Light and Fluffy

 Posted by on 30 June 2006 at 2:59 am  Uncategorized
Jun 302006
 

Since OCON starts today, expect NoodleFoodling to be light for the next week.

Also, I’ve decided that I need to be much more selective about the correspondence to which I devote my time. I’ve been particularly overwhelmed by e-mail since this spring, in that I’ve had 50 to 120 messages in my inbox awaiting reply instead of the usual 20 to 30. I’d like to get the number of languishing e-mails down to zero. And I want to leave myself good time to keep up with particular friends.

So feel free to write me as you please; I will read all my mail. However, please be aware that I might write you back saying that I simply don’t have time to reply. I figure that’s better than doing what I do now, namely seeming to ignore e-mail even while hoping for some few spare moments in which to reply to it months later.

The Sea Hawk

 Posted by on 29 June 2006 at 12:04 pm  Uncategorized
Jun 292006
 

An announcement from David Hayes to the DC Objectivist Salon:

Near the top of Ayn Rand’s list of favorite silent film actors was Milton Sills. (See the ARI book “Russian Writings on Hollywood.”) Among the films she gave a high rating to was “The Sea Hawk” (1924), which she graded 5 — where 0 was lowest and 5+ highest. (See also “Russian Writings.”) This “Sea Hawk,” starring Sills, will be shown in the Capitol Hill area on July 12 at 7 p.m. (Actual start time will be later, owing to the feature being preceded by a short not yet announced.)

The movie is being shown from 16mm film, with a recorded music soundtrack.
The version to be shown is promised to be a reconstructed print, with hand-stenciled color sequences.

The film of the same title starring Errol Flynn credits the same source novel but is not a true remake.

Location: the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh Street, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003. Telephone: (202) 547-6839. The film is shown as part of the Films on the Hill series.

When in the neighborhood, walk about a block to 636 G St. SE, the birthplace of John Philip Sousa.

Unfathomable Ignorance

 Posted by on 29 June 2006 at 4:13 am  Uncategorized
Jun 292006
 

I don’t always read “Best of the Web,” but Tuesday’s lead story was too good (in an insane way) to pass by without note. (I’ve added the link to the quoted op-ed.) Here is the whole entry; read it and weep:

Great Moments in Higher Education

The U.S. Senate is considering an amendment to the Constitution that would exclude the desecration of the flag from the First Amendment’s free-speech protections, effectively overturning the Supreme Court’s ruling in Texas v. Johnson (1989) that held burning the flag to be a form of “symbolic speech.” Sixty senators have signed on as sponsors, with 67 needed to propose the amendment. The House approved it last year, 286-130, so an affirmative Senate vote would send it to the states, 38 of whose legislatures would have to ratify it.

Weighing in against the proposed amendment, in an op-ed for the Charlotte Observer, is Dr. Susan Roberts:

Flag burning was thrust into the public eye following an arrest of a young man during the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas. The man identified himself as a member of a group calling itself the Revolutionary Youth Brigade. He was charged with a violation of the Texas Desecration of Venerated Objects statute.

In 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed an appellate court decision that the man was within his First Amendment rights. Wasting no time, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act just months after the ruling. Wasting no time, the Supreme Court ruled that the Flag Protection Act was inconsistent with First Amendment freedoms and thus unconstitutional.

It seems unlikely that the Supreme Court would now uphold an amendment prohibiting flag burning, even with the change in the court’s composition.

It may seem unlikely that the Supreme Court would uphold a statute prohibiting flag burning (and indeed, in 1990′s U.S. v. Eichman it overturned the federal Flag Protection Act of 1989). That’s why Congress is considering a constitutional amendment, which the court couldn’t overturn.

It’s embarrassing enough that Dr. Roberts’s error got past the editors of the Observer, but it’s even worse that she made such a goof in the first place. For she is not a real doctor but a professor of political science, at North Carolina’s Davidson College, where she teaches such courses as The Legislative Process (POL 211) and The Politics of Feminism (POL 215).

It is troubling indeed to think that the political scientists of tomorrow are being taught by people who lack basic knowledge about the workings of American government.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, can be said about an op-ed by a political science professor apparently ignorant of the fact that constitutional amendments are not subject to judicial review. Well, I can say this: The bozos actually advocating this anti-flag-burning amendment are more contemptible, and probably more ignorant, than even Dr. Susan Roberts seems to be. Oh, and someday, I’d love to live in a culture where stories like the above are relegated to the Weekly World News.

Village Objectivist

 Posted by on 28 June 2006 at 4:52 am  Uncategorized
Jun 282006
 

In writing up my comments on the “village atheist” epithet this past fall, I noticed a striking similarity between that smear of the intellectually serious atheist and the common smears of principled, committed Objectivists as hysterical, moralizing, unthinking, cultish Randroids typically offered by many supporters of Nathaniel Branden, David Kelley, Chris Sciabarra, and the like.

In many cases, this kind of smear is broadly applied to long-time Objectivists, usually supporters of the Ayn Rand Institute, simply based upon their condemnations of and/or refusal to associate with people like David Kelley, Nathaniel Branden, Chris Sciabarra, and the like. Such judgments are often treated as absurd on their face, without regard for the cited facts about the philosophic ideas or moral history of the person. Apart from the laughable hypocrisy of that smear from those who so loudly proclaim tolerance as a virtue, the “Randroid” smear unjustly dismisses anyone who agrees with the whole of Objectivism as the intellectual equivalent of the overly-enthusiastic neophyte with all his bizarre misunderstandings and misapplications of Ayn Rand’s ideas. The smear implies that rational, thoughtful, independent, and honest agreement with Ayn Rand’s philosophy is not possible, not even an option. On that premise, any person who claims that for himself must be hopelessly deluded; he’s actually nothing more than a raving lunatic, dogmatic cultist, and abject slave to “Pope Lenny.”

Of course, no good reason for dismissing committed Objectivists on such outlandish terms is ever offered; it’s just asserted as a self-evident fact. Based upon stories I’ve heard over the years, I suspect more than a little projection — and shame — at work. Many such people once swallowed Objectivism whole in a rather dogmatic way, then later puked it up when it didn’t sit so well with them. They probably engaged in a great deal of “me-too” moralizing along the way. They are deeply ashamed of this “Randroid” phase, so much so that they cannot bear to examine it in the bright and honest light of reason. Instead, like Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, they blame Objectivism for that unpleasant time in their lives. They never consider whether they ought to have chewed the philosophy a bit rather than swallowing it whole. They never imagine that anyone might accept Objectivist principles except by their own dogmatic methods. Or rather, they refuse to consider and refuse to imagine that, since doing so would require them to take responsibility for their past dogmatism and moralizing, even if it was no more than an innocent error.

However, following Ellsworth Toohey’s advice, let’s not examine this folly further, but instead consider what it accomplishes. In essence, the “Randroid” smear of long-time Objectivists offers a false alternative of either (1) dogmatic agreement with every word that Ayn Rand ever wrote or (2) thoughtful criticism of various aspects thereof. Notice the major missing alternative: considered, thoughtful agreement with the philosophic principles that constitute Objectivism. In fact, Objectivism is not even understood by such people as a system of philosophy at all, i.e. as an integrated sum of interrelated principles. (That coheres well with David Kelley’s open system in which Objectivism is reduced to an arbitrary list of disconnected principles.) Usually, Objectivism is regarded as a grab-bag of assertions by that Ayn Rand on any topics whatsoever. (Inexcusably, Chris Sciabarra characterized the closed system view in those concrete-bound terms, saying that “many orthodox adherents seem to [believe] that Objectivism is strict adherence to every proposition ever uttered by Rand.” Chris continued to misrepresent the view of his opponents in various ways in the ensuing debate with Don Watkins, finally sort-of excusing his misrepresentations as part of the “give-and-take” of dialogue.)

The general smear of serious Objectivists as “Randroids” also helps people excuse their own intellectual vices. First, the smear rationalizes an unserious, careless approach to ideas by associating a solid commitment to principles with a rationalistic detachment of ideas from reality. (After all, philosophy is just an intellectual exercise with no serious real-life consequences for which intellectuals should be held responsible, right?) Second, the smear makes a virtue of disagreement with Ayn Rand by treating agreement with her as a sign of unthinking dogmatism. (After all, intellectual honesty and independence can be measured by the depth and breadth of your disagreements with another person, right?) Third, the smear denigrates a passionate commitment to objective morality by denouncing it as hysterical moralizing. (After all, we shouldn’t get all upset about the moral failings of others, since we’re not perfect either, right?)

Of course, I have something of a personal stake in exposing the nature of these kinds of smears, since I’m now a routine target of them. I don’t mind that much: mere insults don’t even register with me these days, except as a source of amusement. I’m more worried by the various fabrications about me circulating in dank corners. For example, that I must have some mysterious personal reasons for breaking with David Kelley and Nathaniel Branden since I’ve never bothered to explain any substantial philosophic reasons for doing so; that all my writings on the various false friends of Objectivism are nothing more than frantic attempts to ingratiate myself with ARI; that ARI and/or its associates demanded that I publicly denounce Chris Sciabarra; that I decided to live off the fat of the ARI hog TOC refused my demands for money and a job (!!); that I embraced the Objectivist orthodoxy because I couldn’t handle my own disturbing doubts about Objectivism raised in graduate school; that I baited Chris Sciabarra into giving me the name of the particular ARI scholar (about whom he lied for years) for the first time just recently; that I left TOC due to petty sulking over cuts to my favorite programs; that I’m seething with hatred for homosexuals despite my clear statements in “Dialectical Dishonesty“; that I’m unwilling to consider any philosophic issue unless discussed by Ayn Rand since I accept Objectivism as a “closed system”; that I’m the obedient slave of Linz Perigo (or vice versa); and so on. Yes, those are all real-life examples. And they are not just false, not just arbitrary, but outright fabrications. They’re vice united with fallacy: dishonest poisoning the well.

According to these “critics,” I didn’t actually change certain philosophic views on the basis of any semi-thoughtful reconsideration of the issues and texts, nor did I change my moral judgments of certain people in the light of new evidence and principles — not even mistakenly so. Instead, I somehow transformed myself from a reasonable, knowledgeable, and friendly intellectual into a half-crazed, deeply confused, and dogmatically moralistic Randroid. And I’ve somehow bullied my reasonable husband into agreeing with me, along with some other good folks. These “critics” are unwilling to consider any other option. Why? Because they are unwilling to seriously consider my arguments — and they need some convenient excuse not to do so. And perhaps they’ll be able to bamboozle some confused newbie with all their bluster if they refuse to acknowledge any legitimacy to my views.

A person relatively new to Objectivism, particularly if embarrassed by some of his own “Randroid” phase upon discovering Ayn Rand’s ideas, might be (mostly) honestly sucked into moral and intellectual unseriousness by the false alternatives presented by these “critics” of mine. He might conclude that unserious games are the only alternative to heavy rationalism, that disagreement is the only alternative to dogmatism, and that tolerance is the only alternative to moralizing. Unless such a person questions those false alternatives, he is sure to drift away from Objectivism in short order, likely thinking upon his brief brush with the philosophy as some embarrassing mistake.

That was the standard pattern at The Objectivist Center. Happily, it seems to be happening less often these days.

Maine Lobsters

 Posted by on 27 June 2006 at 6:45 pm  Uncategorized
Jun 272006
 

I enjoy good seafood, so our trip to Maine has been a culinary delight. The lobster dishes, in particular, have been some of the best I’ve ever eaten in my life because the restaurants in Bar Harbor know how to prepare it so well. So it was with great amusement that I read this passage from a history of lobstering in New England:

Long ago, lobsters were so plentiful that Native Americans used them to fertilize their fields and to bait their hooks for fishing. In colonial times, lobsters were considered “poverty food.” They were harvested from tidal pools and served to children, to prisoners, and to indentured servants, who exchanged their passage to America for seven years of service to their sponsors. In Massachusetts, some of the servants finally rebelled. They had it put into their contracts that they would not be forced to eat lobster more than three times a week.

Ah, the law of Supply and Demand…

Colorado Books Project Two-for-One Matching

 Posted by on 27 June 2006 at 4:20 am  Uncategorized
Jun 272006
 

I’ve heard of some excellent people donating to the Colorado Books Project due to my announcements on NoodleFood and/or my thread on SoloPassion, including some folks from out-of-state. I’m extraordinarily super-super grateful for that. Now, as part of the final push, three donors are offering two-for-one matching (!!). It’s a great opportunity for those who haven’t yet donated to throw in their two cents — and transform them into six cents! Here’s Lin Zinser’s final fundraising letter.

We are closing in on the goal of $14,000 – which is approximately 1750 books. We are $3,125 from our target — and you have 4 days to PLEDGE money so that WE can make our goal of providing Anthem or The Fountainhead books to any Colorado teacher willing to teach Ayn Rand in the schools. Our last week’s pledge drive did wonders, and this week’s offer is even better. I want to thank each of you who have already donated. If you have sent your money to ARI directly, ARI has told me the total amount they received, but not who the donors were or the individual amounts, so if you gave money to ARI, and I haven’t personally thanked you, I am thanking you now.

This week, for four days — from now until midnight, June 30, two other donors and myself will match all PLEDGES or DONATIONS — $2 for every $1.00 contributed.*** (Up to a $2,500 maximum). So, if you pledge to donate $10 now, we will contribute $20 more, for a total of $30 contributed. If you pledge to donate $100, we will donate $200 — for a total of $300 contributed. And if all of you together donate another $2,500, the three of us together will donate another $5,000.

This year’s pledges to contribute money to the Colorado Book Project by December 31, 2006, mean that ARI again send out brochures to Colorado high school teachers, which will result in more teachers requesting more books, thus giving another 1750 students the opportunity this coming spring to read Anthem or The Fountainhead in their high school classrooms. In addition, this year’s contributions together with the past year’s success (of more than 3600 books sent to teachers, means that more than 5,300 Colorado students could read Ayn Rand during the next school year.

All of your contributions to this project go to ARI and are tax-deductible as charitable contributions.

However, most importantly for you, these donations can help better your life here in Colorado by deliberately creating the opportunity for Miss Rand’s genius to once again light up the minds of a new generation — but, with the specific intent to cultivate and develop rational, capitalistic egoists in this state.

One last time, send your contributions to ARI this week — OR — send them to me (Payable to the Ayn Rand Institute) — OR pledge to me whatever amount you would like to see tripled and sent to ARI for this project. Please — note on any check or money order that it is for the Colorado Book Project.

Remember, I need your pledge by Friday, June 30, for the matching contributions.

And I want to thank each and everyone of you for your support and cooperation in making this idea reality.

Lin

Remember, there are now four ways to contribute — 1) Send a check or money order directly to ARI and indicate on it that this money is for the Colorado Book Project; 2) Send a check or money order to me, payable to ARI; 3) donate stock shares to ARI (contact Kathy Cross at ARI, at 310-876-1633 or kathyc@aynrand.org); or 4) contact me by phone, e-mail or letter with your pledge amount — to be donated later this year.

ARI’s Address —

The Ayn Rand Institute
2121 Alton Parkway, Suite 250
Irvine, California, 92606-4926

My address

8700 Dover Court
Arvada, CO 80005

Lin Zinser
Front Range Objectivism
www.FrontRangeObjectivism.com
E-mail: Lin@Zinser.com
Phone: 303.431.2525

If you wish to donate, don’t delay!

Procrastination

 Posted by on 26 June 2006 at 2:48 pm  Uncategorized
Jun 262006
 

If you are in danger of spending too much time in productive work, I highly recommend this online version of Boggle. (People play the same games at the same time, so you can easily compete with friends and enemies!)

