Elias presents ... a worm!    Thoughts on family, philosophy,
and technology


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Movie: United 93

The movie "United 93" is being released now. Having thought about the controversy of the movie much more over the last two weeks, there are two, often overlapping, opinions of this movie's release to which I simply cannot subscribe.

First, there are those who want to see the movie. My response is: Really? Because people who feel as I do could not stomach seeing these particular murders re-enacted. Stephanie Zacharek of Salon knows what I'm talking about: "Watching this expertly made film about the events of 9/11 was the most excruciating moviegoing experience of my life." She knew it would be, and it was. Luckily, I'm not a movie reviewer like her, so I don't have to go.

Then there is a cascade of people, many of them political conservatives, who think we all need to see it to be freshly reminded of the vicious struggle we are in. These people include David Beamer (I don't know if he's a conservative), father of the heroic Todd Beamer: "it is appropriate to get a dose of reality about this war and the real enemy we face."

To which I have to ask: Did some Americans miss 9/11? Have some forgotten the story of flight 93? Or did its meaning just not sink in the first time -- but maybe it will if they see the movie?

I can understand being frustrated with the anti-war crowd who wants to send policemen and lawyers after those puny social outcasts who threaten us. (You know, outsiders like the President of Iran. -- But I digress.) But to hope that a re-enactment of 9/11 will better make the conceptual case that civilization needs to crush its enemies than did 9/11 itself, I think is pure folly. If the events of 2001 didn't convince someone it is time to fight for our lives, then neither will the Hollywood version.

You've got to be kidding

From yesterday:
Lionsgate has picked up worldwide distribution rights to "Atlas Shrugged" from Howard and Karen Baldwin ("Ray"), who will produce with John Aglialoro.

Angelina Jolie, a longtime devotee of Rand's, and Brad Pitt, also a fan, are rumored to be circling the leading roles of Dagny Taggart and John Galt.


Oliver Stone was attached to direct a remake of "Fountainhead" for Warner Bros. and Paramount, but the project has languished in development. Along the way, Pitt expressed interest in playing Roark.

That's nice that the most beautiful people in the world like the novels, but if anyone had any question that a movie version wouldn't quite be true to the book, just imagine Pitt's gravitas (yes I'm kidding) filling the role as greatest genius in history, and you will be convinced. The, um, climax of this version would probably be in the bedroom. I honestly don't know if I'd even want to go and see such a production. Though this is one of those times I'd be happy to find out I had completely miscalculated.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A quick trip with the USENET time machine

I found what seems to be my oldest post (March 6, 1993) on alt.philosophy.objectivism (that's a newsgroup, kids -- it's how we mingled on-line before browsers were widespread; me, I used a 1200-baud modem to connect my green-text 8088 machine to the Oregon State University computer lab's server):
Path: sparky!uunet!uchinews!msuinfo!caen!batcomputer!reed!flop.ENGR.ORST.EDU!prism.CS.ORST.EDU!williab
From: williab@prism.CS.ORST.EDU (Williams Brad Scott)
Newsgroups: alt.philosophy.objectivism
Subject: Re: NOZICK
Date: 6 Mar 1993 05:47:40 GMT
Organization: Oregon State University, Computer Science Dept.
Lines: 18
Message-ID: <>
References: <> <>

In article <> (Just Another Deckchair on the Titanic) writes:
> There was little in Speicher's posting that wasn't
>itself a rather poor, sneeringly-carried out, illogical attack. Not
>something to be taken too seriously, IMO

I think that it is clear that Mr. Franzen is of the opinion that the
truthfulness of a philosophy is not the primary criterion in deciding
said philosophy's "value". In the case of *historical* value, this
is a perfectly reasonable position, but in the case of a philosophy's
*ultimate* value (i.e., whether it is right or wrong) it would require
an interesting defense. Indeed, Speicher indicated that she thinks it is
indefensible. Though she may have sneered a little, she was not illogical.

I would like Mr. Franzen to please explain either how I (we) have
"caricatured" him into a position that he does not take, or how he
defends this position (if he does).

Brad Williams

It is surprising to me that my first post wouldn't have been until March 1993, but I guess I'll trust what these archives say. I was finishing up my senior year at OSU just then. I must have finished Atlas sometime in the previous six months.

