Much Ado About Nothing

Jul 312005

I’m presently watching Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 production of Much Ado About Nothing. Although I’ve seen it multiple times before, I am thoroughly enjoying it yet again. (I’m in the middle of the very funny — and superbly well-acted — machinations to trick Beatrice and Bendick into love.)

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival is currently running in Boulder. Since I’m always saying that I’d like to see more productions of Shakespeare and since David Koppel reports that Twelfth Night is fantastic, I just bought two tickets for the August 12th performance.

It should be fun!

Harry and Jesus

Jul 312005

Don recently commented upon the disturbing way in which Christianity commands belief for salvation:

One of the most disturbing features about Christianity is that the way to save your soul is to believe in God and in Jesus. The problem is, we cannot choose our beliefs. It isn’t possible. If it was, people with low self-esteem could simply choose to believe they were efficacious and worthy. Our only choice is to think and accept whatever conclusion we are led to by reason, or to evade and accept whatever beliefs happen to be in our subconscious. This is a religion of love? Condemn man at birth for a sin he did not choose to commit, condemn him while he is alive for not living up to a moral code he cannot live up to, and condemn him for eternity after he dies for not making a choice he was incapable of making. As JS would say: Give me a break.

Not long after reading that post, I was reminded of the explicit way in which Christians require such belief with this proposed prayer on the fundamentalist “Truth for Youth” web site:

Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner and cannot save myself. I believe that you are the only son of God. You died on a cross and gave your precious blood so that I could be saved. I am willing to turn away from my sins. Jesus, right now, I invite you to come into my heart and life and be my personal savior. Wash my dirty sins away with the blood you poured out when you died for me on that cross. Thank you, Jesus, for saving my soul. Since you died for me, I will live for you!

Wow, I feel dirty just reading that.

By the way, that “Truth for Youth” group seeks to smuggle Bibles into the public schools, rid the internet of pornography, and so on. Here’s the general method they propose using:

God spoke it bluntly to the Prophet Ezekiel: He declared, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word of my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, thou shalt surely die; and thou givest them not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, BUT HIS BLOOD WILL I REQUIRE AT THINE HAND. Yet if thou shall warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou has delivered thy soul! (Ezekiel 3:17-19)


I found them via a link to this truly bizarre comic warning children away from the evils of Harry Potter.

Formal Logic

Jul 302005

Sheldon Richman recently asked me:

Can you recommend a good book or article on what’s wrong with the last century’s work in formal logic? I am curious about this, but don’t want to waste time reading stuff that is better bypassed.

I don’t know of any good sources offhand, although I suspect that Brand Blanshard’s Reason and Analysis might be on-point. (I haven’t read it yet, although it’s definitely on my list.) So… any recommendations?

Today’s Quiz

Jul 302005

Which Firefly character are you?

Farewell, Mysterious Stranger

Jul 292005

My comments software allows people to post anonymously if they so choose. Until recently, if a person didn’t fill in a name, his comments would appear to be from a “Mysterious Stranger.” However, to prevent one Mysterious Stranger from being confused with another Mysterious Stranger, I’ve decided to change that feature of the software. Those who wish to remain anonymous may still do so, but they must pick some handle for themselves so that they are not confused with other anonymous posters.

Obviously, I hope that any mysterious strangers will consistently post under a single handle. Pretty much any handle will do, although I do ask that people not use the names of Ayn Rand’s fictional heroes, as I find that rather presumptuous, even when not intended as such. Personally, I like it when unnamed commenters use initials, as that renders them anonymous to Google searchers and strangers, but identifies them to friends.

Gary Hull on C-Span

Jul 292005

I’m very glad to see that C-SPAN is broadcasting more Ayn Rand Institute events. (I’m sure I’m not alone. In fact, perhaps I should write them to tell them how pleased I am about it!) Here’s the announcement from ARI:

Dr. Gary Hull, long-time speaker for the Ayn Rand Institute, will present a lecture on his recently released book, “The Abolition of Antitrust,” on Book-TV C-SPAN 2.

