Homing from Work

 Posted by on 29 April 2008 at 11:15 pm  Computers, Language
Apr 292008
 

Paul sent me his “urban word of the day” for April 25th. It’s too perfect not to post:

Homing from Work

Using work time and resources for personal tasks.

See reverse telecommuting

Busey: Steve, did you download those episodes of Entourage I told you about?

Myers: I told you Gary, my home Internet connection sucks ass. I am going to download and burn them at the office while I am homing from work.

Ha!

Another NetFlix Free Trial

 Posted by on 29 April 2008 at 9:20 pm  Announcements
Apr 292008
 

If you’re interested in trying out the fabulous NetFlix DVD rental service, you can get a free trial while throwing a bonus rental to Paul and me. The offer expires on June 15th. (Last time I posted this kind of offer from NetFlix, Paul and I enjoyed a few extra movies.)

Indian Superheroes

 Posted by on 29 April 2008 at 7:40 am  Funny
Apr 292008
 

“Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s the Indian version of Superman with the Indian version of Spiderwoman!

I must complain that I find this depiction of the two superheroes to be grossly unrealistic: everyone knows that Superman comes from the DC Comics world, whereas Spiderwoman comes from the Marvel Comics universe. (Via MeFi.)

Self-Defense on Campus

 Posted by on 27 April 2008 at 11:01 pm  Firearms, Politics
Apr 272008
 

On April 15th, the Colorado Springs Gazette published my letter to the editor in response to its excellent editorial advocating concealed carry at CU in Colorado Springs. Here’s my letter:

I want to thank The Gazette for its editorial advocating concealed carry on campus (“UCCS students want their guns,” Our View, April 13).

I’m a graduate student instructor at CU Boulder. Since 2001 I’ve been licensed to carry a concealed firearm in Colorado. Every time I hear of a new school shooting, I worry that some psychopath might unleash his rage on my campus. University policy forbids any firearms on campus. I obey that policy but it won’t stop a killer from waltzing onto campus armed to the teeth. So if my students and I were in his path, we could only cower in fear in a corner of the classroom, helplessly waiting for him to kill us.

If the university respected my concealed carry permit, my good aim could protect my students from such an unthinkable end. Since I’m a law-abiding citizen trained in the proper use of firearms, my gun poses no danger whatsoever to other peaceful people.

CU’s anti-gun policy is wrong. It ought to be changed, not just in Colorado Springs, but in Boulder, too.

I applaud the efforts of the UCCS chapter of Concealed Carry on Campus.

Such efforts are just starting at Boulder, too. Students and parents wanting to advocate concealed carry at CU Boulder should contact Jim Manley at james.m.manley@colorado.edu.

Diana Hsieh, Sedalia

On April 22nd, I participated in the “Empty Holster Protest” at CU Boulder. It was sponsored by Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. As for the importance of concealed carry on campus, John Lott recently published an op-ed on the dangers posed by gun-free zones like college campuses.

Many Objectivists are lukewarm on gun rights, particularly on concealed carry. If you’re one of them, you might wish to read these essays:

Thanks to political activism by gun rights advocates over past 25 years, 36 states in the US now have laws mandating “shall issue” concealed carry permits — meaning that any law-abiding citizen with appropriate training can obtain a permit, without any further permission from local law enforcement. (I’ve had a concealed carry permit since 2001.) Contrary to the frantic cries of anti-gun liberals, the streets have not run with blood — precisely because concealed carry permit holders are not criminals but rather responsible, law-abiding citizens who use their weapons in emergency situations to defend themselves from criminals.

Update on North Korea

 Posted by on 26 April 2008 at 11:12 pm  Communism, Politics
Apr 262008
 

StrategyPage has a very interesting update on the ever-declining state of affairs in North Korea. It’s definitely worth reading, if you’re interested in that horrid corner of the globe.

Apr 262008
 

This question is one of the topics in the upcoming June 2008 issue of the European Mathematical Society Newsletter. As Science News reports, this subject “has provided fodder for arguments among mathematicians and philosophers” for thousands of years, with no seeming resolution.

