Scott Holleran The New Orleans Disaster and the Line on 'John Galt' September 2, 2005 Burbank, CaliforniaâThis week, an already unsettling sense that the world has gone horribly, horribly wrong deepened when the city at the mouth of the Mighty Mississippi collapsed into chaos. The catastrophe in New Orleans, not limited to the Big Easy, where possibly thousands have been killed and thousands more may be dying, is a still-unfolding tragedy beyond the worst-case scenario. It may be the largest displacement of Americans in history. For some, the grim images from the events along the Gulf coast concretize the sort of devastation depicted in disaster movies like Deep Impact, Armageddon or War of the Worlds. For others, it is easier to turn away and ignore reality, fussing over ring tones, video games or some other nonsense. For this American, the calamity puts a premiere column into sharp focus. It was supposed to be a light column about this and that, with a brief update on a movie adaptation of my favorite novel, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which Miss Rand began writing here in the San Fernando Valley in 1946. It is the story of man's mind on strike. Whether one agrees with Miss Rand's radical philosophy, Objectivism, laid bare in the book, it is an unforgettable masterpiece with grand cinematic potentialâa fact recognized by the producer of last year's Oscar-winning Ray, Howard Baldwin, who tells me that he is closer to bringing Ayn Rand's epic to the screen. For those who remember the novel, the aftermath of this week's hurricane puts a pit in the stomach that sits there; it is eerily similar to what Miss Rand envisioned. While it is too soon to pinpoint the particulars, the anarchy in the Bayou is undeniably related to the widespread irrationalityâthe refusal to thinkâthat Miss Rand dramatized so powerfully in Atlas Shrugged. The hurricane alone did not reduce New Orleans to a city in ruins; the stormâwhich was not a direct hitâhad been widely tracked and reported, and its citizens were warned to leave. The tragedy of New Orleans, from incompetent bureaucrats who collected taxes to pay for levees and pumps that were not maintained to National Guard combat brigades unavailable to enforce law and order in Americaâbecause they were sent in the name of sacrifice to Iraqâis a stark reminder that, as Miss Rand wrote, ideas matter. Based on a reading of the Atlas Shrugged script, producer Baldwin promises that Miss Rand's essential principlesâreason, selfishness, capitalismâare integrated in the plot and that, as in the novel, businesswoman Dagny Taggart struggles to operate a transcontinental railroad in a nation run by preachy socialists, while looters and moochers pick at the remains. Baldwin says his favorite scene is when, after building a line that had been deemed impossible, Dagny rides on the new track's first trainâwhile her lover, an industrialist named Hank Rearden, cheers her on. Baldwin describes the scene as courageous, romantic, and triumphant. Booming with Tinseltown bravado, Baldwin says the movie is going to look stunningâwith the epic novel's trains, bridges and skyscrapers, as well as technology invented after the book was published in 1957 (think the Internet and cellular telephones). The story, Baldwin says, takes place at some indeterminate time, and he dubs the role of Dagny as "the greatest character ever written for an actress." We'll see. It depends on the actress, the direction and other factors. But Baldwin, undecided on whether to film Atlas Shrugged as two separate motion pictures or as a television miniseries, seems sincere. Since we are living in the society Ayn Rand saw comingâpersecuted businessmen, blackouts, lootingâwhat she considered the purpose of her art, the projection of man as a heroic being, is needed now more than ever.