Friday, January 07, 2005

Bevis and Butthead live!
Or swim. Or something.
Clarence Thomas:
too principled to be the next Chief Justice?
Pricless
Yesterday's Best of the Web, which I just got around to reading now, just gave me a LOL moment:
An outfit called United for Peace and Justice is actually planning an Inauguration Day protest. And if you can't make it to Washington, you can still join in:

"UFPJ also encourages everyone to wear a white ribbon on January 20, no matter where you are or what you are doing. In many cultures, white is the traditional color of mourning."

Of course, the joke is on these losers, who apparently are unaware that in our culture, white is the traditional color of surrender.
Hee hee!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

UN: planners, not doers.
Instapundit notes the U.N. is not doing a good job in the tsunami relief effort. The UN: more meaningless every day.
Oh, dear God, no.
David, man, wow. No, I don't think I could top that. Well, most of my workplace conversations center around securities. I can't get much more detailed than that, because the NASD might construe my ramblings as an advertisement or an attempt to manipulate markets.
I don't worry about my geekocity.
I saw a guy that scored a 97. That takes effort.

Oh, and my wife scored an 8. She is an antigeek. If my score were any higher, we would annihilate each other in a geek/antigeek explosion.

This could be a problem, as my geekitude can only increase. Case in point: two of the most entertaining conversations I had at work yesterday involved the following subjects:
  • The proper use of interfaces and abstract classes to implement a framework of data mappers that transparently bind to data model objects, thus freeing the data model objects from having to know anything about the data store in which they are kept and to be able to switch the data store or the means of accessing said store on the fly.
  • General relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory and what all this means to the flow of time.
I am doomed.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Apparently, David,
I'm less nerdy than you. I think you should be embarrassed to admit that.

I am nerdier than 62% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!
My wife thinks I'm an uber-geek,
but I am, in fact, only slightly geeky.


I am nerdier than 67% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

It's Beat Up Ayn Rand day
here at In Whack. Not only are Joe and I criticizing the Ayn Rand Institute for their strange reaction to the tsunami disaster, but now NRO has re-published an old, extremely critical review of Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers. And I mean critical. You'll have to read the whole thing to get the full effect.

I'd like to say more, but work interferes with pleasure. Perhaps more later (yeah, I know I've made similar promises before).

UPDATE: And here's more, but it'll be quick. I've not only read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead multiple times, I've also read quite a lot of Rand's collections of nonfiction, her essays that dig into the details of the ideas expressed in her novels. So I know what she thought about capitalism, about the use of force, and about her support for a minimalist, libertarian-dreamland government that let's people lead their own lives. So when I read things like "From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: 'To a gas chamber — go!'", I think, this guy really doesn't get it.

True, it would be an understatement to say that Rand had little patience for those that disagreed with her. In fact, Chambers is more or less correct when he states:
It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked.
Yeah, she was like that, and those like Leonard Peikoff still are. This intolerance is a large part of why I don't consider myself an Objectivist any more.

But I do not consider this attitude integral to the philosophy itself. It was Rand's personality, continued by Peikoff and his ilk. Joe is right: Objectivism will be better off when those that knew Rand are gone, for they believe she and her philosophy are one. Though Objectivism did not die with her, it has not been allowed to mature since then, either. It is heretical in their circles to suggest that the philosophy might actually be bigger and separate from its creator. Unfortunate.
Michael Novak
has an article about God, atheists and the tsunami wherein he says:
That is why, faced with a horrendous natural disaster, in which thousands of innocent human beings die irrationally, for no reason, the rationalist atheists and the nihilists alike blame God first. It is important for them to do that.
Speaking as an rationalist atheist (which I guess I am based on Novak's pseudo-definition earlier in the article), I want to make it clear that I do not blame God. In fact, it would be absurd of me to blame God since he can't exist. And no, I haven't approached any of the many believers I know and asked, "what do you think of your mean, nasty God now, hmmm?" That wouldn't be polite.

I blame Kant.

In all seriousness, there's no blame to assign for this. Nature, if it is to be personified, is neither good nor evil. Stephen J. Gould, from whom I took a class on evolution, said repeatedly that it's a mistake to look for morality in the processes of nature. It is what it is, for good or ill and usually both. Ayn Rand (sheesh, not her again) believed in a benevolent universe, but really that means she believed nature is not actively working against you. It's not really working for you either, but nature provides the tools for anyone to succeed, and is thus benevolent.

Anyway, the rest of the article boils down to something like this: if someone asks you (a believer) how a loving God can allow such things to happen, shrug your shoulders and say God works in mysterious ways:
Yet in that darkness, we the believers alone (not the unbeliever or the nihilist) feel betrayed by One whom we love. We alone feel anguish because we cannot understand.

But it is not as if we had not often before bumped into the limits of our understanding, and recognized nonetheless that there are undeniable glimmerings of powers and presences we know not of.
Small comfort.
Dang, Joe, you beat me to it.
I first saw the reference to ARI's op-ed over at Best of the Web (see "Idiotarian Tidal Wave") on Monday but was unable to comment on it at the time. I think your comparison to SNL's Debbie Downer (or whatever her name is) is apt. Yes, in principle, the U.S. government should not be involved in charity. But it is, like it or not. A better op-ed would have discussed how the government could best use its ill-gotten booty to help if help it must, or perhaps remind readers that we can still help through private charity as well. Perhaps next time they'll include an MP3 of the trombone playing that sad sound after Ms. Downer's comments.

The Cato Institute is much better about this. They share many of the same ideas about government's proper role, but at least Cato is willing to work in baby steps: improve a little here, privatize a bit there, reduce spending some over there. That's a much better, successful strategy than ARI's "end all of this nefarious evility now now now!" approach.

This raises the question of whether an Objectivist can act in a principled yet pragmatic way, settling for little victories here and there, or if the philosophy requires that its adherents settle for nothing less than perfection all the time. Anyone know the answer?

I do have to say, though, that it's unfair of Best of the Web to link ARI with Fred Phelp's group, however indirectly. If there was ever a case of comparing apples to oranges, that's it.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

I have to congratulate the Ayn Rand Institute
for their incredibly dense lack of timing and forethought, releasing an op-ed titled "U.S. Should Not Help Tsunami Victims." Now, I haven't read the full op-ed, only excerpts that I can find online. Why? Because all the links that I can find for the original story end up here (what, ARI got scared off by the online fire-bombing they've likely been receiving?). No, wait. As I'm typing this, I see that somebody committed a copyright violation and posted it here.

Regular readers of this blog know that I used to be the president of the Harvard Objectivist Club, so I know some of the people at ARI (though I've never heard of the op-ed's author, David Holcberg). One of my complaints, and my fellow HOC-ers can back this up (not that they read this blog), was that ARI had no sense of politcal timing. They were in a habit of releasing op-eds without considering the larger political picture. They were the perennial Scrooge at the Christmas party (the Debbie Downer, whatever her name is, from SNL). Something big happens, and ARI releases an article beating it to death. This recent one is case in point.

A tsunami triggered by a huge earthquake (8.9 on the Richter Scale) kills 130,000+ people. I know, let's release an article lambasting the U.S. government's effort to render aid and liken the people receiving aid as global parasites Great idea (note the dry sarcasm)! Even if you believe that the U.S. shouldn't be in the habit of giving out foreign aid, this article, and its rhetoric, reduces the argument to an unprecendented level of jackassery.

The rhetoric, too, brings up another point: Why must Objectivists constantly use the most over-the-top hyperbole to make a point. ARI's people write in seriousness the kind of stuff that most people, myself included, would only write in jest. This kind of stuff:
Every dollar the government hands out as foreign aid has to be extorted from an American taxpayer first. Year after year, for decades, the government has forced American taxpayers to provide foreign aid to every type of natural or man-made disaster on the face of the earth: from the Marshall Plan to reconstruct a war-ravaged Europe to the $15 billion recently promised to fight AIDS in Africa to the countless amounts spent to help the victims of earthquakes, fires and floods--from South America to Asia.
Hey, at least they didn't mention Hitler in this one. (Another of my complaints: Not every instance of the government's involvement in, for example, volunteerism is akin to the Hitler Youth. No, I'm not exaggerating. That was an actual example used when I was in college and Colin Powell was hosting a volunteerism summit in Philadelphia. The posters ARI put out had the headline, "Bill Clinton Wants Your Life," and made allusions to the alleged Nazi-like thought behind the volunteerism summit.)

I think Rand's thought is full of a lot of good things. I was a subjectivist, moral relativist before I read Rand. It brought me off the path of neo-communist loopiness. But, I think that the philosophy will be better served when those who knew Rand are no longer around, and those who are serious about really exploring the philosophy are left to engage in true intellectual discourse, without the threat of being purged (Peikoff-Kelley Split, anyone?).

It's interesting to me that some of the most interesting Objectivist scholarship comes from outside the "movement." Peikoff, Binswanger, Ridpath, Bernstein, Hull, etc, haven't written an original philosophical treatise. Even Peikoff's oft cited book, OPAR, was written from lectures delivered when Rand was alive -- meaning that she edited every single lecture, and likely corrected any "errors" Peikoff was making.

Insularity kills. I don't think things bode well for ARI.
I just finished reading
Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, and I was wondering who played key roles in the 1999 release of the film (no, I haven't seen the movies, either of them). Can I just say that IMDb is an amazing resource?

I was trying to figure out who some of the cast members were in the Matt Damon release of Ripley. Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow are all familiar names. I was unfamiliar, though, with James Rebhorn. Saw his photo and instantly knew who he was; the man's in everything, it seems. One of those ubiquitous faces. Never leads, always in some sideline part, but always working.

By happenstance, I found myself looking at a few different actors and seeing what they've been doing over the years. Most surprising entry? Ian McKellen was in The Last Action Hero...as Death.

Oh, in case you're wondering, the book was excellent. I plan on picking up others in the series shortly, after I finish reading Strangers on a Train (yes, the movie's based on her book).
The question of our time:
Is The Lord of the Rings a liberal or conservative novel?