The Demise of SoloHQ

Nov 302005

As of tomorrow, SoloHQ will cease to exist. (Based upon the announcement, Executive Director Joe Rowlands was pretty unhappy with the state of the site.) All in all, SoloHQ’s demise is welcome news. As I told Linz back in October, when he inquired about my unwillingness to engage in debate on SOLO:

SOLO is a pretty disturbing place, I think. It’s a welcome forum for TOC staff and supporters, die-hard worshippers of the Brandens, writers of articles horribly misrepresenting Objectivism, the fanatical haters of all things ARI, and those half-baked pseudo-Objectivists who wish to inject the philosophy with their own personal mysticism, altruism, nonjudgmentalism, and appeasement. That’s not to say that there’s not some good people contributing to SOLO. However, as with all such joint ventures between good and evil, the good elements legitimize the bad while the bad drowns out the good.

Linz then said:

SOLO is a welcome forum for ARI staff and supporters as well, if they choose to post there. Mostly they don’t. Their loss. Part of their problem is their refusal to engage anyone who disagrees with them. That’s not the way to win hearts and minds. The *articles* are *supposed* to be Objectivist, but occasionally some rubbish slips through the net. … But general posting is open to all comers, Objectivist, non-Objectivists and anti-Objectivists alike. If I become convinced they’re posting in bad faith, as with the ‘pusballs’ recently, I nuke ‘em. Overall, TOC is better represented there by virtue of ARI default. They [ARI] choose to be a secular version of Exclusive Brethren. Not my fault. Our policy is that, since we have an intellectual battle on our hands, we may as well actually engage in it.

I replied:

At least in my own case, it’s not at all a matter of any kind of refusal to debate dissenters. If that was a worry of mine, I’d be too damn scared to blog. And ARI intellectuals wouldn’t be lecturing on campuses, writing op-eds, and the like. (Frankly, the lovey-dovey folks at TOC deserve that charge more than anyone else, since they steadfastly refuse to acknowledge any substantial disagreement with their intellectual opponents!)

My choice not to post to SOLO is a matter of upholding basic standards in intellectual discussion, particularly as to what constitutes Objectivism. Never in a million years will I chime in with Bob Bidinotto, Barbara Branden, Robert Campbell, Ed Hudgins, Roger Bissell, Michael Kelly, and the like–as if we’re all good, honest, and chummy friends of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, albeit with some minor differences of opinion.

Of course, I don’t expect you to share my assessment of those people. It took much interaction, reflection, and thought, often over the course of months, to reach those judgments. Often, it meant losing friends–and that was hard. However, you should know that my refusal to engage in debate on SOLO is a direct result of my judgment that far too many regular contributors to SOLO are intellectually unserious at best and dishonestly hostile to Objectivism (and particularly Ayn Rand) at worst. That those people are not just welcome but also beloved on SOLO means that it’s not a forum that can offer me (or anyone from ARI) a fair intellectual fight. I hope that clarifies for you a bit.

Nonetheless, I must admit being a bit sad concerning the demise of SoloHQ, since I was often amused by the crazed attacks upon me regularly posted in the Forum. So, as my final tribute to SoloHQ, let me post a few of my favorites:

From Bill Dwyer:

Having just emerged from a discussion on Noodlefood, Diana Hsieh’s blog, which included an exchange with a mysterous L.S., who I suspect was Leonard Peikoff, I find myself left with an over-riding impression that refuses to go away – one that prompts me to ask, ever more seriously, “is Objectivism a cult?” The answer is: not as a philosophy, to be sure, because “a cult” refers to form rather than to content. It refers to the way in which an idea is held rather than to the idea itself. So perhaps the more precise and relevant question is: Do (many) followers of Objectivism exhibit cult-like behavior? And to that, the answer is an unqualified “Yes”! It is an answer that continues to reinforce itself on so many occasions that it can no longer be doubted or denied.

I’m not exactly surprised that Bill’s essay on Objectivism as a cult (of which the above is the first paragraph) appeared shortly after being ejected from NoodleFood for his unjust and arbitrary attacks upon Andy Bernstein.

From Glenn Fletcher, on the thread about Objectivism as a cult:

I just got back from [NoodleFood]. Does anyone know a good deprogrammer?

From Robert Davison:

SOLO wants to bring to life and to the art of living what ARI would prefer to mummify. Errors are made, yes, but errors are also corrected; and here one need not live in mortal fear that a perceived misstep will get you excommunicated. We live to learn from our mistakes, by being corrected by our peers.

Hsieh and the Randoids have a pathological fear of error. As a result, they stifle their imaginations and settle for dour, dark, and dreary lives. They remind me of ascetics scouring their every thought and deed for mistakes and flagellating themselves even when they find nothing, for having the audacity to believe they are virtuous. If you only look for trouble, trouble is all you will ever find.

From Robert Malcolm:

Yes, it is true Diana reminds me of the monk in The Name of the Rose, who was aghast at the idea of Aristotle’s comedic work be known and explored…

From my personal favorite ARI-hating crazy, Andre Zantonavitch:

Diana is a cut above the typical zombie cyborg loser of ARI. But only that. Her reasons cited above for not participating on SOLO are a mish-mash of half-baked nonsense. In the end she refuses to argue and debate here — or anywhere slightly open and honest — because she secretly knows she would lose. SOLOists and TOCers belong to the philosophical branch of Objectivism. Diana and her evil ARI cohorts belong to the religious branch of Objectivism. The intellectual divide here is wide.

Ultimately, Diana and her fellow ARIan intellectual perverts are enemies of the Western tradition and Westen liberal progress. They stand in fundamental opposition to reason, philosophy, scholarship, speculation and inquiry, intellectual discourse and dissent, Aristotle, the Enlightenment, Rand, and Objectivism.

These sadsack deviants only discuss things with themselves and those massively ignorant of Ayn Rand and Objectivsm. But when they come across SOLOists, TOCers, libertarians, Austrians, classicists, the Brandens, or anyone whatsoever with any knowledge whatsoever — they turn tail and run. Like vermin, they fear the light of day. Their claims that the totality of the widely variegated and informed critics of cult “Objectivism” are all intellectually “unserious” and dishonest” are themselves unserious and dishonest.

How sad that like Darth Vaderette, Diana recently turned to the dark side!

Andre Zantonavitch once used such over-the-top invective against ARI that Barbara Branden admonished him that he ought to reserve some terms for Osama Bin Laden and the like. He disagreed.

See what fun SoloHQ can be? Still, I’m glad that it’s closing its doors. I do worry that whatever rises from its ashes may be far worse — although that’s somewhat hard to imagine.

Update: Not to worry, Joe Rowlands’ new site “Rebirth of Reason” seems to be an exact duplicate of the old SoloHQ, including crazed attacks upon me. As I said to Linz in the comments, “if the ‘Rebirth of Reason’ consists of calling intellectual opponents names too nasty to repeat here, I wonder what’s left to irrationality.” Nonetheless, I am quite amused by the fact that people who so vociferously proclaim their low opinion of me care so much what I think about them.

Miss Bennett on Humor

Nov 302005

I am more than a bit reluctant to post on humor again, given the unpleasant debate in the comments on my last post on the topic. However, I cannot resist. While listening to Pride and Prejudice two nights ago, I came across this delightful comment from Elizabeth Bennett about laughter at virtue.

“Miss Bingley,” said [Mr. Darcy], “has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and the best of men, nay, the wisest and best of their actions, may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke.”

“Certainly,” replied Elizabeth — “there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. — But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without.”

So now we have Plato, Elizabeth Bennett, and Ayn Rand all in agreement! As the awful Miss Bingley says in that very scene “Oh! shocking!”

Sony Virus

Nov 292005

John Drake recently sent me the following e-mail about the debacle with the dangerous and intrusive rootkit installed with some of Sony’s music CDs. I haven’t paid much attention to the story, but I did check my recent CD purchases for any from Sony. (I didn’t have any, thankfully.) Although this story isn’t new news, but I thought I should pass it along for the sake of the non-geeks.

John writes:

I need to stay up with my news better, since this story is a couple weeks old. I’m not usually a scare mongrel but in this case, its warranted. For those of you have not heard yet, its recently been uncovered that Sony’s new copy protected CDs install a software program on your computer that opens your computer up to malicious attacks.

What’s worse is that there is no native way to uninstall this program, you must find and download a patch to do so (which itself may be open to vulnerabilities). There are some ethical issues surrounding Sony’s behavior as well, but more importantly, I want to alert my friends of the security vulnerabilities imposed by using these CDs.

To Sony’s credit, they have removed the vulnerable CDs from the shelves, but if you’ve bought any CDs from them lately you may be at risk.

I’ve cataloged more of the story on my blog including the technical vulnerabilities, some of the ethical issues, a link to the specific CDs in question, and how to get a replacement CD if you have purchased an infected one.

Feel free to pass this email around so that more people are aware of this problem.

Music companies ought to take all necessary and legitimate steps to protect their intellectual property, but hacking the computers of their customers is beyond the pale. It’s no better — and perhaps worse — than breaking into homes to rifle through CD collections and plant bugs while also sabotaging alarm systems. If Sony wants people to respect its property, it needs to learn to respect theirs.


Nov 292005

The Benjo Blog was quoted in a CNet story about the XBox smashers today. Cool!


Nov 292005

Given what Terrell Owens has done to the Eagles, this comment defies belief:

Sen. Arlen Specter has accused the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles of treating Terrell Owens unfairly, and might refer the matter to the antitrust subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Specter, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said at a news conference Monday in Harrisburg it was “vindictive and inappropriate” for the league and the Eagles to forbid the star wide receiver from playing and prevent other teams from talking to him.

