Wiggle Kitty

 Posted by on 31 March 2004 at 1:43 pm  Uncategorized
Mar 312004

Elliot, our new kitty, didn’t quite understand the idea of holding still for pictures. But I did manage to snap a few:

Now I just need to add an audio file of him purring, as it’s quite loud and vigorous. He’s just unbearably cute!

More Miss Manners

 Posted by on 31 March 2004 at 10:10 am  Uncategorized
Mar 312004

I love this line: “Miss Manners can think of no respectable social activity in which some people are clothed and others are not.”

If you want to know what prompted that remark, you’ll have to go read the column.

Contextual Etiquette

 Posted by on 30 March 2004 at 5:51 pm  Uncategorized
Mar 302004

Miss Manners’ latest column concerns the contextual nature of etiquette standards of vulgarity. After examining the various arguments put forth in favor of vulgarity, she writes:

Miss Manners is willing to grant that standards about what constitutes vulgarity are relative and subjective. She knows that repetition wears away the shock, so that allowing vulgarity to take its own course eventually renders it unexceptional. And she yields to no one in her opposition to censorship and the abridgment of rights.

Nevertheless, she cannot help noticing that not everything natural is good. Earthquakes, for example. And she fails to see the benefit to anyone if natural human functions, even ones that produce beneficial results — she is much too delicate to name them — are on public view.

That some like to observe or be observed does not strike her as a reason for arranging for the disinclined to do so when they are going about their normal business. And that some things may be delightful in one context and shocking in another is not a contradiction that should trouble anyone with a modicum of sophistication.

Vulgarity is one of those lapses of manners that do not arise from accident or ignorance. Whether it is showing off or showing too much, it is done to provoke others to envy or disgust. So while allowing it to become commonplace helps dull the reaction, it forces down the standards with which everyone else has to live.

Now we get to the tricky part. How do you shield some people without suppressing others?

By custom. The mannerly principle of not deliberately provoking others, which is the foundation of civilized living, supplies a sense of etiquette about what is permissible where. If you attend orgies, you cannot complain of indecency; if you stumble upon the same activities in the grocery store aisles, you should. The vulgar have their venues and should not expect to be allowed to set the tone everywhere.

Ah, how I love Miss Manners!

Selective Quotation, Damage, and Regrets

 Posted by on 29 March 2004 at 10:33 am  Uncategorized
Mar 292004

Jimmy Wales recently said the following on the Atlantis mailing list: “I think Diana is essentially right about everything.” Wow, what an endorsement! If I was a movie, I’d definitely put that on my poster. (Actually, Jimmy was referring to Compare and Contrast post about ARI versus TOC op-eds below. But that’s just a minor detail.)

I am surprised at the lack of comments on that post, although I know that many good and honest people who still support TOC in some fashion largely agree with my criticisms of TOC’s cultural activism. So perhaps they have little to say at present. I hope they soon realize that such insipid, weak, misleading, and outright wrong op-eds are not merely an ineffective waste of funds, but actively harmful to the goal of wider recognition of Objectivist ideas in the culture. I hope they soon realize that after five pathetic years of TOC’s focus on cultural activism, the damage must be apparent to someone as smart and knowledgeable as David Kelley. I hope they soon realize that no improvement is possible given the subjectivism implicit in the founding philosophy of TOC.

If I were David Kelley, I’d rather shut down the organization than publish another op-ed like The Human Spirit of Christmas. Instead, he mails out copies of that op-ed to sponsors as proof of TOC’s good works. Thus TOC continues along its chosen path. It’s deplorable, but not surprising.

At present, my only real regret about leaving TOC is that I will no longer be able to hang out with friends at the Summer Seminar. Since I can keep up contact in other ways, that is an insignificant price to pay for my freedom and independence from such an organization.

Of course, I have other kinds of regrets, like that I spent many years at IOS/TOC largely coasting on my background knowledge of Objectivism, that I absorbed certain common erroneous interpretations of Objectivism, that I partially adopted the standard causal and unserious attitude towards Objectivism, that I pretty much uncritically accepted the Brandens’ accounts of Ayn Rand’s actions and person, that I cut myself off from contact with various smart and friendly ARI-affiliated scholars, that I supported the organization morally and financially, that I recommended TOC to others, and so on. But those aren’t actually regrets about leaving TOC, but instead regrets about the length and depth of my stay.

Given my deeply moral objections to the underlying philosophy and actions of The Objectivist Center, my departure was obligatory. Since the moral is the practical, that decision has already benfitted me in a number of ways. And since reason and emotion are harmonious, I am glad to be gone.

Quit Yer Whining

 Posted by on 28 March 2004 at 9:17 am  Uncategorized
Mar 282004

If you ever think that you have a terrible job, just think of this of this poor bloke:

It should cheer you up right away.

Compare and Contrast

 Posted by on 26 March 2004 at 11:29 pm  Uncategorized
Mar 262004

In my recent public statement about The Objectivist Center (TOC), I cited Tim Richmond’s 2002 op-ed “One Nation Under ?” as an example of TOC’s embarrassing and dismaying cultural activism. Just the opening paragraph is appalling:

A California court’s recent subtraction of “one nation, under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance distorts the ethical foundation of church and state separation. Yes, individual rights require safeguards against intrusive government, but the court’s striking of a simple utterance begs the question… which rights are being safeguarded? And for whose benefit?

And why must we ask these two questions? The op-ed never really says, but presumably it’s because some rights ought not be protected if they are to the benefit of some unworthy persons. And based upon the analysis in the article, first graders subject to pressure and ridicule in government schools are such unworthy persons.

Most school-age children cannot critically examine the context of the Pledge of Allegiance at an adult level. Critics of “one nation, under God” may point to this youthful naivete in their claims that potentially offensive language ought to be removed from schools. But the world-at-large does not operate that way. Individuals cannot evade the spectrum of ideas. Learning requires a proximity to ideas – even those that may offend – starting in childhood.

Ah yes, damn those little evaders who wish to ban “offensive language” from public discourse! The presumptive subjectivism of this analysis is quite striking: Apparently Richmond can only imagine that people object to the “under God” version of the Pledge of Allegiance because they feel offended. The idea that it involves a government endorsement of religion is never addressed. (Also notable is the blatant equivocation on the term “public” throughout the op-ed.)

When I began this blog entry, I didn’t actually mean to spend so much time on the total lack of redeeming value in this op-ed. Instead, I just wanted to highlight the great chasm between this TOC dreck and the recent Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) op-ed on the Pledge case “Politics without Mirrors” written by Robert Garmong. Garmong’s analysis is clear, engaging, and true — i.e. all that the TOC op-ed is not. I liked the overall theme of the article, as it connected two seemingly unrelated issues by looking beyond the superficials:

The political Left has properly condemned governmental support of religious ideas–but at the same time, it demands that taxpayers support secular ideas, via National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, among myriad smaller agencies. If the Right’s attempt to impose religion by force is destructive of intellectual freedom, the Left’s demand that taxpayers support their ideas is openly contemptuous of the intellect. Liberals do not care whether you or I in fact agree with or approve of the ideas and images our tax dollars support–be they the latest collection of paint splotches or a Madonna smeared with elephant dung–just as long as we hand over our taxes. Thus, our minds have been rendered irrelevant, our agreement or disagreement pointless, as long as we serve as cash cows for the “artist” or “intellectual” to exploit.

The comparison between the cultural activism of TOC and ARI easily goes beyond these two articles. The mere difference in the titles of Ed Hudgins’ TOC op-ed “The Problems with ‘The Passion’s’ Moral Message” and Onkar Ghate’s ARI op-ed “A Passion Against Man” suggests deeper differences in moral evaluations found in the articles. In his article, Ed Hudgins writes:

Gibson and many Christians believe that human beings are born with original sin and worthy of nothing but death and damnation. But because of his love for us, God sent Christ to take upon himself our sins. “The Passion” graphically depicts Jesus’s cruel torture and crucifixion — penalties that we all deserve. To avoid hell, we must accept Christ’s sacrifice.

In our secular society, many individuals who reject this theology still accept the moral message of Christianity. But the problems with this message — as well as a way to a better moral vision — can be found by examining three themes that are central in Gibson’s film: sin, sacrifice and suffering.

Oh, what a harsh condemnation! The idea that “human beings are born with original sin and worthy of nothing but death and damnation” has “problems”! Ouch! Unsurprisingly, Ghate isn’t so friendly towards these views. I rather liked this section of his piece:

When charges of anti-Semitism, denied by the producers, surrounded the film before its opening, there was outrage from many circles. But when the principals behind the film tell us openly that its message is that not only Jews but all men are implicated in the death of Jesus, the voices of moral outrage fall silent…

So, let us ask some questions no one is asking. Why is it immoral to ascribe guilt to all Jews, but not immoral to ascribe guilt to all mankind? How can anyone know, without first considering our specific choices and actions, that you or I are guilty? How can you or I be responsible for the death of a man killed some two thousand years ago? To make any sense of the accusation, one must recognize that one is here dealing with, albeit in a more sophisticated form, the same collectivist mentality as the racist’s. For the anti-Semite, to be Jewish is to be evil. For the devout Christian, to be human is to be evil.

Another useful contrast concerns TOC versus ARI op-ed on Valentine’s Day. Tim Richmond’s fluffy op-ed is filled with vapid, boring generalities. The closing paragraph is as good an example as any other:

At the highest level of rapture, love can be neither universal nor halfway. It is a wonderfully singular, filling experience; a release of sorts, in that thoughts left invisible for lack of an audience suddenly find a mirror-image in another soul. It restores our benevolent sense of the world, the sense that no matter what else may occur there is a base of goodness in life. In a world recently torn asunder by violence and ugliness we struggle to define, the soul mate is a foundation for our happiest outlook.

In contrast, Gary Hull’s recent article forthrightly and clearly challenges the all-too-common idea that love is selfless.

And yet another useful contrast is found between Ed Hudgins’ appeasement of religion in The Human Spirit of Christmas and Leonard Peikoff’s clear rejection of it in “Why Christmas Should Be More Commercial.”

All in all, the sharp contrasts between the quality, clarity, insight, and objectivity of the articles produced by ARI and those of TOC ought to be deeply troubling to any serious advocate of Objectivism who also supports TOC. Since the moral is the practical, a bit of premise-checking seems to be in order.

No Sympathy

 Posted by on 26 March 2004 at 7:26 pm  Uncategorized
Mar 262004

I have nary a drop of sympathy for Naomi Wolf’s alleged victimization at the hands (or rather, hand) of Harold Bloom. To me, the idea that a woman (even a graduate student) cannot maturely handle the unwanted sexual advance of a man (even a professor) is not just absurd, but deeply insulting to all of womankind. So I just can’t muster up much to say about the issue. But thankfully, Robert Campbell has a number of posts on the subject. Just start with Part 1 and keep clicking.

Two Bits of Good News

 Posted by on 26 March 2004 at 5:30 pm  Uncategorized
Mar 262004

Last weekend, I left the 70-degree sunshine of Sedalia for the 30-degree snowflakes of Pittsburgh. There, I presented a short version of my paper on false excuses at the University of Pittsburgh/Carnegie Mellon Graduate Philosophy Conference. Despite the weather, I had a great time. The graduate students at the conference were all very friendly, helpful, and sharp. My fellow Boulder graduate student Michelle Maiese gave a very interesting and good paper on philosophy of mind. My commentator, Greg Salmieri, offered excellent and entirely just criticism of the piecemeal and consequentialist approach to honesty found in that paper. (I’ll have more to say on that soon.) So I’m happy to report that the conference was very worthwhile!

Also, we have a new kitty as of yesterday! Elliot is a five month old longhair with big black and white patches. (I’ll post pictures soon.) He’s insanely cute, quite playful, and very cuddly. (In fact, he’s purring very loudly and climbing all over my lap and my laptop as I type!) Unfortunately, he is also defective, as he has a rather serious congenital heart defect that will surely kill him at some point. (His murmur is so pronounced that it can be easily felt when holding him… so long as he’s not purring.) But in the meantime, he’s just the kitty I wanted… and I’m happy to give him a good home.

All things considered, Elliot is adjusting well to the dogs and vice versa. The dogs are a bit too interested in this new little snack and he’s justifiably a bit wary of them. Oliver, our 3 year old cat, is quite another story. He’s been in hiding on top of the bookshelves downstairs, as he’s completely terrified and distraught every time he catches sight of this evil interloper. (It’s quite funny to see since Elliot is half his size.) In contrast, Elliot pays basically no attention to Oliver’s poor manners. I’m sure Oliver will come around in the next few days… at least I hope so!

Lost E-mail

 Posted by on 23 March 2004 at 11:37 am  Uncategorized
Mar 232004

A few days ago, I accidentally deleted an e-mail from someone named “Travis Pullen” before even reading it while quickly perusing my mail in PINE. (The subject indicated that it was about an essay of mine on capitalism.) So Travis, if you are reading this, please re-send your message.

Paying for Wrongful Incarceration?!?

 Posted by on 17 March 2004 at 8:58 am  Uncategorized
Mar 172004

I just heard about this astonishing story on the “Political Grapevine” section of Special Report with Brit Hume. Apparently, Britain’s Labor Home Secretary is attempting (via the courts) to force people wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they did not commit to pay for the costs of their incarceration. So the more of your life that was taken from you, the more you owe the government for the privilege of eating prison food and sleeping in prison beds. Of course, you were likely financially ruined by the trial and appeals… and you weren’t exactly raking in the dough in prison. But pay up, brother!

Here’s one man’s story:

Robert Brown was just a 19-year-old from Glasgow when he was jailed for life for murdering a woman called Annie Walsh in Manchester in 1977. He served 25 years before he was finally freed in 2002, when the courts ruled him innocent of the crime.

He is now facing a bill of around £80,000 for the living expenses he cost the state. For Brown, it is the final straw. An interim payment he was given pending his full compensation offer is exhausted; his mother recently died; his relationship with his girlfriend has fallen apart and he is facing eviction from his home following a mix-up over benefits.

“I feel like ending my life,” he says. “I’ve tried to maintain my dignity, but the state has treated me with nothing but contempt – now they are asking me for money for my bed and board in jail.

“I never contemplated suicide once while I was in prison, but it’s different on the outside. I have received no counselling or support. Society is treating me like something you’d wipe off the bottom of your shoes, but I’m an innocent man and a victim of a terrible injustice.

“It’s horrific. I’ve been out of jail for 14 months and in that time the state has put me through a war of attrition that it never needed to conduct. I feel my life is disintegrating around me.

“Making me pay for my bed and board is abhorrent. I was arrested, fitted up and held hostage for 25 years and now they are going to charge me for being kept as their prisoner against my will.

John McManus of the Scottish Miscarriage of Justice Organisation put his finger on the issue in saying that the government seems “to want to punish people for having the audacity to be innocent.” Well, perhaps that’s no surprise, given that they also want to punish people for the audacity of defending themselves against criminals.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha