From the article:

HANOVER, NH — According to students enrolled in professor Michael Rosenthal’s Philosophy 101 course at Dartmouth College, that guy, Darrin Floen, the one who sits at the back of the class and acts like he’s Aristotle, seriously needs to shut the fuck up.

Floen is known to make his insufferable comments during class at Thornton Hall. His fellow students describe Floen’s frequent comments as eager, interested, and incredibly annoying.

“He thinks he knows about philosophy,” freshman Duane Herring said. “But I hate his voice, and I hate the way he only half raises his hand, like he’s so laid back. We’re discussing ethics in a couple weeks, but I don’t know if I can wait that long before deciding if it’s morally wrong to pound his face in.”

“Today he was going on and on about how Plato’s cave shadows themselves represent the ideal foundation of Western philosophical thought,” said freshman Julia Wald moments after class let out Monday. “I have no idea what Plato’s ideal reality is, but I bet it doesn’t include know-it-all little shits.”

Wald added: “If he uses the word ‘dialectical’ one more time, I’m going to shove my copy of The Republic down his throat.”

Although he demonstrated a familiarity with Peter Singer’s view on famine relief during a discussion of John Locke’s theory of property, Floen is reportedly unfamiliar with the theory of cramming it for a change and giving someone else a chance to speak…

Here’s the whole thing.

Playing in the Dirt

 Posted by on 30 September 2005 at 10:57 pm  Uncategorized
Sep 302005

Over the years, I’ve had a passing curiosity in the search for the causes of human diseases that substantially reduce a person’s reproductive fitness without modern medicine, such as allergies, asthma, diabetes, and so on. One interesting hypothesis for some diseases is the “hygiene hypothesis.” It “proposes that reduced microbial exposure because of improved sanitation and cleaner lifestyles has facilitated the rise in asthma, allergic disease and multiple sclerosis in the Western world.” Basically, the idea is that the immune system of a child needs to be exposed to all manner of crap to prepare itself to perform its job well later in life.

So I was interested to read that the hypothesis might be able to explain the high incidence of heart disease. The article reports:

Early childhood viral infections might reduce the risk of developing heart disease later in life by as much as 90 percent, researchers from Sweden and Finland reported… According to the investigators, “improved hygiene in early childhood might partially explain the greatest epidemic of the 20th century — coronary heart disease.” It is the first time that the so-called “hygiene hypothesis” has been linked to the development of heart disease… [Researchers] found a consistent trend between the number of childhood infections and the reduction in coronary risk. For instance, having two childhood viral infections reduced the coronary risk by 40 percent; four infections was associated with a 60-percent decreased risk; and six infections lowered the risk by 90 percent.

One of the researchers rightly cautioned not to read too much into these preliminary findings: “We need to do more studies about the influence of the immune system on the cardiovascular system.”

To be fair, my interest in this hypothesis might just be wishful thinking, since I played in lots of dirt on the family horse farm as a child. If my three long-deceased biological grandparents are any indication, I’m not doing so well in the gene department!

The Fruits of Capitalism, Part 1

 Posted by on 29 September 2005 at 6:47 pm  Uncategorized
Sep 292005

Eric Raymond waxes eloquent about advances in shoe technology for Manolo’s Essay Contest:

I’m a geek, not a fashion plate. I don’t think about shoes a lot, but I know what I like — and when I do think about shoes, I’m profoundly grateful for some of the changes that have come about in my lifetime. I’m thinking, more than anything else, of the way athletic shoes have taken over the world.

When I was a kid back in the 1960s and early 1970s, “shoes” still meant, basically, “hard leather oxfords”. Ugly stiff things with a high-maintainence finish that would scuff if you breathed on them. What I liked was sneakers. But in those bygone days you didn’t get to wear sneakers past a certain age, unless you were doing sneaker things like playing basketball. And I sucked at basketball.

I revolted against the tyranny of the oxford by wearing desert boots, which back then weren’t actually boots at all but a kind of high-top shoe with a suede finish and a grip sole. These were just barely acceptable in polite company; in fact, if you can believe this, I was teased about them at school. It was a more conformist time.

I still remember the first time I saw a shoe I actually liked and wanted to own, around 1982. It was called an Aspen, and it was built exactly like a running shoe but with a soft suede upper. Felt like sneakers on my feet, looked like a grownup shoe from any distance. And I still remember exactly how my Aspens — both of them — literally fell apart at the same moment as I was crossing Walnut Street in West Philly. These were not well-made shoes. I had to limp home.

But better days were coming. In the early 1990s athletic shoes underwent a kind of Cambrian explosion, proliferating into all kinds of odd styles. Reebok and Rockport and a few other makers finally figured out what I wanted — athletic-shoe fit and comfort with a sleek all-black look I could wear into a client’s office, and no polishing or shoe trees or any of that annoying overhead!

I look around me today and I see that athletic-shoe tech has taken over. The torture devices of my childhood are almost a memory. Thank you, oh inscrutable shoe gods. Thank you Rockport. It’s not a big thing like the Internet, but comfortable un-fussy shoes have made my life better.

Shoes are basically just a technical improvement upon our delicate, sensitive, and often inadequate human feet. They allow us to walk comfortably through freezing cold snow and burning hot sand. They protect us from pricks, cuts, muck, and critters — everywhere from mountain paths to city streets. They allow us to stand, run, or walk for hours on end. They compensate for troubles caused by defects, disease, and trauma. They protect our cute little piggies from the howling horror of a sudden stub against unforgiving furniture.

Like so many other fruits of capitalism, modern shoes are not properly appreciated, even though they make a huge difference in quality of life. If you cannot imagine the torture of wearing wooden clogs while performing backbreaking labor out in your fields, you have a long line of curious scientists and greedy capitalists to thank. Through centuries of scientific inquiry into human physiology, developments in synthetic materials, advances in manufacturing techniques, and so more, they made your comfortable feet possible.

Weather Story Of The Day

 Posted by on 29 September 2005 at 12:00 pm  Funny
Sep 292005

A tropical storm named “Typhoon Longwang” has formed over the Pacific Ocean. Of course, this is leading to a number of comments along the lines of the following from Rand Simberg:

It could pound Asia pretty hard. It may penetrate deep into the continent. Let’s hope it doesn’t result in another premature evacuation.

OK, so it’s a little juvenile.

There are also a number of funny comments here, such as:

If this thing makes landfall in Puntang, the Weather Channel’s going to have to go Pay Per View.

For those who like graphics, here’s the latest inadvertently suggestive tracking map:

Free Will

 Posted by on 28 September 2005 at 6:40 pm  Uncategorized
Sep 282005

Mike of Passing Thoughts has an interesting post on the proper interpretation Benjamin Libet’s famous experiment on free will. Wikipedia describes the experiment as follows:

[Libet] asked subjects to choose a random moment to flick their wrist while he watched the associated activity in their brains. Libet found that the brain activity leading up to the subject flicking his or her wrist began approximately one-third of a second before the subject consciously decided to move, suggesting that the decision was actually first being made on a subconscious level and only afterward being translated into a “conscious decision”, and that the subject’s belief that it occurred randomly was only due to their perception.

Libet himself apparently opts for a “veto” theory of free will: the freedom of the conscious mind lies in its capacity to veto the random urges of the subconscious. Others, such as Daniel Wegner, have cited such experiments to deny free will entirely by dismissing it as an “illusion.” I’ve only read a short article from Wegner on the topic, assigned in my philosophy of mind class. The data he cited was so completely irrelevant to his conclusion that the whole class agreed that argument was pure foolishness. (However, since I have heard fellow graduate students honestly worry that free will might just be an illusion, I’d like to work through the details of that stolen concept one of these days.)

Interestingly, Mike argues that the results of the experiment are exactly what the Objectivist view of free will would predict. He writes:

What this experiment shows is that the subconscious originates commands and the conscious mind evaluates them, even if for only a nano-second.

When making a choice, OBVIOUSLY the subconscious has to activate possibilities before we can choose. That is the role of the subconscious. Imagine if every time we choose something the conscious mind had to go again through every thought process that preceded the information sent by the subconscious. Choice would be impossible. The most famous experiment on free-will, the one that is supposed to give evidence for determinism, actually provides evidence for free-will if we have a proper theory of the nature of volition!

In addition, it’s important to recognize and emphasize the fact that the conscious mind is responsible for giving the standing orders to the subconscious, in this case: “Flick your wrist on occasion.” Without the conscious mind so directing the subconscious, it wouldn’t do much of anything. As I understand it, the basic error of the veto theory is the failure to recognize that the conscious mind is not merely evaluating the random outputs of the subconscious, but also determining its inputs.

The Final Serenity

 Posted by on 28 September 2005 at 10:18 am  Uncategorized
Sep 282005

Courtesy of the Serenity Blogger Preview, Paul and I saw Serenity last night. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The final cut of the movie is very well-polished, unlike the rough preview we saw way back in May. It really came together as a movie with the added visual effects, the music score, the soundtrack, and so on. With that final polish, the movie felt nothing like a two hour episode of Firefly. The characters were well-drawn within the movie itself, the cinematography was substantially different, and the plot was more intense. In fact, I would now say that the film is a perfect introduction to Mal’s universe — as good as the Firefly series itself.

The movie is very much Romantic fiction, in the sense that the whole plot revolves around a choice that Mal must make. It is a genuine and serious choice, certainly not portrayed as his only option given the situation and his character. (The theme wasn’t as clear as I might have liked, but it certainly can be uncovered.) Also, even though I knew the basic plot, I still found the events of the movie very emotionally gripping.

Like many, I’m very, very interested to see how the movie does at the box office. It’ll also be interesting to see what happens to the sales of the Firefly DVDs. (They’re already around #7 yesterday / #8 today in Amazon’s DVD sales.)

One final thought: Although I’ve loved many of the characters of Star Trek, I would find life in that universe utterly stifling. It’s unbearably sterile, not to mention altruistic and socialistic, with some faith, collectivism, and multiculturalism thrown in as supposed goods too. In contrast, I could live in the rough, chaotic, and violent world of Serenity. It’s a world of real and often noble human beings. Perhaps that says more about me than about Serenity, but so be it!

Introductory Course on Objectivism

 Posted by on 28 September 2005 at 9:22 am  Uncategorized
Sep 282005

News from the Ayn Rand Institute:

Evening Course on Objectivism Starts October 20!

The Ayn Rand Institute is offering a six-session evening course on Objectivism called “Introduction to Ayn Rand’s Philosophy.” This course is designed for readers of Ayn Rand’s fiction who are now interested in learning about her philosophical system. Classes begin October 20, 2005 at 7:30 PM (Pacific). Participants may attend in person at ARI’s offices in Irvine, California, live via telephone, or by listening to recordings of each class through the Internet. For more information on the course and how to register, please visit For those already familiar with Objectivism, we encourage you to forward this announcement to your friends and acquaintances who are new to the philosophy and may be interested in this introductory course.

Spy Drama

 Posted by on 27 September 2005 at 9:30 am  Uncategorized
Sep 272005

A few weeks ago, Paul e-mailed me a link to this lengthy essay on Adolf Tolkachev, a Russian engineer who turned over volumes of extraordinarily valuable information on Soviet weapons systems to the CIA from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. After printing it out, I finally read it a few days ago. (I was engaged in the decadent American activity of sitting still while my stylist added highlights to my hair!) I was sucked into the story more deeply than with any fantastic spy drama. I highly recommend it, particularly in a printed-out form.

I’m very interested in reading good tales of defectors to United States et al from Soviet Russia et al. (Since most of my reading on communism has been focused on Soviet Russia, that would be of greatest interest to me.) I have read — and very much enjoyed — Viktor Suvorov’s The Liberators and Inside the Aquarium. (I’d love to know what happened after his defection to Great Britain!) So any good recommendations?

Serenity Blogger Preview

 Posted by on 26 September 2005 at 12:42 pm  Uncategorized
Sep 262005

Thanks to multiple e-mail alerts from kind folk about the Serenity blogger preview, Paul and I will be enjoying Mal and his crew a few days early! I’m super-excited about that, since I’m going to be in D.C. for the Positive Psychology Conference for the opening on Friday. With this early screening, I’ll be able to enjoy the movie with Paul!

In exchange for the tickets, I am required to post this official synopsis of the movie:

Joss Whedon, the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE [SLAYER], ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity.

The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family — squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

Of course, that summary should be completely unnecessary because every single person who reads NoodleFood surely must have watched those precious 14 episodes of Firefly at least three times by now! If not, to hell with you! Or at least to the Sci-Fi Channel! (They’re running a ten hour marathon of episodes starting at noon on Tuesday, presumably EST. Also, the full DVD set is still available on Amazon, now for just $30.)

I’ve been re-watching Firefly these past few days to get myself back into the world of Serenity. Even on this fifth viewing of the series, I’m completely hooked. I know the course of every episode, yet I’m still captivated by the dialogue, the plots, and the Big Damn Heroes. In fact, I nearly jumped out of my skin watching “Bushwacked” when the soon-to-be Reaver runs past Jayne in the kitchen of the seemingly deserted ship — even though I tried hard to prepare myself since I was running on the treadmill!

Happily, my absolute favorite episode — “Our Mrs. Reynolds” — is up next! Saffron is surely one of the most wonderfully compelling evil characters ever created, consisting of nothing but tangled layers of dangerous and skillful deception. Like Evil Angel of Season 2 of Buffy, Joss does not demand any of the usual revolting sympathy for The Poor Suffering True Self Underneath All The Awful Wrongs. In fact, he pokes good fun at that in Trash, when Mal lets down his guard for a moment after the caper. (Unfortunately, that sort of emotionalism is fairly standard in modern writing. Although I love The Sopranos, the entirely-too-sympathetic portrayal of mob boss Tony Soprano often makes my skin crawl.)

Given how much I loved the rough cut I saw in May, I can’t wait to see the full version — tomorrow! Hooray!


 Posted by on 26 September 2005 at 10:02 am  Uncategorized
Sep 262005

Wowowow. I really, really, really hate when web sites quote one of Ayn Rand’s villains as if they are quoting her. Here’s a particularly gross example:

A Thought for the Day: Russian-Born American Novelist and Screenwriter Ayn Rand Said, ‘disunity, That’s the Trouble. It’s My Absolute Opinion That in Our Complex Industrial Society, No Business Enterprise Can Succeed Without Sharing the Burden of the Problem with Other Enterprises.’

Happily, two people have posted objections to the use of the quote. (And sheesh, what’s up with those bizarre capitals?)

I’ve also run into this banal quote wrongly attributed to Ayn Rand more than once: “The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity.” It recently became the subject of an entertaining e-mail debate between myself and a fellow Titan Toastmaster after he quoted it as the thought of the week.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha