"First Amendment No Big Deal, Students Say"

 Posted by on 31 January 2005 at 9:18 am  Uncategorized
Jan 312005

From this recent story:

…[T]he First Amendment is a second-rate issue to many of those nearing their own adult independence, according to a study of high school attitudes released Monday.

The original amendment to the Constitution is the cornerstone of the way of life in the United States, promising citizens the freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly.

Yet, when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes “too far” in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

This is a trend worth keeping abreast of, especially given that loss of freedom of the press is one of the four key characteristics that Ayn Rand identified as a hallmark of a dictatorship. (The full list can be found in her essay “Collectivized ‘Rights’” in The Virtue of Selfishness, and it includes “one party rule — executions without trial or with a mock trial for political offenses — the nationalization or expropriation of private property — and censorship”.)

Commentaries on Ayn Rand’s Centenary

 Posted by on 31 January 2005 at 9:14 am  Uncategorized
Jan 312005

In my “Ayn Rand” Google News Alert, I’ve noticed a bunch of articles on Ayn Rand as the 100th anniversary of her birth approaches. (It’s this Wednesday.) Most have been positive, but this passage from a Chicago Tribune article struck me as particularly interesting, even pleasant:

Read at the right moment in one’s life — usually in late adolescence, when the world seems like a tangled mess of hypocrisy and confusion, and you hate your parents and especially that stupid assistant principal who is seriously on your case — “Atlas Shrugged” is a tonic, a dream, a throat-scalding draft of pure, radiant clarity. You feel as if you’ve been walking upside down for most of your life, seeing things the wrong way, and now — now — suddenly you’re right-side up again and everything starts to make sense. Turns out it was the world that was upside down, not you.

But here’s the funny thing: Re-reading Rand as an adult in 2005 is not what you thought it would be. It’s not a “Oh, wow, what a chump I was!” feeling. In fact, the ideas from “Atlas Shrugged” you thought you had outgrown don’t seem all that outlandish, after all. The themes you abandoned as hopelessly naive and almost comically operatic — all those fist-shaking tirades about human destiny, all those “Greed is good!” screeds that predate Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” by three decades — somehow start making a bit of sense again, in a world upended by religious fanaticism and a nation crippled by soaring government deficits.

Flaws and all, “Atlas Shrugged” still is a powerful novel, a sweeping epic that either pulls you into its sphere or scares the bejesus out of you, or maybe both.

Generally, I have little patience or respect for people who dismiss Ayn Rand’s ideas as an aberration of their youth. Upon reading this passage, I suspect that many (if not most) of them would be just as captivated by The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged now as they were so many years ago. In at least some cases, I suspect that that’s precisely why they stay away: Ayn Rand would upset the fuzzy, compromising, pragmatic life they’ve made for themselves.


"Chairman Kim’s dissolving kingdom"

 Posted by on 30 January 2005 at 7:52 pm  Uncategorized
Jan 302005

According to this fascinating article, there’s new evidence that the North Korean regime is on the verge of collapse. Some relevant quotes:

According to exiles, North Korean agents in Beijing and Ulan Bator are frantically selling assets to raise cash — an important sign, says one activist, because “the secret police can always smell the crisis coming before anybody else”.

…Word has spread like wildfire of the Christian underground that helps fugitives to reach South Korea. People who lived in silent fear now dare to speak about escape. The regime has almost given up trying to stop them going, although it can savagely punish those caught and sent back.

…Bush’s re-election dealt a blow to Kim, 62, who had gambled on a win by John Kerry, the Democratic candidate. Kim used a strategy of divide and delay to drag out nuclear talks with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea through 2004. Kim lost his bet and now faces four more years of Bush, who says that he “loathes” the North Korean leader and has vowed to strip him of atomic weapons.

…An attempt to kill Kim would come as no surprise. Defections by party officials and army officers have increased as the elite senses that it faces disaster. Japan is considering economic sanctions to retaliate for the kidnappings of its nationals by North Korea and some American policymakers think that the regime should be pushed to the point of self-destruction.

Nonetheless, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, wants to keep pressurising North Korea through negotiations. “The military option is not on the table for the United States,” said an American aid official who is up-to-date with her thinking.

If they really are that close to collapse, I don’t think any option should be off the table.

The Decline of America?

 Posted by on 30 January 2005 at 11:30 am  Uncategorized
Jan 302005

British intellectual Matthew Parris thinks America is in a “relentless decline.” Victor Davis Hanson explains why he’s wrong:

The most recent doom-and-gloom forecast by Matthew Parris of the London Times would be hilarious if it were not so hackneyed. After all, Americans long ago have learned to grin any time a British intellectual talks about the upstart’s foreordained imperial collapse. And as in the case of our own intelligentsia’s gloominess, it is not hard to distinguish the usual prophets’ pessimistic prognostications from their thinly-disguised hopes for American decline and fall.

(Although I disagree with VDH on his theism, he makes some good points.)

"The art of seeing without sight"

 Posted by on 30 January 2005 at 9:13 am  Uncategorized
Jan 302005

A man who has been blind since birth “paints houses and mountains and lakes and faces and butterflies, but he’s never seen any of these things. He depicts colour, shadow and perspective, but it is not clear how he could have witnessed these things either.” Apparently, he is able to integrate the information from other sensory modalities, along with what sighted friends have told him about the world.

One tidbit from the article:

He confides that for a long time he figured that if an object was red, its shadow would be red too. “But I was told it wasn’t,” he says. But how do you know about red? He knows that there’s an important visual quality to seen objects called “colour” and that it varies from object to object. He’s memorised what has what colour and even which ones clash.

Neuroscientists at Harvard and Boston University have been running a number of tests which show some fascinating differences from (and similarities to) the visual cortex of normal sighted people. Here’s the article as well as one of his paintings. (Via Linkfilter.)

Sound Advice from Mom

 Posted by on 29 January 2005 at 9:54 pm  Funny
Jan 292005

My mother, a very wise woman indeed, send this helpful bit of advice to me a few days ago:

I am passing this on to you because it certainly worked for me and we all could use more calm in our lives. By following the simple advice described on a Dr. Phil show, today I have a much more tranquil and serene feeling about life.

Dr. Phil proclaimed, “The way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you’ve started.”

So, I looked around my house to see all the things I had started and had not finished. So, before leaving the house this morning I finished off a bottle of Vodka, the 1/2 gallon of Butter Pecan ice cream, an opened package of Oreos, the remainder of both Prozac and Valium prescriptions, the rest of the Christmas fruitcake, and an open box of decadent chocolates.

You have no idea how good I feel!!!


Spanky New Sports Orthotics

 Posted by on 29 January 2005 at 2:11 pm  Uncategorized
Jan 292005

Back in early August, I blogged about my problem with pain in my right knee during running. An MRI (courtesy of Paul) showed that the problem was an inflamed ilio-tibial band. From the research I did at the time, it sounded like the problem could be fixed with a different pair of orthotics.

Shortly thereafter, Paul and I bought a rowing machine, so I wasn’t running as often or as much. In the weeks of recovery from my fall flu and winter cold, I was even rowing exclusively, since running made me too woozy. Even though I wasn’t running so much or so often, the knee pain still bothered me regularly, such that I couldn’t generally run more than three miles in a stretch. But I put off making the appointment, as I was busy with other matters.

Lately though, I’ve been particularly eager to get back to running, as it’s a harder cardio workout than rowing. So yesterday, I finally called Dr. Ng, the podiatrist recommended by Dr. Heble, my excellent family practice doctor. To my amazement and delight, he had an open appointment that afternoon.

Dr. Ng determined within just a few moments that my regular three-quarter length orthotics (which enable me to walk about town without intense foot pain) were causing my knee pain during running. They were rotating my knees too far outward, thus putting pressure on my ilio-tibial band. They also lacked the necessary cushioning, as they are completely rigid. He took a plaster mold of my feet for a new pair of full-length sports orthotics. They should be arriving in about two weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve started running without any orthotics at all. Last night, I ran four miles without a hint of pain. And I just ran three miles, again without a hint of pain. It was delightful! Notably, merely running without orthotics isn’t a good long-term solution. After all, the reason that I started wearing my orthotics while running in the first place was an almost constant ilio-tibial band tightness in my left hip. In hindsight, it’s pretty clear that wearing the orthotics while running solved that problem, but then created my much more severe (albeit limited) ilio-tibial band pain in my right knee. But in two weeks, I’ll have my some spanky new sports orthotics to wear during running.


Jan 282005

Most of you know that it is nearly impossible for a law-abiding citizen to carry a handgun in Western Europe.

Yet, the courts in the Netherlands have ruled that if a criminal commits armed robbery, is caught, and has to pay restitution to the victim, he is allowed to deduct the cost of his illegal firearm from the amount payed back to the victim.

The two primary conditions for being eligible for this deduction are:

1) The gun has to be one that he would not have purchased except for the purpose of committing the crime. In other words, if you commit a crime with a gun you also use for a law-abiding purpose, you don’t get to deduct it as a crime-related expense. The expense incurred by the bad guy has to be directly related to his crime.

2) A crime actually has to be committed with the gun.

In a certain perverse way, I suppose this increases the incentive for criminals to commit armed robbery with expensive high-quality firearms, not with cheap “Saturday Night Specials”, since if they get caught it reduces the amount they have to return to the victims.

According to the prosecutor in charge of the case,

[T]he financial situation of the bank robber after the sentence is imposed must be the same as what it was prior to the crime. “It sounds a little bit strange, but that is the law”…

Redesigned Web Site

 Posted by on 24 January 2005 at 7:38 pm  Uncategorized
Jan 242005

As you ought to have already noticed, I’ve designed (and reorganized) the web site. Mostly, I was tired of my old design; I wanted the site to be both more subdued and more compact. A few points of note:

  • I added some new pictures of the beasts. Finally, you can get a good look at the horses! (I didn’t even realize that I got a picture of Jackson sticking his tongue out until I downloaded the pictures to my computer. But it’s quite perfect for him.)
  • I converted all of my more recent (i.e. post-undergraduate) papers and lectures to PDF files. Any HTML files are entirely gone for various reasons, but the MS Word files are still available. If those would be of greater interest than the PDFs to some of you, let me know and I’ll add links to them.
  • I finally updated my TOC page. It now links to all the relevant blog entries on The Objectivist Center, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, the Ayn Rand Institute, and so on. It also has a bit of introductory commentary, including a short but clear statement of my view of ARI.
  • I added a general cautionary note to the web site: “The inclusion of a writing on my web site ought not be regarded as an endorsement of either its content or the forum for which it was written. I now disagree (to varying degrees) with many of the claims and/or arguments made in my old work; I have cut my ties to some of the organizations mentioned. Sometimes, my change in views was related the issues discussed on this page. In other cases, I changed my mind for more mundane reasons. Nonetheless, I have chosen to retain these writings on my web site as part of the record of my intellectual history, warts and all. To have selectively removed objectionable writings would not only have been an impossible chore, but also an unseemly act of whitewashing in some cases. Anyone with questions about a particular writing is welcome to e-mail me at [email protected].”

    Just for the record, not a single person has ever pressured, encouraged, or even suggested that I remove those outdated or objectionable portions of the web site. But I do get tired of this sort of stupidity. (Of course, it is precisely because I am not willing to “rewrite my own history” that Michelle Cohen was even able to find that old blog post of mine. Oh, I hid it ever so cleverly… on my web site!)

    Obviously, the basic point of the warning is to alleviate the confusion of reasonable people unfamiliar with my unfortunate history with The Appeasement Center.

    If you run into any problems with the redesign of the site, by all means, let me know. If you just hate the new design… well… too bad. :-)

The Curse of the Slavedriver

 Posted by on 21 January 2005 at 10:03 am  Uncategorized
Jan 212005

It’s 10:00 am — and I’ve already put in six hours of work today. That’s not good, as it implies that I didn’t get nearly enough sleep for the fourth night in a row. Then again, I didn’t need to do any math to discern that unpleasant little fact, as I’m not exactly feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning.

The good news is that last night, I decided to do something radical. You might want to sit down for this news. It’s very exciting. Are you ready? Okay, here goes:

I’m going to take the weekend off.

Really, I swear. Sort of.

My weekend is already pretty full, as Dr. Lewis will be speaking on homeland defense at Boulder tonight and on classical art in Denver on Saturday. There’s also a send-off brunch early Sunday morning. Given that already-busy schedule, I decided that I wouldn’t also push myself terribly hard to study my Latin, write various papers, or make headway in my reading over the weekend. I’ll just have fun with my friends, watch a bit of football (Damn those evil Patriots!), and sleep sleep sleep.

It’s very generous of me, I think.

I work for the worst slavedriver of a boss ever: I’m self-employed.

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