On one hand, there are Platonists who believe this:

…[A] mathematician discovers timeless truths independent of human observation and free of the transient nature of physical reality. “The abstract realm in which a mathematician works is by dint of prolonged intimacy more concrete to him than the chair he happens to sit on,” says Ulf Persson of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, a self-described Platonist.

But the Platonists are forced to deal with some tricky implications of their views:

Those who espouse discovery note that mathematical statements are true or false regardless of personal beliefs, suggesting that they have some external reality. But this leads to some odd notions. Where, exactly, do these mathematical truths exist? Can a mathematical truth really exist before anyone has ever imagined it?

In contrast, there are those who believe that such talk of an abstract realm is just mystical hogwash:

Brian Davies, a mathematician at King’s College London, writes that Platonism “has more in common with mystical religions than with modern science.” And modern science, he believes, provides evidence to show that the Platonic view is just plain wrong. He titled his article “Let Platonism Die.”

…Reuben Hersh of the University of New Mexico …rejects the Platonic view, arguing instead that mathematics is a product of human culture, not fundamentally different from other human creations like music or law or money.

But the latter school is faced with a different set of intractable questions:

On the other hand, if math is invented, then why can’t a mathematician legitimately invent that 2 + 2 = 5?

…The challenge, [Hersh] admits, is to explain why it is that mathematical statements can be definitively true or false, not subject to taste or whim.

The solution to this millenia-old argument is to abandon both the intrisicist approach of the Platonists and the subjectivist approach of their opponents. Instead, mathematical concepts (like all concepts) are neither intrinsic nor subjective but objective. It is in debates like this where the Objectivist approach to epistemology and concept formation prove their value — in being able to cut through the errors made over the centuries by struggling philosophers and mathematicians.

Of course, properly applying Rand’s theory of concept formation to the philosophy of mathematics is a non-trivial task. Concepts of number are both seemingly self-evident, but also represent feats of tremendous abstraction. But scholars such as Dr. Pat Corvini have made a good start. Her course at the 2007 OCON, “Two, Three, Four and All That“, was on precisely that topic — namely how to apply the Objectivist theory of concept formation to concepts of number:

The concept of number as used in science today is one of man’s greatest achievements: a grand-scale integration capping centuries of effort and enabling a vastly expanded efficacy in all areas of life. But the growth in complexity of the number system has rendered the meaning of number ever more mysterious; number is seen both as a touchstone of certainty and as an arbitrary human construct whose applicability to the real world is a deep mystery. This is because the nature of number has not been properly identified; and as Ayn Rand pointed out, that imprecision is dangerous.

This course clarifies the meaning of “number” by examining it in the light of Miss Rand’s theory of concepts. Recognizing the objectivity of number provides a new framework for resolving both historical and modern debates, and yields a heightened appreciation for the science of mathematics as a whole—further reinforcing the value of Objectivist epistemology.

She is also offering a follow-up course at this year’s 2008 OCON, “Two, Three, Four and All That: The Sequel“:

Science shelves of bookstores are today awash in accounts of modern extensions of the idea of number, including infinity and the continuum, set theory, transfinite numbers, and the like. Many of these ideas, and the “mysteries” that proceed from them, figure prominently in modern philosophy and in popular discussion of the nature and limits of reason.

In this course, Dr. Corvini explains and evaluates some of the most influential of these ideas, using as a frame of reference both their historical context and the view of number as objective developed in her earlier courses. By identifying the fundamental nature of the ideas and of the errors involved, we see again the importance of a proper theory of concepts, and clarify the differences between an objective approach to mathematics and the more traditional views.

I have long had an interest in those topics such as foundations of set theory, the nature of the concept “infinity”, etc. Hence, if her 2008 course is as good as her 2007 course, then it promises to be a real treat. Diana and I have already signed up for it.