Paul’s Sharp Mishap

 Posted by on 26 June 2006 at 6:43 am  Uncategorized
Jun 262006
 

Paul and I are in Bar Harbor (Maine) for a few days of hiking and biking before OCON. We flew to Boston on Saturday morning, drove a few hours to Freeport (Maine). We spent the night, then indulged in the glory of the L.L.Bean flagship store. (Yes, that’s why we decided to stop in Freeport. It was well worth it.) We arrived in Bar Harbor on Sunday (yesterday) afternoon, quickly checked into our lovely accommodations at the Greycote Inn, then headed out to one of the trailheads for a four mile hike.

That didn’t work out quite as planned. While in the parking lot, Paul cut himself while attempting to remove the tag off of his new hiking hat with his pocketknife. The cut wasn’t life-or-limb-threatening, but it was bleeding quite profusely. It was clearly deep enough to need stitches.

Happily, I remembered the location of the hospital in town, since we passed it while searching for our lodgings. So I drove him the mere ten minutes to it. Paul was stitched and bandaged up within the hour. (I’ve never been in and out of an ER so quickly!) He got just three stitches, a tetanus shot, and a huge bandage. The bandage looks much worse than the wound: it’s extra insurance against bumps and scrapes.

Paul felt fine thereafter, so headed out for our hike, albeit a bit later than expected. We opted for an easier but longer route along one of the wide gravel carriage roads, so that he wouldn’t bump his wound while scrambling.

So… without further ado… here’s my uber-bandaged husband at the trailhead.

I’ve promised to buy Paul a pair of kiddie-style blunt-end scissors once we return home.

Cheaper Titanium

 Posted by on 25 June 2006 at 8:18 am  Uncategorized
Jun 252006
 

Yet another story on the power of the rational mind, in this case in the field of metallurgy:

Titanium is as strong as steel, but weighs only about 60 percent as much. It’s also highly resistant to corrosion, and handles temperature extremes well. So, not surprisingly, the aerospace industry wants to use much more of it in the next generation of planes, making them lighter and reducing fuel costs.

But there’s a hitch: at around $40 per pound today, titanium is expensive — and the price keeps going up.

Now a startup, Avanti Metal, using technology developed at MIT, hopes to commercialize a process that drastically reduces the cost of producing titanium, making more of it available for large, lighter-weight airplanes…

Jeffrey Sabados, president of the four-person Avanti, estimates that, based on production plans published by Boeing and Airbus, there’ll be a 30,000-ton shortage of titanium by 2010. He claims that Avanti’s process for refining titanium could slash costs to about $3 per pound. Then, if the metal then sells for even $25 per pound, an estimate he calls conservative, it’s a huge potential profit.

This reminds me of the scene from Atlas Shrugged, where Hank Rearden is describing Rearden Metal to the newspaper reporters:

“Yes, gladly,” said Rearden. “Inasmuch as the formula of Rearden Metal is my own personal secret, and in view of the fact that the Metal costs much less to produce than you boys can imagine, I expect to skin the public to the tune of a profit of twenty-five per cent in the next few years.”

What do you mean, skin the public, Mr. Rearden?” asked the boy “If it’s true, as I’ve read in your ads, that your Metal will last three times longer than any other and at half the price, wouldn’t the public be getting a bargain?”

“Oh, have you noticed that?” said Rearden.

If only there were more such capitalists to “exploit” consumers like me!(Via /.)

Aristotle on Diviners

 Posted by on 24 June 2006 at 6:01 am  Aristotle
Jun 242006
 

Skeptics — in the sense of debunkers of paranormal claims — often observe that supposed psychics usually speak in vague generalities, subtly allow their audience to fill in the details, then claim to have divined that information. So the psychics seem to know a great deal that they couldn’t possibly know — at least to the gullible eager to believe. To my delight, Aristotle makes the same basic point in his Rhetoric. In the course of offering five elements of the “correctness of language” at “the foundation of good style,” he says:

(3) The third is to avoid ambiguities; unless, indeed, you definitely desire to be ambiguous, as those do who have nothing to say but are pretending to mean something. Such people are apt to put that sort of thing into verse. Empedocles, for instance, by his long circumlocutions imposes on his hearers; these are affected in the same way as most people are when they listen to diviners, whose ambiguous utterances are received with nods of acquiescence-

Croesus by crossing the Halys will ruin a mighty realm.

Diviners use these vague generalities about the matter in hand because their predictions are thus, as a rule, less likely to be falsified. We are more likely to be right, in the game of ‘odd and even’, if we simply guess ‘even’ or ‘odd’ than if we guess at the actual number; and the oracle-monger is more likely to be right if he simply says that a thing will happen than if he says when it will happen, and therefore he refuses to add a definite date. All these ambiguities have the same sort of effect, and are to be avoided unless we have some such object as that mentioned.

The line about Croesus refers to this great story recounted by Herodotus.

As for those who “definitely desire to be ambiguous,” such as “those do who have nothing to say but are pretending to mean something,” I’d like to nominate the academic work of Chris Sciabarra. For example, consider the “Dialectics in Rand’s Philosophy” section of “this essay. (It’s a slightly edited version of the initial discussion of Ayn Rand’s supposed “dialectics” from the introduction to The Russian Radical, pages 16-18.) Here’s a taste:

It is this emphasis on the totality that is essential to the dialectical mode of inquiry. Dialectics is not merely a repudiation of formal dualism. It is a method that preserves the analytical integrity of the whole. While it recommends study of the whole from the vantage point of any part, it eschews reification, that is, it avoids the abstraction of a part from the whole and its illegitimate conceptualization as a whole unto itself. The dialectical method recognizes that what is separable in thought is not separable in reality.

Moreover, dialectics requires the examination of the whole both systemically and historically. From a systemic perspective, it grasps the parts as structurally interrelated, or “internally related,” both constituting the whole, while being constituted by it. For example, Rand, as a dialectical thinker, would not disconnect any single theoretical issue, such as the problem of free will, from its broader philosophic context. She necessarily examines a host of connected issues, including the efficacy of consciousness, the nature of causality, and the reciprocal relationships between epistemology, ethics, and politics.

From a historical perspective, dialectics grasps that any system emerges over time, that it has a past, a present, and a future. Frequently, the dialectical thinker examines the dynamic tensions within a system, the internal conflicts or “contradictions” which require resolution. He or she refuses to disconnect factors, events, problems, and issues from each other or from the system which they jointly constitute. He or she views social problems not discretely, but in terms of the root systemic conditions which they both reflect and sustain.

The dialectical thinker seeks not merely to understand the system, but to alter it fundamentally. Hence, a dialectical analysis is both critical and revolutionary in its implications. Thus, Rand, as a dialectical thinker, does not analyze a specific racial conflict, for example, without examining a host of historically-constituted epistemic, ethical, psychological, cultural, political, and economic factors that both generate racism–and perpetuate it. In Rand’s view, racism–like all vestiges of statism–must be transcended systemically.

Translation from Polish: Ayn Rand integrated her knowledge.

Analytic philosophers are often terrible writers, often to the point that their basic ideas cannot be understood. However, the brazen assertion of deliberate obfuscation as complex and difficult thought requires the slippery goo of postmodernism. And that’s exactly what Chris Sciabarra uses to conceal the lack of substance in his academic writings. And yes, I do think the impenetrable style of the above passage — and the rest of The Russian Radical — is deliberate obfuscation rather than incompetence or laziness. The tip-off is not merely the lack of substance underneath all those fancy words, nor the careful consistency of the style, but the simple fact that Chris routinely writes clearly and forthrightly in other contexts. So he can do better, but chooses not to.

Thankfully, most academic philosophers disdain the bullshit style practiced by Chris Sciabarra and his postmodern brothers. If they didn’t, I surely would have quit philosophy long ago.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha