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Bill Bucko

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    Aesthetics<br /><br />I'm the author of three novels set in the Italian Renaissance, "Bring Me Giants!", "The Outcasts," and "Raphaella di Piero." I translated the French adventure story that inspired the young Ayn Rand, "The Mysterious Valley" (Atlantean Press, 1994). My fiction and non-fiction have appeared in "The Atlantean Press Review" and "The Intellectual Activist." Student of Objectivism since 1966; had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Ayn Rand in 1971!

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  1. "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics" I once knew a woman who professed to admire Ayn Rand. She even claimed to accept Miss Rand’s philosophy. But when Barbara Branden’s pseudo-biography came out, this woman fell for it hook, line, and sinker. “How,” I asked, “can you believe such contradictory nonsense? Branden claims, again and again, that Ayn Rand suffered from a lifelong neurotic fear of physical reality. Yet here she describes Ayn Rand as a child joyfully climbing a mountain, on a vacation in Switzerland. And later in life, happily taking the throttle of a Diesel locomotive!” The woman shrugged it off, as though self-contradiction meant nothing to her. But those who respect the truth, have never accepted the Brandens’ smear campaign. Now District Attorney Valiant, with a ruthless respect for fact, marshals the evidence. He exposes, in full detail, literally dozens of major self-contradictions, fallacies, non-sequitors, and smears in the Brandens’ works, proving beyond all doubt that they have systematically tried to distort the historical record. He leaves the Brandens not even a fig leaf to hide behind. They stand revealed: an aging Lillian Rearden and an aging Robert Stadler, finally exposed to the public shame they have so long deserved. And by setting the record straight, he has performed an historic act of justice.
  2. FURTHER TESTIMONY TO BRANDEN'S DISHONESTY I had advance notice of the "split" in 1968, a couple of weeks before it became generally known. That's because electical engineer and inventor Jim Davidson (1930-1979), informal leader of our Objectivist group at Purdue University, was friends with several employees at Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI). Jim had a library of almost 200 reel-to-reel tapes, and he eventually told us the story behind it. According to Jim's account (which I have no reason to doubt), it was he who originated the idea of offering courses by tape transcription, sometime around 1960; after a great deal of arguing he persuaded Barbara Branden of the practicality of the idea, and she in turn convinced Nathaniel Branden. For the first several years Jim did all the copying and mailing of the reel-to-reel tapes. (After his death I saw the records he still kept in his card file.) Sometime in the middle 1960's, not long after Nathaniel Branden had signed a contract with Jim, Branden unilaterally broke the contract when he found a firm (G.E., if I remember correctly) that could duplicate the tapes somewhat more cheaply. Jim considered suing Branden but decided not to, since he was afraid that might harm the progress of Objectivism. He later remarked that if he had gone ahead and sued, possibly the "split" might have taken place several years earlier. I believe ARI recently acquired this tape archive from Jim's heirs. We had only Jim's word for most of what he said, but I must say that all of us who knew him found him the man of the highest character we have ever met; knowing him was an unforgettable experience, like knowing Howard Roark in person. Turning, now, to the "split" in 1968: According to what Jim passed on to us from his friends at NBI, Nathaniel Branden gathered his staff together and told them he had never been fully an Objectivist, but had merely been "playing a role," adding that he had "never taken Objectivism as seriously as some of them obviously had." Jim's comment: NB was most likely rationalizing, to avoid the guilt of having betrayed his own values. Reportedly, Branden was "definitely suicidal" at this time, and fled to Canada for several weeks. He later switched to alternate "explanations" of his behavior, changing his excuse to suit the occasion. Jim was in a position to confirm some of Ayn Rand's lesser charges, e.g. that NB had not updated his lecture courses as he had promised. And that both Brandens, well aware that a break was coming, had copied "The Objectivist"'s mailing list ahead of time, which they had no right to do. Another member of our group commented (I think correctly): "Nathaniel Branden is the Benedict Arnold of Objectivism." My copy of Mr Valiant's book hasn't yet arrived, but I welcome any attempt to redress the enormous evil perpetrated by both Brandens. ================================================ The party who alleges that Miss Rand denied having an affair, is grossly misinformed. She never made a statement one way or the other.