Although I have a degree in mathematics (B.S., MIT, 1984), her courses do not require any advanced math background. Dr. Corvini is a very clear and engaging lecturer, and she is excellent at explaining the relevant mathematical concepts to a general audience. If you can count to 10 and you are a normal intelligent adult, then you can follow her lectures.

So if you want to see how the power of the Objectivist theory of concepts can resolve questions that have stumped some of history’s greatest minds for thousands of years, check out her courses!

(I don’t believe that her 2007 course is available yet through the Ayn Rand Bookstore, but I expect that it will be eventually. It was available for purchase by 2007 conference attendees as part of the usual post-conference package, and hence I think it will eventually make it to the main bookstore listing.)

Tore Boeckmann on Ayn Rand

 Posted by on 25 April 2008 at 6:00 am  Literature, Objectivism
Apr 252008
 

Tore Boeckmann was recently interviewed for EdNews on the creativity of Ayn Rand. The interview is short, but worth a read.

I should also mention that Tore Boeckmann’s essay “Anthem as a Psychological Fantasy” in Robert Mayhew’s anthology Essays on Ayn Rand’s Anthem was one of the very bright highlights of that book. The essays in that volume are of consistently high quality, but the essays by Tore Boeckmann, Onkar Ghate (“Breaking the Metaphysical Chains of Dictatorship: Free Will and Determinism in Anthem”), and Greg Salmieri (“Prometheus’ Discovery: Individualism and the Meaning of the Concept ‘I’ in Anthem”) were way beyond stellar. I highly recommend reading them, if you haven’t already.

Synchonized Kittens

 Posted by on 25 April 2008 at 5:33 am  Funny
Apr 252008
 

And now for something completely and delightfully different:

Apr 242008
 

This post is simply “for the record,” in light of the distortions of the facts posted elsewhere.

Last Sunday, I was perusing that Branden-worshipping cesspool of a discussion forum known as “Objectivist Living.” I noticed the following announcement in a thread entitled Phoenix Objectivists start new lecture series:

Posted by Mike Renzulli on Apr 19 2008, 01:47 PM:

When: Thursday, April 24th, 2008 at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Black Bear Diner
2410 West Bell Road
Phoenix, AZ

Admission: Attendees must buy something to eat.

Event Description: For our first meeting at our new location and the last of the month, we will listen to the first in a six-part pre-recorded lecture series done by Diana Mertz-Hsieh titled: Objectivism 101 which was a lecture Mrs. Hsieh gave at The Atlas Society’s Summer Seminar in 2003.

Ayn Rand’s novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged offer a unique and inspiring moral vision, but translating those ideals into daily life can be challenging. Through a mixture of lecture and discussion, Diana Mertz Hsieh will survey the basic principles of Objectivism, from metaphysics to aesthetics.

She will focus on both the theory and practice of the philosophy, contrasting it with common religious and cultural views. Ideas discussed in these six sessions will include reason as the only means to knowledge, free will as the choice to think or not, the integration of mind and body, emotions as automatic value judgments, life as the standard of value, the major virtues, the trader principle, capitalism as the only moral social system, and much more.

Mrs. Hsieh is a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

I was more than a bit surprised to learn that I was to be the lecture series! I’d not been contacted by anyone about playing my lectures at this meeting.

By way of background, the six-lecture series was given at the last Summer Seminar of The Objectivist Center I attended. While I’m still reasonably proud of those lectures, precisely because I worked hard to clearly and accurately present Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, I’m sure that I’d find all kinds of problems with them if I listened to them now. So as a general matter, I’m not too keen on the idea of anyone playing them before a group, particularly not without some strong warning that I do not vouch for the content and that I’ve disassociated myself from The Objectivist Center (today, The Atlas Society).

After some inquiries to Arizona friends, I was pointed to the web site for the Phoenix Objectivists. (That’s not the same group as the Arizona Objectivists, a group that I’ve had nothing but good dealings with in the past.) Any possible willingness to allow my lectures to be played at the Phoenix Objectivists disappeared when I saw its page of links: it’s a “Who’s Who” list of dishonest pseudo-Objectivists, without a single link to anything associated with or supportive of the Ayn Rand Institute. It even lists “ARI Watch” (!!). Basically, I don’t wish to provide any kind of value to the very people so invested in attacking me and mine. (I also saw from other web surfing that the group’s leader Mike Renzulli is actively involved with the Libertarian Party.)

So I wrote the following letter to the e-mail address for the group listed on the web site.

From: Diana Hsieh
Date: Sun, 20 Apr 2008 17:49:56 -0600
To: Subject: My Objectivism 101 Lectures

Mike —

I recently saw your announcement to Objectivist Living about your forthcoming event(s) featuring my Objectivism 101 lectures. You should know that those lectures are copyrighted — and that the copyright is held by me. (TOC’s copyright expired after two years.) So you cannot play them before an audience without my permission.

Given what I’ve seen on the Phoenix Objectivists web site, I am not willing to grant you permission. You might be a decent fellow, but I do not wish to be associated the promotion of destructive and dishonest critics of Ayn Rand and Objectivism — as found on your web site. (If you wish to know my reasons for those judgments, you are welcome to peruse the many essays I’ve written at http://www.dianahsieh.com/ff.)

If you choose to go ahead with your plans, I won’t stop you. However, you should know that you would be violating my property rights. The moral wrong of that should be obvious.

You are welcome to forward this letter to anyone you please.

– DMH

In response, he asked for documentation of my claims. Meanwhile, he began a thread on Objectivist Living entitled Diana Mertz-Hsieh nasty gram (!!) with the following:

Posted by Mike Renzulli on Apr 21 2008, 05:48 PM

Well Folks,

Diana Mertz-Hsieh has struck again. As it turns out, she just sent me an e-mail stating that she doesn’t give me permission to play her Objectivism 101 lectures for my group’s meeting coming up this Thursday.

Hsieh says that she holds the copyright for it, that TAS’s copyright for her lectures has expired and, while she will not stop me, she states that my doing so would be stealing her intellectual property.

I already have a call into Ed Hudgins at TAS to see if what she is saying is accurate. I may have to bag using the lectures until the legalities of doing so are cleared up unless someone on these boards knows otherwise.

Regardless if she is right or not, its one more feather in her cap of making an ass out of herself.

As you might imagine from that “OL” crowd, the replies were even worse. (Note that Mike didn’t actually see fit to post my actual e-mail, as I expressly gave him permission to do.) So, feeling less than generous at that point, I replied to his request for documentation as follows:

From: Diana Hsieh
Date: Tue, 22 Apr 2008 06:40:31 -0600
To: M Renzulli
Subject: Re: My Objectivism 101 Lectures

You should have done your homework before you scheduled the event, e.g. by e-mailing me to inquire about any required permission. The fact that you failed to do so doesn’t oblige me to rush to get you the documentation at the last minute. I’m certainly not going to do so while you and your friends on Objectivist Living are attacking me left and right for the mere assertion of my rights and other imaginary moral evils.

So here’s what I’ll say:

(1) My TOC contract was standard: the rights reverted to me after two years, if TOC didn’t publish the lectures in some form other than “TOC Live.”. TOC didn’t do that, so the copyright is now held by me. You can inquire with TOC about that.

(2) The difference between listening rights and performance rights is well-established in copyright law. You’re playing my lecture at a public event in a public venue, advertised on the web to anyone and everyone, not at a private party for friends. You can inquire with a lawyer about that.

– DMH

Since then, Mike has begun a new OL thread solely devoted to wild speculations about my psychology, without the slightest bit of concern for my actual and stated reasons for rejecting The Objectivist Center, condemning people like Nathaniel Branden and Chris Sciabarra, and now endorsing the Ayn Rand Institute. He likens me to a religious dogmatist and a communist enforcer. He claims that I’ve sold my soul for the cause. He claims that I’m seeking to appease the ARI hierarchy for the sake of publication venues and job opportunities. Um, okay.

Mike also sent me two further e-mails. He told me that he expects an apology from me if I’m wrong in my legal claims. He said he’ll do the same if he’s wrong, but given his absolutely libelous personal attacks on me on OL, that’s of no value whatsoever. He’s also suggested that I just ask him nicely not to play the lectures. Fat chance of that: I shouldn’t have to ask nicely for him to respect my rights, particularly not while he spits in my face. (Do I need to ask a car thief to please not take my car?!?)

In any case, yesterday afternoon, I finally dug up my old “Speaker’s Agreements” with The Objectivist Center. The following e-mail to the relevant folks at The Atlas Society explains the exact terms of the contract:

From: Diana Hsieh
Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2008 16:44:43 -0600
To: Gene Holloway , Ed Hudgins
Conversation: Termination of Rights to Lecture Recordings
Subject: Termination of Rights to Lecture Recordings

Ed and Gene –

Due to the plans of Mike Renzulli to play one of my past TOC lectures at a public event this week despite my protests, I recently reviewed my speaker’s agreements with TOC for lectures given in 2001, 2002, and 2003. (I could not find my contract for my 2000 lecture.)

Before I reviewed the contracts, my recollection was that all rights to the recording automatically reverted to me after two years, provided that TOC didn’t publish an official recording (as opposed to a “TOC Live” tape). However, that’s not quite accurate, as you can see from the following quoted clause:

“If TOC fails to produce or arrange the production of the Recording for use as a permanent product carried by The Objectivism Store within 24 months following the delivery of the Work, either party has the right to terminate this portion of the agreement. In case of termination of this agreement under this clause, all rights to the Recording, except the right of TOC to maintain a copy for archival purposes, revert to Speaker.”

(The same basic clause is found in my 2001 and 2002 contracts. I presume that it is also in my 2000 contract.)

So: I hereby terminate all of TOC’s (or The Atlas Society’s) rights to recordings of my past lectures, except the right to maintain a copy for archival purposes.

Obviously, I can’t imagine that you’d ever want to do anything with my past lectures for TOC, but I did wish to officially terminate your rights to them, in case such a strange situation ever arises again.

Also, I should mention that as far as I understand the contract, TOC has never had any right to license the work to be played in public. (As far as I know, you’ve not done that with Mike Renzulli.)

I have attached a scan of the relevant page of the 2003 contract.

Finally, please confirm your receipt of this e-mail and acknowledge the termination of rights.

Thank you,

Diana Mertz Hsieh

As for the question of rights to public performance, Paul found this handy summary of the relevant law (and this one and this one and this one and this one) for me. It’s very clear that an event open to the public, held in a public venue, and advertised on public message boards and web sites does not qualify as a private performance on par with inviting friends over to watch a movie.

Also, I should mention that I’ve spoken repeatedly with two lawyers about this matters over the past few days. Both of them used to speak at TOC, and so they are familiar with TOC’s “Speaker’s Agreements.” On both legal and moral grounds, they wholly support my right to refuse permission to play these lectures.

I don’t expect any further troubles on this issue — except more of the usual crap from OL — but I did wish to set the record straight. To put it bluntly, Mike Renzulli hasn’t a legal or moral leg to stand on. He doesn’t have the right to play my lectures before an audience just because he bought the tapes. I don’t have any obligation to assist a man who actively subverts my values. He’s also behaved in a less than gentleman-like fashion, without any provocation. Still, I won’t hold my breath waiting for that apology.

Update: On October 10, 2011, Mike posted a public apology. Thanks, Mike, that’s appreciated.

Too Big to Bail

 Posted by on 23 April 2008 at 6:19 am  Business, Finance, Politics
Apr 232008
 

I really enjoyed Alex Epstein’s “video op-ed” explaining “how the government’s ‘too big to bail’ policy encouraged financial institutions to make billions of dollars in bad subprime investments.”

The text version of the op-ed is available on the Ayn Rand Institute web site, but it’s just soooo much better to hear Mr. Epstein speak that fabulous line about “government bailout crack”!

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha