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Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of one of my favorite novels, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. There have been a lot of articles recently on the significance and influence of this book, which I won’t try to recap here. My own favorite such article is this one by Robert Tracinski.

Oddly enough, this year also marks the 20th anniversary of my own first encounter with Rand’s writing. Back in 1987 I was 16, a junior in high school, very intelligent but increasingly cynical. A girl I knew, and had kind of a crush on, spent about six months pestering me to read The Fountainhead. She said it was the “most rational thing” I would ever read, and she was more or less right. By the time I reached the scene where architecture student Howard Roark was explaining to the dean of his school why the Parthenon was badly designed, I was hooked. I ploughed through that 700 page book in three days, then hit the library.

There I found two other novels by Rand: a novelette called Anthem and a huge doorstop called Atlas Shrugged. Since I hadn’t done any schoolwork for the past few days on account of The Fountainhead I decided to do the responsible thing and check out the short one. That took about an hour, and I was back at the library the next day. The 1168 pages of Atlas took me five days, and boy did I not get any homework done. (Precious little sleep, for that matter — it was wonderful being young.) That summer I worked my way through most of the extant non-fiction, and never looked back. (Well, there was that unfortunate libertarian anarchist phase I went through in college, but I got better. Let us never speak of it again.)

Many people say that Rand’s writings changed their lives. I’m not sure I would go that far in my own case. I always valued reason and freedom. What Rand taught me was how right I was to do so, how to understand exactly what it was I was valuing, and how to defend those values in action. She showed me how to think systematically, a skill which has proven invaluable in my career as an engineer. And she taught me not to be ashamed of being happy, or of pursuing happiness.

Anne Speaking:

Sure sounds to me like her writings changed your life. I had a similar experience. I always valued freedom, individuation, and reason. But Rand gave me the words for it, and the justification down to the most elemental level. That certainty has made me more content, and made my life a more joyful journey.

Rand described her philosophy as one “for living on Earth”, and that’s exactly what it is. Properly understood and applied, I have found it leads to a happy and successful life. It’s true, and it works. What more could one ask for?

So, although I haven’t seen the girl since I graduated from high school, thank you Liz for pushing me into reading Rand. You were right, it was the most rational thing I’ve ever read, and 20 years later I’m still benefiting from it. And, more profoundly, thank you Ayn Rand for your insight, your courage and your inspiration. Well done.

Anne speaking:

OMG you had a crush on her? Who was this girl?? SHE WILL DIE!

But seriously, I had never heard of Ayn Rand until about 1993, which was when Kyle starting pestering me to read The Fountainhead (it only took me, what, 5 years into our marriage?) I went on to read Atlas, heeding Kyle’s advice to “read all of Galt’s speech. You think you know what he’s going to say, but you really don’t.” Good advice. Terrific books and an important philosophy that isn’t getting enough attention in schools or from humanity generally.

Last week I was driving home from my student shift at the hospital. Sailing along at 40mph on a 3-lane road (3 lanes each direction). Oh look, the light up ahead is green. Cool, I don’t have to stop.

Then I see a kid on a bicycle flying across the road at the crosswalk, against the light. I think, “What an idiot”. THEN I catch a glimpse of a girl, about 10-years-old, running full bore behind him. The left turn lane is stopped, but the straight lanes have a green light. And did I mention the light had been green for a while now?

I think to myself, “That girl can’t possibly be intending to just keep running on to the other side, on a red light, on a 6 lane road. But I’d better slow the fuck down to make sure.”

So I slow to about 20mph as I reach the intersection. The girl comes darting out from behind the stopped car in the left turn lane. I slam on the brakes (throwing everything in my car forward at a high velocity; fun), and the girl recoils in astonishment, as if the entire situation were a complete surprise to her.

I stop. She goes on running, WITHOUT LOOKING TO SEE IF THERE ARE MORE CARS COMING IN THE LANES NEXT TO ME. Thankfully she doesn’t get hit. If I hadn’t seen her, or if I had assumed she wouldn’t be so stupid as to run in front of a speeding car, she’d probably be dead, and I would have killed her.

I’m too shocked to do anything but sit there as my light finally turns red. I exchange amazed looks with the elderly couple in the car next to me. They shake their heads and I’m sitting there flailing both hands in a “OMGWTFBBQ” sort of gesture. I’m sure it scared about 2 years off my life.

Can somebody please tell me what the fucking hell was going on in that child’s head that she ran across a 6 lane road, against a red light, without even looking?

… you’re listening to a history lecture on the Reformation and you have to fight down the urge to ask the teacher why Superman didn’t do anything to stop the spread of Lutheranism.

This post from Adventures in Bowling Green raises one of those questions that comes up over and over again — are Objectivists libertarians? (Or, putting the point slightly different, is the Objectivist politics libertarian?) Given Objectivism’s advocacy of strictly limited government, free markets and individual rights, this seems like a well-duh question. Yet Objectivists, as in the letter from Paul McKeever cited in the above-linked post, argue vehemently that we are not libertarians.

I think one of the reasons that neither side is ever convinced by the other on this issue is that, in a way, both sides are right. (In a deeper way, I think the Objectivist side is right, but hear me out.) The problem is that the term “libertarian” is being used in a different sense by the two sides.

Back in the 1990’s, Leonard Peikoff gave a lecture arguing that a certain class of terms was legitimately possessed of two different types of definition, one general and the other more restrictive. The terms he had in mind were, essentially, ones connected to human choice. One sense of the term would be broad and would refer to a whole range of possibilities, the other would be narrower and would refer to the part of the range that was fully consistent with reality. Here are some examples.

Ayn Rand famously defined a value as “that which one acts to gain and/or keep.” In other contexts, however, she speaks of some things that people act to gain and/or keep as disvalues, when those things are harmful to long-term survival and flourishing. Many people act to gain and/or keep drugs such as cocaine and heroin. In the general sense, these are values — they are ends chosen volitionally as the goal of actions. But because drug addiction is harmful, treating cocaine as a value winds up being inconsistent. Pursuing it undercuts your life, and thus undermines the necessary conditions for acting to gain and/or keep anything. So in the more restrictive sense, cocaine is not a value.

Or consider the concept “virtue”. Broadly, a virtue is a character trait or principle of action that a system of morality upholds as desirable or morally good. So is humility, for example, a virtue? In a sense, yes — Christianity upholds humility as a principle of action required for living a morally good life. But again, taken in full context, humility accepted and practiced consistently undercuts the necessary conditions for moral goodness. It fails to achieve its stated ends, and so in the more restrictive sense it is properly identified as a vice, not a virtue.

Or consider “egoism”. There is a sense in which the Objectivist ethics is one of a number of egoistic ethical systems, along with the egoisms of Aristotle, Nietzsche, Stirner, etc. All of these systems advocate that individuals act so as to maximize their own self-interest. But since the broad definition leaves open the questions of what exactly a person’s self-interest consists of, and what actions will maximize it, you can have an ethical system that advocates pursuing self-interest while simultaneously advocating specific means and ends that undercut what your interests actually are. The actual effects of following such a system, even though it may have been developed with a genuine desire to achieve the pursuit of self-interest, will be counter to that goal. The system is inconsistent and, in its actual effects, not egoistic. From this perspective, the Objectivist ethics is not an egoistic ethics; it is the only egoistic ethics — the only one which, if practiced consistently, will actually lead to maximizing your self-interest.

The application of this analysis to the question of the ‘libertarian-ness’ of the Objectivist politics should be obvious. Just as in the egoism case, there is a sense in which any political system which advocates liberty can be described as libertarian. In this broad sense, the Objectivist politics clearly qualifies. But in the full, consistent sense of the term, for a system of thought to be described as libertarian, it would have to lead to freedom if implemented consistently in practice. By that standard, libertarianism as understood by libertarians fails because of its lack of foundation. No politics can stand apart from a foundation, as McKeever discusses, and libertarianism explicitly eschews the need for such a foundation by treating the NIOF principle as axiomatic. So in the restrictive sense of the term, the Objectivist politics is actually the only libertarian politics, because only Objectivism provides the necessary foundations in ethics, epistemology and metaphysics for the successful defense of the value of liberty. Ironically, the problem with libertarianism is that it isn’t libertarian.

As is often the case with perennial questions, what we have here are two sides talking past each other. Libertarians classify Objectivist as libertarian in the broad, neutral sense of the term, and they are right to do so. But the broad, neutral sense of the term isn’t the relevant one. What we are interested in is the actual effects of ideas and actions when practiced with full consistency in reality. And from that point of view, cocaine is not a value — humility is not a virtue — Stirner’s The Ego And Its Own is not a good guide to successful living — and trying to defend freedom on a non-Objectivist basis will not work.

Comedian and celebrity impersonator Mike Kaminski has produced this fantastic re-dub of George C. Scott’s speech from the movie “Patton”. General Patton has come out of retirement to explain why we are fighting in Iraq, and what it all means.

Everybody needs to watch this. I mean, c’mon, music by Jerry Goldsmith, right? Here’s a transcript, like I promised. I did this one myself and I believe it is accurate.

At ease.

I want you to remember that this War on Terror, as well as our presence in the Middle East, is necessary and inevitable. To those who can’t understand that, they need to spend more time on the History Channel and less time in the Goddamn chat rooms.

In this time of nuclear weaponry, we cannot afford to wait for the fight to come to us. You need to understand that. This political correctness stuff’s a buncha crap! This generation is so Goddamn spoiled and lazy, they wouldn’t know a real threat to their freedom until it interrupted the power source to their Xbox and killed a half a million people! “The complacency of fools will destroy them.” That’s written in the Bible.

My God, I really wonder where we’d be today if some of our current members of Congress were presiding during World War II. I think we’d all be speaking German right now, and the world would have a serious shortage of Jews. These people like Harry Reid. That son of a bitch is like a man in combat who won’t provide you the cover fire you asked for so you end up getting your Goddamn head blown off! People like him don’t know anything more about the process of defending modern freedom than they do about fornicating.

Now. All this stuff you’ve heard about America not wanting to fight, wanting to pull out of Iraq, is a lot of horse dung. Americans, traditionally, will protect their freedom. All real Americans love a good fight. When you were kids, you all admired the champion football player, the fastest gamer, the greatest superhero, the toughest boxer. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I don’t give a hoot in Hell if you’re a Christian, Muslim, Jew, or Buddhist. If you intend to take up arms to harm America or Americans, you will lose.

Now we have the best equipment, facilities, the most technologically advanced weaponry in the world. And you can be thankful of that. Without it, there’d be a Hell of a lot more dead.

Now I say to the Iraqi citizens that if you know of people planning insurgency, stop them! If you see or hear about someone planning a roadside bomb, stop them! Shoot those bastards in the guts! Report their activities! That is the only way to build a truly great nation. The people must get involved and take it back, just as Americans did against the British in the 1700s. Being free is part of every religion, but a lack of freedom, and misguided education, can create enormous setbacks.

In 1939 when the British ally Poland was attacked and occupied by Germany, do you know that that small island of Britain had the balls and fortitude to declare war on those Nazi bastards? While we did nothing. We didn’t want to get involved, we said. How dare we not learn from such things!

This is not a God damn video game! This is a modern fight for freedom, and security of this nation and the world.

Now the current leader in Iran has made it very clear that he wants to destroy America, and threatens a second Holocaust against the Jews. And this leader is obtaining nuclear technology right under our noses. The difference between him and Hitler, is that Hitler built up his war machine in secrecy. How stupid and ignorant should we be? If Hitler would have had nuclear weapons, he’d have used ’em. If Japan would have had them, they’d have used ’em. You had all better wake up. If it were up to me, we’d already be in Iran, and their leader would be one dead son of a bitch!

After World War II there was a plaque laid in Germany which reads:”Never again fascism”. How dare you forget and allow it again! You all know the old saying, “History repeats itself.” Well. Here we are.

Now there’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get anymore messages saying that we need to pull out Iraq. We’re not pulling out of anything. Let the enemy do that. We are advancing constantly and we’re not interested in pulling out of anything except a parking lot.

Now. There’s one thing that you men and women will be able to say when you get back home, and you may thank God for it. Twenty years from now, when you’re sitting around your family with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you what did you do in the Great War on Terror, you won’t have to say, “Well, I listened to far left bullshit, sat on my ass, and was more concerned with American Idol than I was about American security and freedom.”

All right, now you sons of bitches and women, you know how I feel. I would be proud to lead you wonderful people into battle. Anytime. Anywhere.

That’s all.

Spending several hours a day with a fax machine at your elbow is usually not an annoying situation, provided that you are the only person in the office and that the only time you ever receive a fax is when it’s spam.

Usually there is a removal number on junk faxes that you can call to get off their mailing list. Over the past few months, however, I have been getting a certain kind of fax spam here that does not have a removal number. What’s strange, though, is that I can’t figure out what the business model of the spammer is, because the company whose stock is being promoted has publicly denounced the spam and they are the victim of a third party spammer.

Below is the spam I received today from this third party spammer:

stockspam.jpg

The company being flakked is Pay88, Inc. They sell prepaid internet gaming and phone cards. They are not responsible for the spam, as they have stated recently:

Pay88, Inc. announced today that it has come to the attention of the Company that it is currently the victim of third-party stock spammers. As of July 14th, third-party spammers disseminated an untold number of spam emails promoting the company without the company’s knowledge. The Company did not send or authorize any such messages nor did it authorize any of the parties disseminating such information

Because I’m the curious sort, and because spam really pisses me off, I’ve done some digging about the spammer (as much as I can without forking over $14.95 or more for a detailed report).

My fax machine reports that the number the spam came from is (678) 369-6703. The phone number is unlisted, but the area code is Atlanta, GA here in the United States. I’ve gotten other stock spam (for a company called Fire Mountain Beverage Co.) from a spammer using the same type of header that this fax has. That phone number was (214) 377-0512, which is in Dallas, TX. (Fire Mountain, by the way, has also publicly denounced this spam).

Who is sending these stock spam faxes? More importantly, what is their business model? There is no identifying information on the fax, no removal number (which is a huge Federal no-no), and no redirect (such as a website that the spammer might own and thus profit from).

This makes no logical sense…unless one concludes that the companies in question are lying and that they did, in fact, pay someone to spam their stock. That’s the only profit model that I can see here. That makes these two companies not only liars, but violators of Federal law on unsolicited advertising and Securities fraud. If it is true, I hope the SEC and the FTC come down on them like the Hammer of Thor for being such assholes.

Resources:

US Federal Trade Commission on advertising: Consumer Policy Issues

Spamnation tracks unsolicited emails and is a good clearinghouse for this sort of thing. Note that this is a .info domain. If you try to go to .com or .org versions of this URL, you’ll get the wrong stuff.

WhoCalledUs will help you figure out who is behind mysterious phone calls you are getting. It was through this site that I figured out that Sprint itself was responsible for obnoxious random phone calls I was getting on my cell phone.

This cartoon, originally aired on BET, has been getting a lot of attention lately. Apparently it’s controversial. Personally I think it is 1) funny, 2) true, 3) necessary. Caution: This video contains a lot of uses of the words “fuck” and “shit” in various conjugations. I don’t recommend watching this at work unless you have headphones or an office door.


(Broken video has been fixed)

The artist is Bomani Armah (he goes by the name D’Mite), and his website, www.notarapper.com, elaborates on the nature of his music. He describes himself as a “poet with a hip-hop style, not a rapper”. That is, poetry to a hip-hop beat, rather than the gangsta trash that masquerades as hip-hop these days. I agree with the sentiment. Rap and hip-hop can be good. It’s just that the material that gets mainstream play completely sucks and is written by people with no talent or creativity.

This particular cartoon is a satire of a Tennessee style of rap music called “crunk”, which Webster defines thusly:

crunk – ‘krəŋk Function: noun

1. a style of Southern rap music featuring repetitive chants and rapid dance rhythms

Here are the lyrics, for the benefit of people (mostly my parents) who are not going to be able to make head or tail of the video:

Read a book! Read a book! Read a motherfuckin’ book!
Read a book! Read a book! Read a motherfuckin’ book!
Read a book! Read a book! Read a motherfuckin’ book!
Read a book! Read a book! Read a motherfuckin’ book!

R-E-A-D A B-O-O-K!
R-E-A-D A B-O-O-K!
R-E-A-D A B-O-O-K!
R-E-A-D A B-O-O-K!

Not a sports page! Not a magazine! But a book, nigga! A fuckin’ book, nigga!
Not a sports page! Not a magazine! But a book, nigga! A fuckin’ book, nigga!
Not a sports page! Not a magazine! But a book, nigga! A fuckin’ book!

Raise yo kids! Raise yo kids! Raise yo Goddamn kids!
Raise yo kids! Raise yo kids! Raise yo Goddamn kids!
Raise yo kids! Raise yo kids! Raise yo Goddamn kids!
Raise yo kids! Raise yo kids! Raise yo Goddamn kids!

Your body needs water, so drink that shit!
Your body needs water, so drink that shit!
Your body needs water, so drink that shit!
Your body needs water, so drink that shit!

Buy some land! Buy some land! Fuck spinnin’ rims!
Buy some land! Buy some land! Fuck spinnin’ rims!
Buy some land! Buy some land! Fuck spinnin’ rims!
Buy some land! Buy some land! Fuck spinnin’ rims!

Brush yo teeth! Brush yo teeth! Brush yo Goddamn teeth!
Brush yo teeth! Brush yo teeth! Brush yo Goddamn teeth!
Brush yo teeth! Brush yo teeth! Brush yo Goddamn teeth!
Brush yo teeth! Brush yo teeth! Brush yo Goddamn teeth!

Wear deodorant, nigga!
Wear deodorant, nigga!
Wear deodorant, nigga!
Wear deodorant, nigga!

It’s called SpeedStick! It’s not expensive!
It’s called SpeedStick! It’s not expensive!
It’s called SpeedStick! It’s not expensive!
It’s called SpeedStick! It’s not expensive!

D’Mite’s song is interesting for several reasons, not the least of which is that the target is not the gangsta image, per se. Instead, he is offering general advice on how to live properly and live well. He doesn’t denounce the street slang, or the clothes, or the culture specifically. In fact, he embraces it in order to set some priorities.

I don’t normally think of inner city black youth as people who have bad personal hygiene habits or improperly invest their money. Mostly the stereotype is around drugs, gangs, violence, and poor family planning. The parenting issue is addressed in D’Mite’s song, but I didn’t expect real estate advice to also come with it.

Are deodorant and proper hydration endemic problems among inner city blacks? Does this song address some cultural habits that are not apparent to people who don’t live in those communities? I’m curious to hear any comments about this.

No, I’m not talking about the electronic kind that annoys people. I’m talking about the kind you eat. I just finished picking these at work:

blackberries_01.jpg

Wild summer blackberries right off the vine. Whether accidentally or by design, much of the property fence on the side facing the highway is lined with blackberry bushes. They serve as a great deterrent to trespassers, as anyone who has ever gotten tangled up in one can tell you. They also grow fast and aggressively, and require no care beyond natural sun and rainfall.

I started noticing that they are fruiting, and eagerly waited until there were enough ripe ones to pick. They’re sweet and delicious, and a few are now staining my clothes (the whole thing reminds me of this story from my childhood). There are so many more, fat, juicy ones beyond the fence that I can’t reach. Damn. Anyway, I will wash these and probably have with my lunch today. Maybe some cream to go with them would be warranted.

And yes, the blackberry vines did have their revenge on me for taking them. I have scratches up and down my arms now.

One of my projects at work is painting the golf cart we use as a lot vehicle. I’m just doing it for fun, and I’ve decided not to bill the company for the cost of materials, since I figure I’m getting at least that much value back in experience and experimentation in working with plastic and fiberglass.

A tenant who is a professional painter made a recommendation on the type of paint to use and the general technique (do the painting in the shade, on a cool surface, then put in the sun to bake it on). So I’ve had the golf cart inside one of the large storage units (which we use as a garage for the cart) in order to paint it.

Now, this is spray paint we’re talking about. So of course I’m concerned about fumes. I leave the roll-up door completely open, and there is typically a good breeze here, so the ventilation is very good. I wore some old, ratty clothes (which are now covered with green and white paint), and latex gloves.

I did not, however, wear any protection for my lungs. I spent 1½ hours in that garage, spray painting. When I was done I had green nostrils and I spat green saliva for an hour afterward. I went home and did a nasal irrigation and expelled hunter green mucus from my sinus cavities.

Today I did some more spray painting. This time I wore a NIOSH N95 safety mask. This type of mask protects against airborne particles, such as paint mist (although not oil-based aerosol fumes — for that you need a P95 rated mask). This, ladies and gentlemen, is what I was breathing the first time when I wasn’t wearing a mask:

While it is true that mucus is one of the body’s barriers against foreign matter entering the body, it isn’t 100% effective. When I went outside the unit for a breather every couple of minutes, I noticed that the breeze was pulling the paint mist out and the mist was so thick it looked like smoke coming out of the building. The moral of the story is: always wear all your safety gear, even if you don’t plan to be working very long.

My professional competency is something I take pride in, and take great care to preserve. In particular, my jobs over the years have involved working with lots of numbers, often money-related, and it is very important that those numbers be correct.

In my current job, I am responsible for reconciling the daily receipts and handling bank deposits. The computer produces reports and my manual checks must match. This morning I got email from our operations manager, forwarded from the parent company’s accountants:

7/3/07 daily is off on the deposit part. The deposit slip says $3481.00. It should be $3951.

Of course I was curious, since I rarely make an error like this. So I pulled our copy of the daily deposit for that date and examined it. Then I sent this reply:

The deposit was correct. There were 2 deposit slips for that day, as there were so many payments. Both pink copies are attached to the daily I sent. 1st slip totals $3481.00 and the 2nd is $470.00, for a total of $3951.00 received for 7/3/07.

The short version for people who don’t want to try to parse that is:

Accountant: “OH NOZ THE DEPOSIT FOR 7/3/07 IZ TEH WRONG.”

Me: “O NO IT IZNT.”

It reminds me of when my father went back to school during the unemployment peak in the 1980’s. He very rarely got a wrong answer on an exam, and as a result, the professor later told him that when he had seen a wrong answer come out of the Scantron machine on my dad’s test, he had checked the answer key and discovered that the key was wrong.

In either case, I think the following picture is appropriate: