The American Individualist

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Life is Good

While I love warm and hot weather (and detest the cold with each passing frigid winter), I’ve designated autumn my favorite time of year, and not just for the cozy fleeces and fireplace blazes its chilly weather inspires.

To be more specific, September and October are my favorite months because of all the many things I find myself doing this time of year. First and foremost, September marks the start of the football season, both professional and collegiate. Of course, football is my favorite sports, for reasons I’ve written about several times (write me if you’d like to read some of my football-lauding columns), and this usually draws me to a local restaurant-bar to watch my favorite team, the Miami Dolphins, on satellite. Alas, my Dolphins aren’t winning so far this season, but the faithful, of which I am one, still have some hope they can turn things around. Most of all, I just really enjoy going to social scene at the restaurant-bar, meeting up with fellow football fans, friends and coworkers each Sunday.

September also marks the start of the Ayn Rand Institute-sponsored lecture series at New York University. These ARI lectures usually draw some sizable crowds, and I always leave each one feeling there’s some hope left in our world, hope that the good and just can and will ultimately prevail. A friend and I just went to see the kickoff lecture of the series, John Lewis’s talk on the five-year aftermath of Sept. 2001 (from which I learned a lot about imperialist Japan of World War II). Of course, Lewis’s lecture was great, and afterward me and my friend enjoyed some the best pizza you’ll find anywhere on earth at a parlor on Bleecker Street. Kara, the president of NYU’s Objectivist Club, says the club plans a number of lectures this school year. Something to look forward to right into spring.

A week prior to Lewis’s talk this past Wednesday, art historian Lee Sandstead gave a lecture on his favorite works of art, called “What They Mean to Mean.” I took notes and was going to write an article on this lecture, but I’m holding off since I may attend a private tour of the Metropolitan Museum that Lee is supposed to give on ancient Greek art this weekend. Also, when I take a much-needed week-long vacation in October, I will attend a tour he plans to give on stained glass, certainly a totally new subject for me. Part of what’s great about Lee is that he can make what seems like a dull subject into something very interesting and informative. So, I may wait until I attend all of these events to write something about Lee, whose obvious passion for art rubs off on me in ways I cannot accurately describe here and now. Perhaps if and when I write an article on him and his art tours I can capture this passion and do it justice.

Meanwhile, in early October, during my vacation, I also intend to go on the “heroes” hike that I’ve been doing for a few years now with other fellow Ayn Rand fans, or, to be more specific, Andrew Bernstein fans, since this bi-annual hike was originally inspired by his novel “Heart of a Pagan.” There’s a scene in the novel in which the hero, a extraordinary college basketball player named Swoop, gets fellow students, teammates and fans to accompany him to a mountain top and profess what they are most proud of about their lives, their achievements and such. This is a counter to the churches’ confessionals, where people go beg forgiveness for their “sins.” So each spring and fall we “Heart of a Pagan” fans climb to the top of Breakneck Ridge along the Hudson, starting in a small town call Cold Spring in upstate New York, and do same. Come join us to express your pride.

Later in the month, I’ll be attending a journalism conference here on Long Island, with I hope that I can expand my horizons a bit, by networking with those in my field and discovering what options are out there for me. This will be my first such conference, so I’m eager to attend it and meet others in various fields of journalism, from top newspapers and television networks on down.

Near October’s end, I’ll head up to Boston with a friend to attend the Objectivist Conference-sponsored lecture series “Jihad Against the West,” in which Objectivists from Yaron Brook, Peter Schwartz and John Lewis will give various talks alongside non-Objectivists such as Daniel Pipes and Robert Spencer, the latter of whom made a documentary on the deadly threat posed by Islam. It’s a three day event culminating with Brook giving the key lecture at the Ford Hall Forum at Northeastern University. I always love going to Boston (one of my favorite cities), and love it even more when I go to see Objectivist lecturers before large crowds.

Julia Sweeney, who played the androgynous character Pat on Saturday Night Live, will return to New York City with her one-woman play, Letting Go of God, in mid October. I plan to go to one of her shows. I saw the play earlier this year and highly recommend it. It’s a great exposition on how an average, everyday person comes to questions God and sees the irrationalities and contradictions in religion, and eventually turns toward secularism. Better yet, Sweeney has a book and CD coming out based on her play, and at her invitation I’m on a list to be among the first 500 people to receive (and review?) them. Well, I already know the play is great, so the book and CD can’t be much different. Anyway, nothing compares to going to see Sweeney in her one-act play, so go see it.

Also, on Halloween night, a friend and I will trek to Madison Square Garden to see Dweezil Zappa, Steve Vie, Terry Bozzio team up to play Frank Zappa’s tunes at the Theater, formerly the Felt Forum, where Zappa put on a show every Halloween night. This promises to be loads of fun, since I don’t go to see many concerts anymore and few at MSG.

Lastly, I’ll be going to see my favorite cover band, Wonderous Stories -- which, on a good night, plays covers of Yes, one of my favorite rock bands -- perform at a few Long Island Bars next week and in October. I hope to write a story on them for the papers I work for. Wonderous Stories did so well in its concert series this summer, drawing some pretty considerable crowds at various parks, that they were invited to play Jones Beach Theater. They’re a great cover band of what are essentially studio musicians.

Oh, yeah, one more thing, since I’m spoke of work: on top of all of this, I just got a pretty nice raise at work. What better way to celebrate and spend my millions than on all these various events and activities over the next few weeks, and hopefully many more in coming months.

Life is good.

~ Joe Kellard

Friday, September 08, 2006

America Attacked for Her Values

By Joseph Kellard
September 8, 2006

This column was first published in the Oceanside/Island Park Herald after September 11, 2001. I've reprinted it (with some minor revisions), on the eve of the fifth anniversary of that blackest day in our nation's history, as a reminder of the fundamental nature of America and her enemies.