The show will air this Sunday, July 31, at 5:30 AM, Eastern time.

Here is an edited version of Book-TV’s description of the show:

Gary Hull, editor of the book “The Abolition of Antitrust,” argues that antitrust laws are harmful. Mr. Hull and other contributing writers assert that these laws are based on bad economics and the misinterpretation of American business history. Gary Hull is joined by Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, California, to examine several antitrust cases, including General Electric, Visa/MasterCard, and Kellogg/General Mills.

Gary Hull, Ph.D. in philosophy, is director of the Program on Values and Ethics in the Marketplace at Duke University. He has taught philosophy and business ethics at Whittier College and the Claremont Graduate School. He also co-edited “The Ayn Rand Reader.”

In fact, I just sent the following letter to Book-TV ([email protected]):

I just wanted to let you know how pleased I am to see Ayn Rand Institute events played on Book-TV — like the past Peter Schwartz lecture on “The Virtue of Selfishness” and the upcoming Gary Hull lecture on “The Abolition of Antitrust.”

I live in Colorado, so I can’t attend the Ayn Rand Institute’s events in California in person. Being able to watch them on Book-TV is definitely a treat — and I’d love to see more.

So thank you!

Please do write them a pleasant note if you’d like to see more!

Update: I got a pleasant e-mail in return within the hour from a Senior Executive Producer at Book-TV. Cool!

Ayn Rand on Sex, Drugs, and Ronald Reagan

Jul 292005

As Noumenal Self recently noted in the comments, the forthcoming book of Ayn Rand’s Q&As, Ayn Rand Answers, is now listed on Amazon for publication on November 1st. (It’s edited by the amazingly productive Robert Mayhew.)

Here’s Amazon’s description of the book:

After the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957, Ayn Rand occasionally lectured in order bring her philosophy of Objectivism to a wider audience and apply it to current cultural and political issues. These taped lectures and the question-and-answer sessions that followed not only added an eloquent new dimension to Ayn Rand’s ideas and beliefs, but a fresh and spontaneous insight into Ayn Rand herself. Never before available in print, this publishing event is a collection of those enlightening Q & As.

This is Ayn Rand on: ethics, Ernest Hemingway, modern art, Vietnam, Libertarians, Jane Fonda, religious conservatives, Hollywood Communists, atheism, Don Quixote, abortion, gun control, love and marriage, Ronald Reagan, pollution, the Middle East, racism and feminism, crime and punishment, capitalism, prostitution, homosexuality, reason and rationality, literature, drug use, freedom of the press, Richard Nixon, New Left militants, HUAC, chess, comedy, suicide, masculinity, Mark Twain, improper questions, and more.

At OCON, Robert Mayhew was kind enough to let me take a look at the proofs in the few minutes before a lecture. Just from reading a small semi-random sample of questions, I was amazed by the range of topics covered. So I’m very much looking forward to reading the book in full in just a few months.

It’s Moral To Explore Space

Jul 292005

X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis argues that it is moral to explore space, and cites some of the following reasons:

“If you think about space, everything we hold of value on this planet is in infinite supply there,” Mr Diamandis explains.

“Earth is a crumb in a supermarket full of resources.” [...]

Both Mr Rutan and Mr Diamandis are passionate believers that humanity’s future in space should be led by non-governmental missions. [...]

The infinite resources that Mr Diamandis talks of include nickel-iron asteroids worth $20 trillion on the open Earth market.

Ayn Rand at the Ford Hall Forum

Jul 282005

I recently finished listening to the entire set of Ayn Rand’s lectures to the Ford Hall Forum. Although most of those lectures are reprinted elsewhere, I cannot recommend this collection highly enough.

In listening to these lectures, many of which contain Q&A sessions, I got to spend nearly 23 hours with Ayn Rand. Although I’ve seen/heard various interviews with her and heard her answer questions for some of Leonard Peikoff’s lecture courses, I’ve never had a full dose before. It was a wondrous delight.

Even though I was familiar with many of the lectures in essay form, Ayn Rand’s tone and emphasis added richness to the bare words on the page. (I also like consuming intellectual material in both written and audio formats, as I find that I glean new insights from each.) The reactions of the audience to Ayn Rand’s sharp rhetorical points are also absent from the printed page. As periodic lectures in chronological order, the set was something of a lesson in the modern political history of America. Ayn Rand’s clarity of thought, passionate commitment to ideas, and respect for her audience were evident in her answers to questions.

Ayn Rand’s first two lectures, “The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age” and “America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business,” were particularly well-suited to her (initially) liberal audience. So I decided to listen to them with my pre-Ayn Rand high school ears.

In many ways, I was so very ripe for Objectivism in high school: I was committed to reason and to individualism, albeit in a clumsy way. I was a life-long atheist seeking a better morality than the watered-down Christianity of secular humanism. I had no altruistic impulses, nor altruistic guilt. However, I was also a committed liberal. I even bordered on socialism at times. I had no understanding of capitalism whatsoever; if anything, I associated it with the corrupt dictatorships of Latin America. I was also completely ignorant of the economics and history of socialism; I thought that it would bring the sort of wealth and prosperity that we enjoy in the United States to all (!!).

So in listening to these two lectures, as well as the somewhat later “What is Capitalism?” lecture, I tried to put myself in my own past shoes, to gauge how I would have reacted to these lectures had I heard them in high school.

Without a doubt, I would have been completely and totally blown away. My liberalism would have been destroyed forever in just fifty minutes. My trek to Objectivism would have only been a matter of time. I must admit, that very much surprised me. (It was a discovery worth the price of the lectures, I think.)

As smaller gems, all of the questions that Ayn Rand answered year after year on abortion finally helped me understand why she placed so much emphasis on abortion rights. He answers to the always-asked questions about the Libertarians were also illuminating, although usually quite brief. In one of the later lectures, she spoke about how they stole her ideas, ripped them from their philosophic foundation, and then attacked her more viciously than anyone else. She discussed the primitive subjectivism underlying their advocacy of liberty. She also mentioned the danger of being associated with “cranks,” which reminded me of this excellent post by the now-more-noumenal-than-ever Noumenal Self.

Her final lecture on “The Age of Mediocrity” struck a very contemporary chord, in that she spoke at length on the long-term danger posed by Ronald Regan’s embrace of religion, despite some likely short-term economic and foreign policy gains. (Sound familiar?)

Finally, I should say that those who wish for some small first-hand glimpse of the real Ayn Rand, undistorted by ax-grinding critics, will find these lectures to be an invaluable treasure.

Good Stuff, Bad Stuff, Yummy Stuff

Jul 282005

Tara Smith doesn’t often write op-eds, but since she’s been working in the philosophy of law, I’m very pleased to see this clear contribution to the debates about the proper standards by which to judge judicial nominees.

I found that via Don Watkins, who also has a good piece on the epistemology behind psychological egoism up and running.

Don also links to this article on “successful losers,” i.e. people who have lost mucho pounds and kept them off. Much of the advice resonates with what I’ve found in the course of trying to shed my extra pounds. (I still have about 10 to go, I think.) My current baseline of exercise is a bit more than 4 miles/40 minutes of rowing or running per day, every day. Interestingly, I found that increasing it substantially (with my long bike rides) had no impact on my weight. Diets don’t help either, although I am far more careful about what I eat these days. Here’s what does work: Hunger. To lose weight, I must be somewhat hungry for significant portions of the day. (To foster that, I try to eat small snacks rather than big meals.) On some days, that’s relatively easy to bear. It’s impossible torture on others. (I don’t push myself on those impossible days, since it’s hard enough on the easy days.)

Hey, maybe I could write the next fad diet book: The Hunger Diet.

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