A couple things about this post make me cringe: "it would require an interesting defense" is just juvenile, even for a 22-year-old. The overall tone of the post is sort of huffy and pseudo-intellectual. Worst of all is the lack of purpose: "who cares?" I want to say to that me. I remember Franzen, he was very smart but very twisted, a sort of Toohey. I would not engage his sort in any way today.

Here's a post from Michael Huemer responding, in part, to me, 10 years and a day ago. I find this to be interesting trivia which I had completely forgotten, because Huemer is a big deal in academic philosophy these days. It would have been soon after this post, I think, that he posted his now infamous Why I Am Not An Objectivist, in which he makes what has become a common mistake criticizing Ayn Rand's theory of concept formation.

Here's something I posted 10 years ago next week, and I think it makes good use of the principle that knowledge is contextual to show how Libertarian political philosophy cannot be "the same" as Objectivist political philosophy:
From: (Brad S Williams)
Subject: Re: Is Ayn Rand's philosophy mean?
Date: 1996/05/02
Message-ID: <4malkm$>#1/1
X-Deja-AN: 152610784
references: <4le41h$> <4m8vlg$> <4m936t$> <4m9duo$>
organization: Teleport - Portland's Public Access (503) 220-1016
newsgroups: alt.philosophy.objectivism

Tony wrote:
>>Rand referred to the libertarians as "hippies of the right." They have
>>nothing to do with her or her philosophy. The Cato Institute is

Michael wrote:
>Nothing except the fact that they have the identical political
>philosophy -- if you count things like that.

"Identical?" I'd like to see that defended. To start with, isn't the
concept "man" (implicit or explicit) cardinal to a political philosophy?
And do Libertarianism and Objectivism agree on this?

Knowledge *is* interconnected. Perhaps we can whip out our exacto knives,
cut out specific pieces of different systems of thought and *begin* to
compare those pieces, but you can't get very far without bringing in the
rest (whether the rest is implicit or explicit), because the hierarchical
and contextual relationships within a system of knowledge are essential to
its being *knowledge*.

Brad Williams

I'm much more comfortable with this guy, he sounds more like the me of today. I had read OPAR (once or twice) by now, so I had the idea that knowledge is an interconnected whole. What I didn't really appreciate yet, and only have in recent years, is that knowledge is a fully real relationship between you and facts. Sounds obvious, and it is surely covered by OPAR, but I didn't really appreciate it until studying ITOE very seriously in the last couple of years.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Strange days

Amy is four days overdue, and she can't stop cleaning and gardening. I'm just getting over something a lot like strep throat, and I can't stop taking power naps. And it's freakishly beautiful weather for Portland in April.

At least Elias is enjoying it all. Every day he waters some plants in the front yard that we've recently planted (having only lived here for three months). He approaches watering with a fierce determination. It was no surprise to me that he demands to lug the watering can around by himself, no matter how heavy it is: this is exactly what Montessori said a little person of about 1-1/2 would want. But I wonder if he gets a little too caught up in having to get "more water!" as soon as each bucket is spent. Today, when I said that having watered three trees, two bushes, and a half-dozen dahlias, we were done, there was a big burst of tears. Partly this was due to it being nap time, but I'm also a little concerned that he's getting overly stressed with all this "work." I'm not sure what to do, or if I should try to do anything about this, I'll have to think about it more.

The best thing will probably just be to talk to him more and more, which works really well now, as he's becoming quite the communicator. Have I mentioned that he prefers to count to ten in Spanish now? Counting in English isn't as fun.

Now, what was the point? Do I have a point? Oh yeah: where is that baby!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Added links

I've added a collection of links to my blog page, to the right here. These are most of the blogs to which I'm actually subscribed. The exception is the "Philosophy" links, which aren't blogs, just regular web sites.

Aren't there good philosophy blogs out there? If so, I haven't found them. There are some fine blogs from an Objectivist perspective, but these usually end up talking about current events most of the time.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The actual matrix

Just saw this fascinating post. It is more interesting than the first few paragraphs would suggest. The part about "mirror neurons" is one of those things everyone already knew, but we didn't know we knew it: we all tend to become like the people we are around. I've been pondering something along these lines lately, that you can't underestimate how really really social humans are -- "anti-social" youngsters notwithstanding, because you'll notice one kid, no matter how spiked his hair is, etc., he's always hanging around with at least one other similar peer. There are no total rebels, everyone is plugged into others. (The only people who aren't are true anti-socials, psychotics, who are in a sense not human.)

We can learn by doing, or by watching others do. Elias demonstrated this to me tonight: I read Animal Orchestra to him, which we've done about 30 times before, but I left out a word or two of every line -- and he filled in every one with seemingly no effort, it was right there on his tongue. Even I was impressed, and I've been getting used to his abilities for 20 months. Some of these words he does not even know. And if the tables were turned, I could not do what he did, I don't know the book that well. It is just astounding how well he listens and learns.

Little girl, where are you?

Amy is due tommorow. Here's proof. We're very surprised it is taking this long, the second one is "supposed" to move faster than the first, but Elias was a week early. Seems like we've been saying to Elias "you're baby sister is going to be born very soon!" for a very long time now.

Amy is now guessing she will be 10 weeks late. Or she'll just never give birth. Maybe her belly will start to shrink for a while, then get big again, over and over. Or maybe the baby knows that we are already low on cell phone minutes this month, so she's trying to wait it out until May. It's really very stoic of her.

It is getting downright hard to think about anything else, except "Do I have my phone with me?" -- I can't miss that call.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Flight 93 tapes document courage

Some flight 93 tapes were heard in public today for the first time. No mention here of "Let's Roll!", which was rather heard over a phone, but there appears to be plenty of audible evidence on the tapes that courageous passengers were fighting vigorously to the end.

I have always guessed that the last thing the sub-bacteria did before murdering all those people was scream their praise for God. Could there be a clearer demonstration of the psycho-epistemological connection between Faith and Force?

It's been 4-1/2 years, and still if I think about 9/11 for more than a few minutes I get into a really bad state.

Update: I've read the full transcript of the recording now. It is very short, but I had to take two breaks while reading it.

I've learned that Universal Studios has made a major motion picture of the story of Flight 93. Seeing the ad for the film made me livid. A re-enactment of the final horrible minutes of those lives, especially just five years later, reveals tremendously bad taste.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Stick men do the darndest things

Stick figure pictures here. My picks:

Leaves nothing to the imagination, does it? Except maybe: why is the driver so calm?

These signs are all over Portland. This is exactly why I haven't been on a bike in two years.

No playing on the cannon? Bummer.

This guy is all "look at me! look at me!" What a poser.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Time for the-baby-formerly-known-as-Lola

Amy read my blog last night, then asked why I would waste my time writing about Jesus and anti-Objectivism-ists. I've studied philosophy more than her, but a lot of times she is wiser. I found out today that a middle-aged relative of someone at work who seemed perfectly healthy three months ago has died from cancer this week. Don't waste your time.

Spending her time better than me, Amy is storing memories in two blogs now, one for each squirt. Funny thing is, the new one has "Lola" in the URL, but we've pretty much ruled out that name. Come to think of it, I have a file folder at home tagged "Lola" that I need to rename too!

Amy also took issue with my recent claim that it's morally necessary to spout out your position on the war. She's right, that's too narrow of a requirement. Here's my revision: it's morally necessary to support good political action. Making contributions to a good culture-changing organization certainly fulfills this requirement.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fifth Gospel found

Having studied the historical Jesus a little bit in college (I was most convinced by the theory that Jesus' thinking was eschatological, expecting the world to end within a few decades), this fascinates me: The Gospel of Judas has been found and translated, the NY Times announced today. In this fifth gospel, Jesus asks Judas, his best disciple, to "betray" him and hand him over to those who will crucify him -- which strikes me as news, though apparently some scholars had figured as much even before this text surfaced.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Am I a jihadist?

Context: On 3/30/2006 I plugged for TIA on Bidinotto's blog, then threw in a "Bravo!" to Bidinotto for having placed one of the anti-Islam cartoons on his magazine's cover. I did not know that he was even aware of Ayn Rand at that point, having arrived at his blog via Hours later, I learned that Bidinotto is actually one of the cornerstones of TOC, a very pathetic anti-Objectivism organization. I immediately regretted having commented on his blog. Today, I tried to read the article related to the cover in question (the article was only put up on the web today, as far as I know), and it is horrible.

So this morning, I held my nose, returned to Bidinotto's blog, and reluctantly posted a retraction of the "bravo" I had earlier offered:

I would like to retract my earlier "bravo" comment. I made that comment before I read the associated article, which is a cognitive disaster, and, more importantly, before I knew that you and the magazine are associated with that abomination of an institution, TOC. My mistake.

In response, Bidinotto says I am a "fundamentalist jihadist," and I'll endorse an "idea" on Monday but then reject the idea as immoral on Wednesday for no good reason.

Wow. Maybe TOC should be renamed to TSTC: "The Sloppy-Thinking Center."

Two points about Bidinotto's response:

(1) A jihadist is someone who murders in the name of his faith. Even if the implication that I'm anti-reason could stick (and it doesn't) am I in any way a murderer, or even like a murderer -- or is his comment as intellectually irresponsible as it is preposterous?

(2) My "bravo" was not an endorsement of an idea, it was an endorsement of the act of putting the anti-Islam cartoon on the magazine's cover. And I do commend that act on the assumption that the actor is reasonably innocent -- but someone who is deeply involved with an anti-Objectivism organization is guilty to the bone marrow, and I will bend-over-backwards to not give a trifle of moral support to such a person.

In my defense for "accidentally" posting my support (albeit very delimited) on that blog: it has been a long time since I was so bored as to care who or what the anti-Objectivism losers are up to, so Bidinotto's name was not familiar to me.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A moment for war

I consider it a moral requirement to understand and voice an opinion on wartime issues, because it involves men and women dying by the decisions of the goverment for which I am in some small way responsible. But I've not written on international politics in a while, not just because I don't want to spend too much time on it, in my mind or in this blog, but also because I've been increasingly feeling exasperated and confused about the situation at hand. I've recently read two articles which have helped clarify my thinking.

One article by Robert Tracinski, "The Weapon of the Weak", makes the point that despite the growing -- nay, deafening -- chorus of defeatism in the West, the U.S. is overwhelmingly winning on the battlefield against Iraqi insurgents. The proof that the bad guys are losing is exactly that they have been reduced to the hopeless strategy of terrorism, the deadly theatrics of those who are too weak to actually wage war, but hope to fill television screens with enough violence to intimidate the voting public of their much more powerful enemies. (Since anti-insurgency wars have historically taken 7+ years to win, it is still an open question if this tactic will work; the 2008 U.S. presidential election will be the decisive moment.)

The other article was of a speech given by Charles Krauthammer last year, "Democratic Realism". It is perhaps the only article by a non-Objectivist that anyone needs to read in order to understand our basic foreign policy options. Not only is it Krauthammer at his absolute best as a writer, with hardly a passage that isn't quotable, but it gives an extremely helpful overview and dissection of the four major foreign policy theories operating in the U.S. I don't agree with all of his analysis, but rarely are so many important things said in so little space.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Battle of wills

What is the essence of being a good parent, or a good teacher? In four words, I'd say: respecting the child's mind. And I stand by this, but it's too abstract if you don't already know what it means.

I came across an alternate formulation today on which may be a little more accessible. I present it here in the form of an imperative:
Don't substitute your will for the child's.

That is sharp!

A comedy in Epidaurus

This picture reminds me of another funny story about our 2000 honeymoon in Greece. When our tour went to Epidaurus, there were many other tourists there, such that a few dozen people were walking around on the "stage" and also lingering among the stone benches. Soon after entering the area, Amy and I made our way up high and to the right (which would be on the left side of this picture I believe) to experience looking down onto the stage, as ancient Greeks would have done two-and-a-half millenia ago. As we watched, our tour leader, a cranky, mystical, middle-aged Athenian woman, made her way to the center stone, where the person is standing in the picture here. This is the best spot on the stage to orate so that everyone in the theater can hear you. Our tour leader even claimed that scientists still cannot explain why a voice emanating from this exact spot can be heard so well. (I don't believe her, but it is still impressive that the Greeks found, or rather created, this spot.) Our tour leader then proceeded to shush the entire theater of noisy tourists: "EXCUSE ME, BE QUIET PLEASE, QUIET!!" Oh my. And everyone stopped, stunned, and did as they were told!

It was neat though: once everyone shut up as she demanded, she proceeded to speak quite softly from that magic spot, and, sure enough, we could clearly hear her voice from maybe 100 feet away, thanks to the ingenius design of the theater.