angular face, and looked her disarmingly into the eyes.

His sparkling blue eyes utterly denied the importance of being earnest or late. "Not my fault. As I said, Nick had two tickets for the Foxy Boxing World Championship."

"He had tickets? I thought he ran that circus."

"Anyway, you could have moved the opening to another night. Could easily have been more than half an hour. Was hard enough to bum a ride off of Nick to get here from the Garden. He wanted to go backstage, comfort the losers, and celebrate with the winner."

Nothing good could come out of a serious argument with Kevin Traynor.

"But he did drive you here."

"I told him there would be chicks. By the way, you used to enjoy a good catfight in your day, if I may say so."

"My day? I have not yet begun to fight! Anyway, you better watch out. My sources keep telling me that The Great D'Ancy is in town."

"Rene D'Ancy, the famous French art thief?"

"The same. Rene Honore D'Ancy. He's a genius with disguises. You better watch out. Anybody in here could be D'Ancy. Hell, I could be D'Ancy."

"That, we'll find out tonight."

"I don't think so. After all, you could be D'Ancy."

"Would that make any difference? Anyway, rest assured I don't feel terribly D'Ancy tonight."

"At least try to be a little more vigilant."

"I can't help it. That guy's a walking, talking bromide. It's more interesting to watch paint dry — or for that matter, to watch these columns grow."

The speaker, a portly gray-haired gentleman by the name of Publius B. Vandam IV, droned on and on about how his great-granduncle, the noted progressive, reformer, and philanthropist, had been martyred on a cross of gold by those Gilded-Age robber barons. Vandam was the chief executive officer of the company that had designed the interiors and the lighting of the new galleries. Before Vandam, Leslie Ford, the museum director, had exhorted the audience that art was not a commodity, but a public trust.

Before Ford, one Geraldine "Jeri" Culpepper, an elderly socialite, culture vulture, and philanthropist apparently well-known among the Four Hundred, had lauded donors for contributing to the cultural cause, but urged them to match their donations dollar for dollar with charity for the poor. Traynor figured that she had inherited or married into her money. Now her guilty conscience was as black as her dress and gloves. She could not "give back" her unearned wealth fast enough — to those who had not given it to her. Well, her problem. The trouble was that she wanted to force her betters, those who had made their money, like Jennifer and Traynor, "to give it back" as well. To whom? To those who had not made it. And before her, there had been a long line of similar silver spoon socialist speakers Traynor had forgotten or repressed.

The new north and south wings of the museum had been paid for by a hundred-story apartment tower rising above each wing. First American Corporation had built the towers and the reinforced concrete shells of the museum wings on which they stood. Jennifer was First American's Vice President for Safety, Security, and Special Assignments, while Traynor, who had held that job before her, continued as a consultant.

However, the museum had insisted on awarding the contract for the interior design of the museum wings to Vandam Construction. After all, would it be fair for one multi-billion dollar corporation, and the world's largest at that, to monopolize the whole project? Moreover, Vandam was among the museum's most generous benefactors. Nevertheless, like his construction company was but a small part of the fortune he had inherited, his patronage of the arts was dwarfed by his charitable giving championing the poor, the underprivileged, and the disenfranchised. A philanthropist so public-spirited could not be ignored without a social backlash — in other words, without bad PR.

For Jennifer, her donation to the museum had been a chance to get her collection of Frank O'Connor paintings displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, much to the horror of every curator up to the director. Neither what he had called their "proto-fascist" provenance nor their amateurish technique had helped any. Ultimately, only Jennifer's thinly veiled threat that her position at First American permitted her to maneuver the Met Museum Towers project on a back burner through an uncharitable safety assessment had gotten her what she wanted. This had an even more horrified director gnashing his teeth, grudgingly permitting "those paintings" into his holy halls, half recognizing that she who pays the piper calls the tune, half rationalizing that one of the paintings having been featured on the cover of an enormously popular bestseller permitted a retrospective of the painter in the holy halls his paintings may in part have helped to build.

Consequently, the grand opening of the new wings was nothing short of an utter nightmare: Not only were there the usual inane speeches, but the silver spoon socialist speakers tried to outdo each other in their condemnation of the selfishness the O'Connors represented. The silver spoon socialists resented the fact that the new south wing would be named for First American's chief executive officer, whose name they scrupulously avoided to even mention. Culture vultures were furious that they had to thank what they called "those crass materialists" for the museum expansion, that they even had them materialists perch like eagles in their nests above the culture vulture haunt. But what they hated most was Jennifer's O'Connor paintings displayed on the wall of the sturdy column in the center of the windowless gallery, behind Vandam. They hated those paintings even more than they hated the fact that columns supporting the towers above intruded into the new museum galleries, which they believed they should have gotten for free.

The painting Traynor found most interesting, or frankly, the only one that aroused more than a passing interest in him, was Man Also Rises, Frank O'Connor's painting of a cityscape at dawn, which graced the cover of the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of The Fountainhead. Four white shafts of sunlight broke out of a gray cloud over a city skyline. In the foreground, the red steel frame of a skyscraper under construction rose through the right third of the painting. As Traynor loved the book and loved skyscrapers even more, he found the painting, however crude, appealing. Jennifer had purchased a couple more O'Connors, but to Traynor they constituted diminishing returns, and not only the one that was named thus.

Finally, Vandam having finished, the mayor launched himself into a flight of fancy extolling the nobility of public service. Mayor Mark Messing was as short and stocky as Ford was tall and slim. Together they looked like Mutt and Jeff. Apart from the mayor's head of carefully parted silvery hair, that is.

In contrast, Ford's tousled brown hair reminded Traynor of ruffled feathers. In fact, with a small head and a big nose shaped not unlike a toucan's bill, and a tendency to abruptly look hither and thither for imaginary smudges, scratches, chips, and tears on his treasures, the museum director did look like a bird on his perch. The two of them made for a preposterous picture. Traynor was chuckling inside. He could not look at the two of them for any length of time for fear of having to laugh out loud.

Read on…

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Case of the Kidnapped O'Connors

Now available for your Kindle: The Case of the Kidnapped O'Connors, the new Kevin Traynor mystery. A locked room mystery about art, anarchy, objectivity, and madness. Free to download tomorrow, June 13, 2013, midnight to midnight Pacific Time.

When his girlfriend's prized paintings are stolen from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kevin Traynor has to find them fast, lest she slip from her usual objectivity and rationality into madness, mayhem, and murder. There is no lack of suspects — and no way how any human being can have smuggled the paintings out of that proverbial locked room. There simply is no explanation that is both rational and plausible. The hunt for the thief leads the couple into one dead end after another. It dawns on Traynor that the only way to find the thief is to find the paintings... But is he up against a mere mortal thief, or against The Phantom of the Met?

Kevin Traynor. With the right to be politically incorrect.