One day as I drove down Lexington Avenue, I understood the reverence author-philosopher Ayn Rand had for New York City.

From an incline along that avenue, a vantage point from which I'd never before seen Manhattan, I was awed by the many tall, stately buildings that lined the perfectly straight street for miles. Finally I’d had grasped how this scene, which resembled a canyon, and the entire metropolis had sprung not from nature, but from the human mind.

I was reminded of a passage from Rand's novel "The Fountainhead": "I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York's skyline. Particularly when one can't see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need?"

On Sept. 11, 2001, after I'd watched Islamic terrorists destroy the twin towers and the innocent people in them, I was reminded of what Rand also wrote about evil: "They do not want to own your fortune, they want you to lose it; they do not want to succeed; they want you to fail; they do not want to live, they want you to die; they desire nothing, they hate existence ... You who've never grasped the nature of evil, you who describe them as 'misguided idealists,’ they are the essence of evil."

This passage from "Atlas Shrugged" serves to answer people bewildered over how human beings can act so savagely. At root, the Islamic terrorists are motivated by nihilism, the desire to destroy all values and existence. And they understood that the skyscraper is uniquely American.

Because of our nation's unprecedented liberties, Americans were free to form independent judgments and act on them. This environment spawned the Industrial Revolution, which saw great technological advances and labor-saving devices, such as the steel girders and elevators that made skyscrapers possible. More specifically, the twin towers embodied capitalism, whose foundation -- the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- spawned America's unsurpassed prosperity.

Those gleaming, soaring, stately towers were a proud boast of all these sublime human values and achievements. And this is why the religious nihilists twice targeted them. More specifically, they targeted the towers’ source: the liberated human mind. Militant Islamics don't want America's freedom, its industriousness, its technological advances, its high standard of living -- nor its skyscrapers. They only want us to lose them through their destructive acts.

This upcoming war is between America and Islamic fundamentalists. In essence, Americans use reason to choose their values and actions; the terrorists have blind faith in Allah’s word. We value freedom; they value religious totalitarianism. We value the individual; they force the individual to submit and sacrifice to their religious dogma. We pursue and achieve happiness here on earth; they damn this world and martyr themselves for an alleged afterworld.

At root, we want life and they want death. (As a Taliban spokesman put it, "Americans want to live; but we Muslims are willing to die for our beliefs.") Our leaders should give the death-worshiping terrorists what they want, in part, as an act of justice for we Americans who want to live.

Copyright © 2006 Joseph Kellard.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A Jewel of a Diamond

By Joseph Kellard
September 3, 2006

Every few years I drive by Wrights Field, a Little League diamond in Oceanside, for a dose of nostalgia. In recent years, I noticed that thefield had fallen into some disrepair, but during a trip down memory lane this summer, I found a new chain-link fence had been installed, doors repainted and the outfield furnished with foul poles and other attractive additions. This suggested that, for now, an Oceanside landmark will survive.

For me, playing on that ball field while growing up in the late 1970swas something special. Previously, I had played on Flushing fields marred with patchy, overgrown grass, dusty dirt, rusted backstops and dried-up water fountains. When my family and I moved to Oceanside, I started playing Double A ball on School 4's fields, which had no outfield fences or dugouts, and parents stood or sat in lawn chairs along the bleacher-less foul lines.

Wrights Field, however, which was reserved for the older kids in adivision then known as the Majors, made you feel as if you were playing Major League Baseball. First, it was the only ball field in town with a designated name, like Wrigley Field, and with good reason. Wrights Field was a well-manicured, lush green diamond with an outfield fence, dugouts, bleachers, an electric scoreboard, a concession booth, men's and women's bathrooms, lights for night games and a P.A. system that blared your name tothe crowd when you stepped in the batter's box.

While other fields in Oceanside and neighboring towns had some of these features, none was the complete package like Wrights Field, a mini-ball park nestled along a canal lined with attractive homes and boats.

During my pre-Wrights Field playing days, I often practiced by swinging a wiffle ball bat at a tennis or sponge ball in my fenced-in yard, where I had used the front stoop as first base, a tree as second and the mailbox as third. Those were the years when Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" steamrolled over teams, Hank Aaron was wrapping up his illustrious career, the "Bronx Zoo" Yankees were winning World Series and the “Bad News Bears” movies werethe rage.

Ever the imaginative kid, I would create exciting scenarios in which Ialways came through in the clutch. While my baseball idols were greats like Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose and Rod Carew, I never pretended to be them. I was always myself, a power hitter who only had to routinely swat the ball over my chain-linked fence 15 yards away into a neighbor's yard to be their equal and MVP. And always in my head the Phil Rizzuto-like sports announcer or cheering crowd praised and applauded my heroics.

In reality, when I finally got to dig my cleats into Wrights Field withthe Lions Club, I wasn't even the best on my team, but I held my own. I was a versatile player who could strike out sluggers on the mound, chase down grounders at second base and shortstop and throw out base runners from behind the plate. Exploiting my best asset, my Jose Reyes-like speed, I robbed many batters of doubles and triples, dashing and diving for line drives in the outfield, and I even smacked a few inside-the-park home runs.

While playing at Wrights Field, I also got to taste championship status, helping the Lions Club take the National League title in 1977. Of course, my dream was to one day win a World Series with the Bronx Bombers at Yankee Stadium. Playing with the Lions Club at Wrights Field, however, was as close as I'd come.

At least I can say I played on a jewel of a Little League diamond before some sizable crowds. For me, Wrights Field will perhaps remain the spot in Oceanside that holds some of my best memories. I'm happy to see it's been upgraded, and hope to be able to return there five to 50 years from now for my nostalgia fix.

Copyright © 2006 Joseph Kellard.