“It’s a restraint of trade for them to do that, and the thought crosses my mind, it might be a violation of antitrust laws,” Specter said.

As an NFL spokesman said, “The arbitrator’s decision is consistent with our collective bargaining agreement, and it simply enforced the terms of the player’s contract.” True enough, but antitrust law isn’t exactly friendly to the enforcement of freely-entered contracts, now is it?

Personally, I hope that TO never plays in the NFL again… or at least that any team stupid enough to hire him (most likely Dallas) suffers the same fate as the Eagles. Talent matters in professional sports, but a pathologically fragile ego like TO’s can render even the most stunning athletic prowess utterly worthless.

Malicious Humor

Nov 282005

I know almost nothing about Plato’s views on humor, but I did run across an interesting comment in the Republic recently. Socrates is advancing the idea of women as Guardians, although he knows that the mere thought of women engaging in nude gymnastics with the men is sure to be ridiculed. He proposes replying to those who make fun as follows:

Not long ago, as we shall remind them, the Hellenes were of the opinion, which is still generally received among the barbarians, that the sight of a naked man was ridiculous and improper; and when first the Cretans and then the Lacedaemonians introduced the custom, the wits of that day might equally have ridiculed the innovation.

But when experience showed that to let all things be uncovered was far better than to cover them up, and the ludicrous effect to the outward eye vanished before the better principle which reason asserted, then the man was perceived to be a fool who directs the shafts of his ridicule at any other sight but that of folly and vice, or seriously inclines to weigh the beautiful by any other standard but that of the good. (Emphasis added.)

That sentiment about the proper objects of humor bears some noteworthy resemblance to Ayn Rand’s own view of humor as stated in “Bootleg Romanticism” (and elsewhere) that “to laugh at the contemptible, is a virtue; to laugh at the good, is a hideous vice.” That basic congruence isn’t particularly surprising, as I suspect the virtue of mocking virtue is a distinctively modern phenomena. It’s all-too-common today: A young girl’s serious dispute with a friend is belittled by adults as a passing storm, a man struggling with a tough choice is told not to take life so seriously, a woman unwilling to poke fun at her well-organized life is told to lighten up, and so on.

Personally, I’ve found such humor to be so common that I have some trouble noticing the more subtle variations, even in myself. Yet it’s important to train your subconscious against such malicious humor. To allow it to remain means undermining your own and others’ passion for and commitment to the meaningful values and virtues in life. That’s particularly true in the case of children, who are most often subjected to this kind of degradation by humor, as well as most innocently susceptible to it.

If you want to understand just how destructive this modern form of humor can be, I cannot recommend anything better than Ayn Rand’s “Art and Moral Treason,” reprinted in The Romantic Manifesto. If that doesn’t impel a person to give his subconscious some new standing orders about humor, nothing will.

CIA Interrogation Techniques

Nov 272005

The CIA apparently has been using a special set of interrogation techniques on selected targets. I personally found #6 the most interesting:

The CIA sources described a list of six “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” instituted in mid-March 2002 and used, they said, on a dozen top al Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe. According to the sources, only a handful of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use the techniques:

1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.

2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.

3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.

4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda’s toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

(Via Volokh.)


Nov 262005

Wow, I thought that my laptop’s intermittent problems with hibernation were just some strange problem that I had… but I was wrong. It does sound like a fix is coming, thankfully.

Serenity Now — And Again

Nov 262005

The DVD of the movie Serenity can be pre-ordered on Amazon for just $16.98. It’s shipping on December 20th, just in time for Christmas!

A Tale of Two Novels

Nov 252005

This 1998 op-ed by Harry Binswanger comparing James Joyce’s Ulysses with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was mentioned twice in two days last week: once in my OAC Intermediate Writing Class and once in private e-mail from Klaus Nordby in response to this post on the quick critics of Ayn Rand’s novels. I love the opening:

Did someone say “culture wars”? A major battle erupted recently on the literary front. At issue: What is the best English-language novel of the century? The two opposing camps picked two opposite novels. Here is a representative passage from each.

Novel A:

He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.
The visible signs of postsatisfaction?
A silent contemplation: a tentative velation: a gradual abasement: a solicitous aversion: a proximate erection.

Novel B:

She sat listening to the music. It was a symphony of triumph. The notes flowed up, they spoke of rising and they were the rising itself, they were the essence and the form of upward motion, they seemed to embody every human act and thought that had ascent as its motive. It was a sunburst of sound, breaking out of hiding and spreading open. It had the freedom of release and the tension of purpose. It swept space clean, and left nothing but the joy of an unobstructed effort. Only a faint echo within the sounds spoke of that from which the music had escaped, but spoke in laughing astonishment at the discovery that there was no ugliness or pain, and there never had had to be. It was the song of an immense deliverance.

Clearly, one of these novels is a stylistic masterpiece, and the other is trash. The fighting is over which is which.

Read the whole thing, if you like.

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