  3. Ayn Rand did not agree that so-called "white lies" are moral. She had too much respect for reality. WHY would ANYONE believe a word Barbara Branden says, given her history of dishonesty? Would you believe a Lillian Rearden biography of Hank Rearden? From my Amazon review of Branden's trash-wallow "The Passion of Ayn Rand": "This is not a true biography of the great philosopher. It is a vitriolic exercise in hatred, riddled from beginning to end with self-contradictions. For instance, Branden insists that Miss Rand as a child conceived a life-long neurotic fear of physical reality. Yet only a few pages later she describes the young Ayn Rand joyously climbing a mountain on a vacation in Switzerland ... and later in life, happily taking the throttle of a New York Central diesel locomotive! "Branden did know Ayn Rand in person, and did conduct a series of biographical interviews with her, resulting in the publication of a biographical essay in the 1962 book “Who Is Ayn Rand?” In the later 1960’s they parted ways. Miss Rand went on with her vastly productive life, writing ground-breaking books that apply rational principles to the problems of living. Branden, on the other hand, turned Ayn Rand bashing into a pathetic career. "... I had the pleasure of meeting Ayn Rand in 1971, and of seeing first-hand how gracious she was with her many fans. I found her a genuinely polite, warm, and considerate person, who seemed serenely at peace with herself. "Can the same be said of her detractors?"
  4. Great Free-Thinkers of History CYRANO DE BERGERAC: THE MAN WHO DREAMED OF DARING by Bill Bucko Suppose you were an educated free-thinker living in Europe in the 1640’s. You would be well aware that the fledgling sciences were struggling against religious dogma and superstition. You would know that the Roman Catholic Inquisition had just forced Galileo to deny that the earth moved—a grave warning to all who questioned authority. All around you Catholics and Protestants would be slaughtering each other in the Thirty Years’ War, or burning “witches.” You would know that an outspoken public attack on religion could put your life in danger. But suppose you still wanted to strike a blow for reason. What weapon would you use? Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655) chose the weapon of satire. Yes, there was a real Cyrano, just as witty, dashing and courageous as the fictionalized Cyrano created by playwright Edmond Rostand. In his short life he was a soldier, a ferocious duelist who put to flight a hundred men at once, a poet, a gambler and frequenter of taverns—and a fantastically imaginative writer. The real Cyrano was not, as Rostand would have it, a noble Gascon. His actual name was Hercule Savinien de Cyrano. His father, a lawyer, bought the small castle of Bergerac near Paris, and in later life Cyrano liked to style himself “de Bergerac Cyrano.” The young Cyrano became a free-thinker after reading the Roman satirist Lucian, whom he preferred to “the stupidity of the catechism.” He shocked his fellow student LeBret by insisting they swear friendship not by the Virgin, but by Bacchus and Venus. After leaving school Cyrano joined the army and became a famous duellist. Seriously wounded at the siege of Arras, he retired to devote himself to philosophy and literature. It didn’t make him any friendlier toward religion when he saw his cousin Robineau (or Roxanne) de Neuvillette retire to a convent after the death of her husband, scourge her body, and become a hideous travesty of her former self. Cyrano’s most brilliant surviving work is L'Autre Monde or The Other World (sometimes translated with the descriptive title The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon.) In The Other World Cyrano (or rather, his alter-ego, the ingenuous “Drycona”) attempts to fly by attaching flasks of dew to his body. He is borne up above the clouds from the neighborhood of Paris, comes straight down again after a few hours, and finds himself in Canada. Taken before the governor, he tells him that the earth must have rotated beneath his feet. The governor counters with the opinion that the world may turn, not for the reasons Copernicus argued, "but because the fire of hell (according to Holy Scripture) being shut up in the center of the earth, the damned try to flee the ardor of the flames, and clamber against the vault to get away from them, making the earth turn, as a dog makes a turnspit go around when he runs inside of it." “Drycona” piously applauds that very Christian idea. He finally gets to the moon by a combination of fireworks rockets and beef marrow (which, as everyone “knows,” is attracted by the moon!) Arriving there, he crashes into a tree that breaks his fall. The tree is part of the Garden of Eden, which somehow found its way to the moon. (The idea is bizarre, but Cyrano uses it to write what was probably the first satire on the Old Testament ever written.) Cyrano mocks God for His absentmindedness, and is thrown out of the Garden of Eden “to show the irreconcilable hatred of God to atheists.” On the rest of the moon’s surface Cyrano (who lived only 36 years) finds that the old honor and obey the young, poetry serves as money, and virginity is viewed as a crime. A big nose (like Cyrano’s) is regarded as the sign of a great-spirited man. Those with small noses are sterilized. The moon people, who go on all fours, debate whether Cyrano is a man, an ape, or a parrot. They decide he is a parrot, and keep him in a cage. He performs tricks to please his captors, and eventually learns the moon language. That upsets the dogma of the moon clergy, who excommunicate all who believe Cyrano is capable of reason. He is eventually recognized to be a man, but forced to publicly deny his claim that he came from another world: “I declare to you, that this moon here is not a moon, but a world; and that the world below is not a world, but a moon; this the priests think fit you should believe.” Cyrano may never have heard the term “rationalism” (in the sense of: the use of concepts divorced from facts) but, living in a Christian country, he knew what it was, and he wildly lampoons it. An inhabitant of the sun argues with him and “proves” that "the sin of murdering a man is not so great as to cut a cabbage and deprive it of life, because one day the man will live again while the cabbage has no other life to hope for. By killing a cabbage you annihilate its soul; but by killing a man you simply make him change his domicile [i.e. to heaven]." God is too lofty a being to prefer some of His creatures over others; but if He did, He would probably love cabbages more than men, for they are born without Original Sin: “we know very well that the first cabbage did not offend its Creator in the Earthly Paradise.” Although cabbages were not granted immortality, God is just, and “without doubt they received some other advantage, the briefness of whose existence is compensated for by its grandeur.” Perhaps they have a perfect knowledge of all causes. “And if you ask me how I know that cabbages have these fine thoughts, I ask you how you know that they do not have them?” In Cyrano’s whimsical tale, earthly customs are turned on their head. When the moon king sends him a messenger finely dressed in lunar fashion (i.e. stark naked), Cyrano, to show him honor, sits down and puts on his hat. He finds that on the moon wearing a phallic symbol (celebrating one’s biological origin) is a sign of nobility, while wearing a sword (the tool of the executioner) is shameful. And when the moon people take their leave, they salute each other: “Remember to live free (Songés à librement vivre)." Cyrano puts his most dangerously irreligious statements in the mouth of a disreputable character, his innkeeper’s son. He listens in amazement as the latter argues against the possibility of miracles and the resurrection of the body. Do souls up in heaven really see, without eyes, just as well as they did on earth? Then eyes aren’t necessary, and we ought to whip the blind for pretending they can’t see ... Suppose you ate a Mohammedan, and then engender a son. Suppose the son’s atoms all come from the Mohammedan; yet the son is a Christian. But a person is a union of soul and body. Should God now damn him as a Mohammedan, or save him as a Christian? In fact, there is no God at all. If there really were a God, wouldn’t He reveal Himself to us, rather than play hide-and-seek, as He seems to do now? And even if there were a God, He could not justly punish unbelievers, for it’s no sin to deny what you have no knowledge of. Cyrano or “Drycona,” shocked, tries to reply, but a hairy black devil suddenly appears and carries the irreligious moon-man up the chimney! Cyrano grabs hold of the blasphemer, is carried through space back to the earth, and lets go just before the demon drags his prey down a volcano’s crater on the way to hell ... He concludes that it is well for the moon men to be isolated in their sphere, where they cannot corrupt the good Christians on earth. Cyrano’s original Other World circulated during his lifetime only in manuscript form. After his death his friend LeBret published it in a heavily censored version, with almost all the impieties cut and the ending completely rewritten. It was not until 1908 that the original manuscript was published in French. The only uncut English translation available is that of Richard Aldington, titled Voyages to the Moon and the Sun . That volume also reprints Cyrano’s journey to the sun, a continuation of the story. It seems that after his return to earth Cyrano (or “Drycona”) enjoyed a brief celebrity, but was soon accused of sorcery. (After all, by his own admission he had returned to the earth with the devil’s aid!) Cyrano is pursued, captured, escapes and is caught again. The clergy imprison him at the top of a tall tower, so they can give him a “fair trial” and then burn him at the stake. But by the intervention of noble friends he is allowed tools and materials to idly tinker with. Not realizing the danger, his wardens allow him to have ... an icosahedron mirror. The irrepressible Cyrano constructs a box with the mirror on top, to rarify the atmosphere inside, and off he goes into space—this time on his way to the sun! There he has adventures with talking trees and birds (who put him on trial for the crime of being a man), and converses with departed earthly philosophers. There are long passages advancing an atomistic philosophy, which Cyrano believed to be the most scientific. The work ends abruptly, cut short by Cyrano’s untimely death in 1655, probably due to syphilis (perhaps aggravated by a serious head injury he received from a falling log—possibly an accident, possibly a murder attempt on the part of his enemies, as in Rostand’s play). His cousin Roxanne and his sister (whom Roxanne had persuaded to become a nun) tried to convert Cyrano on his deathbed. To get rid of them, he confessed that his past “libertinage” now appeared “monstrous” to him. But the next day, when they came back, they found he had had himself carried to another house, where he could die in peace. Cyrano’s wildly imaginative fiction served as an inspiration for the much better-known Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726). In his ideas he was clearly a man out of step with his times, though he found companionship in the free-thinking taverns of Paris and in the company of scholars like Gassendi (whose own atomistic writings were published only after his death). In a letter titled “Against Sorcerers” Cyrano dared to attack the whole idea of witchcraft and demonic possession. If witches can really change their shape into that of a cat, he pointed out, then once they’re caught they can easily change into a fly and escape! But they obviously don’t. So witchcraft is just another imaginary shackle on the human mind. Cyrano, as his friend LeBret said, “had a horror of all subjection, moral or material.” Like Edmond Rostand’s fictional hero, he wanted to be “free in thought, word, and deed.” He proudly declared that he would follow no philosopher, not even Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle, unless convinced by sound arguments: "La raison seule est ma reyne (Reason alone is my queen).” Other figures to be covered in this series on great freethinkers (unless the author is struck down by lightning) include: Edward Gibbon, Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and Colonel Bob Ingersoll. Copyright © 1993 by Bill Bucko BIBLIOGRAPHY Les Oeuvres Libertines de Cyrano de Bergerac, Parisien (1619-1655), edited, introduction and notes by Fréderic Lachèvre (Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion, 2 vols., 1921) La Vie de Cyrano de Bergerac, by Louis-Raymond Lefèvre (Paris: Librairie Gallimard, 1927) Voyages to the Moon and the Sun, by Cyrano de Bergerac, translated and introduction by Richard Aldington (London: George Routledge & Sons, n.d.)
  5. Yes. Do you recall, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the conspirators want Brutus to join them, and one of them slips him a suggestive note: "There was a Brutus once ..."
  6. The bottom line is, Arthur Miller saw man as a pygmie. Ayn Rand grew old. Hugh Akston grew old. I'm growing old. What's so tragic about that? Death of a Salesman presents nothing but the squalid, the corrupt, the festering. If you accepted his view of life ... wouldn't that make you want to commit suicide?
  7. Novel??!?? It's not a novel, it's a poem! I like the Laurence Binyon translation, published in "The Portable Dante." Its footnotes do help to make some of the historical references clearer. And the translation follows Dante's own rhyme pattern. The "Divine Comedy" was a great favorite of Michelangelo's. It also inspired some marvelous drawings by the Renaissance artist Botticelli. More recently, the poet T.S. Eliot remarked that he could tell it was a great poem, even before he learned Italian, simply by the sheer sound of the words themselves.
  8. Bill Bucko


    The Cortege from Debussy's "Petit Suite" is also ravishing! The original is for piano solo; I believe some other composer orchestrated it. I first heard it late one night, 35 years ago, from an FM station, but they didn't announce the composer. I wrote to them, begging to know, but was told all their music was shipped to them "canned," and they hadn't a clue! It wasn't till several years later that I learned its identity ... I had to wait even longer, 20 years, before I learned the name of another great (but uncommon) piece I heard from them: the March from Bizet's "Fair Maid of Perth." (I know I've wandered off-topic. But I can't resist!) Many years ago at Purdue University, I went to our campus radio station, and fortunately the announcer there was able to identify the two pieces of theme music I asked about: Dukas' Fanfare to precede the ballet "La Peri," and Gabriel Faure's Sicilienne from "Pelleas and Mellisande" ... Which leads me to: Do you know what theme music was used, in the early 1960's, for the "Ayn Rand on Campus" programs originating at Columbia University? Miss Rand selected them herself. They were: Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, the very beginning of the 2nd movement; and Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 3, the very beginning of the 3rd movement. Many of these radio programs are sold by the Ayn Rand Bookstore (though I believe without the theme music).
  9. Your essay seems over-long, and repetitive (which is to be expected, in a first draft). I would try condensing it. I think you will find that will make it even more powerful.
  10. I have a comment on the issue of tempo. Is there a tendency for us to perceive faster tempos as lively/happy/spirited (e.g. the last movement of St.Saens' 5th Piano Concerto), and slower tempos as unjoyous? I think so. But listen to Sibelius's late work for strings, Andante Festivo --"slow and festive" (!) A good illustration of how a great composer at the height of his powers can achieve the seemingly impossible.
  11. Thank you. DEATH TO ISLAM! Bill ("I SLAM ISLAM") Bucko
  12. You're welcome. I think many people would be surprised at how comfortable it was to be around Miss Rand. If you've only heard her make speeches, you don't have a full picture of what she was like. A better impression of her personality can be gathered by listening to her "Fiction Writing" lectures, in which she was speaking in her own living room, to a circle of friends.
  13. A MEETING WITH AYN RAND by Bill Bucko What was Ayn Rand like in person? I had a chance to find out, in 1971, when I flew to Boston to hear her speak at the Ford Hall Forum. A couple of friends and I arrived at the doors of the New England Conservatory of Music about 1 P.M. that chilly November day, to be sure of getting good seats. There were only half a dozen people ahead of us. Miss Rand’s speech was scheduled for 8 P.M.; but we were so excited we didn’t find the wait long at all. We stamped our feet against the cold, all afternoon, but our mood was happy and cheerful. When it was getting dark the management took pity on the long line of several thousand people circling the building, and opened the doors early. We hurried inside, found seats close to the stage, and waited. Miss Rand’s talk that evening was “The Moratorium on Brains,” on Nixon’s wage-price freeze. After giving her a standing ovation, we listened with the rest of the audience to the logical, heavily-accented words of the short, stocky philosopher in the evening dress. In spite of the somewhat grim subject matter, she seemed enthusiastic and optimistic. She closed by describing the uniquely American sense of life—expressed in the spirit: “Don’t push me around”—as her basis for optimism. During the question and answer period a diffident young woman respectfully questioned Miss Rand’s views on femininity.* Miss Rand nodded gently, acknowledging that the issue was not self-evident, and politely recommended, “Well ... think about it.” A tall, hippyish young man asked if she had read “The Epistemological Base of Anarchism.” She shook her head, dismissing him: “I have Aristotle,” she said firmly. When the question and answer period was over and the huge, happy crowd was milling around, we heard a rumor that people could meet with Miss Rand in the “green room” (where musical performers waited before going on stage). We had no idea where that was, but we followed the crowd. After more than an hour in the slow-moving line of wall-to-wall people, shuffling down hallways, around corners, and up stairs, we arrived at the door of what we guessed was the green room, and by craning our necks we could see inside. Miss Rand sat at a table, smiling benevolently at the fans who packed the room and towered over her, cheerfully signing dozens and dozens of autographs on programs, books, pamphlets, anything that came to hand. She didn’t look like a world famous writer. She was as natural and unpretentious as could be, and seemed innocently, almost childishly happy to be meeting people who loved her books. An earnest young man reached her side, and uttered some solemn words of thanks. She listened quietly, then nodded her head in acknowledgment when he was done. As far as I could guess, though, she seemed more comfortable with the more casual attitude of the majority of her fans, whose mood I think I could sum up as: “Hurray! Isn’t it fun that we get to meet each other? (And please could you autograph this for me, as a souvenir?)” After a while the manager came and told Miss Rand it was time to close the building. “Oh, couldn’t we stay just a little while longer?” she smiled up at him, and he relented. At one point the hippyish youth reappeared, and tried to give her the pamphlet on anarchism. “Leave me alone!” she snapped, when he kept persisting. There was so much she still wanted to learn, she told the circle of people around her—higher mathematics, for instance—that she didn’t want to waste time on such an aberration as anarchism. “I love this earth,” she said; and she wanted to spend her time studying it. After almost another hour, I finally reached Miss Rand’s side—the last person to do so that night. The building was closing; the custodians flicked the lights on and off, and the crowd started heading for the exit. “Miss Rand?” I said. She looked up. I told her: “I just want to say hello; I’ve come all the way from Indiana just to be here tonight.” She reached out, took my hand and said sweetly, “Thank you very much for coming.” “Thank you," I replied, a little stunned ... We walked back to our hotel, under the stars, through the cold night air, feeling thoughtful and exhilarated. My friends talked about Miss Rand’s description of the American sense of life ... and they told me they’d overheard her plans for the rest of the evening: she was going to ride back to New York on the Greyhound Bus, with her beloved husband Frank O’Connor at her side. What we saw that evening flatly contradicts the view of Miss Rand presented in a certain derogatory pseudo-biography. According to that “biography” (from the same non-objective publishers who push psychic surgery, astrology, UFO abductions, and claim Errol Flynn was a Nazi spy), Miss Rand at this time was a bitter, lonely neurotic, afraid of the world and hostile toward her fans. But we saw a warm, friendly, youthful old woman, with the innocence of a young girl. We saw a person who was delighted to see us, apparently at peace with herself and deeply happy. And that makes sense to me. Could anyone less than a hero(ine) have written Atlas Shrugged ? Copyright © 1992 by Bill Bucko * Rightfully so, I think. I believe Miss Rand’s unique psychological situation—knowing herself to be at the top of the “pyramid of ability,” having no one above her—coupled with her passionate need to look up and admire—may have led her mistakenly (though understandably) to elevate the status of men above women (in the limited respect in which she did do so). But if “the essence of femininity is hero worship,” as Miss Rand said, why can’t the essence of masculinity be ... heroine worship?
  14. I too want Stephen to stay, and the moderator in question to go. I joined this forum--the first I've ever joined--because Betsy Speicher recommended it. I soon found that, when I had time to read only a few posts, hers and Stephen's were the ones to read.
  15. Be sure to get the old Jeremiah Curtin translation (highly approved of by Sienkiewicz himself), not a modern "adaptation." Besides the ingenuity of the plot, a major attraction of the book is its portrayal of the decadent esthete Petronius, one of the most colorful figures in all of literature. He really steals the show!
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